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At a time when climate change is opening the door to new diseases such as bluetongue, surely that is the last thing that we should be doing.

The Secretary of State made the intriguing announcement on 19 November that he believes current arrangements to be unsustainable. Was that driven by strategic thinking, or by the short-term financial crisis in which DEFRA seems to have found itself? Surely our farming industry has suffered enough, not just from the disease outbreaks themselves but from DEFRA’s performance in the regulation and monitoring of the Pirbright laboratory and, most of all, the fiasco of single farm payments. I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) that 25 per cent. of Welsh farmers still have not received their payments. I hope that the Minister will tell us the equivalent figure for England—although I fear that the figure will be much higher.

I turn now to DEFRA’s role as climate change champion for the whole Government. Again, some praise is due, and I am happy to associate myself with the Secretary of State’s congratulation of the chief scientist on his participation in the intergovernmental panel on climate change and its receipt of the Nobel prize. After all, DEFRA is bringing forward the Climate Change Bill, which will put carbon emission reductions on the statute book, following the Stern report and Friends of the Earth’s very effective “Big Ask” campaign. That is an important achievement, although Ministers know that we on the Liberal
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Democrat Benches think that the targets contained in the Bill are inadequate, and I have teased them about the amount of time that it has taken us to get to this point.

The latest voices to be added to those calling for higher targets include last week’s UN human development report, which called for cuts of at least 80 per cent. from the richer countries, and that of Sir Nicholas Stern himself. Speaking to the Royal Economic Society last Friday, Sir Nicholas said:

In other words, if we are to achieve an equitable world agreement on carbon reductions, we have to commit to cuts of 80 per cent. or more, and that should be on the face of the Bill.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): If the hon. Gentleman wants his call for higher emission reductions to have credibility, why are Liberal Democrat councillors around the country campaigning against the very policies that would secure those reductions? Specifically, why are they in the forefront of campaigns against congestion charging in Greater Manchester, and why are they campaigning against wind farms on the edge of my constituency?

Martin Horwood: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation. All over the country Liberal Democrat councils have pioneered work on climate change. In Liberal Democrat constituencies I have stood under wind turbines that were fully supported by the local council and the local Liberal Democrat MP. My party is in favour of wind farms, but we would never concede that every application for every wind farm is always right.

Mr. Chaytor rose—

Martin Horwood: I am sorry, I shall not give way again. I do not know the circumstances in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but I am confident that Liberal Democrat campaigners in the area are doing the right thing.

There is more evidence that the Government are parting company with even the contents of the Stern report. In the Environmental Audit Committee this morning, we heard from Friends of the Earth and WWF that the economic cost of carbon emissions—the future cost of climate change—being used by the Government is dramatically lower than Sir Nicholas Stern recommended. He cites a figure for the social cost of carbon in 2000 of $85 per tonne of CO2 equivalent. Using DEFRA’s exchange rate, Friends of the Earth calculated that that equates to £53 per tonne of CO2 equivalent, but DEFRA has introduced a new concept—the shadow cost of carbon—and puts the 2000 value of that at only £19, which is nearly three times lower.

What is the importance of that apparently technical detail? It affects all our lives—some more than others. It gives us a social cost of carbon emissions in the Heathrow consultation of just £4.8 billion. If DEFRA and the Department for Transport had stuck to Sir
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Nicholas Stern’s figure, they would have put the cost at more than £13 billion. That would have stopped in its tracks the proposal for a third runway at Heathrow, but by miscalculating the future economic cost of climate change DEFRA has changed the outcome of the Heathrow runway consultation. Although carbon emissions are rising year on year—and have risen since the Government came to power—the Government have given the green light to one of the very projects that will stop them meeting their own targets. The cost to the environment and, as Sir Nicholas Stern pointed out, to the economy will be truly dreadful.

There is more. DEFRA’s influence on other parts of Government is clearly weak. Why else would the Chancellor, too, take a significant step away from Stern? Again I give due credit to Friends of the Earth’s brilliant economist Simon Bullock for spotting that. The Chancellor’s October document, entitled—without a hint of irony—“Implementing Stern” says that the basis of the carbon price is

The Stern report actually argues rather differently—that it is not the price of carbon that determines the cap, but exactly the opposite: the cap should determine the price. Stern says:

This time, it is the Treasury that seems to be weakening the foundations of our attack on climate change.

On 22 November, replying to me during a debate on climate change, the Minister for the Environment failed to say whether the British Government were taking active steps to persuade one of their friends not to veto a Bill that would put limits on the most significant carbon emissions of all—those of the United States of America. Will Ministers tell us whether DEFRA has asked the Foreign Office to ask George Bush not to veto the Lieberman-Warner Bill?

DEFRA’s performance has been good in parts. In its emergency response, in introducing the Climate Change Bill and in its responsibility for the BREW programme, the Department deserves credit; but by failing farmers, failing to plan for future flooding and above all by failing to spread the message on climate change across the whole Government, it has delivered a very poor performance indeed. If Members do not believe me, they should believe members of Green Alliance, who are so stingy with their accolades that they gave the Liberal Democrats only three green points in their assessment of a range of all our environmental policies—“The Green Standard Report”. It gave the Government just one point. The best that can be said about that is that at least the Government did better than the Conservative party, which was given no points at all.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I remind the House that the 10-minute rule on Back Benchers’ speeches operates from now on. It may not
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allow everybody who wishes to participate to do so as much as the Chair originally understood, so perhaps Members could try to keep comfortably within their 10 minutes.

8.22 pm

Mr. Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I was disappointed by the speech of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth). It seemed rather a bogus attack on DEFRA. Of course, the Rural Payments Agency situation needs to be highlighted, although there are good reasons for it. The Select Committee report made a fair assessment of the background.

I am one of the few Members to have served in both the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food and DEFRA—in fact, I may be the only one—so I can tell the hon. Gentleman that DEFRA is a huge improvement on the MAFF structure. MAFF was a 1960s Department; it suffered from low status and low morale, and made the most appalling mistakes, especially over Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) rightly said, had consequences for human lives, let alone the costs of the debacle. That situation arose partly because the then Conservative Government were far too dominated by producer interests rather than by the wider needs of society. They did not recognise that a balance was needed.

The hon. Member for East Surrey criticised the handling of the 2001 outbreak, but I remember the Opposition congratulating the then Minister for Agriculture on his handling of the early stages of the outbreak. At that time nobody knew the scale of the outbreak; during the days before the disease was reported, it was being spread all over the country by the illegal and legal transport of animals. No country had ever found itself in that situation. The fact that that outbreak was contained and eradicated is a tremendous achievement for all concerned. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that, when playing political games, the hon. Gentleman should be careful not to trash the reputation of hard-working civil servants who showed the most incredible dedication when bringing that outbreak under control.

I also echo what was said about the 2005 Conservative party manifesto. I remember debating the matter on platforms with Conservative and Liberal Democrat spokespeople. The 2005 manifesto commitments to cuts in public expenditure would have devastated the then English Nature budget.

I was surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s comments on waste. He seems to have forgotten that in 1997 the recycling rate was about 6 or 7 per cent. That has now risen to about 25 per cent. The amount of waste going to landfill has dropped, which is a considerable achievement compared with where we were 10 years ago. My local authority of North Lincolnshire has a recycling rate of 40 per cent. and is confident that it can hit rates of 50 per cent. It deserves a great many congratulations on what it has done. That has been brought about only because of support and grants from DEFRA, which is dedicated to reducing waste in this country. That is important.

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I want to pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). I welcomed the Green Alliance report. Like most people, I think that there were one or two areas where the Green Alliance could have been a bit more generous, particularly in relation to the Government’s record on biodiversity. Nevertheless, it was a fair assessment. The hon. Member for East Surrey should note that it gave the Government a great deal of praise for the international lead that they have given on climate change.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spelled out the areas in which this country has pioneered climate change policies. Not only that, but the expertise of DEFRA officials and scientists has been used in developing schemes all over the world and particularly in Europe. The software for the emissions trading registration scheme was developed in DEFRA and has been applied by, I think, the majority of European countries. I think DEFRA gets some income from that software development, and it deserves credit for that.

Of course there are always areas that can be improved. However, I have experienced the limitations of MAFF, and seen how DEFRA has been given a much higher status and has attracted a wide range of new people, who have come to work there because they support the concept of DEFRA. Moving to a Department that has land use policy strategies for water, air and land was the right decision. If my memory is correct, at the time the Conservatives supported, rather than criticised, the approach of having a more powerful environment Ministry to deal with all the issues.

I want to make five quick points to my right and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, for whom I have great deal of respect and who have done extremely well, particularly in handling the recent outbreaks. DEFRA has received a great deal of praise for the way in which it handled the bird flu and bluetongue outbreaks, and the recent foot and mouth outbreaks. It is using updated modern contingency plans. It faced a situation in which foot and mouth was not spread all over the country by a rogue farmer and the kind of movements that took place previously. The hon. Member for East Surrey should recognise that the situations are different.

I said I would make five quick points. The first is EU funding. If we are to recognise that climate change is the biggest environmental threat that we face this century—perhaps the biggest threat that we have ever faced—there are important matters to consider. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been arguing for shifting agricultural spending towards the rural development regulation. That is the right thing to do, but we need to go further. We need to harness the EU to combat climate change. An awful lot of spending in the EU could be used much more productively. However, that is a matter for a wider debate; I just wanted to draw the point to my right hon. Friend’s attention.

Secondly, the Planning Bill will shortly go through Parliament. I know that my right hon. Friend does not have lead responsibility for the Bill, but streamlining planning is important. No one wants a better way of dealing with renewable energy and waste infrastructure more than I do, but there are issues to do with protecting biodiversity. It is important that biodiversity
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is not pushed to one side in the debate as a nuisance. My right hon. Friend’s voice is important in that regard.

Thirdly, on bovine tuberculosis, I ask my colleagues please to follow the science. We want decisions to be science-based. The arguments are incredibly complicated, and it is wrong for anybody to think that there are simple solutions to the problem. There has been a tendency to try to rubbish the Bourne report, which was carried out with great thoroughness. It is a very respectable scientific study. I ask Ministers please to make sure that we take a science-based approach, not one based on anecdotes.

My fourth point, which has already been mentioned, concerns shared responsibility. It is hard to justify any industry that expects free insurance, paid for by the taxpayer. There has to be shared responsibility. Indeed, I would go further and say that it should be linked to biosecurity and how it is applied. For example, in the recent Bernard Matthews outbreak there were clear breaches of biosecurity. There is a strong suspicion that the outbreak was spread from operations in Hungary by movements within the factory. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money was paid in compensation. There has to be a better scheme.

My last point is small but important. Through the Animal Welfare Bill, the Government made a huge contribution to improving conditions for animals. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench are looking at the welfare codes at the moment; that is a real opportunity for giving clear guidance on improving the welfare of animals in our country. There are some difficult issues, such as that of performing animals in circuses, but I ask my colleagues not to go back on the assurances that former DEFRA Ministers gave the House; that is very important. I ask my colleagues to work closely with such groups as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which have been strong supporters of what the Government have done, and which want to work with them to make the codes effective.

8.32 pm

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): In his speech, the Secretary of State admitted, in his inimitable and endearing style, that when the Government have failures, they should admit to them. Frankly, there have been many failures in his Department, although I am happy to admit that many of them occurred before he began his watch. There have been so many examples of incompetence and there has been such a waste of public money, that the only honest statement to make at the Dispatch Box is the one that a colleague of his had the courage to make at the Home Office some time ago—that is, to admit that the Department is not fit for purpose.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs works in the unpredictable spheres of plant and animal diseases, and the effects of global warming. It will always have to handle those difficult problems. We all agree that they present severe challenges, but the real issue is that too many of DEFRA’s problems have arisen from the failings of the Department. My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) gave an example at the Dispatch Box: when DEFRA
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chose the most complex method of common agricultural policy reform—the so-called dynamic hybrid—it set itself up for a fall. Administrative errors in handing out the single farm payments have cost the taxpayer £348 million, and many farmers in my constituency still do not have all the money to which they are entitled.

Perhaps more shocking than the destabilisation of the farming industry through the incompetent handling of the single farm payments was the revelation that DEFRA had rocked the industry further with the return of foot and mouth. The source of the outbreak was identified as the site of a Government-sponsored animal disease laboratory at Pirbright. Those errors on the part of DEFRA have swallowed its budget, cost the taxpayer enormous amounts of money, and caused undue and unnecessary harm to farmers and people living in rural communities. Additional Treasury pressures to cut expenditure will simply exacerbate DEFRA’s inability to deliver its remit.

The primary reason for the creation of DEFRA, we were told, was to bring interrelated areas of farming, food, environment and flood protection closer together under the one umbrella—in other words, to facilitate joined-up government. Unfortunately, that is far from the reality. So dislocated appear to be the internal parts of DEFRA that disjointed and incompetent management and administration are the norm.

Let me give the House three examples from my constituency that have happened in the past few weeks. The first case is that of Mr. Frank Harris, a beef farmer from Leverington common. On 30 October, Mr. Harris rang my office to say that he had 21 suckler cows in calf on the Whittlesey washes on the Nene river. We had telephone contact the same day from other farmers who confirmed that there were a further 200 suckler cows on the same washlands. The Whittlesey washes, like the Ouse washes further south, are a vital reservoir for excess water in the wetter winter months and, as such, play an integral and crucial part in the fens flood protection apparatus.

The washes were then placed in a bluetongue control area, with every likelihood that they would soon be flooded. Knowing that the land would be flooded, Mr. Harris asked whether we could intervene on his behalf and asked for his cattle to be blood tested so that they could be moved into a protection zone on his farm about 3 miles away, but outside the zone.

The same day we wrote on Mr. Harris’s behalf to Lord Rooker’s office asking for an exception or relaxation to be made on the grounds of animal welfare. We left messages at Lord Rooker’s office again on 6 November. A week later on 12 November, we spoke to an official who said that he would chase the matter up, but we have never, to this day, received a response or even an acknowledgement from DEFRA.

Mr. Harris has repeatedly tried to obtain permission from the State Veterinary Service in Bury St. Edmunds to move his cattle, but to no avail. Since our inquiries, the land has flooded and some of the cattle, we are informed, have given birth. As far as DEFRA is concerned, there are 21 drowning cattle and their newborn calves.

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