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Sewerage Provision

11. Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): What plans she has to change the law to make it easier for water companies to provide mains sewerage to rural villages. [113310]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): While there are costs and technical issues, we consider water companies already have sufficient powers under section 94 of the Water Industry Act 1991 to provide, improve and extend the system of public sewers.

Dr. Ladyman : May I take issue with my hon. Friend, because they simply do not? The only way for water companies to provide mains sewerage to those rural villages in my constituency that need it is to use section 101A of 1991 Act, which requires them to prove the case on environmental grounds, not regeneration and economic grounds. The Water Bill is just up the Corridor at the moment and it amends section 101A. Will my hon. Friend please look at it and consider the minor amendments needed to make the changes so that we can give a real boost to those rural communities that need mains drainage?

Mr. Morley: I understand my hon. Friend's point. He has been active on the matter and recently wrote to us on a number of suggestions. However, if properly maintained, cesspits and cesspit tanks are perfectly environmentally acceptable. I appreciate that there is a cost attached to that and that there is also an issue of rural development. We are happy to explore ways of dealing with the issue if there is a case to do so on cost benefit grounds as well as environmental grounds. One way to do that might be to consider the facility in the English rural development programme in relation to support for rural communities and infrastructure. I shall write to my hon. Friend in more detail on that and am happy to explore the options. We accept that he raises important points.

Packaging Waste Regulation

12. Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central): If she will make a statement on the packaging waste regulation and wood products. [113311]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): In view of allegations of inappropriate packaging waste recovery note issue by some reprocessors, I have asked my officials to conduct an investigation.

Mr. Illsley : As my right hon. Friend knows, the price of packaging recovery notes for wood products slumped towards the end of last year and is quite low. There are another two issues facing wood recyclers: first, the subsidy offered by power generators for biofuels to use in power stations, where they can offer higher prices than board and wood products users. Secondly, there is the proposed removal of a packaging waste recovery target for wood products. We have heard today about

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the exploitation of forests in the far east. Is it not time that we did more to encourage wood products recycling, rather than allowing barriers to occur?

Mr. Meacher: The latest figures show a very substantial increase in the recovery and recycling of wood packaging waste. It was reported at a rate of 57 per cent. in 2001. The latest figures for 2002 are 84 per cent. That shows a substantial uplift, so large that there have been suspicions of an inappropriate allocation and use of packaging waste recovery notes. That is what I have asked my Department to investigate. I accept my hon. Friend's point about the slump in PRN prices. I have told the industry that under the EU packaging waste regulations, there will be a considerable increase in those targets, probably of the order of 60 to 65 per cent. by 2006–08. In the light of that, further investment needs to be made now in readiness to meet those higher targets. On that basis, I hope that PRN prices will begin to recover.

Fisheries Council

13. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): If she will make a statement on the Government's aims at the next Fisheries Council meeting. [113312]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): Agendas vary. Our aim at the May Council will be to support the development of effective measures for the future management of fishing effort in western waters.

Mr. Carmichael : With regard to the cod recovery programme, which I presume would be an essential part of that, does the Minister agree that it will be meaningless as long as we allow the industrial fishing fleet to remove an important part of the food chain? Will he use the next Fisheries Council to instil some urgency in the EU Commission with regard to the setting up of regional advisory councils?

Mr. Morley: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are strong supporters of regional advisory councils. There is a great deal of activity going on in fishermen's organisations in relation to existing structures. We believe that for those councils to be effective, they should be driven from the bottom, rather than being imposed from the top. They must genuinely engage and involve the fishing industry. On industrial fishing, the hon. Gentleman knows my views. We are speaking to the Danes and to the Commission about the potential impact of industrial fishing. We have made £1 million available for scientific involvement with the English fishing industry. One of the topics that we are discussing with the industry is how we can use some of that money to fund proper examination of the by-catch and the ecological impact of industrial fishing, to strengthen the argument about its impact and to consider taking action on it.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby): Accepting that my hon. Friend always puts up a good fight, and a very cunning fight, on behalf of the British fishing industry, and does his best to voice the demands of the industry in

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the Council, I hope that he will attempt at the next Council and succeeding Councils to put more muscle into the regional advisory councils. National management of the waters has been a longstanding demand of the industry, and the present framework is purely advisory and has no real influence and role. It needs to have a defined role in management of the waters that it covers, so that they can be removed from the general considerations of management from Brussels.

Mr. Morley: I understand my hon. Friend's point. He has been entirely consistent and made a powerful

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argument on these issues. We had to fight hard for the regional advisory councils to be part of the reformed common fisheries policy. There were people in this country who said that we would never succeed and never get that. We did get it, and as far as we concerned, we see it as a framework for development. It is inevitable that we will have to progress step by step in the beginning to build up confidence and establish the influence of the councils. In the UK, we want them to have real power and a proper decision-making process, and to give fishermen a voice and an involvement in the management of their own fisheries.

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Business of the House

12.30 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Will the Leader of the House please give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Dr. John Reid): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 19 May—Progress on remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill (Day 2).

Tuesday 20 May—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill (Day 3).

Wednesday 21 May—Second Reading of the European Union (Accessions) Bill.

Thursday 22 May—Motion on General Synod Measure, followed by motion to approve a money resolution on the Municipal Waste Recycling Bill, followed by a motion on the Whitsun recess Adjournment.

The provisional business for the week following the Whitsun recess will include:

Monday 2 June—The House will not be sitting

Tuesday 3 June—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Fire Services Bill.

Mr. Forth: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business.

Yesterday in PMPs, the Prime Minister finally lost his marbles. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in column 305 of Hansard that

and very reasonably asked the Prime Minister:

My right hon. Friend may have been inspired by the fact that a Minister of State in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), no less, had said a few minutes earlier in the slightly different context of regional assemblies:

So the Minister of State thinks that it is a good idea to consult the people and ask them what they think about regional assemblies, but the Prime Minister was, by this time, off on another flight of fancy. In column 305, he said:

the Leader of the Opposition—

In column 306, he went on to say:


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Finally, the Prime Minister said:

Of course, Mr. Speaker, as you and the rest of the House know, there is absolutely no connection between the European Convention and constitution and enlargement of the European Union. Alarmingly, the Prime Minister of this country does not appear to understand the nature of this ghastly constitution that he now seems to want to inflict on the British people without even giving them a chance to say what they want.

I remind you, Mr. Speaker, the House and the Leader of the House that on 17 October 2001 at column 1184 of Hansard, my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary, no less, said of the Conservatives:

What I am therefore asking is: please can the Prime Minister come to the House, beg our forgiveness, apologise for not understanding what is going in his own Government and in the European Union and set the record straight? That is a very simple request and I hope that the Leader of the House will instruct the Prime Minister to sort himself out, get his act together and tell us what is really going on.

On Monday this week, the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) contradicted each other completely on the vital matter of the advice that the Attorney General had given the Government about the post-war Iraq settlement. What we really need to know—this is a very important constitutional matter, if nothing else—is which of them was right.

The Foreign Secretary said:

that is, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood—

He went on to say:

But a few minutes later the right hon. Lady said:

She went on to say that she was

and that it

This is a serious matter. A current member of the Cabinet and a former member of the Cabinet are saying completely contradictory things about exactly the same issue. Surely it is in everybody's interests that we get it straightened out. At the very least, the Foreign Secretary or the right hon. Lady should apologise to the House, but ideally the Attorney-General's advice should be published, because that would put the matter beyond doubt. Will the Leader of the House make arrangements for a member of the Government to come

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to the House as early as possible to tell us who was right—the Foreign Secretary or the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood?

This morning on the radio we heard an announcement about the latest pensions cock-up. The Pensions issue is now spiralling downwards into complete disarray, yet we still have no Minister for Pensions in the Government. So who is going to tell us what is going on? Who is going to come to the House to explain this latest insult to pensioners? Who is going to tell us the reason for this ghastly error, which will cost nearly everybody in this country a lot of money? Why have the pensioners have been sidelined by the Government? Are they so careless and casual about pensioners that they cannot even get round to appointing a representative for them in the Government? Can the Leader of the House tell us when we will get a Minister for Pensions here in this House to deal with pensions issues and to explain the latest disgrace?

A moment ago, I mentioned the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood. It is worth reflecting on what she said on 12 May when she made her personal statement to the House. She said, among other things, that we are now getting

She then said:

She rounded it all off by saying—this is an issue directly for the Leader of the House—that

are being—

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what he proposes to do as Leader of the House—the representative of this House of Commons at the highest level of Government—to prevent that? We have seen all too much of it this week with the Finance Bill, the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections and Periods of Suspension) Bill, and many other measures. Will the Leader of the House tell us in terms, and in detail, how he will prevent poor policy initiatives being rammed through Parliament and allow this House of Commons to do its proper job?

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