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Supermarket Carrier Bags

10. Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on introducing a tax on supermarket carrier bags. [86605]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): We have regular discussions with colleagues about incentives for more sustainable living. The Treasury has assessed the Irish plastic bags tax, following its introduction in 2002, and has concluded that there is no clear evidence that a tax would be effective on environmental grounds.

Mr. McGovern: The Labour-led Scottish Parliament is undertaking a major review of the suitability of introducing a plastic carrier bag tax to reduce the number of the bags that are used and wasted each year. Given that the report is due in October 2006, and that the Irish carrier bag tax is completing its fourth year, will my hon. Friend commit to examining again the arguments in favour of a carrier bag tax when we come back from the summer recess?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am not waiting until I come back from the summer recess. I spend a lot of time with officials discussing the merits or otherwise of a plastic bag tax. Indeed, we are working closely with colleagues in the Scottish Executive, who are still unconvinced of the environmental merits. The Irish Government are yet to conduct a proper review of the effectiveness of their plastic bag tax. Although we all share my hon. Friend’s desire to reduce the unnecessary number of plastic bags that people use and discard when they shop, the whole life cycle analysis of the environmental efficacy of a plastic bag tax shows that it would not be as convincing as one might superficially think.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Good answer!

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Will the Minister be bold enough to tell colleagues in the Treasury that although there might not be environmental benefits, a
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tax on plastic bags would be broadly welcomed by people in this country and would send a real signal that we were serious about waste and the environment? Just go and tell the Treasury that!

Mr. Bradshaw: I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s advice—[Hon. Members: “Career advice.”] Yes, perhaps his career advice was not as sound as his advice about other things usually is. I agree with him that some kind of measure to deal with the profusion of plastic bags in circulation would be popular. The women’s institute, before which we should all genuflect, recommended such a thing just a few weeks ago. However, I repeat my point that was so well received by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton). We can examine the overall economic benefits of the tax as it has been introduced in Ireland, where people have started to use more black bin liners and paper bags as substitutes. In the overall scheme of things, the impact on the environment has not necessarily been positive, but we keep the matter under review, and I accept the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) makes about the tax’s possible popularity.


11. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): How much waste has been sent to landfill since 1997; and if he will make a statement. [86607]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): From 1997 to 2005, we landfilled an estimated total of 100.8 million tonnes of biodegradable municipal waste. From 2001-02, which is the first year for which we have reliable figures, to 2004-05, we reduced the amount of that waste sent to landfill from 15.7 million tonnes to 13.9 million tonnes, thanks to the considerable efforts of the Government, local authorities and the public to recycle more waste.

Tim Loughton: It is welcome that the amount of landfill is being reduced due to an increase in recycling. Conservative local authorities consistently top the league of recycling rates. Why are there such big discrepancies between regions, with the north-east recycling 16 per cent. and the east recycling 29 per cent.? Will the Minister confirm that the Government are still committed to their target of reducing landfill to 75 per cent. of the 1995 production levels by 2010? Will they achieve that not by cheating—by having to export recyclables to China and other places—but by encouraging more close-to-home recycling in this country, less waste and less packaging in the first place?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, we want to do all those things. We are confident, although I acknowledge that the landfill targets that we have to meet in 2010 are extremely challenging and will require local authorities, the public and the Government to play their part. However, I was disappointed that the hon. Gentleman made a party political point because his Conservative local authorities are very poor performers on recycling. With the exception of one, they have all failed to meet their recycling targets, and we have had to intervene with one of them to discuss why.

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Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Wakefield’s Labour council on its magnificent 28 per cent. recycling target? The council is in discussions with his officials about the financing of a new private finance initiative facility to help us to drive further the recycling target to 50 per cent. Will he do everything in his power to ensure that we get the new facility, which is desperately needed for the entire Wakefield district?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I am happy to congratulate my hon. Friend’s Labour-controlled authority, which, in contrast to the Conservative-run local authorities mentioned by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), exceeded its recycling targets this year. It has done extremely well, and officials from my Department will meet officials from my hon. Friend’s local authority next week to discuss the issue that she raises. I think that she will appreciate, too, that the Government have provided considerable support not just to her authority, but to many local authorities across the country, to help them to meet those admirable recycling targets.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Significant progress has been made by local authorities in recycling domestic waste, but there is a complete blind spot with regard to trade waste, for which they do not have any responsibility. There are disincentives for companies to separate their waste at source. Companies in the restaurant and bar trade produce huge amounts of recyclable material that simply goes into the normal waste stream, and that is not sensible. Will the Under-Secretary address that problem as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman has raised an important matter, which is one of the critical issues that we will address when we publish our revised waste strategy in the autumn, as a result of the consultation that we are carrying out. However, it would be wrong to give the impression that trade and commercial waste is not recycled, as a greater proportion of trade and commercial waste is recycled or reused than municipal waste. Although we want to raise levels for both, it would be wrong to suggest that all commercial and business waste simply goes into landfill—it does not. Again, the amount going into landfill has fallen dramatically.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Despite progress, we still lag far behind the rest of Europe in minimisation, reuse and recycling. Less waste is going to landfill, but under Government direction, in the next few years, there will be a massive increase in incineration across the country. Was it not deeply disappointing that the energy review, which is so timid and lacking in substance in its support for renewables, simply paid lip service to energy from waste, which was discussed in only one small box? It did not have anything new to say, and it did not make a single new proposal on the subject. Does not that depressing policy vacuum on progressive EFW confirm what we already suspected—that Government thinking on waste and incineration is still dominated by a backward-looking, outdated, unambitious, burn-and-be-done-with-it mentality?

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Mr. Bradshaw: I am trying to work out the point the hon. Gentleman was trying to make. If it was about the need for extra energy from waste capacity, yes, the Government accept that. If he was trying to make the opposite point, I have to tell him that I am often lobbied by Opposition Members who want more energy from waste. He is quite wrong to suggest that we did not feature energy from waste as a potential renewable energy source in the energy review—we did so, and our Department made darned sure that we did.

Carbon Emissions

12. Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the contribution which could be made by farmers to reducing the UK’s carbon emissions. [86610]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Barry Gardiner): The agriculture and forestry sector accounts for approximately 1 per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions. Farmers are contributing to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions through the growing of dedicated energy crops, the planting of new trees, and the growing of crops for the production of biofuels.

Mr. Jenkins: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but is he aware that many of my farmers can no longer afford the capital investment needed to put a windmill on top of their house to generate power for their property? Oil prices are rising across the world, so is it not about time that the Government took biofuels seriously and started to invest capital in the marketplace, in order to expand it? Are any grants available to my farmers that would allow that switching process to take place rapidly?

Barry Gardiner: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we have to encourage farmers—and, indeed, everyone—to make that transition. He will have heard the remarks that the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), made earlier about the biomass capital grant scheme. In addition, the EU’s annual €45 per hectare energy aid payment is available to farmers for purpose-grown energy crops that are grown on non-set-aside land. The Government do, in fact, take the issue extremely seriously, and in order to develop further the supply of biofuels, a renewable transport fuels obligation will be introduced in 2008. It will require 5 per cent. of fuels sold in the UK to come from a renewable source by 2010. I hope that that offers my hon. Friend and farmers in his constituency the encouragement that they need.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Many farmers have been encouraged to have wind farms on their land on the basis that it is environmentally friendly, but of course it is not carbon-free. Has the Minister made any assessment of the carbon emissions caused by onshore wind farms?

Barry Gardiner: No, I have not made any assessment, but I am sure the Department has and I would be happy to send the hon. Gentleman the statistics that we have on the matter. I am glad to hear support for wind farms coming from all parts of the House, because the
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Leader of the Opposition is famously known for referring to them as “bird blenders”, which does not exactly encourage people to adopt the technology.


13. John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): What additional measures his Department has assessed to increase public awareness of the positive steps people can take to support biodiversity. [86611]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Barry Gardiner): We are encouraging people throughout the country to do their bit for biodiversity. Reducing household pollutants and disposing of them properly makes water cleaner and protects aquatic habitats. Recycling rubbish reduces landfill and the pressure on surrounding land. Volunteering and gardening encourage native wildlife. These are small actions, but they can make a big difference.

John Robertson: I am sure my hon. Friend knows that the general population are unaware of the small things that they can do to help biodiversity. In a press statement, he challenged people to do their bit for biodiversity. Unfortunately, the measures suggested will not reach the general population. Will my hon. Friend consider what additional steps he can take to ensure that the general public realise the small things they can do to help the environment?

Barry Gardiner: Yes, absolutely. I am happy to take up that challenge from my hon. Friend because it is important not just that we know what can be done, but that we publicise that and help people to become aware of the small incremental steps that they can take in their own lives. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently spoke about the fact that the personal carbon footprint accounts for 40 per cent. of the country’s carbon footprint. We must be able to communicate to people the impact of their actions, so I shall take up my hon. Friend’s challenge.

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): The Minister mentioned gardens. Does he agree with the pop star Kim Wilde, who said this week that gardens have become a refuge for threatened wildlife? Given that our 15 million gardens represent a greater area than all our nature reserves put together, is it right that gardens are first in line for development?

Barry Gardiner: I want to take up the serious point that the hon. Gentleman makes, without straying, as he tempts me to do, into planning matters, which are not properly my domain. The point that he makes is of fundamental importance. All of us who are privileged to have gardens have a responsibility to consider what we can do to generate habitats for wildlife and to make our gardens as environmentally friendly as we can. That is the important message that the hon. Gentleman is trying to get across, and I wholeheartedly agree with him.

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Bovine Tuberculosis

14. Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): When he will announce the future strategy for dealing with bovine tuberculosis. [86612]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): We launched our 10-year strategy in March last year. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that the latest figures show a 34 per cent. reduction in cattle TB in Gloucestershire, his county, in the first five months of this year.

Mr. Drew: I thank my hon. Friend for his optimistic approach. It is fair to say that the problem will not go away. We have taken farmers up the hill in the expectation that there will be a new strategy, and there has been a massive consultation, which resulted in overwhelming opposition to a large-scale cull. We cannot leave it at that, but it is pleasing to hear that there are changes afoot. Perhaps that is to do with the nature of the testing, or perhaps it is to do with cattle-to-cattle transfer. The Government must say something about what their strategy will be, and I hope that will be not long delayed.

Mr. Bradshaw: I did not mean to sound optimistic. I was simply stating a fact to my hon. Friend, and I am well aware of the potential for the figures to go back up again. Until we get a better understanding of what has caused the sudden and dramatic fall in new bovine TB cases, it would not be reasonable for him to expect the Government to make a decision one way or another on badger culling.

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Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): May I inform the Minister that in the part of my constituency near the Welsh border—Minsterley and Pontesbury—there has been a huge rise in the number of bovine TB cases among the cattle of my local farmers, who are extremely concerned about it? Will he meet a delegation of Shrewsbury farmers to give them an opportunity to express their concerns to him?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I would be happy to meet a delegation of his constituents, although I would be extremely surprised if his area was unique in not having experienced a significant fall in bovine TB in the first five months of this year. I will check the figures, which I do not have to hand, and let him have them. There has been a 20 per cent. fall nationally, and the fall has been even more dramatic in some of the worst hot spots.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): May I ask my hon. Friend not to rush into a decision on this very important issue? I do not think that there is any support in this House or among the general public for a mass cull. Where are we as regards developing a vaccine for this terrible disease?

Mr. Bradshaw: We are already conducting field trials of a badger vaccine, and we are working out the best way of conducting similar trials on cattle. I do not think that my hon. Friend is right when he says that there is no support in this House for a cull of badgers. That is the official policy of the Conservatives and of the Liberal Democrats, but they have not quite explained how they would do it in an effective and sustainable way.

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Business of the House

11.31 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give us the business up to and beyond the recess?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 24 July—Second Reading of the Welfare Reform Bill.

Tuesday 25 July—Motion on the retirement of the Clerk of the House, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, followed by motion on the summer recess Adjournment.

The House will not adjourn until Royal Assent has been received to any Act.

The business for the week following the summer recess will be as follows:

Monday 9 October—Remaining stages of the Road Safety Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 10 October—Second Reading of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill.

Wednesday 11 October—Opposition Day [18th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 12 October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Civil Aviation Bill, followed by a debate on climate change on a motion for the adjournment of the House.

Friday 13 October—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 16 October will include:

Monday 16 October—Opposition Day [19th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats. Subject to be announced.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 12 October and 19 October will be:

Thursday 12 October—A debate on the report from the International Development Committee on the WTO Hong Kong ministerial conference and the Doha development agenda.

Thursday 19 October—A debate on the 28th annual House of Commons Commission report.

I should like to remind the House that it agreed to sit from 11.30 am on Tuesday 25 July, and there will be no business next Tuesday in Westminster Hall.

I should also like to tell the House that the state opening of Parliament will be on Wednesday 15 November.

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