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Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): Local environment quality depends crucially on the Department’s expenditure on policing environmental crime and on flood defences. However, there have been reports recently that the Secretary of State has asked for expenditure cuts in the environmental parts of his budget in order to offset overruns in other areas, perhaps particularly single farm payments. Will the Minister say whether the Department is asking environmental budget holders, including the Environment Agency, to reduce their budget allocation? Will he tell the House the implications for the understanding that the Department reached with
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the Association of British Insurers to continue to provide insurance cover for more than 100,000 home owners at risk of flooding? Will he assure them that the allocations for flood defences will not be cut?

Mr. Bradshaw: On the hon. Gentleman’s latter point, my hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment met the ABI recently. On his more general point, like all Departments, ours is constantly looking for ways of spending our money more effectively and efficiently. Inevitably, things come up such as the recent preparations to deal with the possible outbreak of avian flu and the problems of the single farm payment but, since we have been in power, the Government’s grant in aid to the Environment Agency, another issue to which he referred, has increased substantially from about £160 million to over £600 million a year.

Scallop Dredging (Lyme Bay)

5. Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): What advice he has received from English Nature about damage caused to marine reefs in Lyme Bay as a result of scallop dredging. [86600]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): English Nature has advised that increased scalloping is having a significant impact on important reef features and it has recommended the closure of 60 square miles of Lyme bay. I would prefer, and am still hoping, to find a voluntary solution to the problem, but if that proves impossible I am prepared to introduce compulsory measures to protect the local marine environment.

Mr. Sanders: I am extremely delighted to hear that response. I hope that the Minister will reach a conclusion soon on that matter because the damage that is being caused to the reef system is having both an environmental and an economic impact on sea angling and diving, which are major factors for the tourism industry in south Devon.

Mr. Bradshaw: I accept the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I, too, want to reach a decision on the matter as soon as possible.

Mr. Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): The northern Devon fishing industry is struggling at the moment to create and to promote itself as a sustainable fishery off Lundy and around the north Devon cost. There is worrying evidence that Belgium beam trawlers are changing to otter trawlers and hoovering up fish in the Bristol channel in a way wholly contrary to it remaining a sustainable fishery. Will the Minister look into that and do something about it if he finds that that practice is happening?

Mr. Bradshaw: I will happily look into that, although I am not quite sure what it has to do with the English Nature's recommendation on Lyme bay.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I did not feel that that answer was very helpful from the Minister. I want to know how long it will take him to decide whether to
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support what Devon Wildlife Trust and English Nature have asked for, which is the enforcement of a no-dredging zone covering 10 per cent. of Lyme bay, although when I googled DEFRA and indecision, I got 699 hits on badger culling, TB in cattle, partial payments, coastal access, greyhound welfare, delaying the marine Bill—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is quite wide of the question.

Emissions Trading Schemes

6. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): What recent progress has been made with the extension of emissions trading schemes at international level. [86601]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): Thanks to strong UK leadership during our G8 and EU presidencies, the international framework is now in place to deliver actions such as emissions trading that are needed to combat climate change.

I have already announced the UK’s proposal for the next period of the EU’s emissions trading scheme, delivering additional savings of 8 million tonnes of carbon each year. Emissions trading is here to stay and the Government are committed to making it work and to extending it to new sectors, as well as exporting its benefits to other parts of the world that may be interested. Our actions to date have given us leverage as we press for a new international agreement on stabilising carbon emissions.

Mark Lazarowicz: It is obviously welcome that some progress was made at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg on issues that were on the agenda, but what are the prospects of getting countries outside the European Union involved in such a scheme? There has been talk about a wider international scheme for some time, and Britain has been taking the lead on the issue, but matters are moving forward fairly slowly—they need to be brought forward much more quickly. I would be grateful if the Minister indicated what progress has been made outside Europe as well as within the European Union.

David Miliband: I share wholeheartedly my hon. Friend’s commitment to the urgency and importance of moving forward. I can say two things. First, Australian states, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Switzerland, Norway and a number of US states are introducing emissions trading schemes, which is interesting evidence of the progress of the idea. Secondly, I can assure him that in the Gleneagles dialogue that will continue in Mexico in October and then at the Nairobi conference of the United Nations in November, the Government will be pushing hard to build consensus on the importance of the international stabilisation goals in respect of carbon dioxide and to take forward the agenda on the global mechanisms, which include all the major players, for finding the most cost-effective ways of reducing emissions, which we must do sooner rather than later.

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Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): The Secretary of State will recognise the importance of persuading the US Administration to engage positively on the issues of climate change and emissions trading. Given that we have discovered this week that the special relationship seems, shall we say, a little one-sided, how confident is he that British efforts to persuade the Bush Administration to take a responsible lead in global emissions trading will be met by more than a shrug and a yo?

David Miliband: I have to say that, even for a sleepy Thursday before a summer recess, that was pretty hard work. I say three things to the hon. Gentleman. First, it is important that we keep up the pressure at all levels—at governmental level, and, as I said in the Environmental Audit Committee yesterday, at business level and state level. He will know that 240 US cities are now party to the Kyoto agreement, covering 45 million citizens. Secondly, in respect of the intergovernmental level, we are working hard as part of the Gleneagles dialogue— [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) keeps on shouting from a sedentary position, “How?” He obviously does not know that Governments speak to each other and that they have a process that leads to decisions being made at a certain time. It would be foolish of me to announce decisions in advance of meetings—[ Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman listened, he might learn something. It would be foolish of me to announce decisions now that will be taken at meetings in October and November.

Thirdly, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) asked about confidence. I am confident that there is a growing global recognition of the urgency of this problem and that every part of the world will have to be part of the solution. Obviously, it is up to individual politicians to make the final decision about how they participate, but I am confident that the UK Government are exercising maximum leverage in every way to ensure that we get the change that we need.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that a variety of options have been applied under the EU emissions trading scheme. For example, the Germans have chosen a fuel and technology-specific option, which has stimulated 11GW of investment in new clean coal technology. Has my right hon. Friend seen the paper provided by the clean coal task group, which suggests that the option in Britain will be biased in favour of gas? Will he look at that paper and meet the group with a view to bringing in an even playing field so that we get the investment in clean coal technology that is required?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend raised an important point. I have not seen the paper, but I will make sure that it is in my box this weekend. I will look carefully at the best way of taking this forward. My hon. Friend will know that the energy review made strong commitments both to clean coal and, critically, to what is known as carbon capture and storage technology. After all, the Chinese are opening one new coal-fired power station every four days. It is essential, given the global nature of the problem, that technological
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developments such as carbon capture and storage, which offer the prospect of clean-coal energy production, are taken forward, not at the expense of energy efficiency measures, which are also critical, but as a complement to them.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): As the Government’s plans for new nuclear power hinge on an attractive carbon price, how does the Secretary of State propose to reform the emissions trading system to ensure that there is a guaranteed floor price?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman knows that, although there were predictions of doom when the figures for the first year of operation of the ETS were announced, it is significant that those predictions have not come to pass in respect of the carbon price. It has been relatively stable. The key is obviously phase 3 of the scheme after 2012. The United Kingdom Government will work closely with environmental groups and the business sector, which I have met already, to ensure that we have an independent, properly monitored and effective system for the EU ETS. In that context, it is significant that the European Commission has said that no caps for phase 2 will be below the current level of emissions. So scarcity will be built into the system. All caps will need to be consistent with the Kyoto protocol, which is also important.

Environment Agency (Grant in Aid)

7. Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): What the total grant in aid paid to the Environment Agency for (a) fisheries work and (b) navigation was in 2002-03 and is in 2006-07; and what its income from rod licences and boat registrations was in each year. [86602]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The agency spent £9.8 million of its grant in aid in England and Wales on fisheries and £7 million on navigation in 2002-03, and is currently intending to spend £9.4 million and about £12 million respectively in 2006-07. For the same periods, income from rod licences was £16.1 million and £20 million respectively, and income from navigation registrations was £3.3 million and £4.2 million.

Martin Salter: The Minister will be aware that the wholly unwelcome cut of £400,000 in the fisheries budget threatens adversely to affect the ability of the Environment Agency to combat the spread of lethal fish diseases such as the koi herpes virus, several outbreaks of which have occurred in the UK recently. On behalf of Britain’s 3.5 million anglers, may I ask the Minister what action he proposes to take to prevent the spread of KHV, which is the aquatic equivalent of foot and mouth disease?

Mr. Bradshaw: My hon. Friend, who is a champion in the House for the angling community, is absolutely right. The situation with carp herpes is serious, and in view of the latest developments it is my intention, subject to discussions with the devolved Administrations, to make KHV a notifiable disease.

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Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): In view of the current drought and extremely high temperatures, what measures is the Minister taking to ensure that abstraction is kept at a manageable level and that our rivers are able to retain a healthy invertebrate and aquatic environment for the fish, mammals and birds that rely on it?

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about some of the environmental effects of the current hot weather, which include carp herpes, which becomes a problem only above a certain temperature. As the temperature of lakes and rivers in the UK is rising above that temperature for the first time this year, there are some challenging situations. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; water companies have a duty, especially in weather conditions such as these, to think carefully about levels of abstraction so that they do not make the already challenging environmental situation in rivers and lakes worse.

Biomass Task Force

8. Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): What actions fall to be taken by his Department in the implementation of the Government’s response to the recommendations of the Biomass Task Force. [86603]

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): The Department, in close liaison with the Department of Trade and Industry, is actively engaged in driving forward the implementation of all the actions in the Government’s response to the Biomass Task Force report.

Dr. McDonnell: I thank the Minister for his answer, but are the Government seriously committed? What serious capital grant is available for the biomass supply chain, whether from crops, trees or waste?

Ian Pearson: Yes, the Government are seriously committed to increasing biomass production. Our biomass capital grant scheme is allocating between £10 million and £15 million over the next couple of years; £66 million has been allocated to develop markets in biomass combined heat and power electricity generation and £80 million is available for microgeneration, which will include biomass technologies. There is a range of projects that we believe can come on stream. We would like to see the prediction in Ben Gill’s report that biomass could actually meet 6 per cent. of heat and electricity generation by 2020 fulfilled.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Biomass has greater potential to replace fossil fuels than biofuels, in the short term at least, yet it attracts little attention and less publicity. Have the Government made an assessment of the establishment grants paid to farmers and landowners to plant biomass, such as short-term coppice crops and miscanthus? Although I understood that the bio-energy infrastructure scheme was taking no further applications, the Government have stated that they might take a further round of applications. Will the Minister make a statement about that?

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Ian Pearson: I have already outlined a number of schemes that the Government are introducing to help to encourage the growth of the biomass sector. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the importance of biofuels, too. We need an increase on the current generating figures of 1 per cent. of heat and 1.85 per cent. of electricity from biomass sources, and we can achieve that by helping to stimulate the market through Government measures.

As for the grant schemes for the growing of, for instance, miscanthus and short rotation coppice, they have been part of the rural development programme. We are negotiating and agreeing with the Commission a new rural development programme and we want to see encouragement for biomass as part of that programme.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): Following on from the earlier question, are the Government now looking more favourably at wood coppice rather than miscanthus? Is that the Government’s policy? There are some fears among growers that that is the way that the Government are going.

Ian Pearson: As a Government, we do not particularly take a view on whether miscanthus or short-rotation coppice or other biomass sources—for instance, woodchip—are favoured. We have a regime in place that will encourage the further development and growth of the biomass sector in the future. We believe that there is a lot more that the Government can do to encourage and stimulate the growth of renewables in this country and that renewables must be a vital part of our future energy mix.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the work of Ben Gill, who is a constituent of mine in the Vale of York? Will he recognise that that work must now progress with some urgency, given that the British Sugar factory in York is due to close next year? The issue is not just about willow coppice—as the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) said—but about exploring ways of turning sugar beet into bioethanol. That work must now proceed with some urgency.

Ian Pearson: I certainly pay tribute to the work of Sir Ben Gill. I had the pleasure of taking part in a meeting at the Royal show, which Ben chaired. In his typical, robust manner, he explained the importance of biomass to the future of agriculture across the United Kingdom. There are strong opportunities for the farming community to do more in the biomass sector. The hon. Lady mentioned sugar beet. She will probably be aware of a current project in Norfolk that is looking to grow sugar beet to produce bioethanol. That should come on stream in the near future. With the renewable transport fuels obligation coming into force from 2008 to 2010, there will be big opportunities for growers to contract supply to people who will generate biofuels.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I agree with the Minister’s comment that there is a lot more that the Government can do in this area. On reflection, is not the Minister slightly embarrassed that the energy review made only the briefest mention in passing of small and medium-scale biomass and bioenergy
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generation, despite increasingly clear evidence that that smaller-scale generation offers a more efficient, economical, decentralised and secure renewable source? It has huge potential, as the Biomass Task Force rightly identified. Is it not true that in the area of biocrops and bio-energy, even the United States under George Bush is doing more on the ground than this Government?

Ian Pearson: If the hon. Gentleman looks in detail at the energy review, he will see that biomass features in the section on renewables and the section on transport. I repeat that the Government are taking forward a wide programme of action when it comes to biomass. We have identified some 65 actions that we need to take as a Government in response to Sir Ben Gill’s report. We are getting on with it. We believe that the biomass market is growing and we have in place a package of measures to ensure that we help to stimulate further that demand.

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