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Single Payment Scheme

5. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): How many officials were employed in administering the single payment scheme in 2004–05; and what the administrative cost of the scheme was in that year. [2604]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jim Knight): In 2004–05, the Rural Payments Agency incurred single payment scheme development costs of around £11.3 million as part of a wider change programme to modernise the making of common agricultural policy payments. Staff working full time on the single payment scheme increased during the year to 242 by March 2005, in preparation for the 16 May scheme deadline. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs met its target of reducing the cost of administering common agricultural policy payments by 10 per cent. by 31 March 2005.

Dr. Cable: I thank the Minister for that informative answer, following on from our earlier discussion. Is DEFRA aware of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's initiative to reduce paperwork for small companies? Over and above all the complexities of mapping and the application forms about which we heard earlier, is he aware that hundreds of thousands of farmers received separately 10 documents—explanatory booklets—relating to the scheme, which amounted to 357 pages? The documents included gems such as an explanatory note on the calculation of allocation, which told readers to replace throughout the word "increased" with "decreased". Who is ultimately accountable for the vast waste of resources involved in the exercise?

Jim Knight: I am aware that farmers have received a large amount of paperwork in relation to the scheme, much of which has been the result of widespread consultation that was carried out because we were introducing a new scheme. It would be a shame if the House lost sight of the real benefits that we will get from the scheme when the teething problems have been sorted out. It will bring farmers closer to the market, enabling them to provide the safe, high-quality food that the market wants. It will reduce the damaging environmental impact caused by overproduction and cut bureaucracy. It will also place the EU in a position to secure a World Trade Organisation agreement on agriculture under the Doha round.

Energy Efficiency

6. Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): Why the revised figure for domestic energy efficiency savings in the energy efficiency implementation plan excluded projected carbon savings in the white goods sector for 2000 to 2010. [2606]
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The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): The revised figure does include projected savings from all household appliances, including white goods. These are shown in annex 3 of the plan, table A3, and the value is given as 0.1 to 0.2 million tonnes of carbon a year.

Mr. Wilson: I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. Does she agree that there has been a significant backsliding on the targets for reducing carbon energy emissions and for efficiency, and that it is important that we are told today what percentage improvement in domestic energy efficiency the Government have achieved?

Margaret Beckett: No, I do not accept that there has been a backsliding. We are not on course to meet our CO 2 targets, if that is what the hon. Gentleman means, but we have made substantial improvements on the previous position. It is the case that we need to do more, and as much as we can, through energy efficiency measures. I do not carry in my head the latest figures on how much has been done on that, but he will probably know that the energy efficiency commitment is substantially strengthened and will run for a longer period—it is something like double the original level. He may also know about the energy efficiency innovation plan, which I think the Chancellor announced in his last Budget. A great deal of work is going on. We are reassessing the whole climate change programme and will make announcements later.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): Barely a day goes by without a major story on climate change coming forth from our television screens. Should not we capture that public concern with a mass public campaign about energy saving so that we get everyone to do their bit? I do not hear that debate going on at the moment. We have programmes, but we are not into mass communication. The rise in prosperity in this country is, I fear, being translated instead into more of an American lifestyle, in which we consume energy more profligately than we should.

Margaret Beckett: I take my hon. Friend's point entirely, including what he says about a mass campaign. If he looks at his utility bills, he will find that, under instructions from the Government, the utility companies are drawing to people's attention the potential of energy saving and that they offer energy efficiency and energy services packages.

As a result of the moneys that we secured in the 2004 spending review, we have given an additional £10 million to the Energy Saving Trust to boost its activities in giving advice and support, and it proposes to pilot sustainable energy centres. We ourselves are developing a new £12 million climate change communications initiative, which we hope will do more to make people aware not only of the nature of the problems, but of what they can do to address them.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for the notice that she gave of answering questions. I wish she would persuade her colleagues in the Wales Office to be as courteous.
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The target of a 30 per cent. improvement in domestic efficiency by 2010 was restated no fewer than 23 times in      the Government review that monitored the implementation of the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995. With only five years to go, will the right hon. Lady explain what she can do to achieve that target, especially if she does not know where she is at the moment with regard to the figures?

Margaret Beckett: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities on the Front Bench. I am sure that he will find it a fascinating and enjoyable experience.

I do not have the specific figures as to where we are in terms of energy efficiency, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that a great deal of work is going on to assess both what has been achieved through energy efficiency measures and what more can be done. That is a key part of our approach to the climate change programme review. I am confident that it will form part of the recommendations.

Illegal Meat Imports

7. Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): What assessment she has made of the threat to biosecurity from illegal meat imports. [2607]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): It is impossible to eliminate completely the risk from illegal imports, but a number of measures that the Government have taken to improve prevention, detection and domestic biosecurity have, we believe, reduced the risk.

Mr. Randall: I thank the Minister for his reply. Have    the Government looked at new imaging technologies to detect meat and plant material in personal luggage?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, we have been considering that, and if the research that we have been doing proves to be useful in this important work, we will certainly take a serious look at it. That is on top of a number of other measures that we have taken, including £29 million of expenditure over three years, 100 new dedicated customs officers and 10 sniffer dogs operating at our airports and ports. The National Audit Office recently published a very complimentary report on the work of customs in detecting illegal imports.

Pollution Control

8. Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): What the estimated cost is of extending the Environment Agency pollution inventory to sites regulated by local authorities under the local authority pollution control and local authority pollution prevention and control regimes. [2608]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): We have not established the cost of doing what my hon. Friend suggests because we believe that a better use of time and resources is to concentrate on action to reduce harmful emissions.

Chris McCafferty: I thank the Minister for that brief reply. Does he accept that extending the pollution inventory to the 17,000-plus sites regulated by local authorities would improve public access on the net to information about pollution from local businesses and thereby help to reduce pollution and improve public health?

Mr. Bradshaw: I agree that it might well increase the amount of information available, although information is available about the 17,000 sites that my hon. Friend mentions, which are the lesser-polluting installations. It is important that the Government, in making decisions on these things, act in a proportionate manner that does not overburden either local authorities or local businesses and, as I said in my original answer, concentrates our efforts and resources on dealing with the problem of emissions, rather than the quality and collection of data, important though that is.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Does the Minister consider it timeous to use the register to take in sites within 200 to 600 m of high-level pylons? As he knows, the latest study, the Draper study, concluded that children living in households within 200 to 600 m of overhead cables are nearly twice as likely to have leukaemia. Is it not time that we took a serious look at air pollution and put those sites on the register so that we do not build more houses in those zones and cause childhood leukaemia as a result?

Mr. Bradshaw: I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's suggestion. I do not know whether it would be legally possible to take in the alleged danger posed by pylon sites under these regulations, which are about pollution and the emissions of substances that we know cause harm, but I shall have a look at the matter and write to him.

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