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12 Dec 2002 : Column 436—continued

Hugh Bayley (City of York): Like the Liberal Democrats, I would like to see substantial reform of the common agricultural policy. Liberal democrat parties are in power in six EU member states: Italy, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Has the Liberal Democrat party in this country made representations to its opposite numbers in those countries to press them to agree to some of the proposals that our Government have made?

Norman Baker: I am happy to confirm that we have made representations to our sister parties in those countries. We have also done that through the European Parliament, where our MEPs have been active on this issue. The countries to which the hon. Gentleman refers are not those most resistant to change. I am thinking of France and other countries where resistance is greater. He is right that we need to work with our European sister parties, as the Labour party does, to try to bring about change.

Besides the CAP problem, there is still the difficulty of the strength of the pound. Without wishing to be unhelpful to the Conservatives, I must put on record my view that, had we entered the euro earlier, the position of farmers in this country would be rather less dire than it is at present. The strength of the pound is a significant factor. According to the National Farmers Union, average income per farmer is just #10,700 per annum, and 67,000 jobs have been lost in the past six years.

Today's Government response says the right things, but does not take much further forward the issue of food miles and the power of the supermarkets. Recommendation 84 says:

With due respect to the Government, that will not get us very far, because the industry will carry on with existing practices, which suit them well. We should put real pressure on supermarkets to ensure that they start to source locally, which they do not want to do. Farmers' markets are great, and we all support them—it is good that they are increasing in number—but until we deal with the supermarkets, these problems will not go away.

Mr. Weir: I agree with the hon. Gentleman about supermarkets, but can he suggest practical ways in which that pressure can be applied when dealing with large companies with huge economic power that are beholden to shareholders rather than to the general community?

Norman Baker: We certainly need something stronger than a code of practice. We should deal with the power of the supermarkets. The Competition Commission should be more involved in dealing with the power of the supermarkets, which seem to have disproportionate control over the retail chain.

Animal transport is a further issue. I would like to have seen more from the Government on minimising the movement of animals for slaughter. There has been a contraction in the number of abattoirs in the past 20 or

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30 years, which has gone way beyond what was required. There are no abattoirs in my constituency, where once there were three. Animals are taken long distances for slaughter, which is bad for the animals, bad for the farmer who has to pay for that, and bad for the environment. The Government should concentrate on getting more abattoirs and filling the gaps that have opened up, but I see no evidence that that is occurring.

The Government have taken welcome steps on illegal meat imports by concentrating resources on Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. However, concentrating on Customs will not achieve much unless there are sufficient Customs officers. At Newhaven in my constituency, 14 officers have to cover a huge stretch of coast on a 24-hour shift. The idea that they can do much to stop illegal meat imports or anything else is fanciful. They will not be able to do that. We must get more Customs officers in our ports.

As for serious animal diseases, especially the foot and mouth outbreak in the previous 12 months, I do not want to rake over old ground, but as a consequence of that episode, the Treasury has decided to punish DEFRA by cutting its budget, so there is less money for the environment and for those issues that the Minister and his colleagues say they want to pursue.

In his speech, the hon. Member for Aylesbury quoted the Select Committee when he referred to sustainable development. It is important to understand that the general view outside Government, which is shared by Liberal Democrat Members, is that DEFRA is not able to deliver beyond its own boundaries. That is an important point for the Minister to pick up, because no matter how well intentioned he and his colleagues are, if they cannot deliver across those boundaries, their effect will be limited. Friends of the Earth said:

The Council for the Protection of Rural England said:

the Deputy Prime Minister—

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has talked about DEFRA becoming

There is a perception that DEFRA is not able to deliver across government, which is what sustainable development requires if the Government are to deliver their agenda. They must face up to that problem, and deal with it head on, but the Secretary of State did not do that in her introduction to the debate.

I pay tribute to the Department when it has got it right. It has made good progress on dealing with sewage discharges and ensuring that secondary treatment is available for all towns with a population of 15,000 or above. It has made good progress in a number of areas. It is only fair to say that—but it is equally fair to say that the Department has not made progress in other respects. For instance, it was set a target on wildlife: to bring into

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favourable condition by 2010 95 per cent. of all nationally important wildlife sites, the current percentage being 60. The year 2010 is some way away and the Government may say XWe will get there", but the fact remains that fewer sites are now in Xfavourable condition" than was the case two years ago, according to the sixth Committee report.

Both my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) and I are worried about waste management. The target requires 17 per cent. of household waste to be recycled by 2004. At the end of 2001 the recycling rate was 11.2 per cent., up from 10.5 per cent. the year before. I do not think that there is a chance of it getting anywhere near 17 per cent., because there are not sufficient financial incentives for councils, private businesses or anyone else to achieve that target.

I recently visited the constituency of the Minister for the Environment, who, unfortunately, is not present at the moment. Oldham's Liberal Democrat council told me that it had wanted to replace PVC windows in a tower block, but that it would have cost #9 to recycle each window, against #5 in landfill costs. The council got round that by making a deal with Remploy, but all the economic signals are pointing in the wrong direction. The Government are right to introduce higher landfill taxes, but I question whether they are moving fast enough to meet their recycling targets.

The Government do not want to talk about incineration. A failure to promote recycling properly, however, along with a rise in landfill tax, will drive local authorities in particular into the arms of incineration. I can tell the Minister that people up and down the country do not want incineration. They do not consider it safe, and they rightly think that it undermines recycling because the waste stream is diverted. Moreover, it requires the concentration of resources in one place and many transport movements. Nevertheless, it may well be introduced through the back door because of the lack of incentives for recycling and reusing, let alone the minimising of waste generation in the first place. I am sorry to say that the Department has not dealt with that. Incidentally, the amount of glass being recycled fell from 27 per cent. to 26 per cent. last year. If we cannot even get that right, we are in some difficulty, are we not?

I do not want to be entirely negative about what the Department has done internally. It has done many good things, and its intentions are entirely right. I genuinely believe that it has a good ministerial team: Ministers are committed to their task and do their best. Nevertheless, there are clearly teething problems. There is a mismatch between the part that came from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the part that came from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. There are also problems with staff morale, which were picked up by the Committee. They are due partly to the variation in salaries—an inherited problem—but the current 20 per cent. turnover rate in junior-grade staff would be high in any Department. Furthermore, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said in the House on another occasion that 83 per cent. of targets had been missed. It is not exactly a success story so far.

We want DEFRA to work, and if we can help it to work, we will. However, some reassessment is needed of how it is working internally and, more importantly, of its clout across Government.

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I fear that the Government—deliberately or unintentionally—have downgraded the environment. I am not saying that the DETR was perfect—it certainly was not—but in that big Department the environment and transport were linked because transport has such an impact on the environment. There was a 10-year transport plan, which many people think was quite beneficial environmentally. Moreover, the relevant Minister was the Deputy Prime Minister, who had some clout. Let me say, with due respect to the Secretary of State and to DEFRA generally, that the new Department does not possess the same clout. It is, for instance, difficult for DEFRA to lead on climate change without being able to pull the necessary levers.

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