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Sea Walls

8. Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): What representations she has received on guidance to farmers on the maintenance of sea walls; and if she will make a statement. [37696]

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): We have received representations from the hon. Gentleman and others about the need for guidance for landowners who wish to maintain sea walls at their own expense on, for instance, the implications of the habitats regulations. The Environment Agency expects to consult on such guidance shortly, and will report on progress at the end of January.

Mr. Francois: I genuinely thank the Minister for his reply. He is aware from our previous discussions that farmers are being caught by the habitats directive, although I do not think that that was intended to happen when it was produced. I am pleased that there is to be consultation and that we can hope for an answer by the end of January, but can he give us an idea of when he thinks the guidelines themselves will be produced?

Mr. Morley: According to the latest information from the Environment Agency, it will produce them as soon as possible. I shall be happy to obtain a more precise date and write to the hon. Gentleman, because I am aware of his interest.

As the hon. Gentleman will know from our discussions, balancing national expenditure and investment, environmental issues and the need for long-term sustainable flood defences is a complicated process. We are trying to get the balance right, as outlined in the policy document "Making space for water", but I am more than ready to take account of the representations that he has made on behalf of his constituents.
 
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Common Agricultural Policy

9. Mr. David S. Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): If she will make a statement on reform of the common agricultural policy. [37697]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jim Knight): We secured major improvements to the CAP in 2003 and 2004 and again last month, on the sugar regime. In the EU budget discussions, we are pressing for further fundamental reform, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is in Hong Kong this week working for agreement on the liberalisation of agricultural trade.

Mr. Borrow: May I refer my hon. Friend specifically to the current discussions in Hong Kong? Does he share my concern about the fact that, whereas we in the House of Commons face considerable pressure from civil society to reform agriculture policy by reducing subsidies and removing trade barriers, there seems to be no such pressure on politicians in France?

Jim Knight: I cannot disagree with my hon. Friend. We are working for a successful outcome to the World Trade Organisation negotiations this week, which could bring significant benefits to developing countries, cut consumer costs and lead to wider economic benefits for Europe. Given the Secretary of State's negotiating triumph on CAP reform in 2003, her triumph on REACH—registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals—and on sugar during the UK presidency and her most recent triumph in Montreal at the UN climate change conference, I cannot think of a better person to lead those difficult negotiations than her.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Given efforts to reform the common agricultural policy, will the Department, with the same political capital, consider reform or abolition of the common fisheries policy?

Jim Knight: We do not see any merit in the abolition of the CAP, which is important in ensuring a level playing field for our farmers. Without it, they would undoubtedly suffer competitive disadvantage.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): The symbol of the Scottish National party is a fish rather than anything else. That is all there is.

On the question of the CAP, should not the Government take some of the blame? In 2002, they signed up to a modification to the CAP that did away with the link to production. It still costs a vast amount of the EU budget. We trapped ourselves into that position because we wanted enlargement. Now we are trapped in there to 2013. Anything positive that we can do should not be done on the basis of nationalistic arguments, but by convincing all the 25 countries that there should be a substantial modification to the principles of the common agricultural policy in Europe.

Jim Knight: A great deal has been done. The reforms of 2003–04 break the link between the bulk of subsidy and production and make subsidy dependent on meeting environmental, animal health and welfare
 
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standards. It is hugely significant that we managed to break that link, making the CAP significantly less trade distorting and less environmentally damaging. Clearly, there is much more that we need to do. That is why the UK is at the forefront of those calling for reform, which will help farmers become more competitive, benefit taxpayers and consumers, improve the environment and increase opportunities for developing countries.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I am sure that the Minister agrees that the recent reform of the CAP has eliminated the financial incentives for farmers to engage in food production. Before he embarks on any further reform, will he make some assessment of food security in this country, because I can assure him that a hungry nation will not be a happy nation?

Jim Knight: I caution the hon. Gentleman about saying that we have removed the incentives for food production. What we have done is made it easier for farmers to grow to the market rather than to grow to subsidy. That is the importance of the reforms of 2003–04. Food security is important as we obviously need to ensure that people have enough food on their tables, but in the globalised world in which we live, I have every confidence that the current regime is sufficient to meet and indeed go beyond those food needs. For all the reasons that I have stated, further reform remains important.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Two weeks ago, the Government published "A Vision for the Common Agricultural Policy", which suggested that future support should be concentrated on pillar two payments for environmental benefits and rural development. My party wholly supports that principle. Last week, however, the Government's proposals for the EU budget included cutting £40 million from pillar two. Why?

Jim Knight: It is important to achieve a negotiated settlement on the future financing of the EU for the benefit of all member states and all their residents, but we are committed to sustaining the level of payments within pillar two. That is why voluntary modulation is part of our present position, ensuring that we can move money across from pillar one to pillar two to sustain the important work that I am glad the hon. Gentleman agrees should be continued.

Climate Change

10. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the outcomes of the climate change talks in Montreal. [37701]

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): The outcomes of the conference in Montreal are hugely significant. The Kyoto parties agreed to launch a process for agreeing new greenhouse gas targets beyond 2012 and all parties agreed to review the framework convention with a view to ensuring a truly global effort to tackle climate change. The Kyoto
 
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protocol was strengthened with the adoption of the Marrakesh accords compliance mechanism and greater support for the Kyoto mechanisms.

Joan Ruddock: May I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State on her skill and leadership in negotiating in Montreal and on the very successful outcome? My hon. Friend the Minister heard today of the 50 dirty coal power stations being built in China per annum. Does he agree that one EU demonstration plant for clean coal technology is insufficient in the light of those emissions? Does he have any plans for bilateral technology exchange with China and will he look to the Export Credits Guarantee Department to see what help can be given to UK industry, which is now a leader in this field?

Mr. Morley: It is certainly true, given China's energy demands, that one clean coal plant is not enough, so I entirely accept my hon. Friend's point. We are co-operating with the Chinese on a range of issues—biomass, waste collection and renewable energies, for example—and other European countries also have co-operation programmes with China. There is no doubt that, although China wants to combat poverty through economic growth, which we can all understand, it recognises the great implications of climate change in terms of air quality, water shortage and floods. Those issues are as important to the Chinese Government as they are to all Governments throughout the world, which is why we believe that such co-operation will be extended and that China is serious about tackling climate change.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): On climate change, does the Minister agree with his noble Friend Lord Sainsbury, who suggested that new nuclear is now the new green energy?

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman should ask Zac Goldsmith, who is a member of his own party's working group, whether he agrees with that. The Prime Minister has announced an energy review, which is the responsible and sensible way forward. We need to look at this country's long-term energy demands and at energy efficiency, the range of energy mixes and the costs associated with the various energy generation options. The review will answer some of those questions.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know that some of the biggest challenges that lie ahead relate to constraining emissions in the transport sector. What are the prospects of achieving all-party consensus on the greater use of environmental taxation as a means of reducing transport emissions? Does he think that the basis exists for a consensus on a more progressive form of taxation to deal with gas-guzzling 4x4 vehicles, which would be hugely popular with the 95 per cent. of the population who do not drive 4x4s?

Mr. Morley: It is not just 4x4s that guzzle gas. Other models also do so, but I understand my hon. Friend's point. If we are going to have a consensus—there are good arguments for having one—there are some difficult issues that we have to address. For example, with rising
 
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world fuel prices and with some people taking to the streets and putting up blockades, we need to argue the case for achieving the right balance of environmental taxation to reflect the environmental impact of road transport, rather than trying to get a few populist headlines by talking about cutting fuel duty, given the chance to do so. The opportunity exists for all parties to address these issues, including differential rates of taxation, in a mature and sensible way. I look forward to that debate.


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