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Wild Birds

3. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): If she will make a statement on numbers of wild birds in the UK. [215591]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Thanks to the policies of this Labour Government, wild bird numbers, after decades of decline, are now recovering. Among threatened species that are increasing are the bittern, the corncrake and the cirl bunting. Others, including some more common species, such as the house sparrow and starling, are still declining. However, I can announce that from 1 March the house sparrow and the starling will enjoy increased legal protection.

Mr. Chapman: Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on the 25th anniversary and success of its big garden bird watch, in which nearly half a million people took part and which is important in identifying declining numbers of particular types of bird? Will he join me in congratulating the RSPB also on the stance that it has taken on the potential effects of dredging in the Dee estuary and the damage that that could cause to this important wild bird habitat? Will he urge the authorities concerned in reaching a decision on the dredging of the Dee to take a view that fully balances the important ecological considerations alongside those of commerce?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, on my hon. Friend's latter point I can give him the assurance that he seeks. I am happy to join his congratulations to the RSPB on the excellent work that it does, not least through the garden bird watch scheme, in which I would urge right hon. and hon. Members and the public to participate, as I do.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): The wild birds at Highgrove, which is just outside my constituency, will no doubt join me in congratulating my constituent, Mrs. Parker Bowles, on the exciting news of her forthcoming marriage.

We very much welcome the slowing of the decline of wild bird populations that the Minister described in his answer, but we remain concerned about some of the species that are still being heavily predated. Will he explain why it is that under the Hunting Act 2004 dogs may still be used for the protection of pheasants, grouse and partridge, but not for the protection of corn buntings and turtle doves?

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): What about cats?

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Member makes a good point from a sedentary position.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) is wrong that those species are still declining. Some are, but most of the species on the list are increasing, thanks to a number of policies that the Government have introduced, not least the agri-environmental schemes that will be built on by common agricultural policy reform.

The situation with raptors is variable. Sparrowhawks and buzzards are doing well, but the kestrel is doing less well. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the decline in some songbird species is the result, even
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primarily, of the actions of birds of prey. Cats, as the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) pointed out, are a far bigger danger.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Will the Minister join me in commending English Nature on transforming 40 derelict pit sites into lowland heath landscapes which, I am sure he will agree, are excellent habitats for many of our wild native birds?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, my hon. Friend has highlighted one of a number of projects supported by the Government to restore the habitats that the country has lost over preceding decades. The lowland heath habitat to which he referred is particularly important, partly because it is very rare, but also because it is home to some species that in the past have been most threatened.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): The Minister claimed that the Labour Government have been good for birds. What are their plans for cormorants?

Mr. Bradshaw: Cormorants are one of the species that have done extremely well in the past 20 years, and their numbers have increased a great deal. The hon. Gentleman is right. Last year, after listening carefully to the views of both the RSPB and the angling community, we decided to change the licensing regime for cormorant culling because of the damage that they were inflicting on some fisheries. However, even if the maximum number of licences were issued, the cormorant population would still be far higher than it was under the Tories.


4. Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): What initiatives her Department has undertaken to support recycling by local communities. [215592]

The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): DEFRA, through its waste implementation programme, is currently delivering a package of targeted support to both local authorities and local community sector organisations across England to help raise recycling, composting and re-use rates.

Helen Southworth: In the UK, we recycled 3 billion aluminium cans in 2003, including 1 million in the Novelis plant in Latchford in my constituency. That is a huge number but, in the same year, 4 billion cans were thrown away. Every single recycled aluminium can saves enough energy to power a television set for three hours, so we saved 600 million kW of energy in 2003. However, we wasted a lot more. Will my hon. Friend commission research to identify voluntary schemes that provide recycling incentives so that more consumers will recognise the value of their empty cans?

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the energy saved through recycling, which avoids the need to make new cans from raw materials. As she may know, we have been running a campaign, "Recycle Now". The evaluation is encouraging, as it shows that the message is getting through to people and
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that they are being encouraged to change. I am pleased that our recycling rate has risen from 6 per cent. in 1997 to 17 per cent. today. There is a great deal more scope for improvement, and I accept the point made by my hon. Friend. I am pleased about the recycling rate for aluminium—the prices are also good—but there is an opportunity to do a great deal more, and the Government are committed to doing so.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Given that recycling is such a good thing, would the Minister like to congratulate the Conservatives, as more Conservative councils operate recycling schemes and eight out of 10 of the best council recycling schemes are run by Conservative-controlled councils?

Mr. Morley: Let me be clear: I congratulate any council that has achieved and exceeded its targets. Many of the councils that the hon. Lady mentioned were Labour-controlled in the past, and there was a cross-party commitment to establish such schemes. Rather than being partisan about the records of individual councils, we should ensure that all councils achieve the recycling targets set by the Government. I am glad to say that, under this Government, they are doing so.

Toxic Waste

5. Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire) (Lab): What discussions she has had with the Environment Agency on the control of emissions from toxic waste tips. [215593]

The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Department has frequent discussions with the Environment Agency on a wide range of issues arising from management of landfill sites.

Mr. Pickthall: I have here a list of substances classed as permitted waste, which have been dumped into a large toxic waste tip in my constituency. There are 350 of them and most are described as "dangerous". They range through arsenics, asbestos, phosphates, cyanides, mercury, effluent sludges and, ominously, other heavy metals, whatever they include. What work is done to examine how such materials react with one another once they are in such tips, and what monitoring is there of the effect of the emissions on surrounding populations? What work is being done to minimise such materials in production as well as in waste stream processing?

Mr. Morley: I understand that my hon. Friend is referring to the White Moss tip, and I appreciate the point that he makes. The White Moss tip has a licence for hazardous waste. It is monitored by the Environment Agency and I understand that action has recently been taken under the pollution prevention and control permits system in relation to odours from the site. The latest information that I have is that the issue comes from an old cell and not one of the new cells, which are engineered to very high standards and must meet the requirements of the Environment Agency and the relevant legislation. I might add that the tip always took hazardous waste and had a licence for former co-disposal. My understanding is that the owners are
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currently spending £100,000 to deal with the odour problems relating to one of the cells, and that the agency is supervising that and monitoring what goes into the tip.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): The Minister may be interested to know that the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has recently received from the organisation Beyond Waste a report using official statistics to calculate that 692,000 tonnes of hazardous waste are still unaccounted for. There is dispute about that number, but would he agree to receive a copy of that report and analyse it? Does he accept from me that correct data are required on the volumes of hazardous and toxic waste that have to be disposed of if industry is to have the confidence to make the necessary investments to provide appropriate facilities in the long term to deal with the problem?

Mr. Morley: I certainly accept the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. We have recently put a great deal of effort and resources into improving data capture, which is very important not only in monitoring waste flows, but in guiding our policy. I shall be only too pleased to receive the information to which he referred, and I will look at it seriously, as it is important that we are never complacent about hazardous waste management issues.

Both the industry and DEFRA predicted a substantial fall in hazardous waste, mainly because between 60 and 70 per cent. of hazardous waste was contaminated topsoil. We know that there was an acceleration in the amount of topsoil going into sites before the new regulations were introduced. We also know that many sites will be developed at a later date and that many are also being remedied on site, rather than with the use of dig and dump, which is exactly the outcome that we seek. We want to limit the amount of all waste, including hazardous waste, going into landfill, and there are clear signs that the policies that we are putting in place are having that effect. The amounts are within our predictions, but I shall be only too pleased to look at the figures.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton) (Lab): In addition to the emissions from tips, will my hon. Friend also take into consideration the run-off of surface water into watercourses and rivers, and the experience in my constituency on the Welbeck site, where a fire broke out and the water that was used to put it out drained into the River Calder? The quality of the water going into watercourses and rivers is an important matter. The Environment Agency addressed that situation, but we must have a great deal of further investigation and research into the toxic water waste from surface water on tips.

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend is right that leachate from tips must be rigorously controlled, and that is a condition of the pollution, prevention and control permit that landfill sites must obtain. I had the pleasure of opening a reverse osmosis plant—I have opened many projects—to deal with leachate on a landfill site, which is an example of the rigorous standards. When a fire breaks out on a tip, the situation is an emergency and run-off is likely to occur. The Environment Agency,
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which attends such emergencies, has procedures to deal with water run-off and leachate, and it is important that adequate safeguards and regular monitoring are in place.

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