The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): As my Department has the policy lead on sustainable development, I have taken every opportunity both within the European Union and internationally to put across the United Kingdom view so that we can ensure that our priorities influence the agenda for the summit. Earlier in the year, I visited South Africa, the host country, to see for myself how the preparations for the summit were progressing. Most recently I held bilaterals with key players in the margins of the G8 environment meeting and will shortly attend the final ministerial Prepcom hosted by Indonesia.
Mr. Chaytor: I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply. May I draw her attention to early-day motion 1299, which states the case for making programmes of clean energy a priority of the Johannesburg agenda? Does she agree that it is not a question of environmental objectives being in competition with social and developmental objectives at Johannesburg, and that clean energy programmes are the fundamental prerequisite for successful poverty reduction?
Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point; there is every prospect of clean energy programmes being a priority at the summit, as that has a great deal of support in the EU and beyond, in the United States and the G8. My hon. Friend is right about what sustainable development means, but it is important that environmental issues be balanced against social and economic issues. I certainly share his view that that is an important and basic issue in tackling poverty; one is not in competition with the other.
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor). There is a real will in the developing world for a positive commitment to providing renewable energy for the poorest people, and I hope that the British Government will be instrumental in bringing that about. Given that the right hon. Lady is about to go to the final ministerial preparatory meeting in Bali, will she undertake to return to the House and make a full statement about its results
Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman should know that the control of the agenda of the House is no longer a matter for me. To a certain extent, he should make his appeal to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. Of course, I take the hon. Gentleman's point, and I am more than willing to consider making a statement to the House if I feel that there is something of substance to say when we return from Bali. I certainly hope that there will be.
Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and look forward to her return from Bali and a statement thereafter. What provision will her Department be making to ensure that not only Members of Parliament, but members of non-governmental organisations in the UK, will have the opportunity to be consulted between the meeting in Bali and the conference in Johannesburg in September?
Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Preparations for the summit go back a considerable time, and from the outset, representatives of the business community, non-governmental organisations and others have been involved in preparations for the world summit. My hon. Friend asks me to ensure that that continues. He and the House may like to know that we have kept places on the official UK delegation not only for members from the devolved Administrations, the business community, local authorities and the Sustainable Development Commission, but also for NGOs. We anticipate continuing to keep them briefed during the meetings, as we have done in the past.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): We wish the right hon. Lady well at the forthcoming summit and hope that there is international agreement that brings about a marked increase in the well-being and quality of life of people throughout the world. We look forward to the right hon. Lady's report back to Parliament on her return. I draw her attention to the recent report of the Labour-dominated Environmental Audit Committee, which pointed out that few Government Departments consider sustainable development central to their activities. Given the importance that the right hon. Lady rightly attaches to that agenda, why have her Cabinet colleagues been so reluctant to take seriously what she and the Deputy Prime Minister have been urging them to do?
Margaret Beckett: That is not quite what the Environmental Audit Committee's report stated. However, it correctly drew attention to the fact that it is extremely important that sustainable development should be a key goal for all Government Departments, and that there is progress to be made and work to do. We fully
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): Further to her first answer, does my right hon. Friend agree that export credits from G7 countries have greatly added to polluting carbon technologies around the world? Will she speak to her colleagues about that issue and support Globe's campaign to ensure that 10 per cent. of export credit finance is devoted to the support of renewable energy?
Margaret Beckett: That is certainly an interesting campaign. My hon. Friend is right to say that, in putting sustainable development at the heart of what all Government Departments do, one of our goals must be to ensure that such issues are taken into account, whether in the award of export credits or in other fields. She will know that the Export Control Bill, which the Government have sought to put on the statute book, makes reference to the importance of sustainable development issues, which indicates that we are making progress in the right direction.
Mr. Brady: The Government have commissioned research on the potential welfare benefits of enriched cages for egg production and have also promised consultation before introducing regulations. Can the Minister give a guarantee that the consultation will not begin until the outcome of that research has been published; and can he give an assurance to an egg producer in my constituency who has invested £1 million during the past three years in providing four cages that can be enriched, that the regulations will not be gold-plated above the standards demanded by the EU directive when they are introduced?
Alun Michael: I do not think that I can guarantee that nothing will happen while the research is being undertaken. Improvement in a situation often continues in parallel with specific research. The hon. Gentleman rightly referred to the project to evaluate the effect of stock density and cage height on bird behaviour, welfare and performance, as well as to investigate innovative material suitable for dust bathing in enriched cages. This is an important issue, but I am not sure that it would be wise to separate the two.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I urge the Minister not to forgo the opportunity of consultation with the industry before the research is completed. It is essential that we have a dialogue between the industry and the Government from day one because, as he knows, the industry faces serious competition from the outside world and substantial investment decisions during the next few years. Is it not the case that we need to maintain a
Alun Michael: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Regulations are being implemented to ensure not that they are gold-plated, but that they are consistent with those applied across Europe. I certainly understand the concern about threats to the industry's viability resulting from the imposition of higher animal welfare standards. The EU has made proposals to the World Trade Organisation to deal with that, and recognition of non-trade concerns within the WTO Doha declaration provides a sound basis on which to pursue it. The hon. Gentleman points to an important consideration.
The Minister for Rural Affairs (Alun Michael): My noble Friend Lord Whitty is currently considering the report produced by the policy commission on the future of farming and food and the report produced for DEFRA by Plymouth university on the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995. Both include a number of recommendations that could lead to changes in the law on agricultural tenancies.
Mr. Thomas: Does the Minister share my concern that only 7 per cent. of land let under the 1995 Act is to genuine new applicants? In the review of the law, will he consider allowing tenants to have more scope for farm diversification than is currently allowed? Will he also take this opportunity to reject the proposal to increase stamp duty on long-term lets? Will he assure the House that any review of this law will focus on helping new entrants and sustainable family farms, particularly in Wales?
Alun Michael: The hon. Gentleman knows full well that many of those issues are devolved to the Welsh Assembly, so I shall respond with regard to England. I have met the Tenant Farmers Association, as has my colleague Lord Whitty, and I am particularly concerned about one of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raisesthe apparent difficulty for some tenants of entering into arrangements to be part of the agri-environmental schemes and to access other schemes under elements of the England rural development programme, which we very much want to address. The Plymouth report confirms that the latest legislation has delivered benefits for tenants and has facilitated restructuring within the industry, but we are carefully considering the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud): The report by Seale-Hayne college of agriculture, Plymouth university, is very welcome, but does my right hon. Friend agree that a dialogue should be entered into with tenant farmers, in particular those on county farm estates, to see how those farmers who are most vulnerable to current problems can be helped? Will the Government take a lead and call a conference to bring together local authorities to talk about
Alun Michael: I shall draw my hon. Friend's specific suggestion to the attention of my ministerial colleague, Lord Whitty. Many discussions are going on at the moment. I have attended two of the regional conferences to consider the outcome of the Curry commission and the implementation, with stakeholders, of the recommendations in its report.
On the Plymouth inquiry, if changes can be made to agricultural tenancy legislation to give landlords and tenants more flexibility to respond to the challenges faced by the industry, we will consider them carefully. We shall discuss the way forward with stakeholders in a variety of ways over the coming months.