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Agricultural Shows

3. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, if she will make a statement on the resumption of local agricultural shows. [29538]

The Minister for Rural Affairs (Alun Michael): Agricultural shows are very important to rural communities and we hope that they will be able to go ahead later this year, but those shows will need to be licensed and meet strict biosecurity standards. We will announce the details as soon as possible.

Mr. Edwards: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the resumption of agricultural shows will be a great boost to the morale of the agricultural community and that such shows play an important role in the calendar of rural areas? Also, they bring together rural areas and towns. Will he join me in commending all those who work so hard to organise the annual Monmouth, Chepstow and Usk agricultural shows?

Alun Michael: If I may stray back over the border for a minute, I am happy to pay tribute to all the work that goes on. As a Government, we want to put as much confidence as possible back into rural communities. That is why, earlier this week, we launched the campaign "Your countryside, you're welcome"—not as a Government campaign but as Government support for 50 organisations, ranging from farming to tourism and voluntary groups such as the Women's Institute. Like the people who put effort into organising the shows, such

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partnerships make the countryside work and it is important that they are given every confidence for the future.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): In December, I asked the Minister a question on behalf of the Devon county show about the movement of livestock. He was good enough to say that he would try to give us a reply by the end of January. Today is the last day of January: has the right hon. Gentleman any news that I can pass on to the organisers of the Devon county show? Will they be able to show livestock this year?

Alun Michael: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that we must be extremely sensitive and that we must not take risks, even at this point when it appears that foot and mouth disease has been eradicated. That is why great care is being taken in drawing up regulations on animal movements and associated activities. We need to be very careful. However, we hope, within a few days, to be able to respond in respect of the agricultural show about which he asked. On a previous occasion, I said that as I had visited the Devon show last year, when no animals were shown, I appreciated the show's importance in the hon. Gentleman's county. We hope very much that it will be able to go ahead without constraints this year. We shall get back to the hon. Gentleman very soon.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): Does my right hon. Friend agree that agricultural shows are about much more than rural affairs and agriculture? They are a celebration of allotment holders, gardeners and a multitude of skills. Certainly, the Keighley agricultural show is a rare celebration of town and country combining in the various ways that I mentioned. It is a wonderful occasion for the people of Keighley and the surrounding area.

Alun Michael: My hon. Friend makes her point well. During the period of devastation by foot and mouth disease last year, many people in towns and cities came to appreciate what was put in danger as a result. It is thus extremely important that shows are supported by people in towns and cities as well as by those in the countryside. They help us to get over what is perceived in some places as a divide, but which should not be a divide.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): The Minister's comment that he would be able to announce a decision within the next few days will be warmly welcomed by all those involved in agricultural shows. As the House is aware, the cancellation of many of those shows cost a large number of people a great deal of money. As the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) said, there are effects not only on the farming community but on the wider rural community. About 300 agricultural shows are held every year and they attract 8 million visitors. Which shows do the right hon. Gentleman and his ministerial team intend to visit this year to demonstrate that they have full confidence in them and that they are welcome in the countryside?

Alun Michael: I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will be equally enthusiastic. As I pointed out, I went to the Devon show last year. Wherever possible, we intend to visit shows, but their importance lies in what they do for town and country and for the individuals and

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communities that they represent. We must give people the certainty to go ahead. They need to know which qualifications they should meet as soon as possible. We shall do that.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Will my right hon. Friend visit the Royal Lancashire show—the oldest show in the country? If he does so, he might be able to ensure that there is an exhibition from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to put the case about what we are doing as a Government for rural society. I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees that at those events country and town come together to show the best of rural affairs.

Alun Michael: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for demonstrating that DEFRA Ministers are popular on both sides of the House and that our visits are anticipated with enthusiasm. I assure him that whether or not we attend particular shows, we strongly support their importance to their local communities, as he described.

Sue Doughty (Guildford): Will the Minister bear in mind that some shows, such as the Surrey show, had to be cancelled last year? It is now a matter of urgency that the shows are able to put in place arrangements for their exhibitors, particularly those who bring animals along as part of their exhibit. There will be extra costs for cleaning and disinfection, and extra paperwork. Will the Minister be able to provide any assistance to the organisers of county shows, which provide such a wonderful showcase for our agricultural community?

Alun Michael: The problems to which the hon. Lady refers are well understood. We have to be realistic; we have just been through the most devastating and unprecedented outbreak of animal disease and, while we all want to look to the future, we must ensure that we take no risks in so doing. I am sure that the hon. Lady will appreciate that. As soon as possible, we want to give the shows certainty about what they need to do to be able to go ahead, and then to provide them with the enthusiasm and support that she and other hon. Members have suggested that they need. The shows need customers—the public—along with certainty as to what they need to do to attract them.

Recycling Directive (Fridges)

4. Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): If he will make a statement on the cost to (a) local councils and (b) individuals of implementing the EU Directive on the recycling of refrigerators and freezers. [29539]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): I understand that the current charges levied by waste management companies for the storage and processing of fridges are in the range of £22 to £35 per unit, but that these are likely to fall once additional recycling facilities are operational. There should be no significant increase in costs to members of the public.

Mr. Waterson: Will the Minister confirm that in the UK we dispose of some 3 million fridges a year, and that the fridge mountain is reckoned to be growing at a rate of 6,500 a day? Does he also accept that the funding

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currently available to local authorities is woefully inadequate? Why should my local council have to raid other budgets to find the estimated £700,000 of new costs to deal with this problem in East Sussex?

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman is approximately right: about 2.5 million—perhaps up to 3 million—fridges enter the waste stream each year, either for scrapping and decommissioning or for refurbishment and selling on to the domestic market. On funding, in December we announced a £6 million package to cover the cost to the end of the current fiscal year. We made it perfectly clear then that we are urgently considering what further funding might be necessary for the storage and processing of fridges in the next fiscal year. We believe that that is perfectly adequate. I would also point out to the hon. Gentleman that, in the current three-year spending period—spending review 2000—we have provided for an increase of £1.1 billion for environmental protection and cultural services, which includes waste management.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): Will the Minister tell us when he expects the new capacity to be on stream to deal with the problem of removing the chlorofluorocarbons from the insulation material in fridges? The longer we have to wait for that, the more the costs will grow. Does he acknowledge that we are in this situation because the Government have been led by the nose by the EU directive rather than initiating their own programmes, and failed to recognise that the directive had a mandatory requirement, which they discovered only three weeks before it came into effect? Is not the same problem going to arise with the disposal of cars? Does the Minister not recognise that it is not the job of the EU to tell us what to do? [Interruption.] It is our job—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the hon. Gentleman finish.

Malcolm Bruce: Hon. Members should contain themselves. What the EU is telling us to do is highly desirable, but we should not be waiting for it to pass directives. We should be implementing our own policy and shaping EU policy, rather than being the late followers-on behind initiatives that have been taken by other countries. Does the Minister admit that we have left it too late in this instance, and that that is why it is costing us so much?

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman's first point is perfectly sensible, and he is right to say that storage costs will continue to mount up until we can get the recycling plant in place. We have made every possible effort to obtain that technology, which is not currently available in this country, since we realised in June 2001 that it would be necessary in order to extract CFCs from insulating foam. A number of companies are investing in new plant; I am aware of up to a dozen which have expressed a strong interest, and I expect some of them to introduce it shortly. I certainly expect a number to be operational in the spring.

On the second point, the hon. Gentleman should not get so excited about being led by EU directives, which are introduced by member states as a result of agreement between them all. In this case, an EC regulation drafted in 1998 required the extraction of CFCs from the coolant gases in fridge motors, but not from insulation foam.

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However, just before the regulation came to the Environment Council in 1999, a change to article 15 caused uncertainty as to whether it applied to insulation foam.

From that point, late in 1999, my officials made repeated requests to the Commission for formal clarification of that article, and I have a record of every such instance. We did not get a formal reply until June 2001. We were badly let down by the Commission, and that is not the way in which EU legislation should be passed. However, since we finally found out about insulation foam in June 2001, we have taken every step to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): After speaking to local authorities, I can tell the Minister that it is clear that, due to Government incompetence, the extra costs are £30 to collect an old fridge, £30 to store it and at least £10 a fridge for bulk delivery to a recycler—that is, when they start to operate. For 3 million fridges a year, that is an unnecessary and unbudgeted cost of more than £200 million.

On 14 January, the Minister said:

on local authorities—

Will the Minister confirm that central Government will pay that £200 million? When will local authorities get the bulk of that money?

Mr. Meacher: First, as I thought I had made perfectly clear—I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was listening—the incompetence is nothing to do with the UK Government; it is entirely the responsibility of the Commission. Secondly, I do not accept the figures that he produced. The cost will not be £200 million a year, or anything like it. I have made clear, and I repeat, that the reasonable costs of local authorities will be met by the £6 million available until the end of March, and we will make a further announcement in due course on what we believe are the reasonable costs that need to be met beyond that.

The most appropriate way to distribute the £6 million to the local authorities is through the rate support grant mechanism, so they will receive it in their standard spending assessments, as they have generally made clear that they want grant aid paid in that way. Local authorities should have their reasonable costs covered; we are trying to minimise those costs by securing investment in new technology and new plant as soon as possible, and we have protected householders from any interruption in the buying and selling of fridges.

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