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The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): My Department is firmly committed to ensuring that the regulatory burden on farmers is proportionate and that any regulation is applied in a way that causes as little inconvenience to farmers as possible. Our strategy for sustainable food and farming sets out proposals for a whole farm approach that will bring together regulatory requirements affecting farmers in a single coherent framework.
Mr. Turner : I am grateful for that answer. Does the Secretary of State agree that when there is a single regime, British farmers should have parity of treatment with others? If I may exemplify the point, my farmers are concerned that under the common agricultural policy review, agri-environment schemes may be enforced more rigidly in this country than in Europe. Secondly, my horticulturists are concerned that they must obtain licences for trickle irrigation while massive housing developments are allowed without regard to the need to extract more water to provide for those developments.
Margaret Beckett: I am not aware of any evidence to suggest that agri-environment schemes are enforced more rigidly here than elsewhere in the European Union. Certainly, however, we believe that there should be parity, and that there should be proper enforcement, with the relevant requisite disciplines, right across the EU. Indeed, that is part of having a common agricultural policy. Equally, I am not conscious of a particular problem with regard to water whereby horticulturists are treated differently and worse than others. I will certainly look into the point that the hon. Gentleman raises, however, as I assure him that it is no part of our approach to want to see UK producers disadvantaged.
Margaret Beckett: I entirely share my hon. Friend's view that this is a matter of some considerable importance. Indeed, we are investigating now, in consultation with stakeholders, what kind of information would be most helpful to them and in what way we can best make it available. We would, of course, have to make the business case for the requisite systems to provide such information. I wholeheartedly assure him, however, that we are very mindful of how infuriating it is to be asked repeatedly by different groups of people for precisely the same information. That is exactly the kind of practice that we are trying to reduce.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): The Secretary of State will be aware that a regulation that is disadvantageous not only to British farmers but to European farmers is the temporary ban on the use of fish-meal in animal feed, which sets us against imports from outside the European Union. The reason for that ban was bovine spongiform encephalopathy and testing. Is she aware that there is now a proven test, using microscopic analysis, that has been submitted to the EU and which can distinguish between fish meal and mammalian protein, which means that the temporary ban should no longer exist? Will she make representations to the EU to get the ban lifted as soon as possible so that our producers may use that excellent protein?
Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman will know, I am sure, that the Government share his concern to an extent, and we did indeed make representations on that issue. I also agree that it is important to press the Commission to examine that potential further step speedily. However, the first step is to ensure that the test is evaluated as quickly as possible. If it is successfully evaluated and it works in the way that is suggested, we can press for it to be taken into account, and I assure him that we shall do that.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): On the animal by-products regulations, will the right hon. Lady confirm that we are now in the absurd situation in which the European ban on burying fallen stock came into force at the beginning at the month, but no implementing legislation has been introduced in the House to give effect to the ban or to provide for penalties for breaching it? Ministers are whispering behind their hands that everything will be enforced with a light touch for three months or so, but several local councils have already announced a strict enforcement policy. Farmers and councils alike deserve to know exactly where they stand, so surely the right policy would be for the right hon.
Margaret Beckett: I think that there is a misunderstanding. The new national collection scheme is not a necessary prerequisite of the regulations' implementation. We urge farmers to sign up to the new national collection scheme because its purpose and effect is to lower the costs of implementation. We anticipate and hopealthough we must always be cautious about making assumptions about how the House operatesthat the regulations will be in place by the end of the month. Most farmers are clear about where they stand, although they may or may not like it.
The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): The Government's "Waste Strategy 2000" set national targets for the recycling or composting of at least 25 per cent. of household waste by 2005 and 30 per cent. by 2010. To underpin these national targets we have set challenging statutory recycling and composting targets for all local authorities.
Mr. Sayeed : I welcome the Minister's support for recycling but I would like to test what it actually means in practice. The Government attempted to remove all meaningful targets from the Home Energy Conservation Bill during its passage, although they were defeated in Committee by Conservative and Labour Members. They consequently destroyed the Bill on the Floor of the House. The current Municipal Waste Recycling Bill proposes recycling targets to be achieved by 2010 that would require, in the Minister's words,
The hon. Gentleman misunderstands. I made it perfectly clear that the reason why we could not support the Home Energy Conservation Bill, although we certainly supported the overall targets, was that under the modernisation procedures through which we will finance the further burdens that we require of local authorities, which we have rightly instituted, the cost of the Bill would have been about £400 million. Following the spending review, such expenditure was not available. However, it is true that home energy conservation targets are increasing steadily and gradually.
On the hon. Gentleman's second point about kerbside recycling, I remind him that the current level is about 51 per cent. according to the latest information available to me. We believe that if we get to a national recycling rate of 25 per cent. by 200506, and we have every intention of ensuring that that happens, the level of kerbside recycling will have to be increased substantially by local authorities. If we were to require them to do it, we would again have to pay substantial sums of moneyperhaps as much as £200 millionwhich is simply not available in the spending review.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the House authorities for doing their bit to promote recycling by providing Members with a separate bin for recycling waste paper? Does he agree that that promotion could be taken a step further, perhaps by having central collection points for used plastic bottles or tin cans? That might be a logical way forward.
Mr. Meacher: I think that is a helpful suggestion. In terms of national targets and national performance, what happens in the House is infinitesimal by comparison, but it sends an important message. If we are asking other people in all households to increase recycling and recovery markedlynot just of paper, but also of plastics, aluminium steel cans, bottles and so onit is important that we do it ourselves. I shall certainly take the matter up with the House authorities.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): The Minister is proud of his targets, but he must be aware that the Environmental Audit Committee described them as "depressingly unambitious". Does he agree with most hon. Members that bottle banks and the like will never achieve reasonable recycling targets? That can only be done by kerbside recycling, something that the Prime Minister acknowledged when he memorably said:
Mr. Meacher: It is a bit of a cheek for the hon. Gentleman to make a case for recycling levels when we inherited a recycling level of 6 per cent. in 1997. That has been doubled to 13 per cent. and we intend to double it again to 25 per cent. within the next two years.
It is also unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman prepared his supplementary question without realising that I had answered it in my full response to the question asked by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), which he would have known had he been listening. Since he obviously did not catch it, I said that we are in favour of a big increase in kerbside recycling. It is already 51 per cent. We believe that achieving 25 per cent. overall national recycling by 2005 will increase that substantially. If we are to require local authorities to do that, however, we have to finance it from central sources, and we simply do not have the capacity in our budget to do that.