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25 Oct 2007 : Column 394

Hilary Benn: On the second point, I am happy to pass on the hon. Gentleman’s point to the industry. However, from my conversations with many people who were affected, including those in his constituency, and with hon. Members, it appears that the insurance industry responded well by and large in terms of sending assessors. I understand the point about payment; quite a lot has already been paid out.

On the first point, the hon. Gentleman knows that we have considerably strengthened the guidance in planning policy statement 25. We have given the Environment Agency, which is the expert on where there is a risk of flooding, a statutory right to be consulted. Ministers, of course, have a right to call in proposals. In the light of the strengthened guidance, it is a continuing responsibility on local authorities to ask themselves whether, if they intend to build on a flood plain, they can adequately defend against a risk that is increasing because the climate is changing. Approximately 2 million homes in the country are built on a flood plain. The building that we are in now is on a flood plain, but it has a defence. Local authorities must weigh that up when making decisions so that we do not add to the problems.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): May I record my personal thanks to the Association of British Insurers, the managing director of which visited the Vale of York when it was flooded for the second time in 2005? Does the Secretary of State see fit to give an undertaking that water companies in future will be consulted on all new developments on the flood plain so that they can ascertain whether they should go ahead rather than being deemed fit simply to connect water and sewerage to new developments?

In reply to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) about the involvement of too many bodies, the Secretary of State referred to predicting ways in which water will escape. Does he acknowledge that too many bodies are involved in mapping future flood risk? They include the Met Office, the Environment Agency, the ABI, individual insurance companies and district councils. Should not one body be made responsible for mapping possible future flood risk?

Hilary Benn: On the second point, there is a problem, especially in relation to surface water flooding. Although the Environment Agency maps for river flooding, it is hard, if not impossible, to predict where surface water flooding will occur because one has to know the volume of rain that will fall, exactly where it will fall and the gradient of the ground, and then assess the capacity of the drainage system. It is a problem, but I am sure that Sir Michael Pitt’s review will consider it.

Water companies’ interest is principally in the capacity to supply water to new developments. In the context of flood risk, the Environment Agency, to which we have given a statutory right to be consulted, is the body whose views we need to hear. However, all those matters should be considered because I am determined that we learn lessons so that we can do better in future.

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Climate Change Bill

3. Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): If he will make a statement on the Government’s plans in relation to the Climate Change Bill. [160572]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): The Government’s response to pre-legislative scrutiny and public consultation on the draft Climate Change Bill will be laid in Parliament shortly, ahead of its introduction in the forthcoming parliamentary Session.

Mr. Evennett: As climate change is one of the most important issues of our age, it is essential to set up a climate change committee that is independent of the Government. If the Government appoint the chairman and members of the committee, what criteria will be used? Will the Secretary of State guarantee that the committee will be independent?

Hilary Benn: I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance because the committee on climate change will be an important body, which will comprise people with the right expertise and skills. As he knows from the draft Climate Change Bill, it will have to take a range of considerations into account in advising the Government on the budgets and undertaking their other duties. If he will bear with us a little longer, he will see what happens. A genuine consultation has taken place—that is why I was strongly in favour of publishing the Bill in draft. The purpose of a consultation is to listen and respond to the arguments. I intend to do exactly that.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Some people are asking the Government to embrace a target of an 80 per cent. cut in CO2 instead of the ambitious and laudable target of 60 per cent. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will resist the requests for 80 per cent., which could be perceived as posturing by today’s politicians, who will not be active in 2050, and concentrate more than hitherto on tackling the effects of climate change? Will he strengthen that aspect of the Bill to ensure that the Government put in place further measures quickly to adapt to the climate change that we are already experiencing, such as the flooding that we have discussed? We have the crazy example of Wessex Water in 2000 asking Ofwat to install bigger pipes but not being allowed to do so.

Hilary Benn: The truth is that we have to do both. It is not a competition between mitigation and adaptation, because we are going to have to learn to live with the change in our climate that has already taken place, while we work as hard as we can to ensure that we avoid catastrophic further change, so I very much take the point about adaptation.

As for the figure for the reduction in carbon emissions that we need in the UK, the draft Bill talks about at least 60 per cent. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last month that we will ask the committee on climate change—the independent experts who will advise the Government—whether that target is strong enough in the light of the changing
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science. I am clear that that is absolutely the right thing to do, because as circumstances change and we have a greater understanding of what is happening, it is right to ask whether we need to change the policy and the approach that we take in response. That is a much better way of answering the question than plucking a figure out of the air.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): How can the Secretary of State speak so freely about climate change when by any standard or test the Government are consistently failing their own targets?

Hilary Benn: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not agree. First, if we take the commitment that we entered into in signing up to the Kyoto protocol—

Richard Ottaway: We?

Hilary Benn: Well, the UK signed up to it. Not only are we going to meet the commitments that we entered into but we are likely to meet nearly double those commitments. The UK is one of the few industrial countries in the world to do so. Can the hon. Gentleman name another country in the world that is about to put legislation before its Parliament that will put on the statute book a statutory commitment to reduce emissions in the way that we propose to do? Can he name another country in the world that has done more to argue the case for an international agreement as a successor to the Kyoto protocol? The answer is that he cannot do so. That is an indication of the seriousness with which the Government take the need to deal with climate change.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The committee on climate change is an important part of the draft Climate Change Bill. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs gave evidence to the Joint Committee on the draft Climate Change Bill earlier this year, he indicated that the committee on climate change would be set up at an early date and that a shadow committee might even be set up in advance of the full legislation coming into force, so as to start work at an early stage. If the idea of setting up a shadow committee soon is not already in the Government’s response to the Joint Committee’s report, will the Secretary of State slip it into that response quickly and try to get the shadow committee set up soon?

Hilary Benn: Well, with a little patience my hon. Friend will see the answer, but of course we are determined to make that happen as quickly as possible.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I received a rather alarming answer to a question that I put to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in which I asked whether the Climate Change Bill would require a lower level of emissions in the period 2008 to 2012 than in the preceding five years and whether the level for every future budget period would be set lower than that. The answer was extremely non-committal and simply said that the committee on climate change would advise the Government on the pathway. Can the Secretary of State seriously imagine circumstances in which the carbon emissions budget
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for 2008 to 2012 would actually be higher than the carbon emissions for the previous five years? Can he not also give a firm commitment that the committee on climate change will be asked to advise him on reductions in carbon emissions?

Hilary Benn: I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that commitment. Of course the committee on climate change will advise on reductions in carbon emissions, because how else would we have any prospect of reaching a reduction of at least 60 per cent. by 2050? If he had listened to what I said in response to the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett), he would know that the committee on climate change will be independent. He is asking us to do the committee’s job for it, but I do not propose to do that. We are setting the framework. We are setting a clear target that we must achieve to reduce carbon emissions, but it is right and proper that the committee on climate change, in giving us advice on the first three five-year budgets, should be the body that advises us on what the pathways should be, and that is exactly what it will do.

Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): On that very theme, my right hon. Friend will know that one of the key messages in the Stern review is that we must take strong early action to tackle climate change. As others have pointed out, because carbon dioxide lasts for about 100 or so years in the atmosphere, we must take early action to stop its accumulation, not just aim for a lower emission target in the future. Does my right hon. Friend agree and does he see the Bill as helping to address that through five-year carbon budgets?

Hilary Benn: I agree completely with my hon. Friend, which is why we are about to bring forward such a Bill and, indeed, to be the first country in the world to do so.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): I am sure that the whole House will be intrigued to find out exactly what the Climate Change Bill contains when we finally get to see it. Recent reports that the Government are planning to abandon their commitment to the 2020 European target for renewable energy have again raised serious doubts over whether this Prime Minister takes climate change seriously at all. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity categorically to state that the Government will not renege on their support for the European renewable energy target or are we looking yet again at a broken promise and another dumped target?

Hilary Benn: I simply ask the hon. Gentleman whether he listened to the Prime Minister’s words in the House of Commons yesterday, where he expressed the Government’s commitment to the target that we signed up to in the summer. The hon. Gentleman has heard it directly from the Prime Minister himself.

Waste Wood

4. Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): If he will take steps to divert waste wood destined for landfill into the production of energy. [160573]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Joan Ruddock): Our top priority is to encourage prevention or re-use of waste wood, wherever possible. However, recent research has concluded that there are significant energy and carbon benefits from recovering energy from waste wood, compared with sending it to landfill, where most of it currently goes. DEFRA is taking forward a programme of work to develop energy markets for waste wood by addressing the informational and practical barriers to expansion.

Dr. Whitehead: I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. I am sure that she will recall the statement in “Climate Change the UK Programme 2006”, suggesting that if waste wood that currently goes into landfill were diverted to use for fuel, that could account for more than 11 per cent. a year of the UK’s carbon reduction targets. In that light, will she expedite and seek to achieve agreement on Environment Agency proposals for protocols on waste wood as a fuel resource?

Joan Ruddock: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, but I am sorry to have to tell him that, because of the lack of agreement on suitable controls and standards, the Environment Agency and the industry have not been able to produce a protocol. However, it is not all bad news and we hope that the industry itself will make further progress on protocols. The Environment Agency issued new guidance on 3 October, confirming the deregulation of virgin timber. That means that producers will be able to recover and sell on virgin waste wood, such as off-cuts, shavings and sawdust and, of course, the production that comes from the management of forests. Those will be free from regulatory control. Clean and treated non-virgin timber will remain classified as waste and regulated as normal through exemptions and waste legislation.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): The hon. Lady will understand that waste wood could be an important raw material source in the production of second-generation biofuels, whose importance becomes more apparent as we move towards the era of road transport fuels obligation and as we seek a solution to the food-fuel paradox. Not much seems to be happening in respect of developing second-generation biofuels in the UK, so will the Minister tell me what DEFRA is actually doing to take advantage of her own Government’s assistance in this sector to see second generation become reality?

Joan Ruddock: DEFRA is dealing with the issue very actively. What is needed first is a collection of wood and other biodegradable materials such as food waste, all of which could be used for the production of renewable fuels, and that is being done in a number of ways. We have an infrastructure programme, research is taking place, and we have support from WRAP, the waste and resources action programme. There are a variety of ways in which we expect to be able to develop more infrastructure, because, following the collection of raw materials, the introduction of appropriate infrastructure is the key.

WRAP is working on developing markets. We are also renewing the renewables obligation, and considering the possibility of its operating under a banded system. Electricity generated from waste wood, for example, would be eligible for support under the obligation.

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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend and Portcullis House neighbour accept an invitation to visit my constituency? It lies at the heart of the 200sq m national forest, where industries associated with waste wood are being developed at quite a rapid rate. If she does visit my constituency, will my hon. Friend visit Orchard primary school in Castle Donington—where I switched on a wood-pellet boiler some time ago—and observe the ways in which we can encourage public sector bodies such as schools, hospitals and police stations to install heating systems using materials of this kind?

Joan Ruddock: I should be very pleased to receive an invitation to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency, if my diary permits such a visit.

Such schemes are important, and we expect both the private and the public sector to be increasingly prepared to use wood as fuel. At present 7.5 million tonnes of waste wood arise each year, of which the vast majority—6 million tonnes—is disposed of as landfill. If it could be used in the production of energy, that would be enormously beneficial.

My hon. Friend mentioned the forest in his area. The Forestry Commission has come up with an excellent plan in its wood fuel strategy for England, which it hopes will produce an additional 2 million tonnes of wood a year by 2020. It will be good-quality wood, and it will be possible to burn it and recover fuel very efficiently. It could supply 250,000 homes with energy.


5. Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): What his Department's policy is on the effects on the environment of the sale of fresh milk in the UK; and if he will make a statement. [160574]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): DEFRA is working collaboratively with all parts of the dairy supply chain to reduce the environmental impacts of the production and consumption of fresh liquid milk.

Mr. Spellar: The Minister will know of reports that civil servants proposed either to persuade or to coerce the British public to move away from fresh British milk towards UHT milk. Will he take this opportunity to inform us either that there was no truth in those stories, or that he has told the civil servants concerned to throw their proposals very firmly in the waste-paper bin?

Jonathan Shaw: I am grateful for the opportunity to answer my right hon. Friend’s question. There was a discussion document about the proposal, but it is not Government policy, never has been and never will be. Reports suggested that we would force people to drink UHT milk—which is considerably inferior to the fresh milk produced by British farmers—but I can tell my right hon. Friend that the story was and is a load of old bullocks.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): What is the cost of the product road-mapping? Would the money not be better spent on supporting the dairy sector, which
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has already been hit by bluetongue, foot and mouth and bovine tuberculosis? If refrigeration truly is an environmental problem, is the hon. Gentleman really going to be the Minister to tell people to drink their lager warm?

Jonathan Shaw: Not lager, not milk. No, I am not going to tell consumers to do that. However, we do need to examine the environmental impact of farming. We have worked with representatives of farmers’ groups from across the industry, and we are very grateful for the hard work that they have put in. There has been a good collaboration between DEFRA and the industry, and we want that to continue. If we can identify costs—particularly energy costs—and savings, that will be good for not just the environment, but the farmer.

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