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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Volume 479: debated on Thursday 17 July 2008

The Secretary of State was asked—

Food Labelling

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the effectiveness of food labelling regulations in informing consumers of food content. (219287)

I have had no recent discussions with the Secretary of State for Health on food labelling regulations, but I have met the chair of the Food Standards Agency to discuss the EU Commission’s proposals.

There are no legal terms to define “vegetarian” or “vegan” in this country or the EU. What plans are there to define those terms in law, and how will they work with the FSA so that labelling complies with them, taking into account the fact one in 10 people are vegetarian?

Yes, I suppose that I should declare an interest. As far as I am aware, there are no plans to define those two terms, certainly not as far as the Commission’s proposals are concerned. The Commission’s proposals will enable us—I am sure the whole House will welcome this—to deal with the problem that we face, which is that certain types of meat products can be described as British meat although the meat does not come from the UK.

One of the lessons of the food labelling that the Department of Health oversaw is that Tesco, which thinks it runs the country, did one thing, while other supermarkets and manufacturers did another. Is there a lesson in that when it comes to carbon labelling? Will DEFRA ensure that carbon labelling is done consistently across all products and not let one supermarket do its own thing?

There is of course a lively debate taking place about the traffic light system, which the FSA favours, and the guideline daily amounts. We have just completed a consultation on that, to which my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will respond in due course, and the EU is proposing a framework that would allow national systems to be in place. On the other point that the hon. Gentleman raised, about consistency in carbon labelling, we certainly should aspire to achieve that.

What further discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the food industry on the labelling of trans fats and artificial fat products in food on sale both in supermarkets and other food outlets?

I have not discussed those issues directly, because they fall within the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Non-native Species

On 28 May, DEFRA launched the invasive non-native species framework strategy for Great Britain, jointly with the Scottish Executive and Welsh Assembly Government. The strategy contains measures to tackle invasive species, improve the effectiveness of legislation, integrate activities and programmes, and better focus research.

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. I raise the issue on behalf of the tens of thousands up and down the land who weekly do battle with invasive non-native species. In my case, it is the Japanese knotweed, which until three years ago I would not even have recognised, but which has been identified as the species crowding out the other plants and wildlife at the bottom of our chapel garden. I am aware that getting rid of it is probably a five-year mission—in fact, the Japanese knotweed has been described to me as plant life, but not plant life as we know it. I urge the Minister to recognise that most people are totally unaware, as I was, of what non-native species look like or how to combat them. I urge her to redouble her efforts with the Environment Agency to raise public awareness of non-native species and how to deal with them and eradicate them.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. He is absolutely right to say that the public need to be much more aware. That is of course one of the reasons why we have launched the strategy. As he said, Japanese knotweed is a very troublesome invasive species. Not only is it a problem for gardeners, but, more critically, it damages biodiversity. It has to be cleared from all construction sites, because it can grow through tarmac, and causes major difficulties on river banks, creating flood risk. We are doing a great deal on that, but we need to do much more. We have tasked a working group on media and communications with developing a clear plan, including consideration of how the Government can work with stakeholders to target audiences more effectively. There is information available on the website of the non-native species secretariat, and DEFRA makes available fact sheets

I am grateful to my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby), for raising this issue. I am sure the whole House will remember the Eradication of Mink Bill in 1995—or possibly not. The point is that mink destroy any good work done for water voles through the biodiversity action plan, because they eat them. Will the Government take action to eradicate mink, which are doing huge damage to wildlife across the country?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that contribution. I recently visited a site that was conserving water voles; indeed, the Department is doing a considerable amount of work in that respect. Some measures for dealing with mink are already in place. I will look further into what the hon. Gentleman suggests, but I do not believe that an eradication programme is likely to be successful.

As the RSPB survey published today demonstrates, one is more likely to see green parakeets and hear cuckoos in the Thames valley nowadays, largely on account of habitat measures—protecting woodland, hay meadows and other valuable sites of special scientific interest such as Otmoor. That is one reason why—I want to flag this up to DEFRA Ministers—the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire wildlife trust is so opposed to Department for Communities and Local Government proposals for a so-called eco-town at western Otmoor. There are some real biodiversity issues there, so given that the machinery of government is based in Whitehall, I hope that DEFRA Ministers will be consulted on them.

I commend the work of the hon. Gentleman’s local trust; as a Department, we greatly value what it is doing. However, when it comes to eco-towns, a proper procedure is in place whereby all biodiversity and sustainable development issues have to be considered in the development plans. I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that they will be.

Is the hon. Lady aware that the best way of dealing with the plague of mink that afflicts this country is to hunt them? Will she go and talk to Baroness Golding, our former revered colleague, who will tell her exactly how to set about doing that? As a preliminary, will the Minister say that she will repeal the ridiculous anti-hunting Bill?

What a temptation is presented to me! I assure the House that there is absolutely no question of any repeal of the Hunting Act 2004, which was sought by the public and was supported by all the animal welfare charities. None the less, I am more than happy to look again at the issue of mink.

I might have said in response to the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) who mentioned parakeets, that we are very concerned about a small colony that has established itself in north London. In some cases, eradication is the right way forward, as, indeed, with the action we are taking to deal with the ruddy duck.

Farm Security

As the hon. Gentleman will know, criminal activity that targets farmers is clearly a matter for the Home Office and the local police. My Department has, however, been in contact with the Association of Chief Police Officers because we were concerned that criminal activity targeting farmers was on the increase, and we wanted to ensure that there was good liaison between the National Farmers Union and the police. We have been assured that there is.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but given that the figures show a substantial increase in thefts of low-cost red diesel from farmers across the country as well as of household oil of domestic dwellers in rural areas, and given that the cost of farm equipment theft rose by some 16.5 per cent. last year in the UK, what particular detailed discussions is the Department having with the Home Office and the police in order to put a stop to this very considerable cost to rural dwellers?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue. As he said, red diesel is being stolen, along with valuable farm equipment and other materials that can be recycled and sold around the world. It is a sad phenomenon that globalisation is demanding more of the world’s resources and that criminal activity is targeted at rural areas. We are in close contact with the Home Office, and, indeed, with ACPO. As I said, we want to make sure that there is good liaison between such organisations as the NFU and the police. We sympathise with farmers and many others who have been the victims of crime—there have even been deaths.

I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I sympathise with those landowners and farmers who have been affected, but surely one of the best ways to ensure that our countryside is secure is to allow appropriate development, particularly where there are redundant buildings, so that we get a living and working countryside and one that is more secure. I hope that DEFRA will talk to the Department for Communities and Local Government about how that will be possible in future.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who gives me an opportunity to advise the House of our minimum target of 10,300 new affordable rural dwellings, for which we have put in considerable resources. DEFRA and the DCLG are working closely together. We want families who are from the countryside to be able to remain in the countryside, and that is why we included the target for communities of fewer than 3,000 dwellings.

There are fewer crimes in the countryside than in our towns, but is it not the case that if a bicycle is stolen from a town centre it is recorded as one crime, while a combine harvester stolen from a field is also recorded as one crime? What can the Minister do with his colleagues in the Home Office to try to emphasise the disproportionate impact of the theft of agricultural equipment?

I am advised that we publish figures by value. The investment that farmers must make in agricultural equipment is considerable, and if a farmer cannot take their stock to slaughter or harvest their crops, the impact is not only on the farmer but on all of us. With less food, the prices will rise. As I said, we are in touch with other Departments, and good liaison between the local police, NFU and farmers is vital. We will do what we can to ensure a reduction in such crime. As a consequence of the phenomenon of globalisation, there is a pull on resources, but we must remain ever vigilant—not just farmers but everyone, whether rural, suburban or urban.

Obviously, the isolation of farms makes them vulnerable to crime in the first place. With high diesel prices and metal prices around the world, they have become more vulnerable to crime. A college in my constituency trains police officers around the country in specialist countryside crime issues, and my hon. Friend’s Department already supports specialist wildlife crime issues. Will he work more closely with the police and farmers on adopting farm watch schemes, as we have neighbourhood watch and shop watch schemes, with his Department as the co-ordinator rather than the Home Office?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making those points. I assure the House that we take the issue extremely seriously, for all the reasons that I have set out. We want to work with the farming and rural communities so that the increase in recent months, and in the last year or so, does not continue. We will do what we can, and I will take back his suggestion of what more we could do. I will write to him with our conclusions.

Pollution (London)

I have had no recent discussions with the Mayor of London—[Hon. Members: “Shame!”] He is a very busy man. The good news, however, is that my officials have been in discussions with their counterparts in the Greater London authority on the issue of air quality and pollution, and we will continue to have regular meetings at an official level.

Why does the Minister not support Boris’s campaign against a sixth terminal and a third runway at Heathrow? The Government’s own Environment Agency points to the risk of an increase in morbidity and mortality in densely populated areas of west London such as mine if that huge expansion goes ahead. When will the environmental voice be heard at the Cabinet table in discussion on Heathrow?

I would be delighted to meet the Mayor of London and I will ensure that my diary is available to him, but, as I say, he is a busy man. On Heathrow, the hon. Gentleman rightly brings forward the concerns of his constituents. The Secretary of State for Transport set out to the House on 8 July what we intend to do in terms of the consultation on Heathrow. The hon. Gentleman mentions the report from the Environment Agency. Obviously, all reports that are submitted in relation to the proposed expansion of Heathrow will be taken into account, as has been set out by the Secretary of State for Transport.

The A406 North Circular road passes right through the middle of my constituency and 60,000 vehicles go in each direction every day, causing enormous noise and air pollution. Will my hon. Friend make it a priority to speak to the Mayor about air quality in particular? It is deteriorating daily and something needs to be done.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who sets out the concerns of his constituents in Edmonton about air quality. We have an air quality strategy, which sets out its purpose in London and the responsibilities of the Mayor. As I have said, I am more than happy to meet the Mayor to discuss how he, the Greater London authority and the Government can work best to reduce air pollution in London. My hon. Friend will know that London is a heavily polluted city, and that that pollution is principally brought about by traffic. What would life be like without the congestion charge in those parts of London? Pollution would be considerably higher.

Every mile of car travel emits 12 times as much pollution as a mile of rail travel. In his discussions with the Mayor of London, will the Minister consider commissioning a survey of the methods of reducing passenger and freight movements into and out of the capital and shifting them to rail? If we shifted the subsidies to non-road transport rather than the motorist, that would massively improve the quality of air in the capital.

This is going to be a long meeting! My hon. Friend will be aware that transport and trains are the responsibility of the Department for Transport. On freight, I can tell him that British Waterways is making a considerable contribution towards ensuring that aggregates being brought to the Olympic site will not be brought in lorries but by barges on canals. That is to be welcomed. Where we can do those things, we are, and the overall structure for ensuring that we keep pollution levels as low as possible for the development of the Olympics is, again, in the gift of the Mayor.

Marine Habitats

This is a bit of a one-man band today—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says that he is right behind me, which is very reassuring.

The Government are committed to establishing by 2012 a network of well-managed marine protected areas that will conserve the richness of our marine environment.

I congratulate the Minister on reshuffling his entire ministerial team. What contribution does he think the Severn barrage will make to aquatic life, bearing in mind the dire warnings from the powerful coalition of wildlife and fishery groups about the damage that the barrage will do to migratory fish runs of salmon and sea trout, which provide such vital income and recreational assets to the Wye, Usk and Severn catchment areas?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has a proud and distinguished record as Labour’s angling spokesman; he has a done a great deal that has been welcomed in all sections of the fishing community.

On the Severn barrage, I am well aware that the Severn and its tributaries, including the Wye and the Usk, are valuable spawning grounds for a number of important migratory fish, including salmon and eels. Our feasibility study will examine the possibility of developing the barrage, which could provide 5 per cent. of this country’s electricity and make a huge contribution to our renewable efforts. However, we will need to balance that against the important environmental damage that would be caused. Those are the issues that confront us today, and we must make balanced choices. What my hon. Friend and anglers have said about the barrage will form part of our consideration as we move forward on the feasibility study.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in the Marine Bill we are introducing changes in respect of salmon and freshwater and migratory fish; there will be new measures to allow the Environment Agency to ensure that particular species are not put into waters where they can breed and have an impact on native species.

As the hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position, they are already there. The Environment Agency is doing its best to tackle the issue, and we will be introducing further powers—this has been welcomed by the Environment Agency and by many anglers—to reduce these alien species and ensure that we protect our native species.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), I have great concerns about the Severn barrage. The Severn estuary not only has the second highest tidal range in the world, but in winter its mudflats, saltflats and rocky marshes provide vital breeding grounds and overwintering habitats for 65,000 birds, which feed on a huge variety of invertebrate, insect and, sadly, fish life in the estuary. Will the Minister assure me that he will take care to protect the biodiversity of the Severn estuary and ensure that if this plan does, foolishly, go ahead, compensatory habitat will be provided for all those species.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Of course, all those measures will need to be considered in the feasibility study, which will last roughly two years and cost about £9 million. It is also important to take into account the fact that climate change is also impacting on wildlife and that we need to reduce our carbon levels. We may conclude that the Severn barrage will make such a significant contribution that it will help wildlife and all of mankind. Those issues need to be considered carefully, and the environmental points that both she and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) have made will form part of our consideration as we advance the feasibility study.

A great deal of the damage to marine habitats is done by fishing. Some £97 million of European fisheries fund money was supposed to be used to promote more sustainable and environmentally friendly fishing gears and practices. Is it not the case that that money is not available because the Government failed to agree with the devolved Administrations and failed to consult on and submit our programme to the Commission by the deadline? Perhaps the Minister can tell us when we will get our money and whether the EU has confirmed that DEFRA will not be fined for a late submission of the operational programme?

The hon. Gentleman will know that I was in Brussels till half-past 10 on Monday negotiating the changes to the European fisheries fund. New regulations will impact on all member states and will provide more flexibility within the fund. Obviously, we must look at the detail of those and discuss that with the industry. His question about whether we will miss out is obviously outdated because of the changes that were agreed in the Commission earlier this week.


Second fiddle!

On 28 April, DEFRA placed a report in the Library on its statutory instruments between January 2000 and December 2007. The report shows that DEFRA implemented 1,036 statutory instruments between those dates and revoked 840, dating back to 2000 and earlier.

I am grateful for the Minister’s response. However, with input costs rising and British businesses forced to compete on an uneven playing field with the rest of Europe, they can ill afford a regulatory burden that is increasing year on year. What is the cost to industry of those regulations, and will the Minister take steps further to reduce the bureaucracy and red tape that prohibits business from doing its job?

I would challenge the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. In fact, the direction of travel is downwards. The plan that DEFRA started to implement in 2007 will reduce the administrative burden by just under a third by 2010, so we are moving in the right direction.

I know that at least one of the ministerial team is aware of the case in my constituency of the greengrocer who was prohibited from selling kiwi fruit because they were 4 g too light. What plans are being made to review the EU grading laws and does he believe that, in an era of rising food prices and shortages, such decisions are best left to the consumer, instead of being the subject of regulation?

I have been informed about this particular case. My hon. Friend will accept that it is important that we have rules for quality produce, as that is what the buyers want and what the consumers want, as is supported across the House. The vast majority of traders play by the rules and do not want to be undermined by those who do not. However, we are of course aware of the case that my hon. Friend raises.

What effort is the Department making to reduce the burden of regulation, especially from the European Union, when it comes to the problem that hill farmers will face if electronic tagging of sheep is introduced? What effort is the Minister making to reduce that burden on farmers?

In relation to the DEFRA delivery agencies, which act as regulatory bodies to protect the environment and the consumer, we have a simplification plan, which is working. We are reducing regulation, but our goal is quality regulation, including for the hill farmers whom the hon. Gentleman mentions.

It seems to me that the Minister does not really know what he is talking about when he mentions reducing the burden of regulation. That is because his Department is perpetrating a complete con trick on the industry and the public, because it measures the burden of regulation only by what it calls “administrative burdens”. Why does he not allow for the full cost to industry of all these burdens? For example, DEFRA says that the admin cost of the catchment sensitive farming regulation is £391,000 a year; it is actually £210 million a year. DEFRA says that the cost of the nitrates directive is £1.5 million a year, but the true cost, including all the investment that industry has to make, is £250 million a year. Despite all the Government’s warm words about farming, the Department is stifling farmers’ ability to compete.

The hon. Gentleman is ungenerous in his remarks and his analysis. He refers to the costs of regulation but ignores the benefits. One person’s regulation is another’s protection—a point that is often missed. Many of the regulations to which he refers are supported by the industries because they help to ensure that the cowboys and bad guys do not get an unfair advantage. He has made an accusation about costs, but he has completely ignored the costs to the taxpayer of non-regulation of environmental protection. For example, what would he say to the water industry, which spends £288 million a year treating nitrates from run-off? I suppose that he would not include that as a cost.

Bovine TB

7. What the cost was of compensation for cattle which tested positive for bovine tuberculosis in each of the last five years. (219293)

In England, the following amounts were paid in compensation for cattle slaughtered under bovine tuberculosis controls in each of the last five calendar years: £26 million in 2003; £25 million in 2004; £27 million in 2005; £16 million in 2006, and £15 million in 2007.

The Secretary of State’s rapid production of the figures will not disguise the fact that, over the past 10 years, some 200,000 cattle—most of them perfectly healthy—have been slaughtered. Their carcases have been burned, needlessly, at a cost some £600 million to the public purse so far. This year, 40,000 cattle have been killed, at a vast cost, and the predictions are that £300 million a year will be spent on TB across England by 2012. Does he accept that that is appalling wasteful for the public purse, and that it is a tragedy that those animals are being slaughtered needlessly? Does he also accept that farmers in hot-spot areas such as North Wiltshire are distraught at his announcement this week that he will ignore the recommendation from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that some culling of badgers in some areas may have some effect on restraining this appalling disease?

I would say to the hon. Gentleman and his constituents that bovine TB is an appalling disease that has a terrible impact. I have ignored nothing, however: I have looked at the science and, in the end, I have to make a judgment. I have reached my decision about what will be effective in dealing with the problem. As I explained to the House in my oral statement last week, the science and the practicality tell me—and the House—that badger culling will not contribute. That was the view of Professor Bourne, so we have to use the means currently at our disposal. That is why I want to sit down with the industry to discuss what further steps we should take, and it is also why we are significantly increasing the investment in vaccines.

Water Prices

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met representatives of Ofwat on 3 June. DEFRA is in regular contact with Ofwat on a range of issues, including the 2009 periodic review of water price limits.

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. When will the metering and charging review be set up, and when will it report? Will he reassure the House that it will report in good time for Ofwat to take its findings into consideration, and for all of us to have access to them?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her input to this policy area on behalf of her constituents facing high water and sewage charges. We are determined to ensure fairness. The review will be launched imminently and it will dovetail into the Ofwat PRO9 process—that is, the price review process for 2009. That will ensure that we can make better progress towards water efficiency measures and, through an examination of tariffs, a fairer system for her constituents.

Pitt Report

A total of £34.5 million has been provisionally set aside to deal with the recommendations in Sir Michael Pitt’s report. I will fully consider the recommendations before making a final allocation and response with a costed action plan this autumn.

As Sir Michael makes no fewer than 92 recommendations, is the Secretary of State satisfied that the money that he has set aside will be sufficient to implement them? Many hinge on better joint working between the various agencies, and a good job of work remains to be done in that regard. What assurances can he give the House about Sir Michael Pitt’s ongoing reporting to Parliament about the progress of the implementation of his practical recommendations—or will we just have to wait for the recriminations after the next deluge hits us?

The hon. Gentleman’s last comment is a bit unfair. I will continue to report to the House about the progress being made in implementing the recommendations. As I told the House when I made my statement, Sir Michael will have a continuing role. Only last week, indeed, in the light of his report and together with him, I met the heads of all the agencies and bodies involved to see what further progress has been made, and what more we need to do together. From memory, Sir Michael has said that about 80 per cent. of his recommendations call for a different way of doing things, and do not require additional expenditure. I shall weigh all that up when, as I promised, I report back to the House with the plan in the autumn.

In Sir Michael’s report he lays emphasis on the importance of improving the resilience of utilities’ facilities where there are cases of severe flooding. What reassurance, pursuant to the last answer given by the Minister of State, can the Secretary of State give me that the cost of utilities improving the resilience of their facilities in view of flooding will not be passed on to consumers, but will come from the balance sheets of the companies?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, ultimately that is a matter for the regulator, but I am able to report to the House that National Grid has purchased 1.2 km of relocatable defences like the ones that were used to protect Walham during the flooding last year; CE Electric has purchased seven temporary defence kits; and EDF Energy has also purchased a number. The National Grid and Central Networks have put defences around Walham and Castlemead substations following the floods last year. That demonstrates to the House how, now that all of us have had a wake-up call, the utility companies are responding.

My right hon. Friend will realise that one of the missing parts of the jigsaw is the Humber, the Trent and the Tame river basin flood strategy, which we shall probably have in two years’ time. Until that part is in place, does he believe that local authorities and other interested parties can take the best possible future measures?

We have made it very clear in the decisions that we have taken that the Environment Agency will now have overall responsibility for dealing with flooding from whatever source, and that local authorities will lead on surface water flooding. That was what Sir Michael recommended, and we shall now put it in place, through a flood and water Bill. Clearly it takes time for some of those plans to come forward. The other practical contribution that we are making, of course, is to provide more money for flood defence.

The Government are not displaying any sense of urgency whatever. They have failed to come forward with a detailed action plan, which is the least that the Secretary of State could do to satisfy the House, and to satisfy the victims of last summer’s floods; already one year has passed since then. The Government are embarking on a consultation on the restructuring of internal drainage boards. They probably have more engineers; we know from the Select Committee report that there is a shortage. What are the implications for ongoing maintenance of this restructuring? Will there be even fewer engineers at the end of the restructuring?

First, I do not accept what the hon. Lady says about how we have responded to what happened last year. Indeed, she does not have to take my word for it; she just has to look at what Sir Michael said in his interim report about the urgent recommendations, and what he said in his final report about the progress that has been made. Secondly, we are carrying out the consultation to ensure that the contribution of internal drainage boards can be as effective as possible, and clearly we have no intention of doing something that will make it more difficult for them to do their job effectively; on the contrary.

Climate Change

12. What steps his Department is taking to encourage best practice in adaptation to climate change in the countryside. (219298)

We have a cross-government programme on adaptation, and a framework for adaptation is established through the Climate Change Bill. DEFRA is working with regional rural affairs forums, Farming Futures and the rural climate change forum to help raise awareness and encourage best practice.

I am delighted that at last we have a cross-government framework on adaptation. What funding did DEFRA include in its budgets for research into, and knowledge transfer regarding, climate change adaptation in rural communities, including for productive agriculture?

I thank my hon. Friend. This is a very important issue, and next week I intend to launch the adapting to climate change website, which will show what is happening across the whole of Government. This is not just a DEFRA issue; it is across the whole of Government, and an accompanying document will be published. But I can tell him that £5 million per year has been given to a research programme on agriculture and climate change, which includes research on the impacts of climate change on agriculture and how the sector can adapt. We are also working with the rural climate change forum, as I said. We have provided £250,000 up to March 2009 to Farming Futures, which aims to provide for farmers practical advice on adaptation. There is not time to go into what we are doing on biodiversity, but enabling biodiversity to adapt to climate change is also very significant, and money is being spent.


13. What progress has been made in increasing producer responsibility for packaging, as referred to in his Department’s framework for pro-environmental behaviours. (219299)

Earlier this year, I raised the packaging recovery targets for 2008, 2009 and 2010, which came into force on 14 March. The targets for 2008 have been set to ensure that the UK meets the current EU targets. Targets post-2008 are designed to ensure continued compliance with the EU and to reflect ambitions outlined in the Government’s waste strategy.

The document referred to in my question—the Department’s framework for pro-environmental behaviours—makes only one reference to packaging. It is one line on page 49, which says the Government will seek to

“increase producer responsibility for packaging,”

despite the fact that only 3 per cent. of all the material that goes to landfill is packaging and, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, recovery targets have been increased. The difficulty for the industry is that it now cannot recycle much of the material collected, because it is of such poor quality. Will she take that on board and, with her colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government, try to improve the possibility of recycling better materials?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work on packaging, which is very important. The reason why we must pay a lot of attention to packaging is that in many cases it is avoidable. The public believe that it is avoidable, and they want something done about it. So we will not resile from that. We recently produced information through WRAP—the Waste and Resources Action Programme—which is the Government-funded organisation that deals with waste, that shows us that in the current market, kerbside sorting is more effective for local authorities than single co-mingling, and that costs are similar if two streams are co-mingled but paper is kept separate. So local authorities can benefit from kerbside separation. Kerbside sort achieves the higher-quality recyclates that my hon. Friend wants to see produced. So we are providing a great deal of assistance to local authorities and giving them advice. Contrary to the popular belief that co-mingling is the easiest thing for consumers, we have found that the size of bins matters in determining how much consumers recycle. We will not hesitate to try to get better recycling quality and levels from our local authorities, because that is what our citizens want.

Topical Questions

DEFRA’s responsibility is to enable us all to live within our environmental means. I wish to inform the House that we are today publishing a discussion paper entitled, “Ensuring the UK’s Food Security in a Changing World”. The UK currently has a secure food supply, but with recent sharp increases in food and fuel prices, a growing world population and climate change, it is sensible that we think about the impact of those changes on food supply in the years ahead. I look forward to receiving views on the paper.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking a decision about badger culling, based on the science and the evidence. Given that we have a long and porous border between Wales and England, does he agree that any widespread culling of badgers in Wales would be bad for farmers in Wales and could be bad for farmers in England?

Those decisions in Wales are, of course, devolved matters, and we will keep in close contact with the Welsh Assembly Government as they take forward their proposals. I reached the view that badger culling could not make a contribution to the control of disease, in line with the advice given to me by the independent scientific group, for the reasons that I have set out very clearly to the House.

T2. The Fisheries Minister will be aware that earlier this week Commissioner Borg recognised the acute difficulties faced by the industry, and made available some €2 billion for a compensation fund. In light of that, will the Minister reopen dialogue with the industry in this country to see what use can be made of the money provided by Mr. Borg? Of course, if we do not take it up, it will be taken up by fishing industries in other countries in the EU. (219313)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue. He is right to draw to the House’s attention the fact that the Fisheries Council met on 15 July, when we discussed bringing in new flexibilities and new regulations for the European fisheries fund. The flexibilities will allow for some decommissioning, not just of whole fleets but, as we discussed with the Commissioner, of fleet segments, either geographically or by sector. We will look closely at, and talk to the industry about, the changes that are being made, so that we can implement them to best effect. As I have said in previous debates, both to him and to the industry, I do not subscribe to subsidies for red diesel. I know that prices have gone up greatly, but for the fishing industry, no duty is applied. If I applied the full de minimis provisions, it would provide the UK fleet with one month’s relief at last year’s prices, and I do not think that that is a good approach, even in the short term.

T7. In the several months since I last raised the issue with the departmental team, what progress has been made on bringing forward incentives to introduce biodegradable chewing gum? Chewing gum blights our townscapes and spoils our children’s outings. Members on both sides of the House have been raising the issue for several months now. Will the Minister tell us when he will be able to introduce a measure to improve the incentives? [Interruption.] He may think that it is funny—or rather there may be colleagues in the House who think it is funny, but I assure him, and them, that it is not funny for people whose families are affected, or whose town is blighted by chewing gum. (219319)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the city that he represents, Nottingham, the council reckons that it spends more than £12,000 on clearing up the flipping stuff. I know that he, as the chair of One Nottingham, his local area agreement, would rather use that money for things of far more advantage—

The hon. Gentleman makes jokey remarks about the subject, but chewing gum costs councils a lot of money, and it is antisocial. We can say to people, “Put it in the bin.” We have a campaign that supports local councils in encouraging people to put their chewing gum in the bin. Where councils have taken up that campaign, they have seen a reduction in the problem. On manufacturing—

Let us return to food. Was it prudent of the Prime Minister to take time out to lecture us all about the amount of food that we throw away when it turns out that 15 Government Departments do not even know how much of the food that they buy with our taxpayers’ money they throw away every year? Is that not just another case of “Do as we say, not as we do”?

No, it is not. May I say that it is very nice to see the hon. Gentleman back at the Dispatch Box? I have missed him of late. We published information on the amount of perfectly usable food that gets thrown away. The information had been collected as a result of research that was undertaken; that is common sense. I think that a lot of people will be surprised, as I was, to learn of the amount of food that was being thrown away; the information makes us more aware. If we can save money and not contribute to climate change—the methane that flows from that food goes into landfill—it is very sensible to do so.

Changing the subject, I am sure that the whole House will agree that it was a great day for wildlife conservation when, in 1989, the international community banned the trade in ivory. I am sure that most of us would also agree that it was a regrettable day when, in 1997, Robert Mugabe led a successful challenge to that ban. Are the Government proud that on Tuesday, acting on behalf of the EU, an official from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs voted to allow China to import ivory? Surely the best way to deal with the continuing illegal trade in ivory is to choke off demand, not stoke it in that way.

The hon. Gentleman knows, because I have written to him at length, that the decision was taken on behalf of the EU. Ministers were involved in that decision, which was not taken by an official. The decision was originally taken in principle by the international community in 2002 to allow a number of African states that had legal stockpiles of ivory to undertake a one-off sale. The conditions on the buyers in those sales were laid down by an international body that protects wildlife. Japan met the conditions, and China applied to meet the conditions. After a year of inquiry, China was found to meet the criteria, which are about safeguarding the import of legal stocks, ensuring that stocks are only moved around legally and making sure that illegal ivory is not laundered. After the last one-off sale, which went to Japan, may I tell the hon. Gentleman—

Order. I must tell the Minister that her reply has taken more than a minute, and that I must consider Back Benchers.

T8. Is the Minister aware of the recent report on reward-only waste incentive schemes in the US? Are there any plans to introduce such incentives in this country? (219320)

Local authorities can already introduce reward-only schemes. We have piloted such schemes in this country, which qualify for the incentive pilots that will be on offer next year. I understand that the Opposition are promoting such schemes, but the problem is that the shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), has instructed Tory councils not to co-operate with the Government. Furthermore, the US schemes depend on chips in bins, which the hon. Gentleman has described as “an invasion of privacy”. The Conservative party is in a pickle over its waste strategy.

T3. DEFRA’s new company reporting rules for carbon may be based on grid average electricity, even if companies have renewable energy onsite, which might undermine the green energy market and lead companies to declare imaginary carbon that they have not really emitted. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet industry representatives and hon. Members from both sides of the House in an attempt to resolve that obvious anomaly? (219314)

I welcome the Government’s decision to publish proposals on tackling food security. Many of our constituents, especially those on low incomes, face real problems with rising food prices. What contribution does the Secretary of State believe that British farmers can make to increasing our food security and reducing prices in the shops?

The most important contribution is to do what they are doing already, which is to produce food that people want to buy. If we are to deal with global price increases, we need a lot more agricultural production around the world, including in Africa. If Africa cannot increase production to feed a growing population, it will add to pressure on prices for the available stocks of food, which will affect UK consumers in the end. More production in the world is the single most important thing.

The Department knows that bluetongue strand 1 is spreading rapidly from south to north Spain, and is moving in our direction. I understand that the vaccines that we have in the UK are for a different strand of bluetongue. Will the Secretary of State tell us how useful those vaccines will be against that strand? If they are not effective, what is his strategy?

Like hon. Members, I am aware of the new strain that is coming up through Europe. It is a different type, and our vaccine deals with the bluetongue strain that we currently face; the vaccination is rolling out extremely successfully. We are carefully examining the implications of the change in the strain, when the strain might come to the UK, and what we need to do to respond. Vaccination has been shown to work, and I hope that it will deal with the new strain, if it comes. I shall be happy to respond further to the hon. Gentleman.

T4. Because of the discovery of bovine TB in calves exported to the Netherlands, all cattle exports to the European Union are now at risk. What steps will the Secretary of State take to address this problem, specifically to try to find a way of testing that works with calves? (219316)

The right hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point. We are urgently investigating the circumstances surrounding this case. We have been in contact with the Dutch authorities and with the Commission, and I will report further to the House.

T5. On 24 June, a rabbit with cryptosporidiosis hopped into the water treatment works at Pitsford, in my constituency, and contaminated the water supply for 250,000 people. Is the Secretary of State as impressed as I am by the response of Anglian Water, the local media and others, which could not have been any better? (219317)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question. I am indeed impressed by how this has been dealt with. I also pay tribute to local Members of Parliament for the role that he and others have played. Giving good information and timely advice, and keeping people in touch with what is happening and when it is safe to start drinking the water again, is exactly how such incidents should be dealt with. I applaud all those involved for the efforts that they have made.

T9. Further to the questions asked by the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), has the Secretary of State considered whether instead of looking at the need to bear down on bovine TB as a nationwide problem, it might be better to form partnerships in the hot- spot areas between scientists, environmentalists and farmers, who know more about the problems within the locality, in order to find local solutions? (219321)

That is a very helpful suggestion. As I have said to the House, I want to establish a TB partnership group precisely so that all the means at our disposal that are effective—that is the heart of the debate—can be used. I am waiting for the industry to come and participate in the mechanism that I have proposed so that we can bring together all those who have an interest in this disease and all the effective means of dealing with it, and get on with it.