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David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. As it happens, I was in Germany two weeks ago, meeting my opposite number, the Environment Minister, and we discussed the centrality of carbon capture and storage. Many Members will have heard that China is opening one coal-fired power station every week; it is perhaps less well known that
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the United States is opening a coal-fired power station every six weeks. Whether we are talking about the most advanced and industrialised country or a newly industrialising country, the issue of how we capture the carbon from coal-fired power generation is critical. That may require some amendments to the London convention, and that is certainly something that we are broaching with our European partners.


4. Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to encourage the growth of crops for biomass; and if he will make a statement. [98803]

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): Farmers growing energy crops are currently able to receive support of €45 per hectare through the EU energy aid scheme. We intend to provide support for energy crops under the new rural development programme, and we are discussing that with the Commission.

Angela Watkinson: Given the constraints of land resources in this country, what plans does the Minister have to increase the yield of home-grown energy crops to meet the 5 per cent. target of the renewable transport fuel obligation without resorting to uneconomic imports?

Ian Pearson: The hon. Lady is right to point to the potential of energy crops, both for biomass and biofuels, as highlighted by the Select Committee report into bioenergy, which the Government welcome. Clearly it is important that we stimulate growth in biofuels and biomass. We estimate that, by 2020, 6 per cent. of electricity could be generated from renewable sources, principally biomass. It is, however, important that farmers make commercial decisions on which crops to grow; they do so now and I am sure that they will continue to do so.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Although biomass and crops such as miscanthus are to be welcomed as contributions to our energy solutions, does my hon. Friend agree that, in view of this week’s Stern report on climate change, we need a radical reappraisal of the role of agriculture in an holistic sense? Is it not about time that we had a champion in each sector leading the climate change revolution that this country needs?

Ian Pearson: We in DEFRA are paying close attention to what we call one-planet farming, because it is clear that we need to move towards that type of farming. We also need to examine both agriculture’s role in food production and its carbon footprint. We believe that there is significant potential in biomass and biofuels and that there are new and different futures for the agriculture industry. We are working closely with the National Farmers Union and other representative bodies to discuss different ways forward for agriculture.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): I am delighted to hear the Minister say that he welcomes the Select Committee’s report on bioenergy. He will recall with
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great clarity the section that identified the technique to produce green aviation fuel. Given that the United States is testing a B-52 bomber that uses cleanaviation fuel and that Richard Branson has promised £1.6 billion of his own money to develop green aviation fuels, what are the Government doing to pursue that laudable objective?

Ian Pearson: I said that I welcomed the report, not that I agreed with everything in it. The right hon. Gentleman has raised the subject of green aviation fuels on several occasions and the Government are looking into it. I believe that there is potential in that area and, through the Energy Technologies Institute, which is being funded to the tune of £1 billion, we are keen to explore the commercial potential of some of those technologies, which offer a low-carbon way forward.

Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that the Tees valley is the site of the UK’s largest biomass-fed power station, Wilton 10, which is under construction at a cost of £60 million to£70 million and which is due to start energy production in 2007. Contracts have been signed with the Forestry Commission and local farmers to supply large volumes of wood to Wilton 10. The industry in my area has huge potential in terms of innovation, enterprise and employment, but it is recognised that further public sector investment—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The way it is done is that the hon. Gentleman asks a question. However, I think that the Minister could manage an answer.

Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend is right to point to the growth of that important industry. We want continued strong growth in biomass and bioenergy. The renewable transport fuel obligation will help in that respect. Through the renewables obligation, we are aiming to get 20 per cent. of our energy from renewable sources by 2020. Biomass and bioenergy will play an important part in that, but we need more projects of the type that my hon. Friend describes.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): Given the need not to rely on fossil fuels, does the Minister share my concern that the possible decision on the protected wharf, Peruvian wharf, may have an impact on our means of transport?

Ian Pearson: I am not sure of the details of that subject. Perhaps it would be better if I wrote to the hon. Lady with a considered view.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): I am sure that the whole House supports the green principles of biomass, but biomass crops have to be transported to biomass plants, usually by lorry. Does the Department recommend a maximum distance that should be set for the transportation of biomass crops to the plants?

Ian Pearson: We do not have a recommended maximum distance, but my hon. Friend is right to highlight the issue, which applies also to food-miles. We need to look at the impact of transportation costs and
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the carbon impact of transportation as part of an overall approach. It is clearly best if local growers are producing their crops close to biomass power plants, and we want to encourage that.

Sea and Flood Defences

5. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): What plans he has to increase funding for sea and flood defences in East Anglia. [98804]

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): Since 2003 the Environment Agency has spent more than £200 million on flood risk management in East Anglia. Future funding needs will be considered in the 2007 comprehensive spending review and prioritised for individual areas on a national basis.

Mr. Bellingham: Is it true that the Environment Agency has warned Ministers that a £24 million cut in next year’s budget will not only compromise its ability to deal with major fly-tipping incidents, but seriously undermine its sea and flood defence programme, thus putting at risk tens of thousands of houses in East Anglia? On Monday the Secretary of State said that climate change was for real and that he would do something about it. On Thursday he is cutting the budget of the one agency that can make a difference. Is that not ironic and, dare I say it, downright hypocritical?

Ian Pearson: The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. We have not set a budget for 2007-08 for the Environment Agency. We are at present considering the budgetary situation. I fully accept that, as a result of having to find £200 million, there had to be a reduction of some £14.9 million in the Environment Agency’s budget for the current financial year, but we have not touched the capital budget for flood and coastal defence. Indeed, that budget has gone up by 35 per cent. in real terms since 1996-97. That shows a Labour Government’s commitment to investing in flood and coastal defence and protecting people.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): As my hon. Friend is aware, I take a keen interest in flood defences not only in East Anglia but in my constituency. I am pleased to hear that there will be no cuts in the capital budget for flood defences, but will my hon. Friend seriously consider increasing the amount of money available? I would not want any other city to go through the problems that mine did.

Ian Pearson: I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in these matters and he will appreciate that we must take decisions on flood defence budgets as part of a comprehensive spending review. I repeat that spending on flood and coastal erosion has gone up by 35 per cent. in real terms since 1996-97, so the money has been going in. As a result of that, some £4 billion has been invested. That shows that the Government are taking seriously our commitment to protect our citizens who may be affected by flood and coastal erosion.

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Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): The Minister knows that the Environment Agency has estimated that the number of people at “high risk from flooding”has already nearly doubled in the past decade to1.5 million, and that the figure could increase to at least 2.3 million, thanks to climate change. Will he explain to the House why, if the risk is increasing so dramatically, budgets have not kept up, despite the increase in the capital budget, which we welcome, and why he is cutting the budget for flood defences in the current financial year, despite telling the House earlier this week that climate change was the most crucial issue that we face?

Ian Pearson: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises and welcomes the increase in the budget for flood defences that has taken place since 1996-97. The number of people at risk has risen as a result of better information. Some of those who have been identified as at risk were previously at risk but were not included in the figures. The hon. Gentleman is right that it is a serious matter. We have an agreement with the Association of British Insurers that we will protect another 100,000 homes over the period 2005 to 2008, and I can confirm to the House that we are on target to do that.


6. Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): What assessment he has made of changes in the pattern of urban biodiversity over the last five years; and if he will make a statement. [98805]

12. Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): What progress has been made on the Government’s policies on protecting biodiversity; and if he will make a statement. [98811]

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): Later today we will launch a report, “Working with the grain of nature—taking it forward”, on four years of steady progress under the England biodiversity strategy. Given climate change, we cannot afford to be complacent, but six out of seven of our headline biodiversity indicators are now showing positive trends. Moreover, the proportion of urban sites of special scientific interest in favourable condition has risen from 67 per cent. in 2003 to 76 per cent. in March 2006.

Greg Clark: According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the destruction of gardens is causing great harm to some of our urban wildlife species, such as the house sparrow. Is the Minister aware of that, does he regard it as a problem, and has he made any representations to the Department for Communities and Local Government to change the relevant planning guidance, including the current review of planning policy statement 3?

Ian Pearson: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner), who is responsible for biodiversity, is aware of the issue and has been in discussions with colleagues about it.
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[Hon. Members: “Where is he?”] I am afraid that he is ill today, which is why I am answering this question. The hon. Gentleman will be interested in the recent independent National Audit Office report “Enhancing Urban Green Space”, published in March this year, which said:

The House should surely welcome the progress that has been made.

Helen Goodman: If the Minister would like to come to my constituency next spring, he would be able to see the black grouse lecking. We have had a successful project run by the public, private and voluntary sectors to stem the decline that has taken place. Can he confirm that under this Government resources will continue to be made available for English Nature to support that work?

Ian Pearson: I would be happy to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency. The situation as regards biodiversity and populations of wild birds appears to have stabilised. Given the threat of climate change that we face, and the temperature increases that we are likely to experience, we will have to learn to adapt our strategies and policies to reflect the changing climate. Our biodiversity strategy must be similarly capable of evolving to changing circumstances.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): What representations has the Minister made to the Department of Trade and Industry concerning the closure of the three centres of ecology and hydrology, notably the centre at Wool in Dorset, which has particular skills and experience in assembling long data sets for natural wildlife and plant life, for the understanding of the impact of climate change on biodiversity?

Ian Pearson: The hon. Gentleman has asked that question on several previous occasions, so he knows the answer. I can assure him that the quality of the information on biodiversity that we have available to us across Government has increased significantly over recent years. I pay tribute to the people who have been involved with the biodiversity strategy.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the simplest, cheapest and most practical ways of improving biodiversity, especially urban biodiversity, is through the building of more ponds? Does he further agree that every home, garden and back yard should have one? Given that the Government are rebuilding every secondary school in the country, would not including the building of a pond in the specification of the schools building programme be an extremely effective way of increasing awareness of biodiversity among young people? Will he speak to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills about that?

Ian Pearson: My eight-year-old son really enjoys the pond in our back garden. When I let him into the house, he brings large parts of it back in with him, and they are in his bedroom at the moment. My hon.
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Friend has made a good suggestion, although I would not want to be nanny state-ish and say that every house should have a pond in its back garden. We must also take into account the fact that ponds can be dangerous for toddlers. He is right, however, to point out that they are great for encouraging biodiversity.

Meat Imports

8. Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): What steps his Department is taking to ensure the traceability of all meat imports. [98807]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Countries that export meat to the EU must first be approved on the basis of an inspection by the European Commission, which includes an assessment of their systems to ensure traceability. On arrival, health certificates and identification marks, which identify the origin of the meat, are checked by UK officials.

Sir Robert Smith: Does the Minister recognise that this country’s traceability regime ensures that UK consumers can have absolute confidence in the quality and safety of UK production? Will he therefore impress upon the Commission that the checks need to be robust, to ensure that the same standards are being applied elsewhere? There are costs involved in the traceability scheme in this country, and consumers and producers need a fair and level playing field for meat production.

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, we impress that on the Commission on a regular basis. It was largely as a result of UK intervention that the Commission recently made a return visit to Brazil, which was one of the countries that had been causing concern among hon. Members. We understand that the Commission was satisfied by that visit, and does not believe that there is any reason to follow up suggestions for a blanket ban on Brazilian imports. We work constantly to ensure that the Commission takes seriously its responsibilities in that regard, and we believe that it does so.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in congratulating Hofmann and Sons butchers in Wakefield, whose large pork pie has just won best in show at the Great Yorkshire pork pie and sausage show. That is the world cup for pork pies. May I encourage all hon. Members who wish to place their orders to do so through my office before Christmas?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am delighted to congratulate my hon. Friend’s local butcher on such a tremendous success. If she could arrange for them to send a small sample, I should be very happy to try it for myself.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): The previous outbreak of foot and mouth was alleged to have been caused by imported meat. Thank goodness last week’s scare about another outbreak proved to be a false alarm; I am sure that we are all extremely relieved about that. Will the Minister tell us
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how he will ensure that no disease is imported in future, and how any further outbreaks will be contained, given that he is cutting £5.5 million from the two agencies designed to protect us and our livestock—the state veterinary service and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, which was responsible for identifying the avian flu in the Cellardyke swan? If any future outbreak is handled as chaotically as past outbreaks have been, who will be accountable—another official, or the Minister who cut the funds?

Mr. Bradshaw: It is not fair to describe the way in which the scare last week was handled as chaotic. It was handled extremely well. The hon. Gentleman is wrong about the state veterinary service. I am pleased to be able to put on record here and now in the House that the state veterinary service is one of the few bits of the DEFRA family that is not affected by the current savings. I know that because I am the Minister responsible, and I protected it specifically— [ Interruption.] That is not the case. They have moved £3 million—

Mr. Paice: Why don’t you answer?

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman continues to shout from a sedentary position, but the state veterinary service has not had its budget cut, unlike most of DEFRA and the DEFRA family. It has moved £3 million from revenue to capital. I have great confidence that the state veterinary service and other officials on the ground will do their utmost to ensure that what the hon. Gentleman fears will not happen. He knows very well that there is no such thing as100 per cent. certainty that there will never be another animal disease outbreak in this country. Indeed, we have had some this year. There have been two avian flu outbreaks, and they were coped with excellently by the state veterinary service and by DEFRA staff. I would hope that, rather than criticise them, the hon. Gentleman will praise them for their success.

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