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Mr. Woolas: As ever, the right hon. Gentleman speaks with common sense. What he suggests seems very sensible, so I think we should do it. All such decisions are a question of balancing the pros and cons, so the idea of balance sheet will be given consideration. The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) made a similar point about food: such matters are not always as straightforward as they appear. We will do as the right hon. Gentleman suggests.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I, too, welcome my hon. Friend to his new post. On the question of encouraging microgeneration in renewables, does he agree that it does not make sense that those who can export electricity to the grid are paid less per unit than they spend when they buy electricity? That needs to be looked at. Also, the importance of energy and the environment has been mentioned already, so does he agree that there is a real logic in having those two crucial sectors covered by one Ministry?
Mr. Woolas: The machinery of government is a matter for the Prime Minister, and I am not going there. Having said that, I am grateful for what my right hon. Friend says. The whole House acknowledges the depth of his experience, so his suggestionsparticularly when they are made with the force of logic that he has just displayedwill be looked at. Clearly, microgeneration has a huge part to play and, in the next five to 10 years, we as a country will see a revolution in how we approach it. Getting the market right is an essential prerequisite for that revolution.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Following on from the previous question, my constituency is well placed for microgeneration in both hydroelectric and wind power. One of the problems that potential microgenerators face is that the local electricity transmission company, Scottish Power, is less than enthusiastic about assisting them. There is one particular scheme on which I would like the Ministers advice at some point, if I cannot get the company to see reason. All the money has been spent, the scheme has been put together, but the company has turned round and said, The grid here wont take that amount of power. That is absolutely nonsensical. It cuts across everything the Government are trying to do and goes against common sense. If I cannot get the company to see reason, will the Minister look at the problem if I send him the papers?
Mr. Woolas: Yes, of course I will be happy to help if I can. We have a huge, £750 million programme involving the energy supply companies to encourage the diversification that the hon. Gentleman is talking about, so I will certainly look at the matter.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): The Government have proposed building a barrage across the River Severn to harness the second largest tidal range in the world. In welcoming my hon. Friend to his post and recognising the importance of tackling climate change and finding alternative sources of energy, may I also ask him to bear in mind the fact that the Severn is one of the most important sites in the UK for its mudflats, sandbanks and reefs and that environmental protection is also a major issue for the Government?
Mr. Woolas: My hon. Friend puts her finger on exactly the sorts of dilemmas and paradoxes that have been raised in previous questions. For the record, the Government are not proposing the barrier at the moment; we are looking at the matter and expect a report shortly. It is a question of balance. The protection of the environment at the expense of damaging the environment is one of the most difficult choices that we face in politics, which is why we must give the decision proper consideration.
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): May I warmly welcome the new team to their positions? We can all agree that the UK has huge untapped potential for renewable energy, but, sadly, as some Members have already commented, the renewables obligation, for all the billions that it has taken from consumers in recent years, has failed to deliver large-scale investment in a host of new technologies, such as wave and tidal power. At the other end of the spectrum, the low-carbon buildings programme to support micro-renewables is a complete shambles. However, the new energy efficiency commitmentEECthat will replace the low-carbon buildings programme is set to be even more problematic. Can the Minister name a single innovative renewable technology that will be better supported under EEC3?
Mr. Woolas: I am grateful for the hon. Gentlemans kind words in welcoming the new team. We reciprocate and welcome his new team. It is uncharitable of him to describe the scheme in the way that he has. There are many examples of improvements in the area of the low-carbon buildings programmeI have a document giving examples that runs to three pages. I do not propose to read them out, Mr. Speaker, because you would not let me, but I am more than happy to put the document on the website for hon. Members who are interested in reading in it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Joan Ruddock): In 2006, DEFRA published a study on food security that concluded that the UK, as a rich and open economy, has a very robust and diverse food supply. However, the study also recognised the need to manage the various risks, including climate change, that are associated with modern food chains, as well as the food security challenges facing developing countries.
Tony Lloyd: I welcome my hon. Friend to the Front Bench. Corn prices have started to rise because land is being used for biofuels, although that might be a welcome development. However, climate change could lead not only to an increase in food prices, but to a reduction in the worlds food stocks. In that context, is she satisfied that the models on which DEFRA is working are robust enough to allow us to cope with whatever climate change produces globally?
Joan Ruddock: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Nothing is absolutely certain when it comes to climate change, although we believe that our models are robust enough. Global self-sufficiency should not be taken for granted. We will continue to monitor trends, including the UN Food and Agriculture Organisations analysis of trends on global food production and demand. Climate change is certainly making patterns of world food production more volatile. In those circumstances, international trade can help us to pool risks and enhance food security.
I remind my hon. Friend that the UK sources food from 34 countries, with no more than 13 per cent. of imports coming from any one of them, so our risk is carefully balanced. He would be right in thinking that the risks are at their most acute in developing countries. I am delighted that DEFRA is working in both India and China to try to increase the capacity to mitigate and adapt to the impact of climate change on agriculture.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): It is estimated that 600,000 people in the world today are either underfed or undernourished. By 2050, there will be another 3 billion peoplea 50 per cent. increase in the worlds population. Given that the stocks of wheat and other food commodities are low, certainly compared with those in recent years, will the new Minister undertake to examine DEFRAs approach to food security and to ensure that UK farmers play their full part in feeding not only this nation, but the world? A hungry nation is not a happy nation.
Joan Ruddock: Indeed. We have to make a distinction between this countrys food security and global food security. Given what I said in answer to the previous question, I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that we are pretty confident about the position here because of the diversity of sources from which we draw our food supplies and our very effective international trade. Europe as a whole is 90 per cent. self-sufficient in food. However, he is right to point out the plight of people in developing countries. The Governments record, through the Department for International Development, is second to none in giving support to developing countries, especially on agriculture, water and other ways in which we can help them to secure their future food supplies. He will know that the provision of food and the periods of hunger in developing countries are not always directly linked to food productionpoverty is an enormous factor. It is for other Ministers to discuss the complexities of the situation, but we must play our part, as I believe DEFRA is doing.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to see that my hon. Friend, an environmental campaigner, is now an Environment Minister. Does she agree that, whether we are considering food security or the G8 and World Bank meeting today and tomorrow in Paris on deforestation, there is a feeling that although climate change is very important, the response is fragmented? There is no cohesive and focused response globally, internationally, or even in this country. Will she work with her colleagues in her new job to ensure that we have an overarching and focused response to climate change?
Joan Ruddock: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. Through the Climate Change Bill, which the Government expect to introduce in the autumn, we will attempt to take a comprehensive approach for the first time, at least in this country. It will concentrate primarily on mitigation, but of course we will also consider adaptation. This country has played a leading role in the international community, but my hon. Friend is right to point to the fact that many people have still not grasped the absolute urgency of the issue and the fact that it is global, that we are all in this together, that the blame game does not work, and that we have to work internationally. We must put our own house in order; otherwise, we cannot possibly expect to get the international agreements that we seek.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Does the Minister accept that it is an ill-conceived policy to subsidise the production of biofuels, as that forces up the price of agricultural land and so forces up the cost of food at home? That requires us to import more food from overseas. Is it not a ludicrous policy, and is it not based on a failure to understand that climate change is essentially a natural phenomenon?
Joan Ruddock: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman completely ruined his case with his final remark. He must know that the vast majority of the world scientific community is now united in believing that the effects of climate change are primarily man-made. However, as my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment has said repeatedly, it is a question of balance: we need biofuels until we can, for example, move to a new generation of vehicles that allow us to bypass the use of fossil fuels. There is a need for biofuels, and we will have to act in a sustainable way. Under the renewable transport fuel obligation, we will require obligated companies to report publicly on the life-cycle carbon savings and wider sustainability impacts of their biofuels, taking into account biodiversity and previous land use. In this country, we will ensure that we take account of all the effects of biofuels. Of course, many biofuels, such as those derived from forestry, are not alternatives to food crops. The issue is complex and it is a matter of balance, but we do need both biofuels and food crops.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): I sincerely welcome the hon. Lady to her new responsibilities. We look forward to her future ministerial pronouncements on issues such as genetically modified food and nuclear power, on which she has a track record of robust opinion. I detect that her heart was not entirely in the line on food security that she read out at the beginning of her answer to the question. In 2003, her Department issued a statement that said:
National food security is neither necessary nor is it desirable.
domestic production is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for food security,
implying that if we run out of British-produced food, we can simply import it from abroad. A couple of months ago, the former Secretary of State reiterated that position, but in the light of the fact that around
the world deserts are growing, droughts are increasing, food crops are being replaced by fuel crops, and the global population is rising sharply, does she not think it is time to have another look at whether Departments should be so casual about our ability to feed ourselves?
Joan Ruddock: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks; they were a bit mixed, but I can handle that. He spoke about food security, but food security is about ensuring that consumers have access to a stable and adequate supply of food. The issue of where that food comes from is not necessarily the key to food security. I accept entirely what he says about risks; as I said in previous answers, we are conscious of risks, and we must always be conscious of them. We are evaluating risks, and we remain in touch with the Food and Agriculture Organisation, but the point on UK food production is that self-sufficiency is best seen as a broad indicator of UK agricultural competitiveness, which he knows is actually extremely good. In criticising the Department, the hon. Gentleman is on the wrong foot. Food security is about ensuring that consumers have a supply. We are confident that that is the case, as I explained in my previous answers.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): Ministers have held a number of meetings with supermarkets, but not specifically on prices paid to suppliers. Supermarkets relations with their suppliers are currently being looked at by the Competition Commission as part of its inquiry into the grocery market.
Keith Vaz: I welcome my hon. Friends elevation from the Whips Office to the Front Bench. The next time he goes shopping in Tesco, will he reflect on the anecdotal evidence that a large number of suppliers are very concerned about the fact that the big supermarkets, Tesco included, are using their monopoly power to force down the prices of foodstuffs offered by suppliers? I know that an inquiry is under way, but will he see what he can do, as the Minister, to check on the evidence?
Jonathan Shaw: I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. We need to get to the heart of the matter. There is a widely held belief that large supermarkets have a stranglehold on suppliers. That has been said with respect to dairy farmers particularly. We should support the investigation by the Competition Commission and welcome the fact that it will focus on dairy farming. My noble Friend Lord Rooker has written to the Competition Commissionwe have made a submission. We will not comment on the outcome at this stage, but when the investigation is complete, we will. We look forward to the evidence that the commission presents.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con):
I welcome the new Minister to his position and I wish him well. I am delighted that he has mentioned dairy farming. It is a matter that I raised in the House only a few days ago.
The dairy industry is in crisis. In my constituency, in the years that I have represented it, more than 50 per cent. of the dairy farms it once had are no longer in existence. One village which was all dairy, North Rode, now has no dairy farms. Will the Minister talk to the superstores and supermarketsnot just with their suppliers, but about the producers, and the prices that the producers get? We have a wonderful country for both dairying and the production of food. Let us use it to the advantage of this country and of people in other countries who are starving.
Jonathan Shaw: I thank the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) for that question. When any business collapses, it is painful, but when a farm collapses it affects all of us, because farmers are the stewards of our countryside. We have seen a decrease in the dairy industry of about 6 per cent. over the past five years, but that is not specific to Britain. It has happened in Greece, Spain and Portugal. However, we are seeing price rises now at the farm gate. The dairy industry needs to move into other products, such as cheeses and organic yoghurts, as happens in Northern Ireland, where the industry relies more on the export market and prices are rising higher. We should eat British cheesethere are 750 varieties, more than in Francefollowed by British strawberries, preferably from the garden of England.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am about the hype of so-called organic foods by the supermarkets, which is obviously resulting in higher profits for them, but not necessarily for the growers here in Britain or in faraway places such as Kenya?
Jonathan Shaw: I welcome the point that my hon. Friend makes. We want a fair deal for farmers in Britain and for farmers in developing countries as well, so that they can profit. It is vital that labelling, particularly of organic products, is accurate. Supermarkets should be clear that when they tell the consumer that their product is organic, it should indeed be organic.
Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend recognise that we live in a capitalist system? Does he recognise that some of these supermarkets produce the most efficient delivery systems for foodstuffs in the world? Does he recognise that to try to change that philosophy is probably a bit more than he and his Department are capable of? Does he recognise that free trade
Jonathan Shaw: I always recognise my hon. Friend. I take on board his points, but I think it is important that we get the balance right in the relationship between the supplier and the supermarket, as both require certainty and flexibility in todays world.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): It is the Governments intention to introduce secondary legislation on livery yards, and a code of practice will be introduced as soon as possible and in line with resources.
Mr. Robertson: That was not a terribly illuminating response, I am afraid. May I point out to the Minister that as many riding establishments are licensed, it seems correct that livery yards should be licensed in the same way? Does he intend that those approved by the British Horse Society should still require a licence from the local authority? With regard to tethering, is it his intention that the travelling population should comply with the rules that he introduces? Would he be prepared to attend the all-party group on the horse, which I have the honour of chairing, to discuss these matters?
Jonathan Shaw: To answer the last question firstyes. Also, we are considering the code for tethering. I take on board the hon. Gentlemans points about the travelling community. We do not want horses to endure tethering for long periods. As for introducing licensing, he knows that we had to make a decision during the passage of the Animal Welfare Bill, and we chose to deal with circuses and greyhounds. We are committed to introducing legislation for livery yards, but there are always competing demands on time.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): When the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee took evidence on the draft Animal Welfare Bill, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals told us that there were several thousand complaints a year about incorrect tethering, illegal grazing and subsequent straying, which has caused significant problems in counties such as mine. Will the Minister consider the RSPCAs recommendation that the Government work much more closely with local authorities, particularly, as the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) said, in areas where there are significant encampments of the travelling community?
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