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Foot and Mouth

6. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): When she next plans to meet representatives of the National Farmers Union to discuss the foot and mouth outbreak; and if she will make a statement. [13068]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I met the president of the National Farmers Union to discuss the foot and mouth outbreak on 30 October. Members of my ministerial team and departmental officials keep the NFU fully informed of developments at regular stakeholder meetings, which cover a wide range of foot and mouth disease related issues.

Mr. Bellingham: Is the Secretary of State aware that, as well as the devastation caused by foot and mouth in the areas directly affected by the disease, there has also been substantial damage to ancillary businesses in places such as Norfolk? For example, Far Pavilions is a company that hires out tents and marquees in west Norfolk. It has faced crippling losses as a direct consequence of the epidemic. Will she meet representatives of businesses such as that to discuss claims for compensation?

Finally, has not the time come for the Secretary of State to face up to the huge anger in the countryside and order a full and comprehensive public inquiry?

Margaret Beckett: First, we are aware of the many ancillary businesses damaged by the consequences of the foot and mouth outbreak. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that no Government have ever felt able to say that they could deal with and compensate all those affected by a range of public events. This matter is no different, although I can tell him that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs has continued to hold meetings with interested parties. For example, alongside the meetings that have been held generally with stakeholders in the wider farming community, other meetings have been held with the wider rural stakeholders. We are very conscious of the problems and have sought to do what we can to help to ease the difficulties experienced by people in other businesses. However, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that we have not been able to alleviate all those

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problems. The most important contribution that could have been made was to try to bring the epidemic to an end so that ordinary business could resume. Nothing that the Government could do could replace that contribution.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): We had foot and mouth in my constituency, which has the largest English cattle ranch and the largest sheep farm in the country. My farmers want to know what the future of farming will be. In that context, will my right hon. Friend remind the House about where we are in discussions about the future of the new common agricultural policy?

Margaret Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as his question enables me to respond to the second half of the question from the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham). I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for omitting to do so earlier.

The inquiry process set in train by the Government has three strands, one of which is the work of the commission looking at the future of food and farming. I hope and expect that that commission will be able to report around the end of the year. Obviously, that will be an important contribution to what my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) will know is a widespread debate. He will know too that the Government have pressed—as did our predecessors, although less successfully—for CAP reform. I believe that the agreement reached in Doha will be a substantial stimulus to that process.

However, I can tell the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk that the Government strongly believe that there is a great deal to be said for holding independently run inquiries that disaggregate the different issues arising from foot and mouth disease. Such an inquiry will report much more speedily and at much less cost than a full tribunal of public inquiry.

Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): Given the green light for the resumption of foxhunting in the veterinary risk assessment published this morning, will the Secretary of State join me in acknowledging the invaluable role played by hunt professionals in tackling some of the worst aspects of foot and mouth disease? Will she say for how long the proposed licensing regime will be imposed? Will it be scrapped when the country is deemed to be free of foot and mouth? Finally, will she ensure that the same restrictions are imposed on the dangerous and irresponsible activities of hunt saboteurs?

Margaret Beckett: I remind the hon. Gentleman that what was published this morning was a consultation paper. It is important that people understand that a process of consultation studying aspects of this issue will be held over the next two to three weeks. Also, I take this opportunity to stress that the picture that emerges following the veterinary advice is mixed. Subject to the outcome of the consultation, the Government propose to lift restrictions on falconry, and we shall give greater freedom to operate, for instance, to small teams working to catch vermin in specific farm areas.

However, when people think of conventional hunting they think of people riding horses, and so on. There are different regimes for such hunting in different parts of the

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country, depending on disease status. That is the veterinary advice and we shall follow it, as we have followed such advice throughout the outbreak.

The hon. Gentleman called for restraint among hunt saboteurs. The Government call on everyone connected with hunting—those who engage in it or who follow it, either in support or opposition—to show restraint and to obey the restrictions that are in place. I do not think that anyone would be forgiven if foot and mouth cases started to appear again as a result of our adoption of the veterinary advice.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): It is pleasing to hear of the warmth of the relations between the Government and Mr. Ben Gill of the National Farmers Union, but does my right hon. Friend agree that individual local NFU members have been very poorly served by their national leadership? Will she take those local members into the circle of people whom she consults? Will she discuss with them the view that they hold—and which I share—that the contiguous culling policy has been costly, cruel and crass?

Margaret Beckett: The Department seeks to have constructive relationships with all our stakeholders, and the NFU is not exceptional or singled out in that respect. It is not for me to enter into disputes between any membership organisation and its national leadership.

I am aware that the contiguous cull was a policy of some considerable controversy. However, if my hon. Friend considers the course of the outbreak in the Brecon Beacons, he will find that, because of a perfectly understandable wish not to kill unnecessarily, the procedure included testing before killing. That testing showed that at every stage the disease was running ahead of those tackling it, until the contiguous cull was extended. There is complete agreement between those who dealt with the problem in the Brecon Beacons and the Department that the contiguous cull brought the disease under control. I understand that the policy is controversial, but no one has yet produced a better alternative.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): Will the Government consider paying a national supplement to the sheep annual premium? Our recent inability to export and the highest European market prices on record have meant that the premium has been calculated at the low level of less than £7, instead of around £17. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that the livestock welfare disposal scheme will continue into 2002 and as long as it is needed while animal welfare problems persist as a result of the foot and mouth epidemic?

Margaret Beckett: We keep all those issues under review. The hon. Lady invites me to come to conclusions here and now, and to announce them. I am not prepared to do that. Of course, the Government are mindful of how the terrible problems caused by foot and mouth impacted on the farming community in a variety of ways. However, as she acknowledged, the question of the sheep premium is not related to that alone. We are mindful of the concerns and needs of the farming industry, and the Government do what they can to address them.

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Landfill Sites

7. Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): What her policy is on the siting of landfill sites. [13069]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): Any new landfill site must comply with the location requirements of the EC landfill directive. It must also be in accordance with the development plan for the area unless material considerations indicate otherwise.

Judy Mallaber: A waste recycling group has submitted an application to develop a landfill site for household waste at Marehay, Ripley, in my constituency, claiming that it is the only possible new site in Derbyshire for Derbyshire's waste. There are 194 houses within 250 m of the site, and a new 300-home housing development is next to that. Does my right hon. Friend find it acceptable for waste to be dumped so close to people's homes, particularly when the stream of waste vehicles will have to go along unsuitable roads to the site, past a school and a major local tourist attraction, the Denby pottery visitors centre?

Mr. Meacher: I understand the concern that many local populations have about the siting of new landfill sites. Any landfill site requires planning permission from the local planning authority. There must be a full opportunity for local people to express their views and to have those taken into account. There must be a waste management licence or pollution prevention control permit provided by the Environment Agency. In this case, I would expect that the application for authorisation would be published and that there would be public meetings in the surrounding area to give people an opportunity to comment. Also, I would expect that any draft authorisations would be subject to consultation. We are concerned about the health implications of landfill sites nearby and the small areas health statistical unit has been looking at the health impacts near landfill sites. We have just commissioned three further pieces of research to examine that relationship more closely.

Sue Doughty (Guildford): I support the move away from landfill sites, but we are faced with a large number of proposals for incineration. What plans does the Minister have to put in place a moratorium on all these proposals to allow other activities such as waste minimisation and waste reduction to take place, and to ensure that incineration takes third place in the waste cycle?

Mr. Meacher: The Government published their waste management strategy in the middle of last year and we have made it clear that we have a hierarchy, in which the first priority—as the hon. Lady said—is waste minimisation. The best thing is not to create waste in the first place. The second priority is recycling, reuse and recovery of any waste that is created. Only then will we consider incineration or landfill. The landfill directive, which becomes operational in July next year, will require a massive switch away from landfill to alternative forms of disposal. The Government have made it absolutely clear—with statutory targets for local authorities, a considerable increase in funding for local authorities and

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the waste resources action programme to provide markets for recyclers—that our chosen preference is unquestionably recycling.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): In connection with the research that the Department is undertaking on the possible health risks associated with landfill, could I ask my right hon. Friend how that research will distinguish between the potential risks that exist in the sites and are associated with the industrial activity that often took place before the site was used for landfill and the effect of landfill itself? Is he aware of the local health survey that is being undertaken around the landfill site in my constituency? Could that information be fed into the general research that is going on? How soon does he think it will be before we get the results of the research that he is commissioning?

Mr. Meacher: The small areas health statistical unit has investigated the matter and has found a slightly increased statistical risk of birth defects in babies born to women living within 2 km of landfill sites. This is worrying. However, let me make it absolutely clear that this type of study does not and cannot prove causation. In other words, as my hon. Friend has indicated, there may well be other factors that can explain that association. That is why we have commissioned three further pieces of research. They will report as quickly as they can within the next couple of years so that we can see just what role, if any, landfill sites play in the results that we have found.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): Like other hon. Members, I think that the Minister is due for promotion to the shadow Cabinet. [Interruption.] Wait for the punchline. I think that he is due for promotion to the shadow Cabinet before the real Cabinet because there is a bijou problemette in promoting him. The Minister has made a lot of the Government's policy on landfill sites, with the important claim that there should be recycling. Will he explain how, at present, Britain recycles only 6 per cent. of our household waste, compared with 24 per cent. in the United States, 18 per cent. in Germany, 28 per cent. in the Netherlands and 42 per cent. in Switzerland? He hopes that 45 per cent. of our household waste will be recovered by 2010. Many of us think that that is an ambitious target. I understand that recoverable household waste will include incineration. We understand that the Government are considering an additional 165 incinerators. If he is not to go ahead with any more landfill sites, could he explain whether he has yet decided where those 165 incinerators are to be placed?

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman is not quite right with his figures. He said that only 6 per cent. of household waste in this country is recycled. That was the figure in 1997, at the end of 18 years of Conservative government. The figure is nearly twice that level now. We expect that, within the next five years, it will be doubled again. Once the momentum in the increase in recycling has been established—through the setting down of statutory targets, the provision of adequate finance and the increased markets for recycling through the WRAP organisation that we have set up—I believe that we can meet these ambitious targets.

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On incinerators, let me make it absolutely clear—I hope for the final time—that the Government do not have any figure in their back pocket about the number of incinerators that might be needed. I have said repeatedly that there are 11 incinerators operating in the UK at present. If we can achieve the requirements under the landfill directive without any increase in incineration at all, I would be delighted. However, I believe that it will be necessary to have some small increase in incineration if we are to achieve those targets. But we insist that this should be small-scale, and preferably in conjunction with combined heat and power.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): Unusually, I agree with the shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for Mid–Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), who suggested that my right hon. Friend the Minister should be in the Cabinet, as that would enable us to put the environment at the heart of Government.

In respect of landfill sites, my right hon. Friend is right to emphasise the importance of planning decisions. Can he give a progress report on the work that he has been able to do with the Environment Agency to ensure that golf courses are not using loopholes in planning legislation inadvertently to set up landfill sites when developing golf courses? In my constituency, at Bagnall and Goldenhill, we have real fears that we will end up with waste disposal sites when what we have at the moment are golf courses.

Mr. Meacher: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her generous remarks, but I recall that when Mr. Nigel Lawson's position was described as "unassailable", he was gone three weeks later. I wonder whether calls for promotion are not a premonition of being sacked.

On the point made by my hon. Friend, there is a serious issue about exemption from waste management licensing. There is no doubt that many sites currently in use were never intended to be used and are thus not covered by existing legislation. We have undertaken a stringent review of the criteria whereby exemption from waste management licensing can be secured, and I hope to make a statement on that shortly.

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