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House of Commons

Thursday 13 March 2008

The House met at half-past Ten o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Private Business

Broads Authority Bill ( By Order )

Order for Third Reading read.

To be read the Third time on Thursday 20 March.

Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords ] (By Order)

Canterbury City Council Bill (By Order)

Leeds City Council Bill (By Order)

London Local Authorities (Shopping Bags) Bill (By Order)

Manchester City Council Bill [ Lords ] ( By Order)

Nottingham City Council Bill (By Order)

Reading Borough Council Bill (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 20 March.

Oral Answers to Questions

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Use of Waste

1. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): What his policy is on the use of waste as part of the landscaping of new developments; and if he will make a statement. [193649]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Joan Ruddock): The Government encourage the reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery of waste wherever possible. As a way of encouraging recovery, suitable waste can be used in landscaping developments under exemptions from waste management licensing, administered by the Environment Agency.

Andrew Rosindell: I thank the Minister for her reply, but has she had an opportunity to examine the situation at the Risebridge golf course in my constituency, where hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste have been dumped under the guise of landfill, to the great benefit of the company running the golf course? Will she come to see the destruction that that is causing to the local environment, and take immediate action to prevent this scam from happening elsewhere in the country? Basildon is another example of where it is now happening. Will the Government take immediate action to resolve that devastation of the environment?

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Joan Ruddock: I have indeed taken the trouble to examine the case that the hon. Gentleman raises, as well as that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela E. Smith) in respect of the Basildon golf course. The Environment Agency has permitted the use of the material on the site, but having heard the hon. Gentleman’s case, I have drawn the issue further to the attention of the agency. It tells me that it visited on 28 February, and will visit again on 20 March. Because of the concerns that he and other Members have raised, a review of exemptions from permitting will take place. A consultation will be carried out this summer, and the revised exemptions could be introduced at the earliest in October next year. That will be done, and we are concerned. Where waste can be used in low-risk operations, that should be done for recovery. Where there are possible scams, however, permitting will be needed. That will be the subject of the consultation.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the biggest new developments in the history of our country is the Olympic site? A great opportunity exists to reuse waste for other purposes on that site. Will she talk to the Olympic Delivery Authority, because the word is out that sustainable contracts, using waste transferred by water and rail, are being excluded on the basis of cost, and it is just going for the cheapest option? Will she talk to her colleagues urgently?

Joan Ruddock: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who I know takes a great interest in the subject of waste. As I indicated, the Government’s policy is that we should make use of waste, but only in sustainable ways; that is the crux of the matter. We will introduce new regulations in respect of construction sites, and it is important that waste from construction sites be dealt with better than it has been in the past, when many problems occurred. I undertake to talk to my colleagues, and to try to ensure as much recovery and reuse of waste as possible. Waste can be a resource, provided that it is dealt with sustainably.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

2. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): What steps the Government are taking to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions. [193650]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will answer this question together with question 7. UK greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 16.4 per cent. since 1990. We remain on course to nearly double our Kyoto protocol target over the 2008-12 period. The 2006 UK climate change programme and the 2007 energy White Paper set out the policies and measures for reducing emissions and support the UK’s transition to a low-carbon economy. The Climate Change Bill, the first of its kind in any country, introduces legally binding carbon budgets to ensure that progress will continue.

Tony Lloyd rose—

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Mr. Speaker: Order. We ought to do things properly. Has the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) been informed of the grouping of the questions? If not, it would be unfair to him to deal with question 7 now, given that he may come into the Chamber later.

Mr. Woolas: I believe he has been informed, Mr. Speaker, although I am not sure.

Mr. Speaker: If the Minister is not sure, I shall leave the questions ungrouped.

Tony Lloyd: Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s answer, and the Chancellor’s reaffirmation yesterday that the Committee on Climate Change will consider increasing the target for greenhouse gas reduction from 60 per cent. to 80 per cent., but will my hon. Friend look again at the position of aircraft and shipping? Given that they now account for some 10 per cent. of greenhouse gas emissions, they need to be covered by a proper scheme. I know that there is a proposal to include aircraft in the European Union emissions trading scheme, but shipping must be brought into a framework of strict controls if we are to ensure that it too plays its role in reducing carbon emissions.

Mr. Woolas: Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Speaker.

I, too, welcomed the measures announced in yesterday’s Budget statement. As my hon. Friend knows, as a result of the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the European Environment Council, aviation is to be included in the emissions trading scheme. That is an important development. As for shipping, we are hopeful that the International Maritime Organisation will achieve its inclusion, but if not we shall have to act, as the United Kingdom Government.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): I am sure that the Minister applauds the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday that he would impose higher taxes on gas-guzzling cars that are big polluters. But what consideration has his Department given to the fact that one of the categories involved covers people-carriers, which tend to be used by larger families? If such families were discouraged from owning people-carriers, they might well use two cars instead.

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Lady has obviously been thinking about this overnight. She makes an important point, which is blindingly obvious. It is true that people wish to contribute to the reduction in emissions, and getting the bandings right in the way proposed by the Chancellor is an important part of that. I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the goal of 100 g per km travelled for efficient engines, bearing in mind that the United Kingdom is among the largest manufacturers of engines in the world.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I am sure my hon. Friend accepts that reducing greenhouse gases requires a massive investment in renewable energy, but a recent European Union table shows that Britain is the third worst country in the EU for producing renewable energy. Germany has 360 times more installed solar capacity and 10 times more wind capacity, and it has
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achieved that by intervening in the energy markets rather than leaving things to market forces. When will my hon. Friend take investment in renewable energy seriously?

Mr. Woolas: My hon. Friend’s statistics are accurate. That is why a huge amount of attention is being given to ensuring that the United Kingdom can make its contribution. As my hon. Friend will know, a number of major projects and policy changes are in place. I remind him that yesterday’s Budget statement confirmed the intention to examine the issue of feed-in tariffs for microgeneration.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): It is not unreasonable to expect the economies of countries such as China and India to grow by about 3 per cent. over the next decade. Those countries are increasingly using coal-fired power stations: in China, a new one seems to come into play practically every week. It is also not unreasonable for developing countries to want to catch up with developed countries. In setting our targets, what account are we taking of that, and of the fact that such countries are likely to produce considerably more carbon emissions over the coming decades?

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman has asked an important question, which will be discussed at the informal G8 meeting in Japan at the weekend. The United Kingdom Government lead the world in policy on carbon capture and clean coal energy, and also in putting our money where our mouth is.

The hon. Gentleman also asked how we can balance the growth in countries such as China and India—which is, of course, perfectly proper and welcome—with the transformation that will lead to a clean energy world. That is at the heart of the discussions and negotiations that are taking place as part of the Bali process, to which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the United Kingdom is contributing positively.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): My hon. Friend will realise that one way to reduce greenhouse gases is to reduce the demand. While I welcome the Chancellor’s moves on, and the projects for, home insulation, is it not time that we seriously recognised the role that energy suppliers play before they couple up to a type of accommodation? The type of construction of accommodation is what causes loss of heat, not the occupant of that accommodation. Is it not time that we approached this matter from that position, rather than have the current system under which people have to be over 70 years of age, disabled or have a serious need before they get free home insulation?

Mr. Woolas: I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. He is right that in all these strategies energy efficiency is the biggest win, and is what saves the consumer money. Warm Front is not the only scheme available; the CERT—carbon emissions reduction target—scheme is a £1.5 billion strategy that places an obligation on the energy companies in respect of people across the country who are not dependent on benefits, so that addresses my hon. Friend’s point. I might add that we in DEFRA were punching the air with delight at the announcement in yesterday’s Budget on the zero-carbon commitment for non-domestic buildings, and particularly public sector buildings.

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Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): On Tuesday night at the Chemistry Club I listened to the Secretary of State speak with genuine passion about the enormity of the climate change threat and the need for urgent action. Yet yesterday we heard the Chancellor deliver the most unambitious and piecemeal of responses to the global warming crisis in his “bad news” Budget. It is becoming clearer by the day that the current DEFRA team is being completely sidelined by the new Prime Minister. Can the Minister think of any other reason why his party colleague, a former Home Secretary, told The Guardian last week that the Prime Minister’s efforts on climate change were “absolutely pathetic” and “embarrassing”?

Mr. Woolas: I can think of many reasons why the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) might wish to say things like that, but none of them is related to the fact that this Prime Minister— [Interruption.] Think about it. None of them is related to the fact that this Prime Minister is leading, both domestically and internationally, the change to a low-carbon economy. The various measures announced in the Budget to build on that—one of which I have just mentioned, for zero-carbon non-domestic buildings—will bring about in this country the changes that the hon. Gentleman requests, and which were debated at the Chemistry Club this week.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I congratulate the Government on the policies on climate change in yesterday’s Budget, particularly those on taxation of the most polluting vehicles. The shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), was of course a distinguished member of the Environmental Audit Committee, and I wonder whether my hon. Friend has thought about whether we might need an environmental audit of the climate change policies of each Member of this House. It would be extremely interesting to audit Conservative Members’ preferences in domestic fuel consumption and their choice of vehicle, as we could then see whether they are consistent in their approach to climate change.

Mr. Woolas: I have no tabbed reply for that question; it is a matter for the House. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State points out that the “Act on CO2” carbon footprint calculator is available online. All of us can play our part, and I believe that it is important for Members of this House to set an example to the country, because the public will judge us on what we do, not on what we say.

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): The Minister will be aware that a third of CO2 emissions come from power generation, and I hope that he shares my concern that a new generation of coal-fired power stations with unremitted carbon emissions would be catastrophic. Can he therefore confirm that DEFRA is banging some heads together in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and telling it not to give the go-ahead to new stations such as Kingsnorth unless and until they can be guaranteed to operate with carbon capture, not just the promise of that in some distant future?

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Mr. Woolas: I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks—DEFRA and DBERR work in tandem on these issues. The proposals for the new power station have yet to be decided; planning consent locally has been given. The importance of carbon capture and clean coal energy, domestically and internationally, cannot be overstated; it is about 50 per cent. of the issue. We wish to be in a position where our companies and our technology can help the world to provide for carbon capture of coal. Of course, it would be unwise of me to comment on the particular site, but we do want to move to more efficiency in coal energy. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we cease to produce coal-driven energy, but it is important that the new technologies can be put in place.

Coastal Areas (Public Access)

3. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with Natural England on public access to coastal areas. [193651]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): We have regular meetings with Natural England, and we have done since it reported in February 2007 on ways to improve access to the English coast. The Government propose to publish legislation to improve access to the English coast in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny.

Paddy Tipping: Why does the Minister not get two manifesto pledges for the price of one by including access to the coast in the draft marine Bill, which has been anticipated eagerly by the House for a long time? When is that Bill going to be published?

Jonathan Shaw: That is an excellent proposal, so I shall do that, and we shall publish in the early spring.

Hon. Members: It is early spring!

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Setting aside the Minister’s comment about early spring—it seems to me that we are indeed already in early spring—does he not agree with me that using a rather blunt instrument such as legislation to achieve an end that we all want—greater access to the countryside and the coast—might be a rather clumsy way of doing it? The better way would be by negotiation with individual farmers, such as, leading by example, the owners of the Blackwater estate, in Essex, one mile of which is closed to the public at the moment, with signs up stating, “No access”, “Private gardens: go round”—a long way round. The estate is owned, of course, by none other than the Minister’s right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Jonathan Shaw: The hon. Gentleman talks about access to the coast and the countryside. Of course, we brought in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which was not necessarily welcomed at the time by the Opposition, but it certainly has been a great success. We will use legislation to ensure that people have far more access to our wonderful and beautiful coastline. We estimate that some 30 per cent. of the coastline does not have secure access. The hon.
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Gentleman talks about a voluntary arrangement. There is a wonderful path round the south-west that he will know, which brings in millions of pounds to the local economy and is enjoyed by thousands of people each year. However, it took 40 years of voluntary arrangements to bring that into position. We think that, using the legislation, we can ensure that things happen a bit more quickly.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): There is of course still the unresolved issue of small boat access to inland waterways, which the Minister is rightly approaching on a voluntary, rather than statutory, basis. However, that too has been going on for some years. Can he give us a progress report?

Jonathan Shaw: We want to bring these measures forward, and as I said, we will publish the marine Bill and the coastal access Bill in tandem in early spring of this year. We will ensure that there is access to as much of our country as possible. We know that people enjoy walking in the countryside, and it is absolutely essential that they be able to roam where they want to—within, obviously, certain constraints. I will write to the hon. Gentleman on the point that he raises.

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