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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Volume 486: debated on Thursday 15 January 2009

The Secretary of State was asked—

Marine Environmental Protection

The Government want a marine environment that is clean, safe, productive and biologically diverse. The Marine and Coastal Access Bill will play a significant part in achieving this, along with other steps that we are taking, including action on sustainable fisheries management and on achieving good environmental status for our seas under the marine strategy framework directive.

With reference to the progress of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, which represents a sea change, is my right hon. Friend aware of the wonderful coastline in my constituency, starting with a five-star, award-winning seabird centre in North Berwick, which is educational and protective and does all the things that the Government want to do to look after the marine life in the River Forth?

I am very pleased to hear from my hon. Friend about the centre that she mentioned. The Bill has started its passage in the other place and we look forward to its coming here. There will be much to discuss and debate, but there is widespread support for the legislation. It is groundbreaking, it is important, and we need to get it on the statute book and get on with the work.

The Secretary of State mentioned the importance of marine sustainability. Does he acknowledge the concerns expressed by many environmental groups and local fishermen about the extent to which licences are being issued for industrial scallop dredging, and the damaging effect that that has both on the seabed and on future fish stocks, not least in my area, in Cardigan bay, which is protected as a special area of conservation? Does he regard the arrangements in the Bill as robust enough to meet the challenges brought to us in our constituencies?

I am indeed aware of those concerns. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the action that we have taken in relation to scallop dredging in the Fal and Helford special area of conservation, and of the decision taken last year in respect of Lyme bay, which was very significant. That illustrates the Government’s determination to take the right decisions to provide conservation where it is needed, and the Bill provides the framework to do that. In the end, all these things must be balanced, but one of the purposes of introducing the Bill is to allow for the designation of marine conservation zones. The two steps that we have already taken with regard to scallop dredging will give comfort to those who are concerned about the Government’s willingness, in the right circumstances, to act.

My right hon. Friend may remember that a few weeks ago he visited my constituency. During that visit, I had arranged a meeting with a number of leading Scottish environmental non-governmental organisations. They are very pleased with the way he listened to their concerns and has come up with a sensible division of responsibilities for nature conservation between the UK and Scottish Governments. What steps will the Department take to ensure that there continues to be effective co-ordination between the Scottish and UK Government responsibilities in this area?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for saying that. I recollect saying to his environmental groups on that occasion that we would listen to what was said as a result of the consultation. They will have seen how we amended the draft Bill when it was published and introduced into Parliament. I am absolutely determined that we continue to build on the arrangements that we have put in place to ensure partnership between the different parts of the devolved system. One of the things that came across clearly in the consultation was the desire for one coherent framework. The discussions that we have had with the devolved Administrations have allowed us to put in place a structure which I think will work, and I am committed to it.

Further to the important point made by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams), the Minister will know that the destruction caused by scallop dredging may last for 10, 12 or 14 years. It is nothing short of vandalism. Will he contrast the needs of those fishermen with the crofting that goes on both in Scotland and in north Wales on the Llyn peninsula, where farmers supplement their income by sustainable fishing methods? Will he ensure that their interests are catered for in the interests of good, sustainable fisheries for the future?

It is important that there should be local discussion and local input. In the end, it is about balancing all these things. However, as I said in answer to the question from the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams), we must have a framework that allows us to take such decisions; obviously, the Welsh Assembly Government would have responsibilities in this particular case. A balance has to be struck. The Marine and Coastal Access Bill and the support of the devolved Administrations provide the framework within which we can try to deal better with the problems, and that is why there is such widespread support for the Bill.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one thing that will not improve the marine environment is EU Commission regulation article 47, which relates to EU monitoring of recreational fisheries? It seeks to take away precious quota from our professional fishermen and heap a horrendous bureaucratic burden on the 1.5 million sea anglers, who contribute £1 billion to the economy. Will the Secretary of State join me and the newly formed Angling Trust and use every ounce of his strength to reject that ridiculous proposal?

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will meet representatives of the Angling Trust shortly to discuss the matter. In the end, it is important that we strike a balance, on that issue and others. We are determined to ensure that there are opportunities for sustainable fisheries and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s achievement in the fisheries negotiations just before Christmas. Such things are difficult to balance, but we achieved a reasonable outcome.

Animal Diseases/Contaminated Feed

2. What steps his Department plans to take to ensure that cattle in England are protected from animal diseases and contaminated feed in 2009. (247628)

The Government are funding scanning surveillance to detect the emergence of new or exotic diseases in cattle. The diagnosis and disease investigation service is subsidised and offered to farmers through their private vets, and the analysis of samples is delivered by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency. There are also projects targeted at specific diseases. DEFRA collaborates with the Food Standards Agency, Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency to manage contaminated animal feed incidents.

The Minister’s answer contains some reassurance, but she will be aware of the devastating effect of the feed contamination in Ireland just before Christmas on the whole of that country’s pork meat industry—large amounts of product had to be destroyed. What specific steps have been taken to minimise the risk of such an event in the United Kingdom, and does the Minister agree that what happened emphasises the importance of better product labelling to enable us to enhance traceability if such an incident were to occur here?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I am in active dialogue with my right hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for public health. We need to learn the lessons from that recent incident to make sure that our procedures are as robust as we believe they are. However, the assurance scheme that protects British-produced pork—bacon, ham and other pig products—has really proved its worth in the past month. Consumers can be assured that when they purchase pork, bacon or ham that bears the British quality standard mark agreed with the British Pig Executive and which applies throughout the whole food chain, they are buying a product derived from animals that have been fed, reared and processed to the highest standards of animal welfare and food safety.

This is not just an issue about the protection of livestock in England; it applies right across the UK. Will the Minister assure the House that she regularly discusses issues such as animal disease and contaminated feed with her colleagues in the devolved Administrations?

Yes, indeed. As my hon. Friend would expect, I am very interested in working collaboratively with the devolved Administrations. The recent report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has made recommendations on the pork industry, referring to the Scottish taskforce for pig products. I want to learn from the Scottish experience, and I will be in touch with ministerial colleagues in the other authorities.

Given that the Government were essentially responsible for the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2007, surely they have an even greater responsibility to farmers, consumers and farmers’ livestock to protect against other animal diseases, including bluetongue? There is a vaccine against bluetongue strain 8, but not against other strains of the disease. Serotype 1 of the disease was discovered in Blackpool less than two months ago and is present elsewhere in western Europe. Given the devastating impact of an outbreak of bluetongue, not only on animal welfare but on farm incomes, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that we are protected against other strains of the disease?

As the hon. Gentleman would expect, we are monitoring the situation very closely. Our veterinary and animal health authorities conduct very strict surveillance. I am not aware of any circulating bluetongue disease found in the UK in 2008. The vaccination uptake previously was high in the south and the east of England, and the Pirbright experts believe that this was effective in controlling the BTV8 outbreak. We are not complacent, however—we know that we must keep all this work under very close review. We are conducting post-import tests for all bluetongue stereotypes. Every type of bluetongue can be detected through routine testing. We are urging the industry to consider the risks and to check the health and vaccination status of animals when sourcing any animals from within the UK or, indeed, from abroad.

Animal feed is one very important part of the food chain, but the focus and function of animals and farms in passing on manure to allotment holders is another vital part of the food chain. I have been contacted by allotment holders in Wakefield who have had farmers selling them manure that is not pure but has been contaminated with chemicals. What has my right hon. Friend’s Department been doing to ensure the minimisation of that and to ensure that people who want to grow their own do not end up with distorted carrots and parsnips?

I am very interested in the case that my hon. Friend has brought to the House, and I would want to have the opportunity to look into it in detail. The Environment Agency will be closely at work on the detail of this matter, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is also following it closely. We are aware that a particular product has been withdrawn. I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend, or if she would care to write to me with the details of the representations that she has received, I will be happy to look into them.

The people at the forefront in combating disease in our animals are the institutes of animal health. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the scientists and other staff who work at the Institute for Animal Health at Compton in my constituency and give them some assurance that the future of the institute in that location will be confirmed?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, no decisions have yet been taken regarding the institute and the other organisations with which it works. I am more than happy to join Members on both sides of the House in paying tribute to the work of those people in his constituency, who do extremely important work. I hope to visit their organisation in the near future to learn about their work.

Surface Water Drainage Charges

3. What assessment he has made of the effects of the new surface water drainage charges on sports and social clubs; and if he will make a statement. (247629)

My hon. Friend will know that it is for Ofwat, as the independent economic regulator of the water industry, to approve water companies’ charging schemes. However, to give him some reassurance, I can say that we are very aware of the problem of affordability faced by some customers as a result of the switch to site area charging for surface water drainage, and we are actively looking at what can be done.

I am grateful for that answer. Throughout the north-west, sports and social clubs are receiving from United Utilities water rate bills that include a new surface area water drainage charge that is resulting in an increase of about 400 per cent. in the three-year transitional period. In discussing this matter with Ofwat, will my hon. Friend remind it of the guidance that was given following the passage of the Water Industry Act 1999? It said:

“It would be inappropriate to charge all customers as if they were businesses.”

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. It is worth reiterating the advice issued by the then Secretary of State in 2000, which said of that guidance:

“those making similar demands on services should be charged on the same basis… surface water drainage charges”

for non-household customers

“should be set in a way that is sensitive to the actual use of the service by different premises. Premises with large grounds, such as burial grounds, schools, hospitals”—

and playing fields—

“may have a large proportion of their land not draining to a public sewer. Companies should be prepared to set their charges…accordingly”.

It is worth reiterating that advice on the guidance. As I say, we are actively considering what may be done.

I fully support every word uttered by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon). Will the Minister go further than he so far has in dealing with this grotesquely unfair charge, which could put a number of social clubs, sporting clubs and—yes, I shall mention them—churches in grave financial difficulty? I hope he will indicate that he will approach Ofwat and ask it to review the whole basis of the charge. It is a licence for the water companies, particularly United Utilities, to print money, and we want to stop it. It is unfair. Will he give a firmer assurance about the action that the Government will take?

Once again, I thank all hon. Members who have raised this issue, which is vital for their constituents and for small organisations, churches, sports clubs and so on in their areas. I hope that I have made it clear to the hon. Gentleman and others just how seriously we take this matter, and that we will examine what can be done. I cannot go further than that today, but we are actively considering it.

It is worth stating that Ofwat’s approach is that in principle, site area-based charging is overall the fairest means of charging for surface water drainage. However, the charge relates only to areas draining into a public sewer from impermeable surfaces such as the roofs of buildings or car parks. Grassy areas such as sports fields, burial grounds and so on will not be liable to charges. Ofwat is making that clear to companies, and I glad to restate it today.

At the risk of repeating what the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) said, may I focus on the application of the new surface water charges to ancient cathedrals and churches with huge roof spaces? They will be adversely affected, and some are already struggling. I had better declare an interest: I am an honorary lay canon of Bradford cathedral.

I thank my hon. Friend. I am more than happy, on the basis of the comments that have been made today and other representations that have been made, to examine individual cases. It is worth my saying also that if a customer is of the view that he or she has been charged for permeable areas, in the first instance they should raise the matter with the water company, bearing in mind the guidance that is on record and has been reiterated today. Failing that, they should raise it with the Consumer Council for Water. I reassure Members that we are taking concerns seriously and actively considering what can be done.

The Minister will be aware that the Government rightly applaud the work of faith-based and other voluntary sector groups such as sports clubs, the guides and the scouts. The gross increase in charges that the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) pointed out could not come to such volunteer-based organisations at a worse time than this time of economic hardship. Will the Minister intervene and ask what economic and financial impact assessment has been done and whether it was done during or before the economic crisis? May we please have a moratorium on the charges until such an assessment has been carried out?

I cannot offer the hon. Lady a moratorium on the charges, but I can assure her that as part of our examination of what is currently going on and our undertaking to review how the charges are rolled out, we will take into consideration the factors that she has mentioned, including the economic impact.

This is an opportune moment to say that Ofwat is encouraging churches and other customers to double-check their chargeable area, to ensure that those who are entitled to a lower bill by virtue of a small permeable area are receiving one. I have been made aware of instances where that has not happened, so I thank the hon. Lady for raising the matter.

Air Quality

4. What recent discussions his Department has had with the Environment Agency on the protection of air quality. (247631)

What comfort can my right hon. Friend give my constituents in Eastham, who are faced with the possible construction of a Biossence gasification plant and an Agri Energy tallow plant, that if those projects go ahead they will continue to enjoy clean and safe air, and that any installations will be appropriately monitored?

I understand that Biossence Ltd held pre-application discussions with the Environment Agency last March. It expressed the intention to apply for a permit under the environmental permitting regulations. If it does, there must be statutory consultation, and in the end the Environment Agency decides on applications, either granting the permit with conditions or refusing it. In making any application, an operator needs to cover various matters, including satisfactory environmental management of the installation, adequate monitoring and compliance with EU directives and other requirements. I hope that that offers him and his constituents some reassurance.

How much harder will it be to achieve air quality objectives if the 222,000 extra flights a year which will result from the third runway at Heathrow go ahead? Will the Secretary of State outline the extent to which he wholeheartedly gives his passionate commitment and support to the third runway at Heathrow?

The hon. Gentleman must be a little more patient because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will make a statement later today. To answer the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, the Government have always made it clear that our air quality and noise targets must be met before any expansion can go ahead.

In his discussions with the Environment Agency, will my right hon. Friend emphasise that the public need to know that all our decisions on air quality are based on good science? In the past, the Environment Agency has listened too much to Greenpeace and other campaigners about, for example, energy for waste. The air quality is perfectly good, EU regulations are fine and the debate requires science, not passion.

I am a great believer—I am sure all hon. Members are—in science, facts, information and effective monitoring so that we can make the right decisions. Science of course informs the limits that domestic and European legislation have put in place. We must recognise that there has been real progress in the past 30 years in improving air quality in the country. However, there is some way to go on some forms of pollution. It is a genuine problem because the pollution we still have reduces average life expectancy by about seven to eight months. That is why we must keep up the progress.

The Secretary of State has a reputation for being quietly effective, but he lives in west London so he understands the impact that a 46 per cent. increase in Heathrow capacity will have on the environment of my constituents and others across that area. On Heathrow expansion, has he been defending Londoners at the Cabinet table, or has his reputation for quietness extended to silence on this occasion?

I am not known for my silence, and I have made it clear that my responsibility as Environment Secretary is to ensure that the Government’s air quality and noise targets are met. When the hon. Gentleman has a chance to hear the announcement by the Secretary of State for Transport later, he will find the answer to his question.

May I ask my right hon. Friend once again whether Government approval for the third runway at Heathrow would make it easier or harder to meet the air quality standards? The House will be interested in his views.

As I have already said in answer to the first question on the subject, the Government have made it clear that any decision on expansion must be subject to our meeting our targets for air quality and noise. That is essential. As I have said to other hon. Members, if my hon. Friend waits a little longer, he will learn from the announcement by the Secretary of State for Transport how that will be given effect.

The Department has made something of a habit of wasting taxpayers’ money through paying expensive fines for failing to deliver its targets and for serial incompetence. The impending threat of further punishment from the EU for failing to meet air quality standards is only the latest example. The Olympic Delivery Authority in east London stands accused of doing little or nothing to fulfil its promises to cut air pollution from construction. What is the Secretary of State doing about that?

I know that those who are working on the construction of the Olympics are conscious of the need to try to ensure that it is done in the most environmentally friendly way. On the substance of the question, we are currently not meeting the targets for the two pollutants PM10 and nitrogen dioxide. However, we are not unique in that. If the hon. Gentleman considers the rest of the EU, he will find many other countries that do not meet the requirements. That is why provision was made in last year’s revision to the directive for member states to apply for more time to do so. As I have already said, it is likely that we will need to apply for more time to meet the requirements on PM10 and nitrogen dioxide.

The answer, then, is not a lot. Let me join those over in west London who have already done this and ask the Secretary of State exactly how a third runway at Heathrow will help to cut air pollution. Will he confirm that, as a result of the statement that we will hear later today, the Government’s decision will cause millions of people to face blight, pollution, deteriorating air quality and noise, will massively affect the natural environment and affect people’s well-being? He is the Environment Secretary and we want to hear his view. It is no good hiding behind the latest statement. He has, to his credit, been notably silent in his enthusiasm for expanding Heathrow, but clearly he has little clout. Has he perhaps considered as a last resort joining Airplot, the organisation that is safeguarding land at the airport? That might be his only way of getting a share of the action.

I note the hon. Gentleman’s comment, and in response I simply say that I have said throughout that my responsibility is to ensure that if there is to be any expansion—he, like other hon. and right hon. Members, will have to be a bit more patient—it will be subject to the Government’s being able to demonstrate that we will meet the air quality and noise targets that we have set. If he just waits a little longer, he will see how the Government intend to ensure that we fulfil those promises.

Fishermen (Assistance with Aid Applications)

5. What assistance is available for fishermen applying for European fisheries fund aid for new nets and modifications to existing gear necessary to meet the new conservation measures agreed at the European Fisheries Council. (247632)

In response to my right hon. Friend’s question, I am pleased to confirm that funding is indeed available, under both axis 1 and axis 3 of the European fisheries fund, for vessel owners to change to more selective gear. Applicants should first make contact with the fisheries department in their operational area for direct advice on application procedures.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. I would also like to put on record my recognition of the robust leadership that he gave at the recent Fisheries Council, when some of the Commission’s more outrageous proposals, including the closure of the west coast fishing grounds, were challenged and changed. I only regret that his Scottish fisheries counterpart did not more generously recognise the role that he played. He has identified funding and he will be aware that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is looking to unlock funding for intelligent gear and nets. I hope he will co-operate with the Scottish Government to maximise such funding, because any trials piloted in Scotland will have a benefit across the whole of the UK fishing fleet.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her warm words about what was a tough but good outcome from the fisheries negotiations. I am pleased that last year we launched the EFF, with £100 million for UK fisheries right across the UK to improve their sustainability. I will be working alongside others, including Scottish fisheries colleagues and the Scottish Executive, to ensure that there is good use of those funds to support the sustainable use of fisheries. To echo her comments, I am particularly pleased that as part of the negotiations we managed to save the livelihoods of people on the west coast of Scotland.

If ever there were an issue where good, effective working relations between the Minister and Richard Lochhead in Edinburgh were so important, this is surely it. May I urge the Minister to remain engaged with the fishing industry itself as the new technical measures are rolled out? He will be aware that serious concerns were expressed by those parts of the fleet that operated on the west of Scotland about the suitability of some of the early measures. Those concerns must not be forgotten now that the deal is done.

The hon. Gentleman makes absolutely the right points. I intend to continue close engagement, both with the Scottish Executive and with fishermen on the ground, because there is a level of local expertise and knowledge that has really helped us in the negotiations and which will have to help us, in what will be a challenging year, to deliver sustainable fisheries. I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that I will remain engaged at all levels, and I will, I hope, be visiting the west coast of Scotland in the near future.

Water Charges

I met the chairman and chief executive of Ofwat on 16 December to discuss the 2009 review of water price limits, covering the period 2010 to 2015.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, and I note the response about clubs that his Minister gave earlier. However, I would like to ask what the Government are doing to reduce the burden of water bills on domestic households by tackling other factors that affect the price of water, such as the non-payment of bills, which leads to those who do pay their bills subsidising those who do not.

That was one of the issues that I discussed in the meeting to which I referred. It is important that water companies are able to collect the payments that are due, recognising that in the current economic circumstances some people have genuine difficulty in paying their bills. I attach particular importance, as does Ofwat, in taking final decisions about the price review and its impact on bills between 2010 and 2015, to the question of affordability. Like many things in life, it is a question of balance, as it is also necessary to take further action on reducing leakage and improving some environmental problems, particularly those relating to the Thames area, United Utilities and some other parts of the country.

7. What recent representations he has received on the rate at which charges for water are applied to schools, churches and voluntary organisations; and if he will make a statement. (247634)

The Secretary of State has received a range of representations from various groups regarding surface water drainage charges. As I said in response to an earlier question, the Government are aware of the issue of affordability raised by the switch to site area charging, and we are actively considering what can be done.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply—obviously, I heard the exchange on Question 3, asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon). Strong representations are being made and it would be good to hear whether they are reaching the Minister’s door. The problem has been around for 10 years—I read a debate from 1999 in which the current Home Secretary raised the issue of the potential fallout from changes in water charges. Is it not about time that we told Ofwat that its proposals are wrong, and that organisations should be properly protected from such excessive increases?

My hon. Friend is right that the issue has been around for some time. I reiterated earlier the advice that the former Secretary of State gave in 2000, which is important to note. I reassure my hon. Friend that we will not leave the issue lying. We are aware of the concerns, and the Secretary of State and I are actively considering what can be done.

Topical Questions

The Department’s responsibility is to enable us all to live within our environmental means. I inform the House that the Rural Payments Agency has now made full single payment scheme payments to 78 per cent. of farmers, which amounts to 67.4 per cent. of the estimated total fund. As the House will be aware, the RPA’s target is to make 75 per cent. of SPS 2008 payments by value by the end of this month, and 90 per cent. by the end of March.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. Earlier, we rightly discussed the importance of protecting consumers by ensuring adequate food safety standards in the meat industry, but it is equally important to protect animal welfare. Does my right hon. Friend support the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in its “Rooting for pigs” campaign to ensure better animal welfare standards within the pig industry?

Yes. A set of labelling definitions, such as “free range” or “barn grown”, agreed between the RSPCA and the UK pig industry, would be extremely powerful and command much public support. I prefer a voluntary agreement to the imposition of more legislation, and I welcome the good progress made so far. We are close to agreement between all the parties, including the supermarkets, on a set of assurance scheme criteria. All of us who enjoy pork and bacon will welcome such a labelling scheme. It will allow us to exercise an informed choice and to support our farmers, particularly in delivering higher standards of welfare.

The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be aware of bids by water companies outside Wales to supply customers inside Wales, particularly in a development in his constituency known as Valleywood. Will he meet me to discuss the important issues raised by that attempt?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, elements of water policy in Wales are devolved, but the regulatory regime remains with Westminster. On that basis, I am more than happy to meet him to discuss the matter at the earliest opportunity.

T6. In November I welcomed the announcement of spending on the Prescott lock in my constituency, but rumours abound that the Olympic legacy of usage, leisure and working of the Bow back waters is currently under threat. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss this issue, which is important to my constituents? (247652)

I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend, not least because she has been a tireless advocate of regeneration in relation to the Olympics and her own communities.

I visited Prescott lock recently. We were fortunate enough to be in a position to allocate £2 million to its development, and to ensure—this is relevant to an earlier question—that construction materials for the site were delivered on our canal network, in which the Government are investing.

As I have said, I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend, because I think that we have a good news story to tell.

T3. Does the Minister concur with the recent finding of the Advertising Standards Authority that biofuels should not be described as sustainable? (247649)

I know that the authority reached that decision recently, and I am happy to respond to the hon. Gentleman in further detail. Obviously the judgment on advertising is one for the authority to make. As for the Government’s policy, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the review conducted by Ed Gallagher last year, which examined precisely this question. What the Government have said throughout is that we need to be sure that biofuels are sustainable. We need to consider both the direct impact, in connection with which a comparison can be made with the petrol and diesel that they might replace, and the more complicated issue of the indirect effect. The British Government have been pressing strongly in Europe for sustainability standards that can give the public confidence that biofuels are indeed sustainable.

Does this week’s vote on pesticides in the European Parliament mean that the United Kingdom Government have lost the argument on control of existing pesticides, or will there still be the possibility of insisting on a full impact assessment before any change in established practices is forced on British farmers? Should we not make decisions about such changes on the basis of the best possible evidence?

I entirely agree, and I have been making the same point for a very long time. Indeed, I have asked the European Commission for a full impact assessment, but none has been forthcoming. As I have said publicly, this is not a very good basis on which to make decisions. If you are asked to sign up to something, it kind of helps if you know what it is that you are signing up to.

I must be frank with the House. I regret that there do not appear to be enough other member states that share the concern that we have expressed so forcefully. We will of course use the possibility that exists in the final shape of the proposals to seek derogations where they are necessary, but there is a fundamental principle here. A balance must be struck. We take the protection of public health extremely seriously, but we must also enable farmers to protect their crops so that we can grow the food that we need. We must make decisions on the basis of good evidence and sound science, and I am sorry that that has not been done on this occasion.

T4. Will the Secretary of State agree to hold an urgent meeting with United Kingdom paper manufacturers to listen to their suggestions for reviving the international waste paper recycling market, the state of which is threatening many local authority schemes that are very important to our sustainability profile? (247650)

I am very happy to offer the meeting that the hon. Gentleman has suggested. I acknowledge the concerns that exist in the paper recycling industry, and I am more than happy to keep the door open for him and any constituents whom he may wish to bring.

T5. Today’s report on deer, and the fact that we now have a second reservoir of bovine TB, emphasise the importance of further action. Can the Minister explain why, by the end of October last year, 4,500 tests remained to be carried out? What steps is she taking to remedy the situation, in light of the continuing and growing concerns over this cattle disease? (247651)

I acknowledge that bovine TB is our biggest endemic animal health issue. Working to eradicate this terrible disease is at the top of my agenda, given the devastating impact that it has.

We have a zero tolerance policy on overdue tests. We have pre-movement tests for cattle moving from high-risk herds, and extended use of the gamma interferon test. We are also actively pursuing the future use of vaccination. However, we need to consider further measures with the industry, and that is exactly the aim of the new bovine TB eradication group.

On air quality, although concern is currently understandably focused on Heathrow and London, will the Secretary of State look into air quality in Greater Manchester? Following the failure of the transport referendum, there is now a big vacuum in public transport policy in Greater Manchester and there are huge issues in relation to worsening air quality. Will the Secretary of State discuss this with his counterpart at the Department for Transport and with the Environment Agency?

Yes, I certainly will, because as my hon. Friend rightly points out, air quality limits are currently being exceeded in several parts of the country. The principal problem is road traffic, and we set out the steps we propose to take in the air quality strategy published last year. I have already pointed out to the House that we will very probably have to apply to the Commission for further time to meet the targets; if it is to grant us further time, we will have to set out to its satisfaction in those applications the further steps we intend to take to meet the targets. This is a responsibility of the Government, and I take it very seriously, but it is also a responsibility of those who can influence questions of traffic management in our big towns and cities across the country.

T7. Light-emitting diode—or LED—lighting technology is super-efficient: it generates just 5 per cent. of the wattage of a normal bulb, generates very little heat and has no mercury. Will the Secretary of State discuss with the Carbon Trust whether it can promote that technology, rather than the intermediate energy-efficient technology it is currently promoting? (247653)

I am happy to take up that suggestion, and I will do so. That is an important technology, which is still in a state of evolution. In the fight against climate change and the effort to reduce carbon emissions, we need all the technological assistance we can get. I would not, however, have a go at what the hon. Gentleman describes as the intermediate technology, because low-energy light bulbs certainly do save consumers money—even taking account, in some cases, of the additional costs—because of the longer life of the bulbs and the reduced energy consumption involved, but technology needs to continue to evolve to help us in this task of reducing our emissions.

The Secretary of State is known for not being swayed by passion, and for being an open-minded man who is happy to rely on science and his advisers. The Environment Agency has said that the third Heathrow runway would exceed EU pollution limits because of unsafe nitrogen dioxide levels. How is it right—or how would it be right, to use the correct tense—for such advice to be discarded in a cavalier and cursory fashion?

I am certainly not in favour of discarding any advice in a cavalier fashion. I say once again to the House—I am sure my hon. Friend will listen very carefully to this—that the Government are determined that we will meet the air quality and noise targets that we have set. That would be a condition on any expansion of Heathrow. People will be able to make a judgment about whether they think that condition has been met when they hear what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport says shortly.

T8. The Secretary of State will acknowledge that even in its current configuration Heathrow exceeds the pollution limits in the aforementioned EU air quality directive. Has he applied yet for the derogation that he says he will be seeking from that directive? If so, in terms of the road map he would have to outline for reaching eventual compliance with the directive, can he tell us how 220,000 additional flights each year would help in achieving that? (247654)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that, in relation to nitrogen dioxide and Heathrow, the principal problem is road traffic, not aircraft movements. Therefore, what happens on the M4 and other roads in that area has a significant impact. We have not yet applied for that derogation. We are likely to do so first in relation to PM10, because we should have achieved the targets by 2005—many other member states have not—and it is possible to allow for extra time until 2011. In relation to nitrogen dioxide, the date for achieving the target is 2010; we are not going to do so, for the reasons I have set out, and the derogation would extend that to 2015. The hon. Gentleman is right that the Government will have to set out to the satisfaction of the Commission that we have a credible plan for dealing with that. We will have to do so in relation to all the sites where there is a problem, including Heathrow, but as I hope he is aware, Heathrow does not present the biggest problem, because those limits are exceeded by a greater margin in other locations around the country.