|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
6. Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): What representations she has received regarding discussions with the European Union concerning changes to the African, Caribbean and Pacific sugar regime. 
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): My ministerial colleagues and I have received a number of representations on behalf of ACP countries highlighting concerns about the possible consequences of EU sugar reform for their industries.
Mr. Foulkes: I urge my right hon. Friend to fight like a tiger in Europe against the sudden price drop proposed for Caribbean sugar, which will cause havoc to many small islands' fragile economies and perhaps turn them on to growing illicit crops, with a consequent effect on security and law and order, not only in the Caribbeanparticularly Jamaicabut on our own streets.
Margaret Beckett: I understand the seriousness of my right hon. Friend's point. I assure him that the British Government attach great importance to the need for transitional measures to mitigate the impact of sugar reform on existing preferential suppliers as a group, and particularly the ACP. However, I am sure that he accepts that the existing regime, which is due to expire in 2006 anyway, and has the effect of keeping the price of sugar three times above world levels, is not sustainable in the long term.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The right hon. Lady referred to changes to the existing regime. I am sure that she would acknowledge that those changes could have a serious impact on the future of UK sugar producers. Will she have urgent talks with the Chancellor designed to reduce the duty on the relevant biofuels so as to make the production of alternative fuels more attractive?
The House may wish to be reminded that although we cannot have a detailed assessment of the likely impact of changes in the regime until we see the more detailed regulations, we have published on our Department's website an independent study carried out by Cambridge university and the Royal Agricultural College examining the possible impact of a range of options in the field of reform. It is unquestionably true that this would lead to changes in every member state. It is also true that some of those changes could reduce production levels, again in every member state.
13 Jan 2005 : Column 421
I entirely take the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point about biofuels, but he will know that there is much discussion between our Department, the Department for Transport and the Treasury about this issue, and there is no unwillingness on the part of the Treasury to do what can be done to stimulate the market for biofuels. There is, however, reluctance to take steps that might not stimulate British production but draw in imports. Only on that matter is there any dispute, and we continue to keep it under review.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): The Secretary of State is right that the current regime is not only due to expire but needs reform. She is also right to refer to the implications for our traditional cane suppliers from the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and the need for structural help to face the changes. I am sure that she agrees that there will be price reductionswe do not know the extent of themand quota cuts. What is the Government's attitude to the Commission's current proposals, which may alter, to change the whole system of quota cuts so that Britain would take a much greater hit than we would sustain if the current mechanism for cutting quotas remained unchanged? Will she resist the Commission's proposals to change the mechanism for cutting quotas?
Margaret Beckett: I am afraid that I do not entirely share the hon. Gentleman's view. It is and always has been the Government's purpose to defend British interests as vigorously as we can, and we have a good track record of doing that. However, there is something to be said for the Commission's general approach. It is too early to predict the Commission's further detailed proposals because, as hon. Members know, the Commission has understandably said that further sets of proposals are unlikely until the EU's appeal against the World Trade Organisation case has been heard.
The Commission's existing proposals will have an impact on every member state. The independent review suggests that the likely scenarios would lead to reduced production of sugar beet here, but that the impact would be significantly lessened if growers restructured and/or reduced their costs. A range of measures might mitigate the impact on the British industry. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that we will do our utmost to achieve the best long-term outcome for the British industry.
The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley):
The Government have several mechanisms in place to reduce the amount of biodegradable municipal waste going to landfill. The most important are the landfill allowances trading scheme, the waste implementation programme and the £3 per tonne annual increase in landfill tax, which will lead to a rate in the medium term of £35 per tonne.
13 Jan 2005 : Column 422
Simon Hughes: I am grateful for the reply, and I support the Government's initiative. However, given thatalmost incrediblymore than a third of landfill comes from the food industry, and that a national charity called FareShare, which is based in Bermondsey but works throughout the country, takes quality unused food and redistributes it to organisations such as those that deal with the homeless, will the Minister examine the reasons for the sudden loss, with no notice, of Government support for that organisation, which contributes so much to reducing landfill? Will he talk to his colleagues in the Treasury and elsewhere to reinstate the support, because FareShare makes a huge ethical and practical contribution?
Mr. Morley: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point and I have a great deal of sympathy with FareShare's work. He will appreciate that the top objective for proper sustainable management must be to minimise waste. That is the Government's objective.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): As my hon. Friend the Minister says, the main objective must be to minimise waste, because even in counties such as Lancashire we are running out of holes in the ground in which to dump the rubbish. Does he believe that we have satisfactory arrangements and plans for the authorities that are responsible for the collection and disposal of waste? There are supposed to be plans for the whole country. Are they working in the best way for minimising waste that goes to landfill?
Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Government believe that there is much scope for better co-ordination and better working within the two-tier authoritiesthose that have both a waste collection authority and a waste disposal authority. The Waste and Emissions Trading Act 2003 contains powers to impose an obligation for closer co-ordination between those two tiers and the Gershon review makes recommendations on efficiency savings. Those provisions are part of the Government's agenda and the issue is being addressed now.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Given that disposable nappies account for 2 per cent. of the volume of waste being producedto which my three grandchildren under the age of one are making their contributionwould it not be useful to conduct a proper economic analysis of the relative environmental costs of reusable and disposable nappies? There is no simple formula and such an analysis would enable institutional users such as health trusts to understand which was the more environmentally friendly option.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Various whole-life assessments and calculations in relation to energy and cost have been made in the argument about disposables versus reusables and the Environment Agency has commissioned a detailed study of exactly the kind that he asked for. I think that it is undergoing peer review, but it will be made publicly available in due course.
13 Jan 2005 : Column 423
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): As already reported to the House, the November 2004 Agriculture Council broadly accepted that the existing EU sugar regime was unsustainable. We are still awaiting detailed legislative proposals from the European Commission to take forward the approach first set out in its communication of July 2004.
Hugh Bayley: I am glad that the Commission recognises that change must happen. The EU needs to cut its sugar production if we are to stop dumping our surplus on the world market. Does the Secretary of State agree, however, that it is important for the cuts to be made on the basis not of a carve-up between nations but of the least efficient producers in Europe being the ones to go, so that efficient producers such as British Sugar can remain in business?
Margaret Beckett: It is important and necessary for all member states to take proper account of the changes that are being proposed. Throughout the discussions on CAP reformincluding those on issues that have already been agreed and those on sugarit has been the aim of this Government to ensure that we have an agriculture regime that is efficient and responsive to the market and which does not have the distortions, either within the single market of the European Union or in the world market, that past regimes have had.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): Does the Secretary of State accept that, in this time of change for the British sugar beet industry, the construction of a UK bioethanol plant is of particular importance? Does she accept the illogicality of her earlier answer, in which she suggested that she was worried about imports of biofuels to meet our European requirements in the context of blending petrol and biofuels? The best way to deal with this would be to have a plant in the United Kingdom. Will she explain to the House the paradox of her Department's support for such a plant, while we do not, at present, have one?
I am conscious of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman chairs the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which takes a view similar to that of the Government on the overall prospects for sugar reform and the need for such reform. I very much welcome that. On bioethanol, perhaps I did not express myself with as much clarity as I would have wished. I did not mean to suggest that there was a dispute over whether there was support for a bioethanol industry. That support exists and he will know that the Chancellor has already offered generous cuts in taxation to help to stimulate that market. It is now a matter of what further steps might be taken to stimulate production. Other matters, such as the availability of capital grants, are also being considered.
13 Jan 2005 : Column 424
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister agree that reform of the sugar regime should provide an opportunity for a section of British farmers to break away from the welfare dependency culture that seems to be prevalent among so much of the agriculture industry? Is it not ironic that the Tories consistently oppose subsidies, except when they and their friends are receiving them?
Margaret Beckett: Far be it from me, normally, to be terribly fair to Conservative Members, but on this occasion, I must admit that my hon. Friend is being uncharitable to them, because the Select Committee certainly supports a reform of the sugar regime, and, as far as I am aware, so do the Conservative Front Benchers. Certainly, there is now widespread acceptance across the House that we do not want the persistence of a regime that, as he rightly said, has encouraged dependency. We want an efficient and well run single market in agriculture, as in other industries. In every part of the House, people are confident that British farmers are more than capable of holding their own in such a market.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that, since the advent of the "Everything but Arms" initiative, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Malawi have sustained losses of approximately $238 million as a consequence not of trade-distorting subsidies but of barriers to market access, does the Secretary of State agree that western policies in this field are both morally wrong and economically counter-productive? In seeking to take the matter forward, it is essential to bear it in mind that, as well as getting rid of the subsidies, we must open the market to give the poorest people in the world the legitimate opportunity to compete and grow. Our constituents expect nothing less.
Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman makes an important and powerful point, and as ever, he does so extremely well. I am absolutely mindful of the fact that it is hugely important that this reform is seen not only as worth while and important in its own right but as part of the context of a wider agenda of trade reform. It has become increasingly clear that the expectation of our fellow European Union members is that this issue will play a large part during the British presidency of the EU in the second part of this year. The hope is widely held that the matter can be resolved as far as possible in that presidency, precisely in order to get the negotiations on the right road before the talks on the Doha round that are due to take place in Hong Kong in December. All of us in politics are paid what we might regard as dubious compliments from time to time. One that has recently been paid to my Department and me has been the clearly and strongly expressed view of our predecessors in the presidency that the matter should be left to us to resolve.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|