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Energy Recovery (Waste Incineration)

11. Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): If he will consider the merits of setting targets for the recovery of energy from waste incineration. [79352]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Our recent consultation paper on waste policy envisaged that energy from waste would deal with up to 27 per cent. of municipal waste by 2020. The
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extent to which energy from waste can contribute to our renewable energy targets is being considered as part of the Government’s current energy review.

Mr. Burrowes: I am grateful for that reply. My constituents are concerned about the proposals for expansion in respect of incinerators—they are particularly conscious of the neighbouring Edmonton incinerator. Given the proposals for a threefold increase in their number over 15 years, what are the Government’s proposals in terms of harnessing and utilising energy from incineration plants?

Mr. Bradshaw: They are not proposals yet; they are merely suggestions in a consultation document. If proposals come, they will do so when we publish the new strategy in the autumn.

I acknowledge that in the past there was public concern about incineration—although, to be frank, I think that some of it was based on outdated fears about potential dangers from incineration. We have climate change concerns, and there is no doubt that good waste-to-energy technology is better for the environment and our climate change targets than sending waste to landfill. The fact is that we will need a lot more waste-to-energy and recycling—those steps go together in every other European country, and there is no reason why they should not do so here, too.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Are there lessons to be learned from Scandinavian countries that are moving away from recycling towards combined heat and power, thereby providing domestic houses and local businesses with cheaper forms of heating from distance warming? Those countries care deeply about the environment, and they assure their public that there are minimum—perhaps zero—particles. Why can we not adopt the same system in this country?

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Lady is right that there is huge potential for combined heat and power—and also for energy from waste, as the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) suggested. However, she is wrong to suggest that countries on the continent are moving away from recycling. In percentage terms, there may be a slight downward trend in their domestic recycling, but they are still far ahead of us in terms of how much they recycle. I can give the hon. Lady the figures: in Sweden, for example, the recycling rate is 38 per cent. and 45 per cent. for waste-to-energy. Although our recycling levels have trebled under this Labour Government, they are still down at only about 25 per cent.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): As part of my hon. Friend’s consultation exercise on waste reduction, will he have a look at the unit in Coventry, which serves the major part of the west midlands?

Mr. Bradshaw: I cannot promise my hon. Friend that I will have the opportunity to visit the unit to which he refers, but I will certainly make sure that my officials provide me with a full report on the contribution that it is making.

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David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): Surely one way to overcome the difficulties associated with the public’s buying into incineration is for Government to insist that companies use more recycled material, so that we do not have to pursue a future involving incineration.

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. A week ago, a report was published—he may have missed it, as a lot is going on in this House and in government in general—by the Sustainable Procurement Task Force, which is chaired by Sir Neville Simms. In its action plan, the taskforce will look at increasing significantly the proportion of recycled materials sourced by companies.

Air Quality

12. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): What measures he is considering to improve air quality in London. [79354]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): The Greater London Authority Act 1999 gave the Mayor responsibility for improving air quality in London. He published his air quality strategy in September 2002, setting out proposals for implementing policies in the air quality strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which is currently under review. Local action under the Mayor’s strategy is supported by a range of actions at national and international levels.

Mr. Hands: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. It is all very well saying that this issue is the responsibility of the London Mayor, but the European Commission is threatening to impose huge fines on this country for the very poor air quality in London, and it is the Government, not the Mayor, who will pay the fines. One measure that the Secretary of State might consider is doing something about the traffic flow in London to get it moving again. The Government’s statistics show that in the past decade, traffic volumes have been static, whereas traffic speeds have actually gone down—from 13.7 mph to 12 mph. Why does he not do something about it?

David Miliband: I admire the hon. Gentleman’s brass neck. The party that opposed the congestion charge root and branch is now complaining about the speed of London traffic. The party, I hasten to add, whose policy it is to force cyclists on to the pavements is now—

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is not for the Secretary of State to talk about the policy of the party concerned. I call Mr. Edward Garnier.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree with me that one influence on air quality in London is air traffic and aviation pollution? Will he apply his mind to discussions with his colleagues in the Department for Transport, to ensure that efforts to deal with aviation pollution lead
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to an improvement in air quality not just within London but, for example, in the region of Nottingham East Midlands airport?

David Miliband: As we discussed earlier, it is the Government’s policy to ensure that airline emissions are included in the European emissions trading scheme. I can also reassure the hon. and learned Gentleman that we are working hard in Europe on the ambient air quality directive, which I will discuss in Luxembourg on Tuesday. I can further reassure him that I will discuss it with mainstream Christian democratic and socialist parties, not with the Latvian peasants’ party.

Water Resources

13. Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): What plans his Department is developing for the future management of water resources. [79355]

15. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): If he will make a statement on plans for the future management of water resources. [79357]

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): In England and Wales, the Environment Agency has a statutory duty to manage water resources, and it has a 25-year forward-looking strategy, entitled “Water Resources for the Future”. Water companies also produce 25-year water resources plans to reconcile supply and demand. In April 2007, the production and maintenance of these plans by companies will become a statutory requirement under the Water Act 2003.

Mr. Burstow: I am grateful for that answer. The Minister will be aware that just yesterday, Thames Water admitted that, for the third year on the trot, it has missed its leakage reduction target. At the same time, it announced a 31 per cent. increase in its profits. Will the Minister tell the House today what is being done to make sure that the regulator is taking the necessary steps to ensure that increased water charges to consumers are not just put into increased dividends, but used to increase spending on dealing with leakages?

Ian Pearson: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was not listening a moment ago when I clearly said that Thames Water’s leakage rates are unacceptably high. As I also said, that is, in the first instance, a matter for the regulator, and we expect the regulator to want to assess Thames’s returns and decide on appropriate action. The regulator has powers under the Water Act 2003 to fine a company up to 10 per cent. of turnover. I have to point out, again, that the Conservative party voted against that Act, which would have meant those powers not being available.

Simon Hughes: Given that we understand that water metering would reduce water consumption by 15 per cent., and given that the average consumption per household is between 140 and 170 litres per week, what can we do, aside from taking personal responsibility by reducing our own consumption, to ensure that the Government give a lead nationally to the water companies, businesses and households? What is the target? What is the objective? Where will we get to if Government policy is followed?

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Ian Pearson: As a Government, we believe that water metering has the ability to reduce water demand. Research suggests that water savings of something like 10 per cent. can result from metering, which is why the water savings group that I chair and which includes representatives from the industry, the Environment Agency, Ofwat and consumer groups is looking closely at what more can be done on metering. We do not think that universal compulsory metering is the right way to go, but in areas of water stress there is a strong case for looking at metering, and that is what the Government are considering.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): The Minister will be aware that the whole of East Anglia is an area of water stress. Does he agree that the time has come for the Environment Agency and water utilities to have a bigger say in planning applications?

Ian Pearson: I remind the hon. Gentleman that Anglian Water has a good record on leakage rates. It is supplying the same amount of water as it supplied in 1989 to 20 per cent. more customers, so it has done a lot about water efficiency.

Of course, water companies need to be involved in the planning process. The Water Act 2003 enables them to be statutory consultees on regional spatial strategies and local planning applications. It is important that the voices of water companies and of the Environment Agency are heard in planning applications, and that is taken into account in the process at the moment.

Bovine Tuberculosis

14. Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): What compensation was paid to farmers in England for cattle slaughtered because of bovine tuberculosis in 2005. [79356]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Some £32.4 million pounds.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The Krebs report concluded that badgers are a significant source of infection in cattle. That was nine years ago, since when all we have had is endless consultation by the Department, and no action. Is the Minister happy that hundreds of thousands of cattle have been slaughtered and countless badgers have suffered this form of TB? All we get is endless drift and inertia from a Department whose very hallmark is inaction. What we need is to grip this long-running, tragic situation.

Mr. Bradshaw: Of course we are not happy about the situation, but the right hon. Gentleman is wrong to say nothing has happened since the Krebs trials. He may have missed it, but we have been conducting the first—the only; no trials were conducted by previous Governments—scientific trials into badger culling. We are culling more badgers than were culled when the Conservative party was last in office. We are considering the results of our consultation on that and shall make an announcement in due course.

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I may also say that, in the past six months, there has been a fairly significant reduction in bovine TB, and it is very important that we should understand the reasons for that before we reach any decisions.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The Conservatives, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) said, have been calling for a very long time for action on bovine tuberculosis. Yesterday, on the news, we were informed that major trials were taking place on the immunisation of badgers. Why did we have to find out about the new trials from the BBC? Why did the Minister not inform the House first?

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman has not been a Member of the House for all that long; in fact, we announced that we would be trialling vaccines on badgers a long time ago, before he was a Member.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): What did the Minister mean when he said “due course”? When will we find out what he is doing about the consultation? I believe there are 47,000 respondents—he must be reading each response individually. When did the Minister decide to abandon the concept of replacement value for cattle? I have a copy of the June compensation tables. You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that there is a big difference between a four-year-old cow and one of 14 years old, yet the Government have made no attempt to allow proper compensation for the culling of those poor beasts.

Mr. Bradshaw: That is rather a lot of questions. I have nothing further to add to what I said about timing. The hon. Gentleman acknowledged in his question that there had been 47,000 responses to the consultation, which may be a record for any Government consultation. Of course, it is important that the Government take those representations seriously, and that we study the science. On the hon. Gentleman’s point about compensation, he is aware that a number of independent reports have criticised the Government and the Welsh Assembly for seriously over-compensating farmers for TB reactors and that we have a new system based on table valuations, with 47 categories. That was consulted on twice. We are always looking at ways to improve the system, but it is already proving extremely effective in addressing the serious issue of over-compensation that occurred previously.

Viral Haemorrhagic Septicaemia

16. Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): If he will make a statement on the movement restrictions imposed on fish farms in North Yorkshire. [79359]

17. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): If he will make a statement on the outbreak of viral haemorrhagic septicaemia on trout farms. [79360]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Due to the serious nature of viral haemorrhagic septicaemia, controls have to be placed on entire river catchments following confirmation of the disease. Sampling of fish in the River Ouse catchment has been undertaken, as
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have preparations to disinfect the single affected fish farm. We are working closely with fish farms in the area to ease restrictions as quickly as possible.

Mr. Greenway: I thank the Minister for his helpful and sympathetic letter yesterday in response to the representations I have made on behalf of a number of my constituents. He acknowledges the adverse impact on businesses, especially those engaged in rearing fish for restocking farms and fisheries. There is a major welfare problem so we need an urgent decision from him about whether, following further testing, those fish can be moved. What time scale does he envisage for that? Secondly, he suggests that he has asked his officials to look at the assistance that may be available to alleviate the economic impact of the disease. Has he been in touch with the European Commission about the matter, as some of our MEPs are making representations, too? They could support and agree with the aid that he has in mind.

Mr. Bradshaw: I sympathise greatly with the hon. Gentleman’s constituents; fish farms in his area and in the constituencies of a number of other colleagues are suffering real hardship. My officials are working flat-out to try to resolve the issue as soon as possible. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that we are under legal rules—both UK and European—about how we deal with such diseases. It is very important that our priority remains to contain and eradicate the disease so that it does not spread and make the problem worse elsewhere. We are looking at ways of reducing the size of the area under restriction and that is under active consideration. I cannot give him an exact time scale, but I can assure him that we are doing everything that we possibly can. If he and other Members would like to bring a delegation from their constituencies to meet me, I would be happy to discuss the issue with them.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I associate myself with all the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). Does the Minister accept that VHS could destroy a number of commercial fisheries, such as Danebridge Fisheries Ltd in my constituency, which has been in business for 28 successful years? Will he give an assurance that if there is compulsory slaughter of fish, due to the disease, the Government will pay compensation; otherwise, such companies will disappear, to the disadvantage of the consumer?

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Mr. Bradshaw: I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. The policy under successive Governments has been not to compensate for fish diseases. If anything, the way in which we pay for the cost of animal diseases is moving more and more in the direction of cost-sharing between industry and the taxpayer. However, I will look into other ways in which we can help to support the industry; for example, it would be sensible for the industry to set up its own hardship fund, from which a business could seek help if it got into serious trouble. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to join the delegation of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and meet me to talk about the matter in greater length.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): What economic assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the disease? It is all very well—and probably very helpful—to call for a hardship fund, but what will the cost be, looking at the big picture? We want to know, because the track record of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is not that great when it comes to handling these diseases. We have heard all the right words, but we have not seen the right actions in the past. We would also like to know how the disease got here in the first place.

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman should appreciate, if he does not already, that the UK has an extremely good record on fish health—probably among the best of any member of the European Union. We want to keep these diseases out. I am afraid that I cannot give him an answer to his last point about where the disease came from. We simply do not know at the moment, but there is an intensive epidemiological investigation under way. If we get a better idea, we will keep the House informed. The cost depends on how many businesses are ultimately affected. My understanding is that the businesses that are worst affected at the moment—as raised by the hon. Member for Ryedale and one or two others—are those that move fish out to other fish farms for breeding or catching. The majority of the fish farms in the area that are producing trout and other fish for consumption should not be affected, because once those fish have been killed and gutted, there is nothing to restrict them from being exported to shops and sold in the normal way.

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