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Rural Development Regulation

11. Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC): If she will make a statement on the implications of the draft EU rural development regulation. [198963]

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): The Commission's proposals for the new rural development regulation were published in July 2004 for programmes running from 2007 to 2013. We have been negotiating—and continue to do so—for further simplification of the rules; a better focus of the EU rural development expenditure on the delivery of real public benefits; a clearer contribution with shared environmental objectives; and fairer allocation of EU money. We are concerned about the fairer allocation of EU money to this country, of course.

Mr. Thomas: I am worried about the impact of the draft regulation on upland farmers. The Minister knows that less favoured area status, which applies to 80 per cent. of Wales and almost all of my constituency, has been essential to support the sort of upland farming that has given us magnificent scenery that we can exploit for tourism. It has also given us a magnificent upland environment, which is an important part of the way in which we tackle climate change and the future of agriculture in this country. Will he give some assurances about how upland farming can be supported and the Government's attitude to the regulation so that we can maintain viable upland farming throughout the United Kingdom and the essential environment and landscape that is so important for us all?

Alun Michael: The hon. Gentleman is correct to spell out the challenge in respect of upland farming, which we are seeking to address very carefully. In relation to Wales, that is a matter for the National Assembly, and I believe that Carwyn Jones will be in Brussels on Monday when further discussions are taking place. The consultation in England and that undertaken in Wales by the Assembly have both closed recently. We will consider the outcomes and I am sure that there will be discussion between us and the Assembly's representatives, which will include a focus on upland farming.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): As I understand it, the draft regulation is accompanied by proposals on common agricultural policy farming, which include the process of revising the designation of less favoured areas. Bearing in mind what DEFRA approved just a few months ago, which the Secretary of State announced, is the Minister aware that clarity and early explanation of what is meant by this are vital for those areas?

Alun Michael: As I understand it, the Commission has proposed that member states redesignate their less favoured areas, removing socio-economic factors from the definitions. That arises from criticism from the European Court of Auditors. We have supported the proposal. We do not expect it to lead to significant changes in the designation of less favoured areas in the UK, but under current Commission proposals there is considerable scope for socio-economic objectives to be
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met through axis 3 funding. We are also pushing for the criteria for designation to be strongly linked to land management benefits and the positive environmental contribution that the programmes seek to achieve.

Landfill Tax Escalator

12. Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): What proposals she has to recycle the proceeds of the landfill tax escalator to business over the next three years. [198964]

The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): We expect to announce a programme of measures shortly that will recycle additional landfill tax revenues—£284 million over three years from April 2005—back to business by providing support that specifically targets resource efficiency, waste minimisation and diversion away from landfill.

Dr. Whitehead: Does my hon. Friend agree with me on the importance of the initiative in ensuring that business plays a full and important part in the recycling, reuse and minimisation process? Will he consider prioritising funding for schemes that promote recycling and trading in materials between businesses where a material is a waste product of one company's processes, but might constitute raw materials for those of another?

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend makes a good suggestion. As part of the agreed split on the income from the landfill tax, a lot of it will go towards helping businesses with resource management in the most general sense—energy waste resource management. The idea of one company's waste being used as another's raw material is a good one. I will certainly consider it seriously.

Sewerage Regulation

13. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): If she will make a statement on the regulation of sewerage operation by water utilities. [198965]

The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): Sewerage undertakers are under a statutory duty under section 94 of the Water Industry Act 1991—enforceable by the Secretary of State or the director general of water services—to provide, improve and extend public sewers and to maintain those sewers to ensure the effectual drainage of their area.

Dr. Cable: Some progress is being made on odour pollution from sewage works following court action and an odour abatement notice being made in south-west London in respect of Thames Water and the Mogden plant. Will the Minister acknowledge that, for the court action to be effective, the Government will have to specify the standards that must be met and the water regulator will have to approve the necessary capital investment? Will he take action on those points?

Mr. Morley: I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that action is being taken on that and he will be aware that my noble Friend Lord Whitty paid a visit to his local sewage works to consider some of the odour problems.
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Enforcement action was taken in November. We are in the process of producing a code of practice that lays out those standards, which the hon. Gentleman has asked for. That will be a useful framework for the sewerage industry to work within as regards the standards that we want to be applied to odour control.

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): My hon. Friend has already claimed the title of King Drain this morning, so I wonder whether he can do a similar job on sewers. Many Members will think that unadopted sewers, and the role of water utilities in them, are the biggest issue. In Dragonby in my constituency, which used to be in my hon. Friend's constituency, the sewers that are part of the former steel houses, which are now privately owned, cause regular blockages and problems. When does he expect to do something about that, with the water utilities, so that the blight on many of my constituents, and other hon. Members' constituents, can be ended?

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend makes a good point. As he rightly says, I know the situation in Dragonby, although it appears that the sewers have got worse since my hon. Friend inherited the village. The whole issue of private sewers is very complicated. We want to address it, and we have made clear in relation to the report that we commissioned the options that we can consider. That report showed that up to 50 per cent. of the population are connected directly or indirectly to private sewers, so it is a major issue. I will attend the all-party sewers and sewerage group meeting on 2 December, at which I hope to outline the steps that we can take, the kind of problems faced and some of the solutions that we can consider.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Is it right that, in 2004, many residents still suffer internal sewerage flooding in their homes and gardens? What power has the Minister to ensure that water utility companies put repairs in process immediately?

Mr. Morley: Yes, sewer flooding is an appalling experience for people, particularly for those who suffer it repeatedly. There has been some recent case law on the responsibility of sewer companies in relation to repeat sewer flooding, and I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman on that, as it might be of use to him in relation to his constituency case. More generally, sewer flooding was a feature of the ministerial guidance to the regulator in relation to his current job of setting the prices for the next five-year period. I am confident that the regulator, who is well aware of these issues and has received direct representations from Members of the House, will bear that in mind in approving companies' business plans for that period.

Fallen Stock

14. Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): What additional facilities are planned for the disposal of fallen stock in the event of a hunting ban. [198966]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): None. Other operators in the fallen stock collection and
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disposal industry have consistently maintained that they have sufficient capacity to deal with additional quantities of fallen stock.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Is the Minister aware that the Mendip farmers hunt recently opened a facility, built to Ministry specifications, to take fallen stock from the whole Mendip area that will be jeopardised if hunting is banned? Will he state clearly whether rendering and incineration capacity is adequate to cope with the national fallen stock collection service, which is much delayed but is coming into effect later this month? Alternatively, will that shortage of capacity create problems in line with the general ineptitude and incompetence that has surrounded this whole issue and the way it has been dealt with by his Department?

Mr. Bradshaw: No. The National Fallen Stock Company running the scheme is satisfied that the rendering and incineration capacity is sufficient to cope with the stock.

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