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Climate Change

Volume 525: debated on Thursday 17 March 2011

DEFRA leads on climate change adaptation in England and on engagement with the EU on adaptation. DEFRA works to reduce emissions domestically in the areas for which we have responsibility and also works across Whitehall to ensure that progress on mitigation is achieved in a sustainable way.

The Prime Minister is keen on smaller and more efficient government. If the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills were to take back responsibility for energy, would the Secretary of State think it appropriate for her Department to take back the rest of the climate change responsibilities, because then we could get rid of a whole Department?

If we are talking about efficiency, I can tell my hon. Friend that in my experience, reorganisation—including the attempted reorganisation of local government by the last Administration—is not always the most efficient thing to do.

The Secretary of State will know of the growing fear that, in the European Union and elsewhere, the understandable increasing use of biofuels is having a distorting effect on the food market, and particularly on food prices for some of the world’s poor. I do not want to make any assumptions about the implications of the tragic events in Japan, but it is clear that they might have implications for the energy market and biofuel prices. What is the Government’s current policy on biofuels at European level?

If we are to increase the amount of renewable energy that we secure and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, it is important for renewable energy from biomass to be in the mix. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, faced with the challenge of food security, we must be careful to ensure that prime, productive agricultural land is there to provide the food that we are so obviously going to need.

DEFRA has said that it is tackling climate change through its new strategy, contained in the document “Mainstreaming sustainable development”. The seven-page document, which was snuck out the night before the Government abolished the Sustainable Development Commission, has been attacked by the president of the National Farmers Union and slated by Jonathon Porritt, who said that it was

“without a doubt the most disgraceful government document relating to Sustainable Development”

that he had ever seen. How is the mainstreaming going?

First, let me welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position. I hope that he will convey our thanks to his predecessor for the role that he played.

Perhaps we could start off on a slightly better footing. We made a decision, as a Government, to mainstream sustainable development, and there is clear evidence from the business plans of the Government Departments that it has been mainstreamed. In addition, I have asked the hon. Gentleman’s colleague the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), to hold Departments to account for the sustainable development that is mainstreamed into their business plans. DEFRA will continue to perform its role of scrutinising new policy on sustainable development. However, mainstreaming is an obvious step forward from the position when the hon. Gentleman’s party was in power, when sustainable development was outside the remit of Government and in the hands of an arm’s length body.