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House of Commons

Thursday 2 February 2006

The House met at half-past Ten o'clock

PRAYERS

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS

The Secretary of State was asked—

Recycling (Charities)

1. Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): What support her Department provides to small local charities promoting recycling by selling on second-hand products and material. [47592]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): A wide range of funding is available for those sorts of schemes from a variety of Departments and other sources. We will publish shortly a consultation document on our waste strategy review, which will address the future role of the voluntary and community sectors in waste management.

Philip Davies: I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he consider providing some much-needed funding for Bradford area play association and Windhill community furniture store in my constituency and other small groups, which not only provide an invaluable service in the local area but play an important recycling role by selling second-hand products that would otherwise be thrown away?

Mr. Bradshaw: I note that the hon. Gentleman is asking me to make another spending commitment, which I am nervous about doing. He is right, however, to point out the important role that the voluntary sector plays in recycling and waste management. I am aware of one of the groups in his constituency that he mentioned, because he wrote to me about it. May I recommend that he advises it, if it has not already done so, to contact either its local Business Link or the national furniture reuse network, which might be able to help with advice on funding streams? As I said to him, the Government are examining closely whether the voluntary and community sector can play a bigger role in waste management as part of our waste review.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Yesterday, I received a visit from Ricoh, a company in my constituency, which proposes to provide can crushers in
 
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schools for recycling. The profit would be sent back to schools to fund projects. Can the Minister give that company any encouragement?

Mr. Bradshaw: That sounds like an excellent idea. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me about it, I might be able to provide some advice on how the company could get such an idea off the ground. Recycling of aluminium is a worthy project and it fetches a good price. One of the problems is that it is a relatively light substance and many local authorities do not go to much effort to collect it because it does not count towards their recycling targets. That is another issue that we hope to address in the waste review.

Biodiversity

2. Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): If she will make a statement on her policy on biodiversity. [47593]

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): Our goal is to conserve and enhance biological diversity within the UK and abroad. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plays an important role in promoting biodiversity internationally, through support and funding for work on conserving individual species and successful participation in key international conventions and forums. At home, we are making good progress towards our target to bring into favourable or recovering condition 95 per cent. of all nationally important wildlife sites by 2010.

Greg Clark: Is the Minister aware of the work of the London ecology unit in establishing the critical importance of back gardens in promoting biodiversity in our urban settings? Back gardens are being lost at an alarming rate through their classification as brownfield sites. How can we have a credible biodiversity policy in urban areas when Ministers admit to me that they do not even know how much green space in our towns and cities is being lost every year in that way?

Mr. Morley: With respect, the hon. Gentleman is confusing two issues. It is certainly true that back gardens make an important contribution to biodiversity. I say that as someone who featured in the BBC Wildlife magazine, probably due to a lack of gardening skills. On the brownfield definition, I think that he is thinking of waste areas in urban areas, which can have some biodiversity benefit because they are overgrown, and which are classed as brownfield sites in relation to development. In terms of land assessment and registration, most local authorities have a fairly good idea of the figures.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): I know that my hon. Friend will be very much aware of the concerns expressed by non-governmental organisations about the rapid development of palm oil and its impact on biodiversity and tropical deforestation. Is he having discussions with his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for
 
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International Development to address this serious situation and to ensure that we do not use palm oil from such sources?

Mr. Morley: Yes, I can confirm that for my hon. Friend, and I know that other hon. Members have an interest in this matter. We strongly support the Department for Transport's proposal for a biofuels obligation, but we do not want that to be at the expense of deforestation and unsustainable management in terms of importation. DEFRA has been working with the Department for Transport to introduce a certification scheme for imports of biofuels to ensure that we address those issues.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): As the Minister will know, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology provides excellent research at its Banchory station, monitoring the upland areas and sea bird life. Can he clarify how Government policy will be enhanced by the loss of four of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology's research centres and a cut in staff of more than a third? Will he ensure that his Department makes representations to the Natural Environment Research Council to make it understand fully the importance of effective biodiversity research in informing Government policy?

Mr. Morley: I can certainly confirm that the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology provides an excellent service. DEFRA spends about £2.7 million on commissioning work from it. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the CEH is accountable to the Natural Environment Research Council, which has proposed its restructuring. The proposal is still at the consultation stage. I am sure that the council will listen to the representations made to it, and of course DEFRA will contribute to the consultation.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Whether we are talking about palm oil or the English apple in the context of monoculture, is not the role of the distribution system, and our supermarkets in particular, very damaging to biodiversity? Will the Minister take a serious look at the role of the supermarkets, talk to them and see whether he can persuade them to wean themselves off monoculture?

Mr. Morley: I can confirm that. DEFRA has commissioned work on food miles. On Monday I toured the north-west and looked at sustainability projects. I was very impressed by the work of the NHS and Arrowe Park Hospital NHS Trust, which had redesigned contracts to ensure that food came from local suppliers, thus reducing the number of suppliers and giving local businesses an opportunity to tender.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): The Minister has already been a great deal more helpful today than the Prime Minister was yesterday on the subject of the proposed closures, but may I press him a little further?


 
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Those are the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight). Given the concern that has    been expressed, not only by non-governmental organisations but by his ministerial colleague, will the Minister not just contribute to the consultation on the closures but actively oppose them?

Mr. Morley: One of the centres is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who has been making representations like the assiduous constituency Member that he is.

I repeat that the NERC needs to take account of the fact that the centres can provide scientific services of the quality that we have come to expect. It is involved in consultation. Members of Parliament and, indeed, other organisations are free to comment on the proposals and, as I have said, DEFRA will also be commenting.


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