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12 Dec 2002 : Column 439—continued

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): The hon. Gentleman spoke of the impact of the new Department across Government. Does he accept, having paid tribute to the commitment and ability of the ministerial team, that what ultimately matters more than the work of the Department is the work and commitment of the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry? Does he accept that many of the Department's intentions can be implemented only if we manage to change the culture in the Treasury?

Norman Baker: Indeed. The hon. Gentleman has a proud record on the environment, and knows what he is talking about. My point was that when the Deputy Prime Minister was in charge of the DETR, there was a chance that he might be able to speak to the Chancellor and get some of his own way. The evidence so far does not convince me that that applies now. I say that with due respect to the Secretary of State and her colleagues.

The Secretary of State talks of a 60 per cent. cut in carbon dioxide emissions, which is indeed desirable, but what is happening? Perhaps emissions are being reduced in Nobel House—I do not know what the Department is doing internally—but they are not being reduced where it matters, which is in the Department of Transport and the DTI. Aircraft emissions, for instance, are expected to double from about 20,000 tonnes in 1990 to 40,000 tonnes in 2010, and, according to a parliamentary answer given last week, a further increase is anticipated.

A Conservative Member mentioned earlier that ours is effectively a Xpredict and provide" policy on airports and air travel. It seems that any demand for air travel must be met. That policy is not environmentally sustainable, but it is the policy that we have, and it is making it far more difficult for DEFRA to curb carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed, the Department is not tackling that task. The Secretary of State said earlier that she had spoken to the Secretary of State for Transport about aircraft emissions, but, if we assume that she conveyed the right message, it seems that she lost. She must have been overruled, because her colleague went ahead anyway.

We have seen a transport statement this week that goes back to the days of road building, saying that the car is king again and minimising the role of public transport. There is no getting away from this. We have a mad situation in which the Government are able to finance road schemes directly, but to say, XIf you want a rail scheme, go and talk to the Strategic Rail Authority". What does the SRA say? It says, XThe

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money has all been spent. Another #58 million was spent on Connex this morning"—or whatever company it happens to be—Xand we have no money left because it has all gone to train operating companies."

According to multi-modal studies throughout the country, roads are going ahead and public transport is not. We must grapple with that problem, or we will see an increase in carbon dioxide emissions—as, indeed, we already are. This is one reason why they have increased in the past two years. What is the Government's strategy for reducing them? We have had nothing today from the Minister or any other Labour Member.

Mr. Chaytor: Has the hon. Gentleman seen the recent report of the royal commission on environmental pollution, which deals with air transport? Will he commit himself to supporting its call for a duty on aviation fuel?

Norman Baker: I am happy to say that I will. The Liberal Democrats have long believed that aviation fuel should be taxed. Fuel for motor vehicles is taxed; why should aircraft be excepted? In the current artificial situation, air travel is effectively subsidised in a way that is unsustainable, because it does immense environmental damage, especially on short-haul journeys. Why are aeroplanes flying from London to Manchester when there is what ought to be a perfectly adequate rail system? I can give one reason for that, as I went to Manchester the other day: the last train from Manchester leaves at about 8.10 pm. Until our rail systems work, such problems will continue.

DEFRA should be dealing with transport by lobbying very hard and achieving environmental aims, but it is not doing so. According to a parliamentary answer of 20 November, the cost of motoring went from a base of 100 in 1974 to 98.7 in 2001. In other words, motoring became cheaper over those 27 years, never mind the fuel protests. Over the same period, the cost of traffic by rail went from a base of 100 to 185.3. That is an 85 per cent. increase in the cost of rail travel. The bus figure went up from 100 to 166—a 66 per cent. increase in the cost of bus travel. Since the Government came to power, the cost of motoring has gone down again and the cost of bus and train travel has gone up. How does that help deal with carbon dioxide emissions or with the Minister's strategy for tackling climate change? It does not help at all—DEFRA must get a grip on the Department of Transport but it fails to do so.

The Department of Trade and Industry is responsible for energy, and DEFRA is left with bits and pieces such as home energy efficiency. The DTI produces the nuclear waste and DEFRA is left to clear it up. The polluter does not pay in Government; the DTI and the Department of Transport—the polluters—do not pay. DEFRA has to pick up the waste stream, which is wrong. The DTI and the Department of Transport should be greened, and if they are not going to be greened by the Prime Minister, there should be a mechanism in place by which DEFRA can do it.

The situation with regard to energy is almost unbelievable. According to a parliamentary answer that I received recently, the amount spent on the nuclear industry in 1997–98 was #94.3 million, and by 2000–01 it had reached #223.4 million. That is a massive increase

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and does not even include the #650 million for British Energy. It is hard to imagine any other industry saying that it has got into difficulties and needs a blank cheque. That figure would pay for doorstep recycling up and down the country for every house twice over, yet we are handing it over to the nuclear industry because it has failed. Why are we so obsessed with the nuclear power argument? We have a failed industry, both generators are bankrupt, yet the Government give them more money time after time.

What are the Government doing to help renewable energy? According to another parliamentary answer, the renewable energy support in 2000–01 was #13.6 million. So the nuclear industry was given a wad of money, but only a few coins were thrown to renewable energy.

Mr. Jack: Is the hon. Gentleman yet able to reply to the long list given by the Minister for Energy and Construction of wind power projects for renewable energy, to which Liberal Democrat Members, from the north of Scotland to the south of England, appeared to object?

Norman Baker: The Minister for Energy and Construction used that particular debate as an opportunity to avoid the issue of nuclear energy. Instead, he indulged in a load of rhetoric. The examples that he gave were out of context and misleading. My party leader is firmly supportive of the wind energy project in his constituency and my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) fully supports the wind power project in his. The picture painted by the Minister is untrue and misrepresents my party.

Mr. Hayes : I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has allowed me to intervene. I want to be absolutely clear about this. The hon. Gentleman is saying quite unequivocally that his party is committed to wind power, even where that means erecting large numbers of wind turbines in fenland landscapes, for example, that might spread across other unspoilt landscapes. Is that the ground on which the hon. Gentleman is proud and pleased to stand? We want to know so that we can let constituents across the country know it too.

Norman Baker: That comes from a member of the party that gave us nuclear power stations, with tens of thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste left for hundreds of years. Let us have no lectures about the environment from the Conservatives. We have a presumption in favour of wind power and our councils and Members of Parliament up and down the country support it. The hon. Gentleman gives an extraordinary description of wind farms filling every nook and cranny of the countryside, but they are subject to the planning process just like anything else, and local factors will be taken into account. That is what the planning process is for. However, there must be a presumption in favour of wind power. In addition, a significant amount of the money presently in nuclear power should be transferred to renewables and energy efficiency.

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Until we have such policies, all the good words and rhetoric from DEFRA will not do much. It is not because DEFRA is deliberately misleading us—I think that it believes what it says, but it cannot deliver. What will DEFRA do to knock heads together in other Departments and ensure that they deliver on the policies that the Minister and his Department set out?

3.16 pm

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): I congratulate the Government on holding this debate in Government time and on couching the motion in such wide terms, allowing us to attempt to connect the local to the global. That is the major challenge that we face, not only as a Parliament but as a society.

There is much that the Government can feel proud of and excited about in relation to a number of the programmes that have been put forward. The strategy document on sustainable farming and food has to be right to set new and higher standards for food safety. It must be right that we set and meet higher standards for animal welfare. Those are matters on which the House should unite. So, too, should be the commitment to look for sustainable procurement policies. The question is: how do we get there?

Just over a year ago a document produced by a group called Sustain analysed food consumption and trade in the United Kingdom. The document was called XEating Oil" and was a sad but salutary reminder of exactly what is happening in United Kingdom and European Union food trade. Product by product, we appear to export the same quantities as we import. In terms of EU food trade, we are generating a huge amount of food miles for no particular food gain in the nutritional intake of any part of our constituencies or country. What sort of market rules generate markets in food that are grossly polluting?

I was amused and slightly embarrassed at the reference of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) to the time when he and I were involved in setting up an urban farm in the centre of Nottingham—embarrassed because it was a reference to something that happened a quarter of a century ago. It reminded me that 30 years ago I was involved with other people in setting up a food co-operative in the centre of Nottingham that operated from my garage.

It was a very interesting and exciting time, connecting the interests of the urban poor to those of rural food producers. However, we cannot turn the clock back to provide a template for where we are or where we ought to go. It was for that reason that over the summer I spent part of my time making contact with some of those who are involved in the processes of claiming a place for local food cultures. I made contact with some of those who have been involved in the slow towns and slow cities movement in Italy. I had a fascinating time with the mayor of Greve, which was one of the pioneer authorities, and looked at the nature of the slow cities movement. It was not necessarily about transport movement but about the connection between food consumers and food producers. We talked to fresh food retailers and people who prepared food. People in restaurants told us about the wide choice of wines, and the vineyards that they came from. They told us about the farms and the nature of the produce. They talked

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about their local cheeses and how they were made, and even offered to tell us the names of the farmers or take us to visit them. There was intense pride in the localisation of a system of food production and consumption that was not an anachronism in today's world of huge global connections.

People saw that system as an essential underpinning of a sensible and sustainable way of life. Food accountability was central to their food agenda. I realised that we have had a distorted food agenda—distorted largely by the history of MAFF, which has told me on occasions that we do not have a local food culture, because we need to go for trade liberalisation and abandon the idea of clear labelling. In the global food trading system, we have undermined the integrity of local food systems.

I ask the House to align itself with the food revolutionaries, the veritable Khmer Rouge of the food industry: the Women's Institute. The institute runs regular markets where people will be able to say where the food comes from and what has gone into it, be it marmalade or pies—perhaps giving the name of the farmer as well—and will probably be able to provide a phone number that people can ring to ask about the nature of the livestock-rearing or fruit or vegetable-growing processes. The WI understands the importance of food accountability, and the House would do well to follow its example.

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