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House of Commons

Thursday 14 December 2006

The House met at half-past Ten o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked—

Carbon Emission Targets

1. Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): If he will set interim targets for carbon emission reductions towards the goal of a 60 per cent. reduction by 2050. [109014]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): The climate change Bill will make the Government’s long-term goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050 a statutory target, and will establish milestones or trajectories towards that. We are currently considering the appropriate interim targets, and I aim to come back to Parliament with further details on those and other elements of the climate change Bill in the new year.

Chris McCafferty: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but will he commit himself to reporting annually on progress in the reduction of emissions, and will he bring forward monitoring and reporting proposals? In addition, will he continue to encourage our more recalcitrant friends in the US to enact similar legislation?

David Miliband: On the last part of my hon. Friend’s question, I believe that it is vital that the United States put itself at the heart of a global, long-term emissions reduction deal for the period after 2012. The other part of her question was about annual reporting, which is, of course, now part of the parliamentary process, thanks to the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz). As for annual targets, I do not believe that they are the right way to proceed, and the reasons for that were spelled out well by the recently retired former head of Friends of the Earth, Mr. Charles Secrett, who said:

We are right to consider interim measures and targets that make sense, but I do not think that annual targets can give the sort of approach that is necessary.

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Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): Does the Secretary of State believe that encouraging the growth in air travel will help to reduce carbon emissions?

David Miliband: The growth in air travel is now one of the fastest growing sources of carbon dioxide and other emissions. Obviously, aviation’s net impact on the environment is affected by a combination of things: the number of people who travel, or the number of flights; technological advances in the aviation industry; and the way in which airline movements are managed, because the aviation industry would say that an important part of the issue is air traffic control and other systems. The hon. Gentleman is right that it is vital that we recognise the full environmental and economic cost of aviation in developing plans for the future.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that climate change is not just about Government targets? It is about community targets, and people’s dedication to reducing their personal impact on our planet. Will he work much harder with the private sector than he has done so far, because many of us believe that it is the private sector, by developing new technologies, that will open the gates to meeting real targets?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend has a long-standing interest in the subject. He is absolutely right that the Government, business and individuals cannot crack the problem acting on their own. The Government have to take a lead, not least by getting their own house in order. Business must make a contribution, and there is now cross-party support for the fact that nearly half the country’s greenhouse gas emissions are covered by the European Union emissions trading scheme, which is a positive development. Individuals can play an important part, too, and that is why I have led the debate about personal carbon allowances and so-called carbon credit cards, which could help individuals to see how they can make a contribution that will help the environment and themselves.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I am sure that the Minister agrees that climate change will not be tackled without major political will. Does he remember a request being made by all the main Opposition parties to join with the Government to reach a consensus on the way forward? Will he tell the House what action has been taken to harness that good political will of the House to resolve that critical issue?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I hope that the climate change Bill that we will introduce in the new year will provide the basis for cross-party consensus. Certainly, the leaders, at least, of all the parties, not just the three main parties, have said that they are committed to the 60 per cent. long-term target for 2050. If we can build consensus on the measures, as well as on the targets, that will be beneficial, not just on the obvious point—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I put it on the record that the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty), who asked the question, has left the Chamber, although we have not completed the questioning. That is a discourtesy, and I inform the Whip that that should be pointed out to the hon. Lady. She should wait at least until the next question. I call Mr. Peter Ainsworth.

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Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is a shame that the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty) has left the Chamber, as she asked a rather good supplementary question, and I was disappointed by the Secretary of State’s reply. We want to be helpful to the Government in moving towards a low-carbon economy, and we want him to be ambitious. Perhaps I should clarify: we know that he is ambitious, but we want him to be ambitious about climate change. Why will he not reconsider his opposition to including annual targets for cutting carbon in the climate change Bill?

David Miliband: One very good reason for opposing annual targets can be seen in the alternative climate change Bill that Conservative spokesmen introduced only a month ago. Far from committing the Conservative party to annual targets, it said that they did not make sense and proposed targets for five years or longer. In that Bill, the Conservatives avoided a reference to annual targets. The hon. Gentleman says that he is a great advocate of annual targets. However, in various interviews, he has said that there should be not rigid annual targets but a rolling programme of targets, so he does not even believe it himself.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: The right hon. Gentleman obviously does not understand, which is odd for a man who has acquired a reputation as a brainiac. Let me try to be helpful, and cite not the former director of Friends of the Earth but the present one:

The right hon. Gentleman may not understand that, but the director of Friends of the Earth does, and so do Oxfam, Christian Aid, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the wildlife trusts, Unison, WWF, the Women’s Institute and 38 other organisations. I know that the Secretary of State is keen to play catch-up on the environment, and here is a fantastic opportunity to catch up with annual targets or be left behind and continue to be as ineffective as the Chancellor clearly wants him to be.

David Miliband: I do not think that I will compete on the level of understanding, but when the countries of the world looked at the issue of targets during negotiations on the Kyoto treaty in the late 1990s—

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): And how effective have they been?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman might learn something if he listened. When the international community considered targets in the late 1990s, it specifically rejected annual targets on the grounds that five-year budgets were a far more effective way of recognising the differences that can arise year on year. I remind the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) that he had a good opportunity, when he presented his much trumpeted Bill in November, to include measures that favoured annual targets, but he refused to do so. As the Prime Minister showed during the Queen’s Speech debate, at that time there were four different Conservative positions on annual targets. Last week—

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Mr. Speaker: May I stop the Secretary of State there, and call Mr. Huhne?

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): Does the Secretary of State accept that there is no technical impediment to the adjustment of data for gross domestic product to allow for the business cycle? The Government already adjust their own energy use figures for temperature and thus the weather, so will he reassure the House that, in the forthcoming Bill, he will not set NIMTO—not in my term of office—targets, but targets that allow the Government’s performance to be assessed? A five-year target would be a NIMTO target, as a Parliament usually lasts for four years. Will he allow the Government’s performance to be assessed on an ongoing basis during their term of office?

David Miliband: I am not sure whether it is better to be a “not in my term of office” individual or never to have a term of office, but let us not go into that. The hon. Gentleman has studied the issue carefully, and would agree that he is an expert on budgets, so I urge him to accept that budgets that last for several years are a far more effective way of achieving the balance of credibility and flexibility that is essential in this area. It is significant that the Kyoto protocol opted for five-year targets in carbon budgets, and the European emissions trading scheme, too, uses that measure. The attempt to create a division where there is none is not sensible. I was not able to finish my reply to the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea), but the consensus that he proposed can be achieved through a sensible approach that balances credibility and flexibility as I described.

Fisheries Bill

2. Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): What progress he has made in bringing forward a new fisheries Bill following the review of salmon and freshwater fisheries in 2000. [109016]

The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): We have today completed a review of salmon and freshwater fisheries policy, and I can announce to the House that we intend to meet the objectives my hon. Friend and I share through secondary legislation as quickly as possible.

Martin Salter: Britain’s 3.5 million anglers will welcome the news that the outcome of the salmon and freshwater fisheries review will be enacted by the Government, as promised in our charter for angling several years ago. However, will the measures set out by the Minister enable tougher action to be taken against fish thefts, which are carried out either for the illegal stocking of fisheries or, more recently, by eastern European workers who simply fish for the pot? Will he increase the present derisory penalties and tidy up the ambiguous and ineffective byelaws?

Mr. Bradshaw: I agree with my hon. Friend and pay tribute to the tireless work that he does on behalf of the United Kingdom’s 3.5 million anglers. We do think we will be able to address the concerns that I share with him about the current level of fines for fish theft, and the whole range of concerns that were raised by the independent review back in 2000.

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Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I am worried by the Minister’s answer to the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter). On 23 February 2004 the Minister stated:

that is, of the Warren report. So the Minister has rowed back from primary legislation in the form of a fisheries Bill, and the draft Marine Bill has disappeared, though he promised that on 3 July 2006 at column 745W. Can he tell us whether there is to be a marine Bill and when, or will he row back to secondary legislation for that as well?

Mr. Bradshaw: The question was about salmon and freshwater fisheries, but with the Speaker’s indulgence, I shall answer a question about the Marine Bill. We have made it clear that we have not abandoned our commitment to the Marine Bill. It was in our manifesto and it will be delivered before the next election.

British Waterways

3. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): When he last discussed the funding of British Waterways with its chief executive. [109017]

12. Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): What assessment he has made of the impact of the budget allocated to British Waterways for the 2007-08 financial year on the performance of that body against its objectives. [109026]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Barry Gardiner): The Secretary of State last discussed the funding of British Waterways with its chief executive on 23 November 2006. Government have consulted closely with British Waterways on the financial pressures facing DEFRA and the impact that these will have on it. Decisions on 2007-08 financial allocations have not been finalised. Government will discuss in detail the impact of any decisions with British Waterways once these are known.

Colin Challen: I recently visited a company in my constituency called Bayford Ltd, whose premises are adjacent to the Aire and Calder Navigation. A few years ago the company stopped carrying its freight on the motorways and put it on the canals. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the Government will take no decision likely to threaten such progress, so that no funding problems will occur to prevent that modal shift?

Barry Gardiner: I am delighted to echo my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for freight going back on to the waterways. In the context of climate change, that is exactly the sort of move we should encourage. Although the exact modality and the use of the waterways is a matter for British Waterways to consider in relation to its management of the waterways, I am sure that my hon. Friend knows of the Olympics project
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and our desire that much of the freight traffic for the construction of that project should be on the canals and waterways in the area if the development there goes ahead.

Mr. Lancaster: British waterways are proving increasingly popular across the country. In my constituency local people intend to build a brand new waterways park. However, the cuts directly caused by the Department’s failure to manage the single farm payments properly will probably result in 180 job losses. Is it right that local people should suffer because of the Department’s incompetence?

Barry Gardiner: The hon. Gentleman is new to these matters and I understand his desire to get up to speed on them, in light of the proposal for the construction of the new Bedford to Milton Keynes canal, but he will have to do better than that. He spoke of the funding cuts related to the Rural Payments Agency. If he had bothered to find out the facts, he would know that of the £200 million that DEFRA had to reallocate in-year within its budget, only £23 million related to that—a little over 10 per cent. If he looks at the funding for the waterways, he will find that this year it represents the fourth highest income level that British Waterways has had in its entire history. Over the past seven years, since 1999, £524 million of investment has gone in from the Government to clear the safety backlog that the previous Government had left before 1997.

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend recognise that if this year’s sudden grant cuts are followed by further long-term reductions, the magnificent regeneration benefits from the Government’s investment in British Waterways will be reversed, threatening the future of smaller, vulnerable canals such as Caldon canal in my constituency, which would be a disaster for rural and urban areas alike?

Barry Gardiner: I do not accept what my hon. Friend says. The cuts this year, which represent just 6.6 per cent. of the allocated budget at the beginning of this financial year, will not have the effect that she suggests. It is absolutely wrong to link—

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): What about the 180 redundancies?

Barry Gardiner: The hon. Gentleman talks about the 180 redundancies, but he ought to know that the British Waterways restructuring programme was in train before the in-year cuts ever happened. If he seriously thinks that a 6.6 per cent. in-year reduction in budget could precipitate a restructuring on the scale that he suggests, he should look at the figures and do his arithmetic again.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Last year, there were two breaches on the Llangollen canal. Canals in my area have had huge investment—public, private and voluntary—in recent years. There is significant environmental damage and a risk to water supply. If there is a breach this year, can the Minister guarantee that it will be mended—if necessary, out of the contingency fund?

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