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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): Livestock farming makes an important contribution to the economy of many remote areas, and the Government strongly support EU policies intended to encourage farming in those areas.
John Thurso: I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware of the remarks of Sir John Marsh, chairman of the independent review group on veterinary medicines, who suggested that stock rearing in remote areas was economically unjustifiable? In the light of those remarks, what assurance can he give my constituents, for whom stock rearing is economically and socially very important, of the Government's intention to continue to support that area of endeavour? Furthermore, what is his view on the prejudice expressed by Sir John in his capacity as chairman of that review group?
Mr. Morley: I have not read the remarks by Sir John, so I cannot comment on them. I can speak only for the Government, and we have repeatedly made it clear that we recognise the social and economic benefits of upland livestock farming. Grazing regimes are an important part of conservation programmes and conservation management. Serious issues are involved in the economics of upland grazing, but we are prepared to address them. We have put together several support programmes and packages. Moreover, we are consulting on the sheep envelope and the way in which we can use additional money and the flexibility that it provides to deal with some of the problems of remote livestock areas. They are very important and we as a Government will continue to support them.
Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton): Many people in most, if not all, rural areas will be deeply concerned about views expressed in a report by the Countryside Agency, "Rural Proofing in 200102", which I briefly mentioned yesterday. To remind the House, it says:
The Minister for Rural Affairs (Alun Michael): Eight local authorities have submitted representations in relation to the New Forest National Park (Designation) Order 2002. Seven of them raised objections to the boundary, to the proposed administrative arrangements, or to both.
Mr. Chope: In the light of that response, can the Minister confirm that there will be a public inquiry, as the Countryside Agency promised that there would be if concerns were expressed by local authorities? Can he further confirm that that public inquiry's terms of reference will cover not only the issues relating to the boundary, but the controversy surrounding the proposed special administrative arrangements?
Alun Michael: It is not for the Countryside Agency to take decisions about a public inquiry; it is required by the legislation. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 requires that an objection made by a local authority that is not withdrawn will cause a local inquiry to be held. I shall make an announcement about a public inquiry as soon as all the objections to the designated order have been received and fully considered. That is the time at which the detail of the hon. Gentleman's question should be dealt with.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Irrespective of whether the New Forest is designated as a national park, when one approaches the area on many of the major trunk roads one is immediately struck by the number of brown tourist information signs. That is not only relevant to the New Forest, but has a read-across to other parts of the country, including the county of Devon. Rural proofing was mentioned a moment ago. Will the Minister confirm that the Highways Agency does not intend to reduce the number of brown tourist information signs in the New Forest or anywhere else, as we are hearing on our local television stations?
National park status recognises the national level of importance of certain areas in terms of landscape, biodiversity and cultural heritage, as well as recreational resource. Those are the sorts of features that encourage people to go to those areas, and our policy is to try to ensure that they get the information that they need in order to find those local attractions. The way in which the national parks authorities are engaging with the regeneration of those areas is extremely encouraging.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): It is clearly important that we continue to maintain a constructive dialogue with the US on climate change. To that end, I held discussions on the subject with senior representatives of the Administration during my visit to Washington last week. In addition to ministerial discussions, UK officials are in regular contact with their US counterparts.
Tom Brake: I thank the Secretary of State for her response, but does she not agree that the UK has worked hand in hand with the US in the international coalition to fight terrorism and it is now time for the US to work hand in hand with the UK, the EU and other communities to combat an equally important international threat to the global environment? Does she further agree that the UK's position is somewhat weakened by an increase in its CO 2 emissions for the second successive year?
Margaret Beckett: First, I agree that it is important to continue to work in co-operation with the US; we endeavour to do that. The hon. Gentleman may know that there is a high-level group in the European Union that maintains a dialogue with the US.
People perhaps overlook the fact that President Bush's announcement in February about US domestic action related to the first Kyoto period, which ends in 2012. In the not-too-distant future, we shall need to discuss internationally what we all do when that period expires. We anticipate that discussions about the detail of further steps will begin as early as 2005. The US has decided recently that it will take action, and although it is perhaps not as stringent as we would like, we should welcome it. It is making investment available, and we also welcome that. We must encourage further moves in the right direction.
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): May I express my frustration at the absence of the hon. Members for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas)? It means that other hon. Members and I were denied the opportunity to ask questions. It is disappointing when hon. Members table questions and do not turn up.
However, I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) was here to press the Secretary of State not to follow the US Administration's view that trading emissions, rather than trading reinforced by regulation, is primarily the way in
The Secretary of State launched the trading emissions scheme in the United Kingdom. Will she acknowledge that it has had an early start, which has cost a lot of taxpayers' money, that we have some way to go to prove that trading emissions will help the environment, and that they cannot do that without effective regulation?
Margaret Beckett: I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a need for an effective balance and that we must use a range of instruments and approaches to tackle the serious problems. He correctly said that we recently launched our voluntary emissions trading scheme. Indeed, I am going to ascertain how it is working when I leave the House today. From the hon. Gentleman's comments I detected a slight note of criticism that the scheme was not a good idea.
Margaret Beckett: Well, I am glad if I misunderstood him, because it is good to have that on the record. The Kyoto protocol provides for such mechanisms and we believe that they have merit, although I fully accept that they are only part of a balanced approach.
The hon. Gentleman rightly said that we have provided taxpayers' money as an incentive to encourage people to trade. We have done that because we believe that it could provide a substantial first-mover advantage in the long term. That also applies to other matters. We are considering an aspect of handling climate change that could provide a market of billions of pounds in the future. It is a valuable step for Britain to have the first-mover advantage and to build up experience in co-operation with business.
I hope that I may be forgiven if I take the opportunity to pick up a point made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) to which I neglected to respond. He is right that there has been a small increase in our CO 2 emissions. We must watch that, but overall, we believe that Britain is on the right course.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): I hope that the right hon. Lady will do more than watch the rise in CO 2 emissions; I hope that she will seek to reduce them. Does she acknowledge that it is agreed on both sides of the Atlantic that tropical rain forests play a critical role in balancing the climate? In the light of that, will she confirm the Prime Minister's statement last week that all the timber supplied for the refurbishment work in the Cabinet Office was from certified sustainable sources?
Margaret Beckett: That was certainly the contract that was placed, so far as I am aware. I know that allegations have been made, and, obviously, people are looking to see whether that contract was properly fulfilled. It was certainly the case that the Government abided by our approach, and our policy, that such timber must be supplied for all Government use.