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12 Dec 2002 : Column 443—continued

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): I am sure that my hon. Friend would be delighted to come to the Abergavenny food festival, where he would see that philosophy put into practice with great success.

Alan Simpson: I am sure I would be delighted, and I am open to such offers, but I want to move the argument on from the local and personal to the structural.

We want that philosophy to become the norm, and that requires us to change the rules base for the markets as they currently operate. It is monumentally absurd that supermarkets should pay no business rates on their car parks. It would require only a small change in the regulations to allow local authorities to offer a different incentive and say to local food retailers that they can have a 70 per cent. discount on business rates for food reared and grown within 70 miles of their urban outlets. That would incentivise the strengthening and renewal of local food links.

The rest of Europe has a much greater diversity of local beers, because of a tax system that has always favoured the small and the local. The Chancellor has begun to go down that path with incentives to micro-brewers. In bars in France, all the pression beers come from regional specialists, supported by a tax and duty system that specifically favours the small, sustainable and local over the large, powerful and global. We, on the other hand, have market preferences that favour the rich and the powerful.

Mr. Weir : The hon. Gentleman is right to a certain extent, but how are we to force supermarkets, with their huge economic power, to give producers a fair deal? To be fair, some supermarkets, at least in Scotland, try to

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sell local produce, but it is still on the basis that they dictate the terms to the producer and push down the prices.

Alan Simpson: That is a real challenge, to which there are several elements. One is to change the tax and subsidy system, removing the concessions to supermarkets that do not apply to local retailers. We should also think about changing the balance of power in the relationship between food producers and retailers. In France, farmers have a legal duty to act through co-operatives, and in Italy they are given tax incentives to do so. Governments can influence the rules base of the market. My point is that current presumptions are in favour of a rules base that gives greater freedoms to the rich and powerful who can determine today's terms of production, purchasing and distribution. None of that is based on principles of sustainability. That is where I would invite the Government to take some of our best initiatives and move them into a more coherent and sustainable strategy.

Now that we have set up the Food Standards Agency nationally, why do we not give similar powers to local authorities to set up local food commissions? In Italy, such bodies can get involved in the brokering of food contracts between urban consumers and the rural communities that produce the food. In the context of such arrangements, which other parts of Europe have as of right, we must consider the twin issues of labelling and liability.

Mr. Roger Williams: Some local authorities would like to use local food and products in their schools, but feel constricted by European regulations that insist on their putting the contracts out to open tender, without being able to specify where the food comes from.

Alan Simpson: Yes, that is part of the current rules base, and I think it is barking mad. We should challenge that, and invite our European counterparts to subscribe to a different common agenda on sustainability.

If consumers are to have choice, it must be informed choice. The current European proposals on clear labelling are enormously important in the context of genetically modified products or ingredients. The Government have got it completely wrong in presuming that only those who seek to produce GM-free food should be required to label. If someone else contaminated food that one attempted to produce in a GM-free way, whom could the consumer sue? It could only be the person who made a claim that the food was GM free. The European proposals say that anyone who knows that a GM ingredient is to be used at any stage of the production process has a duty to indicate it clearly and label accordingly. It follows that, if we are to have labelling, it must be connected to the notion of liability. We have said on many occasions that we are committed to the principle that the polluter pays. That principle is right, but in respect of GM foods we must find some way of establishing—it need not take the form of the Genetically Modified Food and Producer Liability (No. 2) Bill, which I introduced last year—that a rules-based system in which the genetic polluter forces the organic farmer out of business is unacceptable. Such a system would be absurd.

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The Secretary of State has referred to genetic modification as being an automatic part of evolution, but that is fundamentally wrong. To put it in non-scientific terms, the reason why, throughout history, the soya bean has never mated with the fish has nothing to do with the fact that they do not fancy each other, or that they have different tastes in music, or that they prefer to read different Sunday papers.

Andrew George: They might want to.

Alan Simpson: Indeed, but the difficulty is that nature has provided species barriers that do not allow the sharing of those interests. They might share a place on someone's plate, but they are not likely to share a part in the process of reproduction and evolution. We must assess enormously seriously the consequences of a science that breaks down such barriers. We would never allow a new drug to be tested on members of the public outside strict laboratory conditions, in the way that we are currently trialling GM crops in open environments. That is the critical issue at stake.

On energy and technologies, there is much for the Government to feel proud of. I urge Members to read the document that was published last year, entitled XPowering Future Vehicles", which deals with a strategy that is remarkably ambitious. This Government are the first internationally to set targets for new vehicles. One such is that, within 10 years, one in 10 of all new vehicles should have fuel emissions of less than 100 g of carbon dioxide per kilometre. Ours is also the first Government to set really tough emission standards for low carbon buses. Again, that is an extremely desirable process for us to embark on and invite the House to support. However, there is no point in doing that if what underpins the centralities of our transport system is huge investment in motorways and disinvestment in railways, and huge investment in private transport and huge under-investment in public transport. That should be the locus of the refocusing of our attention.

In getting there, it will not be enough for us to talk about other fuel sources. Several Members have been involved in trialling differently fuel-sourced vehicles around the country. Some 10 years ago, I talked to scientists who were involved in running a fleet of cars around Germany using hydrogen fuel cells. The obstacle to change is not the technology, but the question of where to fill up. We must intervene in the markets for fuel in much the same way as is happening in France. In France, there is an obligation on service stations to provide access to alternative fuels.

The Government are right to point out that there is a debate about which will be the predominant non-polluting fuels that we look to in 10 or 15 years' time. However, at this stage the question for the motorist who wishes to fill up more ethically is where to find the fuel choices. If we want people to try to occupy those ethical platforms, we have to make such choices available to them. It is not enough to exhort; we have to build that in as a condition of the franchises for service stations. Only then will people be able to exercise the sort of choices that the Government would like them to exercise.

Sooner rather than later, we will have to address the absurdity of the absence of an aviation fuel duty. Aviation fuel is arguably the most polluting form of

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fuel, if only because of where the emissions are discharged, and the absence of such a duty also distorts other markets. I therefore urge the Government to take heed of the warnings and exhortations of Members, and to look at an early introduction of an aviation fuel duty.

Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the American Government are wholly opposed to such a tax. Does he therefore agree that the Government should take steps to persuade our European Union partners to introduce one at EU level, at least as an initial step?

Alan Simpson: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I would urge the UK Government and our European partners to presume to levy such a tax on all American planes landing anywhere in Europe. The Americans cannot exempt themselves from the damaging consequence in terms of climate change that their assumptions about tax-free aviation fuel impose on the rest of the planet. I should welcome a tax.

I am very conscious that DEFRA has led the commitment to the eradication of fuel poverty in Britain. We could easily forget that that was an important milestone. Never has there been such a clear commitment by a Government in this country—a Labour Government—to the eradication of fuel poverty. DEFRA's current difficulty, however, is that the budget that it was allocated to address that problem is not sufficient to meet the targets and the needs. As a Parliament and as a Government, we must try to strengthen DEFRA's hand in obtaining a more sensible and adequate budget to meet our fuel poverty targets.

Last year, the Home Energy Conservation Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner), was talked out because it was argued that DEFRA could not afford #100 million a year to meet its costs. However, we have to put that in the context of the global figure to which we have just signed up in order to bail out a completely bankrupt nuclear industry. I understand that the total figure will be not the #650 million that was being talked about initially, but #13 billion. The Government propose to underwrite a bankrupt industry with #13 billion of taxpayers' contributions, yet we were told that we could not afford #100 million to pay for the elimination of fuel poverty.

A fraction of the money that will be thrown at the bankrupt nuclear industry could have allowed us to end fuel poverty in Britain, to cut carbon emissions dramatically and to set about a huge transition towards investment in renewables. It would have allowed us to occupy the international moral high ground, as the Government rightly want to do.

On my next point, I am in disagreement not only with the Government but with the House. On behalf of the unreconstructed, I want to make a plea that we should mount a challenge on something that currently mesmerises the House: the belief that global free trade—trade liberalisation—is a panacea for the world's problems. I think that idea is garbage. This morning, the Chancellor was singing the praises of free trade and telling us that it could eradicate global poverty. There is no analysis to support those claims for our planet.

Let us consider what has happened during the past 50 years. For the first 25 of those years, the developing world was allowed to make progress through aid

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programmes and international support based on import substitution policies, so that they could meet their own needs before they met those of the west. The gap between the richest and the poorest narrowed. During those 25 years, per capita incomes in Latin America grew by 73 per cent. In Africa, they grew by 24 per cent. Then, post-1980—and who came to power in the UK and the US in 1980?—there was a cowboy era of free trade and trade liberalisation.

The figures for the second 25 years are grotesque. In Latin and South America, real-terms per capita incomes have grown by only 6 per cent. and in Africa they have fallen by 23 per cent. As was pointed out earlier, countries that are primary producers of goods such as coffee and tea face collapsing world prices for those commodities, and when the World Bank steps in with further trade liberalisation programmes it is on condition that those countries hand over ownership of all their primary resources in a fire sale. Those primary resources even include their own water. There is no point in our talking about sustainable access to decent water supplies, food or production processes when the rules of the game asset-strip the poor in the south in a way that we have never seen before. We shall not recover from that in terms of either climate change or global poverty.

In the representations that our Government make to those global summit meetings, we have to occupy a platform on which we assert the right of the poor to be judged not on the basis of how they feed the rich, but on whether they can feed themselves. Sustainability must begin with recognition of the capacity that exists in those continents and the subcontinent.

Just last week, environmental experts from Ethiopia and India spoke to us. Although there is a tragic famine in Ethiopia, they told us that they do not have a food crisis, in the sense that there is a huge surplus of cassava in the north and a famine in the south. They have no shortage of cash crops; they just have a shortage of cash. The international community will not allow their Government to step in to buy the cassava surpluses in the north to give to the farmers in the south without destroying the country's agricultural base.

India has stepped in to try to answer Zambia's plea to receive non-genetically modified grain as part of the famine relief programme. The World Food Programme says, XNo, it is an unreasonable request." Why? Because the WFP primarily has huge surpluses of GM grain from the United States. India has been saying, XLook. We have had our largest ever grain surplus—55 million tonnes—take it from us. It is GM free." The WFP has stepped in under the auspices of the US and said that is an unreasonable request from those in one of the poorest countries on the planet.

India has record grain surpluses and its Government are telling farmers to produce less, more sustainably. Even India is asking, XWhy on earth are you forcing us to open our grain markets so that America can offload its grain surpluses and destroy our domestic capacity for farmers to produce grain at a price on which they can survive?"

Let me put a challenge to the Government: we have ambitious targets and we have much that we can feel proud of in setting out our stall and in our current direction, but we now have to pull the best elements of

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our policies together into a coherent programme that offers an alternative model of sustainable development not only for our own communities but for the global community as well.

That model of sustainable development cannot be realised unless we are prepared to challenge today's market rules, which favour the large and powerful over the small and local, and those who exploit and pollute rather than those who sustain and renew. If we can find the courage to meet that challenge, we will be thanked not only by generations of our own electors, but by communities across the planet.

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