Previous Section Index Home Page

Environmentally Beneficial Land Use

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what incentives are being provided by her Department to farmers and landowners practising environmentally conscious methods of land use on their property; and if she will make a statement. [31615]

Alun Michael: Funding for farmers and land managers undertaking environmentally beneficial activities is available under the DEFRA agri-environment schemes, Countryside Stewardship, Environmentally Sensitive Areas and Organic Farming. Under the England Rural Development Programme, a total of £1 billion is planned to be spent on these schemes between 2000–06.

A review of the agri-environment schemes will begin shortly, with a view to reporting in 2003. The review will take forward the recommendation of the Policy Commission on the future development of these schemes.

4 Feb 2002 : Column 747W

Water Industry

Mr. Jenkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the impact of competition in the water industry. [31509]

Mr. Meacher: Existing possibilities for competition in the water industry have led to significant improvements in the efficiency of statutory undertakers and benefits for customers. Undertakers already contract out a number of their services and activities on a competitive basis. They compete with one another to offer large industrial users water management services and customers using more than 100 mega litres of water per year are also able to take advantage of inset appointments. The regulatory regime also provides for a system of comparative competition which enables the Director General of Water Services to compare the efficiency of statutory undertakers when setting price limits. The Department has been examining the possibilities for extending the scope for competition in the water industry, including consideration of the impact this would have on different customer groups. DEFRA will be publishing a consultation paper, setting out the issues and proposals later this year.

Central Heating (Pensioners)

Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assistance is available to pensioners to upgrade inefficient central heating systems; and if she will make a statement. [31344]

Mr. Meacher: Where either a pensioner does not have a central heating system of their existing system has broken down they may apply to the Government's Home Energy Efficiency Scheme (HEES) for assistance. HEES has been designed to provide packages of insulation and heating measures up to £2,000, dependent upon the needs of the householders and property type. Its annual budget is £150 million.

Further assistance is provided through the reduction of VAT on domestic fuel to 5 per cent. and the increase to winter fuel payments for pensioner households to £200. The latter is expected to be worth £1.7 billion per annum and provides assistance to 11.5 million people.

Combined Heat and Power

Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the time scale for stage 2 of the feasibility assessments for combined heat and power under the terms of climate change agreements. [32309]

Mr. Meacher [holding answer 1 February 2002]: Climate change agreements set eligible operators challenging targets to reduce their energy use in return for an 80 per cent. reduction in the level of climate change levy on that energy use. A move to use more energy efficient combined heat and power (CHP) installations is one way in which operators can meet their targets. The targets for most facilities have taken into account any contribution that CHP installations can make. However, in some sectors not enough was known about the technical and economic feasibility of combined heat and power in their processes. In these cases the agreements provided for an assessment of the feasibility over the first 18 months of

4 Feb 2002 : Column 748W

the agreements, with a view to revising targets for those installations in which CHP could make a significant, cost effective contribution, by the third milestone ie 2007.

The first stage in the assessment was completed in November 2001 and the second was due to be completed by 4 January. However, current conditions in the energy markets have not helped the economic case for CHP and there have also been delays in obtaining data with which to set the tests. Consequently, stage 2 has been deferred. This will also allow the procedure's design to take account of developments resulting from the Government's draft CHP Strategy and DTI's consultation on the Impact of NETA on Smaller Generators, both of which will be published shortly.

A decision on the revised timetable for the assessment will be made over the coming months but it will not delay the re-negotiation of targets for the third milestone as originally intended.


Mr. McGrady: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs why the Department of Environment in Northern Ireland was not consulted prior to the decision to commission the mixed oxide plant at Sellafield; and if she will make a statement. [24262]

Margaret Beckett: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I decided on 3 October 2001 that mixed oxide (MOX) manufacture is "justified" under the basic safety standards directive. We alone were responsible for taking the decision and others could only offer advice. We and the Environment Agency conducted five public consultation exercises before we made the decision.

The Health and Safety Executive gave its consent on 19 December 2001 to the plutonium commissioning of the Sellafield MOX Plant. Its consent was required under the terms of British Nuclear Fuels' nuclear site licence, before the plant could operate.

Health and Safety issues were fully considered in the decision published on 3 October, and the Executive was under no obligation to consult before reaching its own decision.

Genetically Modified Organisms

Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of EU proposals to introduce a traceability system that ensure all GMOs can be identified through the food chain. [21208]

Mr. Meacher: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I represented the UK at the Environment Council held in Luxembourg on 29 October. This was the first Environment Council of the Belgian presidency. Council reached political agreement on four common positions: the UK voted in favour of each. Four sets of Council conclusions were agreed. There were two orientation debates: one, in public, on a proposed regulation concerning traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and products derived from them, and a second on the Commission's review of the Pesticides Authorisation Directive (91/414/EEC).

4 Feb 2002 : Column 749W

Political agreement was reached without discussion on a recommendation concerning implementation of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in Europe. This aims to encourage member states to carry out a stocktake of institutions and laws affecting their coastal zones, and to adopt national strategies to promote integrated management.

In reaching political agreement on a proposed amendment to Directive 97/68/EC on non-road mobile machinery emissions, the UK achieved its objective of ensuring deletion of an article permitting the use of economic incentives, noting that the directive did not have an appropriate legal base for such an article. The amended directive will introduce exhaust emission standards for small, off-road petrol engines and large diesel generators, and aims to align European provisions with existing US regulations.

Political agreement was also reached on an amendment to Directive 94/25/EC laying down limit values for exhaust and noise emissions from new recreational craft placed on the Community market. The Council agreed limit values at the levels proposed by the European Commission in COM(2000)639 dated 12 October 2000. Particularly in relation to noise emissions, agreement was reached on less costly methods of demonstrating compliance. Overall the agreement represents a reasonable balance between achieving challenging environmental objectives while minimising the cost to small and medium-sized business and individuals.

Council reached political agreement on a proposed decision continuing for the period 2002–06 an annual funding programme for environmental NGOs active at a European level. The Commission's proposed total budget of euro 32 million was agreed. The UK's main objective of ensuring that the selection and monitoring process was transparent and fair was met in the common position text.

Ministers agreed a common approach on a proposed directive to bring Community rules into line with the second pillar of the Aarhus Convention dealing with public consultation in environmental decision-making. The UK welcomed the proposal and asked that the Commission also take steps to present another proposal seeking to apply the provisions of the Aarhus convention to the Community institutions, in order to enable the Community to ratify the convention.

During a public orientation debate on a proposed regulation on traceability and labelling of GMOs, Council discussed the scope of the proposed system. While welcoming the intention of the proposal to improve safety and consumer choice in GM food and crops, the UK's current judgment was that the requirement to label and trace the source of products which contain no detectable GM material would be unworkable. The UK expressed concern about whether the information given to consumers would be reliable and whether developing countries would be able to provide the information expected from importers. The UK took the view that the Commission's proposals for allowing certain imports of crops containing GMOs that are not approved in the EU were unsatisfactory as they stood and that further urgent work was needed, particularly on agreeing an international system for identifying individual GMOs. Member states were still divided on when the EU decision-making process for GM products could be

4 Feb 2002 : Column 750W

restarted. While recognising the importance of the proposal to rebuilding confidence in the decision-making process on GMOs in the EU, the UK called for case-by-case consideration of applications and said that it was not tenable to encourage an illicit moratorium.

Council conclusions adopted in preparation for the seventh Conference of the Parties (COP7) to the UN framework convention on climate change, taking place in Marrakech from 29 October to 9 November, called on all parties to respect the Bonn agreement, and underlined the need for progress in the relevant international fora in tackling emissions from aviation and shipping. The conclusions stressed the resolve of the Community and its member states to ratify the Kyoto protocol in a timely manner, with a view to its entry into force by the World summit on sustainable development next September. Environment Commissioner Wallstrom also presented a proposal to ratify the Kyoto protocol, a draft directive on a CO2 emissions trading scheme and a communication on the European climate change programme.

Council Conclusions were adopted on a Clean Air for Europe (CAFE) Programme stressing the priority attached to the problems of ozone, particulates and acidification. Council also adopted Conclusions on a Communication on Conservation of Natural Resources, and Conclusions on the Commission's general Communication on Biodiversity, highlighting the need to implement biodiversity action plans and halt biodiversity decline across the EU.

Council held a discussion to inform the adoption of six sustainable development indicators to be used in the Commission's synthesis report for the Barcelona spring European Council. The Commission would publish its report on indicators on 31 October. An exchange of views was also held on the Commission's review of Directive 91/414/EEC on agricultural pesticides. The UK stressed the need to speed up the pace of the review of older compounds. The debate also considered the substitution principle and restrictions on those allowed to use certain categories of pesticides.

The Belgian presidency and Commission reported on a number of proposals, including the EU Chemicals Strategy, environmental liability and a recently adopted Communication on dioxins, furans and PCBs. France briefly outlined measures taken by the French Government since a major explosion at an ammonium nitrate manufacturing plant in Toulouse in September. The inquiry into this accident will inform the planned revision of the Seveso II directive, but the Commission will not delay adoption of its proposal.

Over lunch Ministers discussed preparations for the WTO Ministerial in Doha on 9–13 November, and preparations for the World summit on sustainable development (Rio+10) to be held in Johannesburg in September 2002.

Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many GM crop sites there are in the United Kingdom; and if she will make a statement on GM crops. [22868]

Mr. Meacher [holding answer 18 December 2001]: There were 161 sites in the UK where GM crop plants were grown in 2001. Of these, 108 were in respect of the Farm Scale Evaluations, 16 were for National List trials

4 Feb 2002 : Column 751W

and 37 were in respect of other research trials The Government will not approve GM crop releases unless it is clear there is no significant risk to human health or the environment.

Next Section Index Home Page