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1 Feb 2007 : Column 354

Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend is right to mention the Select Committee’s impressive report. We shall want to give full consideration to the views expressed in it.

I have great sympathy with what my hon. Friend has said about energy packages. We need to see developments in that regard, and we also need to see more work involving energy service companies. In his pre-Budget report, the Chancellor announced that there would be more work of that kind. I think that decentralised energy systems offer significant additional potential for a reduction in both energy bills and carbon dioxide emissions, and the Government are keen to achieve both.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): The average January temperature in Sweden is 7° below ours in the UK, but carbon emissions from Swedish homes are just 5 per cent. of their total whereas they are 27 per cent. of ours. Given that three quarters of the homes that we will be living in in 2050 have already been built, does the Minister accept that we need to be far more ambitious in addressing the energy efficiency of the existing housing stock than we have been so far, and how does he intend to ensure that a holistic approach is taken where the entire home, including the boiler, the windows and underfloor insulation, is tackled, rather than one that simply cherry-picks cavity wall insulation or loft insulation, as appears to be the case under the energy efficiency commitment—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Ian Pearson: It is true that at present under the energy efficiency commitment priority has been given to cavity and loft insulation. Those are the least-cost solutions. However, it is also right to point out that cavity wall and loft insulation are among the best steps that can be taken to improve the thermal efficiency of people’s homes. As the energy efficiency commitment develops further, and as we consider some of the suggestions of my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), we will need to look at adopting additional energy packages and microgeneration measures in addition to standard energy efficiency commitment tools. All such measures are being actively considered as part of the EEC—energy efficiency commitment—consultation for phase 3.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Has the Minister seen the film on climate change produced by former Vice-President Al Gore? As he considers new proposals for the next phase of the energy efficiency commitment, would it not be a superb idea to send a DVD of the film to every household in the country, and could he discuss that with some of our energy suppliers?

Ian Pearson: I do not know whether it would be appropriate to send a DVD to every household, but that is an excellent and compelling film and it is available on DVD at a reasonable price. There might, however, be a case for sending a DVD of it to every secondary school; I think we should consider doing that. I want to point out the impact that the energy efficiency commitment is already having. About 10 million homes in Britain—6 million of them on low
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incomes—have already benefited from the energy efficiency commitment. As we are doubling the EEC and are looking to double it again, more homes will become more energy efficient. That is a good thing, and it will help us to achieve our carbon targets.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Given the Secretary of State’s sorry admission yesterday that the Government will not meet their manifesto commitments on greenhouse gas reductions given in 1997, 2001 and 2005, is it not perverse that they have now set their face against empowering local authorities to do better by setting higher domestic energy efficiency standards both in the weak draft planning guidance on climate change and by killing the Local Planning Authorities (Energy and Energy Efficiency) Bill in this House last Friday? Was that destructive and unambitious approach—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Ian Pearson: The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. We are on target in respect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions; in fact, we are on target to achieve a 23 per cent. to 25 per cent. reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared with 1990 levels. That is double the commitment that we had under Kyoto. We are one of the very few countries in the world—if not the only one—that is on track to achieve that. We will be able to achieve that because of the measures that have been taken, including the climate change levy, the climate change agreements and the whole climate change programme review, most of which were opposed by the Opposition.


9. Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): What discussions he has had with representatives of the Wildlife Trusts on the contribution of management of the landscape to promoting biodiversity. [117819]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Barry Gardiner): On 31 October 2006, I met the chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts together with the chief executive and volunteers of the London Wildlife Trust at Camley street natural park, where I saw at first hand the valuable contribution of the Wildlife Trusts and congratulated them on their work and their contribution to the delivery of the England biodiversity strategy and the UK biodiversity action plan.

Mr. Devine: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Is he confident that his Department’s biodiversity targets will be met, and how is he monitoring them?

Barry Gardiner: On the target to achieve 95 per cent. favourable status for SSSIs by 2010, if my hon. Friend looks at the figures, he will find that this year, 73.5 per cent. are in either a favourable or recovering condition. That compares with a figure of 56.9 per cent. in March 2003, so he can see that considerable progress is being made. We are roughly on target, and we believe that we should still meet the target to restore SSSIs to a favourable condition by 2010.

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Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): When the Minister was in Derbyshire on Tuesday, did he take the opportunity to meet the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust? Had he done so, it would have explained to him its concerns about the recent incident at Stony Middleton, which I know he visited, and the quarrying that is taking place at Wager’s Flat, on Longstone Edge. Can he reassure the trust that the Government will take action to prevent this destruction of the countryside?

Barry Gardiner: The right hon. Gentleman expresses his concern about the occurrence at Stony Middleton, where the lagoon gave way. Thankfully, on that occasion there was no loss of life and no one was injured, but it could so easily have been very different. He is absolutely right to say that, when I was in the area the other day and what had happened was made clear to me, I took the opportunity to visit Stony Middleton and to speak to a number of local residents. Unfortunately, I did not have time, in what was an extremely packed schedule, to meet members of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. However, I did, as I say, meet many local residents—as well as the park authority—who expressed clearly to me their concerns about what is going on at Backdale quarry and on Longstone Edge as a whole. I gave them my absolute assurance that, although this is in the first instance a local planning matter, we appreciate that it has real national implications. I explained to them that we wish to see a long-term solution to the problems that they are going through, but one that can be applied nationally.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): The Wildlife Trusts recently published the excellent “A Living Landscape” booklet, which highlights the need to help wildlife adapt to climate change. When my hon. Friend met the Wildlife Trusts, did he discuss the specific measures needed to help UK wildlife adapt to the climate change that is already occurring, and which will get worse in future?

Barry Gardiner: Yes, and in fact, about three months ago—on 2 November, I think—we held a meeting of the England Biodiversity Group, of which the Wildlife Trusts is a member. It attended that meeting, and the group is looking at how we can improve and refresh the strategy. It is a considerable time since the biodiversity action plans were put in place, and we have committed ourselves to refreshing them. The strategy now rightly places considerable emphasis on large-scale habitat restoration at an eco-system and landscape level. The document that my hon. Friend mentions makes the approach clear:

That is certainly the approach that we must take.


10. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): What assessment he has made of the potential implications for farmers of the latest report by the Competition Commission on the power of supermarkets; and if he will make a statement. [117820]

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The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): The commission has set out its emerging thinking on its inquiry into the groceries market, including an initial assessment of the impact of retailer buyer power on primary producers. No conclusions have been reached so far.

Mr. Robertson: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that response. Was he as disturbed as I was to read the letter that the commission sent to all Members of Parliament? It said that the commission recognised that some farmers are experiencing difficulties,

Will the Secretary of State tell the commission that in fact, a lot of farmers, especially milk producers, are really struggling? Far be it from me to advocate a return to production subsidies—I certainly do not—but one problem is that, since the ending of that system, the supermarkets have got away with pressing down the price of milk at the farm gate, which has caused milk producers considerable hardship. Will the Secretary of State have a word with the commission about that?

David Miliband: I really am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question and I hope that through my answer I can make a point to all hon. Members, including Opposition Front Benchers. Many hon. Members are concerned about this issue. The purpose of the Competition Commission’s letter was to signal that it has had very few—only about six or seven—specific examples to investigate and consider. It is appealing—and I join in that appeal and I hope that we can spread it around the country—for farmers with experience to get in touch with it. The obvious riposte is whether there is any danger in being open about those experiences, but the Competition Commission has given absolute assurances to me and others that any request for confidentiality will be completely respected.

It is obvious that farmers may have inhibitions about engaging in this process, but I hope that hon. Members will join me in assuring them that we have had strong assurances from the Competition Commission. If it is to investigate the issue properly, it needs more than the six or seven cases that it has so far been given. If we can get the message out that substantive evidence needs to be given to the commission—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I need to interrupt the Secretary of State there.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I wrote to my local branch of the National Farmers Union and spoke with it early in January. Single payments are being eroded in many cases because those farmers that are involved in milk production have seen all those losses being swallowed up. I appreciate that little evidence has been offered so far, but what more can the Government do to assist farmers in making their case about unfair competition?

David Miliband: I applaud my hon. Friend’s initiative in contacting the NFU and suggesting that it provides information. I have two points to make to him. First, he will know that under the agriculture development scheme DEFRA has spent £1.3 million on trying to spread good practice in the dairy sector to promote
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innovation and ensure that as many dairy farmers as possible were able to follow the example of the best in the sector, who are making a real go of it.

Secondly, I repeat the point that I made in answer to the original question: without substantive evidence, the Competition Commission cannot investigate the issue. That has to be the focus now if we are to obtain the benefits of the independent commission that we have at our service.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): That is fine, but if the Secretary of State truly shares the concerns articulated by my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), will he invite in the heads of the supermarkets and tell them of the Government’s acute concern on that front?

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Quite right!

David Miliband: The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on the dairy industry, knows that when I met him before Christmas I told him that I had already met the supermarkets and made these points to them. I have also met individual supermarkets, because it is important to point out—as the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) said when he asked the original question—that we do not wish to give the impression that we want to go back to the days of the Milk Marketing Board, with the Government, still less me, trying to set the price of milk. It is important not to give that message. It is also important that we recognise that responsible practice by the supermarkets offers huge advantages for consumers and producers. The emphasis must be on “responsible” and it is important that we look at the issue in detail, because different supermarkets have different practices. We must ensure that effective practices are developed on all sides, including the producer side and the retail side.

Renewable Energy

11. Mr. Andrew Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry regarding support for the development in the UK of emerging technologies for offshore forms of renewable energy. [117821]

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State regularly meets the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to discuss policies, such as support for offshore wind, marine and tidal renewable energy, where DTI and DEFRA both have a key role to play in their successful delivery.

Mr. Slaughter: While it takes an especially strong sea breeze to blow in Shepherd’s Bush, many of my constituents are rightly concerned about maximising renewable energy sources and minimising their fuel bills. What plans does my hon. Friend have to reform the renewables obligation and what effect is that likely to have on energy prices?

Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend is right to be concerned about energy bills. Reducing them through reduced consumption is a key element in achieving our target of
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cutting CO2 emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050. Renewable energy is another option, and some of the new developments of the south-east coast are very important. Renewable energy is a key part of the Government’s long-term plans for reducing CO2 emissions. We believe that the renewable obligation can reduce emissions substantially: we are currently consulting on how it should be banded and hope to be able to say more in the energy White Paper to be published shortly.

Local/Speciality Food Promotion

12. Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): What support his Department provides for promoting the wider availability of regional, local and speciality foods. [117822]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Barry Gardiner): We are providing an additional £5 million between 2003 and 2008 to support this important sector that contributes to the viability of rural economies. Buying food and drink locally and in season is also likely to
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mean that less energy has been used in its production. Buying food that has travelled less can also be a positive choice in helping to reduce transport emissions. More than 4,000 producers have already benefited from this support, which is delivered by Food from Britain.

Kali Mountford: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that supporting locally grown, seasonal food is good for the local economy and environment, and that it tastes pretty darn good too? If he has had the opportunity to taste locally grown Yorkshire produce, does he agree that it ranks among the finest in the world? Will he do all he can to support fine Yorkshire produce and make sure that it gets due recognition?

Barry Gardiner: As ever, my hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. Locally grown produce has benefits for the environment, but the main thing is that it tastes darn good too. She makes a powerful case for the food produced in her area—and may she champion it for many years to come.

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Business of the House

11.32 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for the coming weeks?

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

Monday 5 February—Second Reading of the UK Borders Bill.

Tuesday 6 February—Remaining stages of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill.

Wednesday 7 February—Opposition day [5th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled “The al-Yamamah Arms Agreement and Related Matters”, followed by a debate entitled “The Government’s Failing Record on Crime”. Both debates arise on a Liberal Democrat motion.

Thursday 8 February—A debate on the future of buses on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 9 February—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 19 February will include:

Monday 19 February—Motions relating to benefits up-rating, followed by a debate on “Human Rights: Values, Rights and Responsibilities”, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Tuesday 20 February—Remaining stages of the Planning Gain Supplement (Preparations) Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Income Tax Bill.

Wednesday 21 February—Opposition day [6th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Thursday 22 February—A debate on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, subject to be announced.

Friday 23 February—Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 22 February, 1 March and 8 March will be:

Thursday 22 February—A debate on the report from the Quadripartite Committee on Strategic Export Controls: Annual Report for 2004, Quarterly Reports for 2005, Licensing Policy and Parliamentary Scrutiny.

Thursday 1 March—A debate on sport and young people.

Thursday 8 March—A debate on the report from the Constitutional Affairs Committee on reform of the coroners system and death certification.

Mrs. May: I am grateful to the Leader of the House. On 1 March, can we have a St. David’s day debate on Wales, in Government time, so that hon. Members can examine Labour’s catalogue of failure there? Last year, the Government refused such a debate, saying that there was enough Welsh business in the House, so can we have a debate this year so that the voice of the people of Wales can be heard?

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