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The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): The UK takes every opportunity to engage our EU partners at ministerial and official level on post-Kyoto action, and has long advocated the necessity of establishing effective and achievable strategies, including targets, for the medium and longer term.
Mr. Stunell: Next time the Minister meets his EU partners on this matter, will he discuss the withdrawal of grants for solar schemes in this country, which has meant that investment has been cut back by five years? That withdrawal happened immediately after the Prime Minister said that investment in solar energy was very important in achieving our Kyoto targets. Will he explain that to the House?
Yes, I can certainly say that the Government are committed to a range of measures on energy efficiency and alternatives. Of course, there is the question of how we apply that money, the support that we give and the shape that it takes. However, the EU is making considerable progress on taking joint action on climate change. At the last Environment Council, we agreed a range of targets for reducing emissions by between 15 and 30 per cent. by 2010, and between 60 and
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80 per cent. by 2050. That was strongly supported and advocated by the UK, and I am pleased to see that progress.
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): When the Minister discusses climate change, will he consider its effect on rising sea levels and ensure that sea defences in places such as Middleton-on-Sea in my constituency are given a much higher priority in the priority scoring system, which is putting their sea defences at risk?
Mr. Morley: The priority scoring system is different from the calculation of sea level rise. I assure the hon. Gentleman that an element of sea level rise is factored into the calculations and engineering for current and future defences. That is also done for replacements. In terms of priority score, there have to be priorities for deciding which communities get the defences first. Although the budget has risen to record levelsI think we will spend in the region of £570 million on coastal and river defence in the next financial yearthere are capacity and planning issues, so there has to be a priority. By having points, the system is open and transparent, and people can see where they are on the priority list and why. There will be arguments about how the score is applied, but as a general principle, in terms of transparency, it is a good system.
Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Will the Minister confirm that a post-Kyoto international agreement on climate change must be based on firm targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Will he also confirm that it is UK policy to resist attempts by the United States to base a future agreement on something without targets? Does he welcome the steps taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), who wrote to the Prime Minister and the leader of the Conservatives inviting a cross-party agreement on climate change? He wrote on 16 February. Can we conclude that because we have not had an answer, the Prime Minister is giving it serious consideration?
Mr. Morley: I am sure there will be an answer in due course. We welcome a cross-party approach because this is a serious environmental issue. The threats of climate change apply to all countriesrich and poor, big and small. The Prime Minister has given an international lead on the issue, for which he has international respect and admiration. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman will know about the meeting this week in Londona joint Energy and Environment Ministers round tablewhich my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State chaired and I attended on behalf of the UK. There will also be discussions about the impact of climate change on countries such as Africa at the joint Environment and Development Ministers round table, which will also take place this week.
These are important issues, and I know that the hon. Gentleman has been active on them, but I assure him that we believe that there have to be binding targets. We support the scientific assessment that we should have a threshold of 2° C. Indeed, the EU decision taken at the Environment Council is based on that. We know that there are differences of opinion with Americawe do
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not agree with its position on everything. However, I welcome President Bush's speech in Brussels, which acknowledged the threat of climate change for, I think, the first time publicly, although he also confirmed that the Americans will not ratify Kyoto, which we already knew.
Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): The Conservative party supports the targets that have been set for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but does the Minister realise that the Prime Minister's claim of putting climate change at the heart of Britain's presidency of the EU and of our chairmanship of the G8 is undermined by the utter fiasco of the Government's handling of Britain's participation in the EU emissions trading scheme? Will he confirm that it was the Prime Minister's personal intervention that caused the embarrassing withdrawal of the Government's original proposals on emission limits under the national allocation plan last autumn? Now that the Government have been forced into a humiliating and public climbdown, will the Minister comment on rumours that Ministers have done a secret deal with the European Commission under which pending legal actions will be dropped in return for a chance to negotiate more relaxed limits on carbon dioxide emissions at a later date?
Mr. Morley: There is no secret deal, and everything that we negotiate and do in the context of the climate change agreement is in the public domain. The hon. Gentleman is incorrect. When the national allocation plan was proposed by the UK Government it was always made clear that it was based on provisional figures, and the Commission accepted that that was the case. The figures changed because the modelling was refined. Representations were made by companies and by Conservative Front Benchers, who asked for changes in the target figures.
The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Government are tackling the blight of abandoned vehicles through their recently published nuisance vehicle strategy, which aims to reduce significantly the number of abandoned vehicles by 2007.
I thank the Minister for his response. I should like to commend my own local authority on the record for the work that it has done in reducing the number of abandoned cars by 5 per cent., as nationally the figure has risen by 8 per cent. to more than 300,000. Does the Minister agree that it is regrettable that the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill has been introduced in the dying stages of this Parliament? What priority has been given to the issue, and does he believe that the Bill will survive the wash-up?
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Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman is jumping to conclusions. I do not know whether he knows something about time scales that we do not. I think that those decisions are made by other means. There are many reasons for the increased dumping of cars, and I very much welcome the steps that councils have taken. He should recognise, however, that apart from the measures in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill that will assist with the removal of abandoned cars, a range of other measures are available, including clamping of unlicensed vehicles and new measures on working with local authorities. The problem is also affected by things such as the price of scrap metal but, taken together, our measures are leading to a welcome reduction in this nuisance.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Is my friend concerned about the fact that I am being threatened by a well-known local lawyer with an action for defamation, as I have drawn public attention to a wreck of a Mercedes that he owns, which is parked on a strip of open private land alongside a busy main road? The lawyer tells me that he is going to restore that wreck, but what about the visual blight of the street scene in the meantime? What can we do about eyesores parked on private land?
Mr. Morley: I hope that no one would try to interfere with my hon. Friend's parliamentary right to raise issues in the House, as he is perfectly entitled to do so. The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill provides powers for the removal of abandoned vehicles on private land. It is the owner's responsibility to demonstrate clear proposals for restoration, but if the vehicle is causing a nuisance, enhanced powers will be available to local authorities.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I very much support what the Government are trying to do, but can the Minister give the House an estimate of how much it costs local authorities to remove abandoned cars? The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) suggested that there were 300,000 such vehicles. Can the Minister tell the House what steps have been taken to try to identify the irresponsible individuals who are dumping cars in both urban and rural areas because, in doing so, they are abusing our environment and countryside?
Mr. Morley: On the latter point, the hon. Gentleman may be aware that on 1 January 2004 we introduced continuous registration, which helps to trace owners and has already had an impact on unlicensed vehicles. We have also piloted important new approaches, such as the power to seize vehicles, which I have mentioned, stronger measures to make people pay for vehicle crime, and the wheel clamping of unlicensed vehicles. The cost to local authorities of removing abandoned vehicles runs into many millions of pounds. They are a serious nuisance and we want to take action.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman referred to this as an urban and rural problem, because he may be aware that his Front-Bench spokesmen voted against the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill on the ground that it was simply an urban measure.
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Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that the sooner the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill becomes law and is put into effect, the better? Is he aware that both the end-of-life vehicles directive and the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive are being held back by the lack of action by the Department of Trade and Industry? Will he talk to the DTI and the Treasury and bang their heads together so that we can get some real action in a hurry?
Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend is correct that the DTI has lead responsibility for those measures. However, we work closely with the DTI, with which we have a good working relationship, and we want to progress these issues as quickly as possible.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): The Minister knows that not just cars are being abandoned but car tyres, building waste, and, increasingly, white goods such as fridge freezers, televisions and microwaves. He heard yesterday at the all-party group on local environment quality that people are driving past their local authority tip and dumping on farm land. Why, then, have the Government failed to address in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill the key point that farmers are being uniquely disadvantaged by having to remove illegally dumped waste from their land while everybody else has it removed at public cost by the Environment Agency?
Mr. Morley: That is not the case. Responsibility for rubbish that is dumped on private land rests with the landowner. The Bill has new measures that address the matter, particularly in terms of removal, if the person responsible can be identified, and in the case of houses in multi-occupation, where the owner or occupier has taken no action and has some culpability. So there is a range of measures. I have sympathy with innocent farmers who are the victims of fly-tipping, but it would be impossible to remove the liability of the landowner. The important thing is to try to stop this happening with effective measures for dealing with the people involved. The hon. Lady will be aware that at the meeting to which she referred there was widespread support for the measures introduced in the Bill that her party voted against.
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