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House of Commons

Thursday 17 May 2007

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—

Marine Bill

1. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): When he expects to be in a position to introduce a marine Bill. [137583]

The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Our manifesto commitment was for a Bill in this Parliament, and I am confident that we will deliver that. Our White Paper, the precursor to the Bill, was published in March.

Richard Ottaway: I am grateful to the Minister, but could he possibly expand a little on the reasons for the delay? Several environmental groups are campaigning for the Bill, and the Minister must be more forthcoming as to what the problem is. Does he think it important that the devolved Administrations should introduce a piece of legislation to run in parallel with his proposed Bill?

Mr. Bradshaw: There is not a problem. Governments are elected for five years, and we are just two years into this Parliament. I fully appreciate that many organisations, individuals and Members of this House would like a Bill as soon as possible, but I want to ensure that we get a good Bill instead of moving unnecessarily fast. The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the importance of the engagement of the devolved Administrations. I hope that the new Administrations in Scotland and Wales will engage positively in furthering the legislation and that it will not get bogged down in unnecessary discussions about the devolutionary settlement.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): Langstone harbour in my constituency has a thriving commercial wharf that imports about 500,000 tonnes of recycled aggregate. There is a sewage treatment plant at the top of the harbour and a storm water outfall at its mouth. The harbour is an important breeding ground for gulls and terns, and has a thriving marine leisure industry. Does my hon. Friend accept that we will need a strong regulatory body in the Bill in order to manage those conflicting interests?

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Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, my hon. Friend is right. The situation that she describes in her constituency is a good example of why we badly need to modernise our marine legislation. She correctly outlines the diverse interests and pressures on the marine environment and why it is so important that we develop the marine Bill in a comprehensive way to deliver all the economic and environmental benefits to places such as Portsmouth, for which she fights so strongly.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Will the Government use the marine Bill as an opportunity to review the operation of the Crown Estate Commissioners as owners of the seabed? May I suggest to the Minister that there is a contradiction between a sustainable management regime for marine resources and the owner and operator of the seabed being a landlord whose statutory duty is to maximise the financial return to the Treasury?

Mr. Bradshaw: We all want sustainable development of our marine environment. We want a Bill that does not damage economic prospects, particularly in areas such as renewable energy, but that at the same time preserves the environment. I see no conflict whatever as regards the role of the Crown Estate Commissioners; in fact, we have worked closely with them on the development of the marine White Paper, and I am sure that we will continue to do so as the legislation comes before the House.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Do not we need fully to protect our inland waters? The Marine Conservation Society points out that full protection from damaging, and potentially damaging, activities is in place in the UK only around Lundy island—an area of about 3 sq km, or 0.002 per cent. of the area that needs protection. Will the Minister liaise closely with the society to promote and extend the very limited area of protection that we have at the moment?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes; the society gave a warm welcome to the White Paper when it was published. The Bill will make it easier to develop a network of marine protected areas around our coasts such as that which my hon. Friend describes. That does not mean that we are being inactive in the meantime, but the new legislative tools that the Bill will provide will help us to give the protection that he seeks.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): Given the continuing decline in species and habitats in UK waters and the hugely complicated and ineffectual measures that are in place to protect them, may I confirm for the Minister that we strongly support the introduction of a marine Bill? Indeed, we have done so for several years. The consultation on the marine White Paper ends on 8 June. Surely that allows enough time for a marine Bill to be introduced in the next Queen’s Speech. I know that we need to get it right, but no one could accuse the Government of acting with undue haste.

Mr. Bradshaw: Equally the hon. Gentleman will understand that no Government ever give a commitment about what will be in the Queen’s Speech before any measure is actually in the Queen’s Speech, so he would not expect me to do that. He is wrong to
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paint a picture of catastrophic decline in all our marine environment. Some of it is doing especially well. Of course, some fish stocks are over-exploited and we take steps to tackle that wherever can. However, the seas around many parts of our coastline are in better shape than at any time since before the industrial revolution. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes that.

Broiler Chickens

2. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): What steps he is taking to improve welfare standards for broiler chickens. [137584]

The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I am pleased to tell the House that, after several years of talks, agreement was reached at an EU Council meeting last Monday week on new rules to improve the welfare of meat chickens. The United Kingdom played a crucial role in securing that agreement and in preventing a minority of countries, led by France, from watering it down.

John Mann: I thank the Minister for that reply. I had a bit of a taste for broiler chickens, but I prefer free range. Will free-range chickens be subject to the EU directive and regulation?

Mr. Bradshaw: They will be, but they already exceed the requirements because, by their nature, free-range chickens do not live in the sort of stocking densities that the regulation is designed to secure. The regulation is about protecting chickens that are not free range to ensure that the stocking densities are good and other welfare considerations are met. My hon. Friend will also be pleased to know that the UK has the highest proportion of free-range and organic chicken production of any EU member state. I am sure that he and the House welcome that.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) about free-range chickens? On chickens that cannot roam around farms but remain in very large sheds with artificial light, I understand that the European Commission was recently going to make a statement about requiring UK farms to increase the pulse of stun guns, given that many of those chickens are not fully stunned and therefore suffer.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am afraid that I shall have to write to the hon. Gentleman about stun guns. We constantly review the welfare of not only chickens but all animals at slaughter. We have made considerable progress in recent years, but I shall have to write to the hon. Gentleman, if he does not mind, to clarify the detail of the required voltage of the stun guns.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): The Minister will understand that the welfare of broiler chickens and animals in general is affected by good investment in appropriate agricultural buildings. What representations did the Department make about the removal of the agricultural buildings allowance, especially the short phasing-out period of four years? It will clearly affect farming’s ability to invest in good-quality buildings for high standards of animal welfare.

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Mr. Bradshaw: The right hon. Gentleman, as Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, will know that we already have high standards of broiler welfare in this country. Our poultry industry was keen for there to be a level playing field throughout the European Union—that is one of the reasons for its support of the agreement. It will not affect our industry and the quality of its buildings. However, I understand that the right hon. Gentleman refers to an independent report by Lyons. It is not part of my responsibility, but I shall look into the matter and write to him.

Emissions Trading

3. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What progress the Department has made on emissions trading. [137585]

10. Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the likely effect of the UK’s membership of the EU emissions trading scheme on future greenhouse gas emissions. [137595]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): Our compliance with the EU emissions trading scheme has been excellent and is worth some 65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2005 to2007. Phase 2 is set to deliver an additional 29 million tonnes of carbon reduction every year. The scheme is a key part of our strategy for tackling CO2 emissions to meet our long-term goal of at least a 60 per cent. reduction on 1990 levels by 2050. We are also working with other countries that want to develop similar approaches.

Mr. Cunningham: Will my right hon. Friend redouble his efforts to encourage more countries to join the EU emissions trading scheme?

David Miliband: I certainly will. This morning, I had meetings with the premiers of two Australian states—South Australia and Victoria. They are pushing hard for the development of Australian schemes that are based on the cap and trade system that we have used in Europe. It was interesting to hear from them that they want an Australian scheme, or a state-by-state scheme in Australia, to follow the European model. They want not necessarily to join the EU scheme but to create the possibility of enabling the schemes to be linked. That is a positive development. In the United States, as well as Australia and elsewhere, an urgent debate is taking place about how those countries develop their own schemes and expand the range of industries that are involved. I know that my hon. Friend is interested in that.

Lyn Brown: My constituents tell me that they are a little cynical about the trading schemes. They are anxious that people might be able to use them in order to make a few bob or get rich quick. What assurances can the Secretary of State give my constituents on this matter and can he assure me that people who abuse the system will be dealt with severely?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend raises two important points. The first guarantee is by making sure that there is a proper carbon price. She will know that at the moment the carbon price for phase 1 of the emissions
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trading scheme is €1 or below, which is not the sort of price that we need. However, it is very significant that for the period 2008 to 2012 carbon is trading at €19.5 to €20 a tonne—a much steadier and more significant price.

Secondly, my hon. Friend refers to the importance of offsetting schemes genuinely reducing the amount of carbon dioxide. She will agree that Government standards are important in that area, although the Government obviously do not run all the schemes. When we in DEFRA produced a standard earlier this year, on which we are currently consulting, we found that 56 of the 60 available schemes did not currently meet the standards that we wanted. Only four did; all the details are on the DEFRA website. We certainly want to move to a situation in which anyone offsetting their emissions knows with confidence that it will lead to genuine emissions reduction around the world.

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): May I suggest to the Secretary of State that any carbon trading scheme will and should benefit indirectly those who efficiently manufacture methods and systems that enable us to deliver renewable energy very cheaply? May I therefore thank through him the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment for yesterday meeting me and representatives of Converteam, a renewables manufacturer in my constituency? Will the Secretary of State undertake to do all he can with the Government to ensure that those who are able to produce renewables technologies efficiently are encouraged by the standards that the Government set and by any other support that can be given?

David Miliband: I am always delighted to congratulate my ministerial team on the excellence of their meetings and their performance. I also like to congratulate British companies that are developing in new markets. It is striking that environmental industries are now one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK economy, with 500,000 people currently working in environmental industries as compared with just 175,000 five years ago. I will not pre-empt next week’s discussions on energy, which I am sure will be heated—not too heated, I hope—and robust. However, the point about incentives for new technologies is being discussed in the context of the renewables obligation, and I very much hope that we can ensure that this country is at the forefront of renewables technology.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): Given that the range of estimates for the social and environmental cost of carbon is anything from a minimum in the Stern review of €25 up to €70 or so, and even though we have seen a welcome tightening of the price, as the Secretary of State says, at €18 in the second phase, the reality is that as we came into the Chamber this morning the current price for the current phase was 31 cents per tonne, which sends out a pretty appalling signal. Does the Secretary of State accept that the Council needs to try to tighten the price in the current phase as well as deal with the next phase? Is, indeed, the tightness of the next phase adequate, and what measures is he urging on his colleagues in the Council to improve the scheme?

David Miliband: The tightness of the next phase will be clear only when all allocations have been agreed with all countries. As the hon. Gentleman will know,
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that has not yet been done, so it would be ridiculous for me to reach a conclusion now. What I can say is that the European Commission’s determination to ensure that, for every country, the allocation is, first, below the current level of emissions and, secondly, in line with the Kyoto commitments is exactly the sort of tough negotiation and decision making that we wanted from the Commission and that has been urged on it on a cross-party basis over the past few years. I think that it is a good example. The Commission, which oversaw the first phase of the scheme where there were genuine problems, deserves credit for delivering what is now the world’s most effective carbon market—the second phase of the EU emissions trading scheme. Given that it covers half of all emissions in this country, the fact that we have a tighter scheme with the price going only in one direction should be applauded.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Secretary of State continue to resist the attempts of some European countries to oppose the tighter national allocation plans on carbon levels in phase 2? Will he also examine the potential for a sector-by-sector scheme to recognise the different basic carbon potential for different sectors of industry, so that one does not suffer in relation to another?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The short answer to the first part of his question is yes. We need to keep urging the European Commission to take a tough line with any country that is trying to have slack allocations. He will be aware that this Government have decided that any sector exposed to international competition should be protected from any burdens that are imposed. However, his point about sectoral agreements is important, particularly in the light of the international negotiations that will reach a peak in June at the G8 plus 5 meeting and in December at the United Nations meeting in Indonesia. One of the items that the Government have put on the agenda is to consider, if developing countries are not yet ready to take on binding emissions reduction targets, sectoral schemes that can take a global role in ensuring that all sectors are playing their appropriate part in emissions reduction.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): In the light of the United States’ failure to sanction a federal emissions trading scheme, and of Angela Merkel’s frank admission yesterday that pre-negotiations with the United States on the G8 summit are going very badly, with the United States not even accepting the 2°C target for global warming, has the Minister asked the Prime Minister to use his farewell love-in with George W. Bush to pressure him to accept the 2°C target? Will he also back the German Government in insisting on that target?

David Miliband: The Prime Minister does not need my instructions, because he has his own determination to work with the United States and seek to persuade its Administration that a central role by America in the global drive to reduce emissions is essential, and that America has not only a lot to contribute but a lot to gain from being part of the emissions reduction drive. We have two or three weeks before the G8 plus 5
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summit. The fact that American states and cities are moving as fast as they are, and that American business is now demanding a federal response, makes it right to say that it is a matter of when, not if, the United States becomes part of the global deal, and the sooner the better.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is right to say that the scheme must be credible and tied to the Kyoto targets. What consideration has been given in Europe to using auctions for the allowances in the next phase, and to having a back-stop price related to the cost of carbon abatement?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend speaks with some expertise on these matters. Significant consideration has been given to auctioning, although it is for each national Government to decide the level of auctioning that will take place. In this country, it will be 7 per cent. There is a widespread view that the use of auctioning is an important part of the future of the scheme, and it is significant that the European Commission should now be encouraging nation states to take that forward. Phase 3 of the scheme will be under discussion soon and, given the united UK position across business, non-governmental organisations and Government on the EU ETS manifesto, I believe that we shall see further discussion of the issue that my hon. Friend has raised.

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