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Hilary Benn: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. We want biofuels that are better than the petrol and diesel that they are replacing. That is why we need better understanding of the facts and to encourage second-generation biofuels, because they will make an
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important contribution to helping us to meet the renewable energy targets. We do not want to support things that result in the kind of destruction that the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) referred to a moment ago. Three years ago, many Members of the House from all parties were signing early-day motions and encouraging movement on biofuels. We are learning as we go, and that applies to us all. We want to take the right decisions to support the right kind of biofuels.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): The recent Government report on food shows that UK self-sufficiency in temperate or indigenous food products has fallen by about 10 per cent. over the past 10 years. That means that as a nation we are going into world markets, pushing up the prices and making food less available for poor countries. The best estimate of climate change suggests that agricultural productivity in northern Europe will remain about the same or even improve. We are a key factor in the production of sufficient food in the world. What are the Government doing to ensure that productivity in this country and across northern Europe is maintained?

Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in terms of the figures that he gives. If one goes back to before the second world war and after, we were less self-sufficient in food than we are today. The reason that production has come down from the peak of a decade or so ago is that we in Europe, along with others, have reformed the common agricultural policy. That is a good thing, too. That kind of production and its cost were not sustainable.

The market is sending a very clear signal. The prospects for the farming industry are, overall, pretty bright, despite some of the difficulties that some sectors are facing. The people in the best position to encourage productivity are those in the farming industry itself, as they have the skills to encourage people to come in. We will need to play our part in helping to feed not just the population of this country—6.2 million human beings—but the 9 billion that we might have in the world in 50 years’ time.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Two years ago, the Government published their “Vision for the CAP”, in which they clearly stated that domestic production was not necessary for the food security of this country because we were a trading nation. Is that still the Government’s policy? If it is, how does it fit with the Secretary of State’s answer to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) about the importance of British production? Either the Government have changed their policy over the past two years, in which case they should say so, or they should tell us clearly that they do not believe that British food security involves domestic production.

Hilary Benn: By definition, British food security is very significantly dependent on domestic production, as the figures to which the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) just referred clearly show. [ Interruption. ] For the avoidance of any doubt, may I make it absolutely clear from the Dispatch Box that the Government continue to support a strong, thriving agricultural industry in this country? The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) raises an important point, because circumstances change
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and we need to reflect on the implications of that change. The question is: what are the right things to do to ensure that the challenge of the future is met, including by the contribution that British agriculture can make?

I do not think that the answer is to go back to where we were in the form of intervention, and the hon. Gentleman does not either. I make a genuine offer to him and to the farming industry, as I have on a number of occasions. I am open to a conversation and a discussion about the right things to do in response to the changing circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Coastal Flood Defences

4. Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): What funding his Department has allocated to coastal flood defences in the next three years. [202791]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): Overall, spending in England for flood and coastal erosion risk management will rise from £600 million this year to a minimum of £650 million in 2008-09, £700 million in 2009-10 and £800 million in 2010-11.

The Environment Agency expects to spend approximately £90 million on capital works to address coastal flooding in this period, excluding maintenance work. At least £110 million has been allocated to local authorities for coastal protection, flooding and associated studies in the next three years.

Mr. Whittingdale: But despite that, the Minister will be aware of the considerable concerns among landowners that the Government intend to abandon the maintenance of some areas of sea wall. Is he also aware that if a landowner wishes to carry out the repairs himself, he is required to obtain permission from the Environment Agency, from Natural England and, in some cases, even from the Marine Fisheries Agency? If the Government are not going to maintain the sea walls, will they please make it easier for landowners to do so?

Mr. Woolas: I take the important point that the hon. Gentleman raises; it is incumbent on us to deal with it. The difficulty is—and I know he understands this because he has made this point—the fact that the schemes interact. A scheme on one part of the coast can impact further down the coast. The Environment Agency and Natural England have different considerations and there is the potential impact on marine life. However, he makes an important point and it is one that we need to address. I will come back to him on it.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Fifteen million people in Britain live near the coastline, which is being eaten away slowly by the impact of erosion, storms and rising sea levels. The Minister has said that he does not read the Telegraph, but did he read the article in The Guardian two weeks ago that suggested that Natural England plans to abandon in the medium term a nine-mile stretch of coastline in Norfolk, much visited by the people of the east midlands and Leicestershire, between the villages of Eccles and Winterton? Therefore, many homes will be lost in that vicinity. Will he deny those reports? We cherish the Wintertons in this place; we should cherish Winterton in Norfolk as well.


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Mr. Woolas: First of all, I can assure the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) that there is nothing personal in this.

I choose my words carefully as I look at the Gallery upstairs. I did read that article in The Guardian, but I do not read the paper everyday; I cannot do the crossword in The Guardian. I read the article and it caused some upset and worry. It is not the role of Natural England to take such decisions; responsibility is with the Environment Agency. The Government work closely with the other bodies, and this goes back to the point that the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) made on the previous question. I can give the reassurance that my hon. Friend is looking for. There is no question of an abandonment of the nature that the article suggested.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): I thank the Minister for his conciliatory response to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), but may I reinforce the point that my hon. Friend made? There is a ludicrous complication that requires farmers to obtain a waste licence to deposit inert waste on to a sea wall. This is bureaucracy gone mad. Can the Minister confirm that he has received representations on the issue from the National Farmers Union? What action is he taking to resolve this question?

Mr. Woolas: In all honesty, I cannot recall seeing representations from the NFU and I will immediately check the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I see that there may be a reason for some controls, because not everybody plays by the rules or by the intent of the rules. This is not a partisan point. If farmers are reporting to him that there is a problem, we need to address it and I will do so.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): The Minister will know that, like many Labour-led organisations, the Environment Agency is seen as arrogant, undemocratic and unaccountable. Flood-hit communities in the East Riding are enraged by the agency’s insistence that its failure in basic maintenance did not contribute to the extent and damage of last year’s flooding. Will he and the Secretary of State undertake to break up the agency and ensure that those who carry out flood defence in our local communities are democratically accountable and seen to be so?

Mr. Woolas: I do not think that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), if he were in the Chamber, would accept the premise of the question. The Environment Agency has had broad support for many years; the accusation that it is partisan is unfair. As for the accusation that it is undemocratic, it has a job to do, and part of that job is consultation, but not everybody will agree. I have visited the constituency of the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart), as he knows, and we are to have a further meeting on the points that he raises. The fact of the matter is that not everybody agrees on the way forward; there are disagreements among the different interest groups. The Environment Agency does a difficult job, and I am more than happy to defend it. On the specifics that the hon. Gentleman raised, we are due to discuss them, and I look forward to that meeting.


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Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): May I remind the Minister that in 1953, when the Lincolnshire sea coast defences were last seriously breached, thousands of lives were lost? Considerable numbers of my constituents live in homes that are below high sea levels, and they are not all readers of The Daily Telegraph. Will he give an assurance that the east Lincolnshire coastline defences will remain fully maintained?

Mr. Woolas: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his reminder of the events of 1953. The lessons learned then were built into our plans for defence against the recent tidal surge. Thank goodness, the fine county of Lincolnshire was protected. The Government’s policy regarding the coast is of course made more difficult by the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) raised: by erosion, tilting, which is causing a gradual increase in sea level, and the impact of climate change. That has meant that since 1953 we have had to revisit the policy. That is why the outcome measures, as they are called—I would call them the criteria used—have recently been changed. I think that the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell) will find, if he studies the criteria, that they are beneficial to his constituents. I am grateful to him for raising the point.

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): Those who live in coastal communities, especially those communities that are slightly more coastal than they were when people first moved in, want certainty on two points. The first is the issue of abandonment. The Minister’s apparently quite clear statement of a few seconds ago is clearly at variance with what other Government bodies are at least considering as an alternative, so does he speak with the authority of the full Government, and will none of the coastal communities be abandoned? The second point on which people want clarity is compensation. Given that the future of peoples’ homes is entirely dependent on government policy, to the extent that anybody can do anything about the problem, surely there is an issue of compensation. We are talking about individuals who may well have lived in one place for generations. If they choose to live there, do the Government say, “Well, that’s tough; if you live on the coast, you take the consequences”?

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman raises two very important points. We have the strategy, through the adaptation toolkit, which we are working on, including by having discussions with hon. Members in all parts of the House and local authorities. That is about what specific measures we need to take to ensure that bureaucracies do not get in the way of protecting people’s communities. The adaptation toolkit is very important; I know that it does not sound it, but it is. Secondly, on abandonment, the difficulty in this debate is that, as I said before, the protection of one area of coastline can have an impact on another. It is simply not possible to protect everywhere. The word “abandonment” is, of course, very emotive.

The natural erosion of the coast, or increased erosion caused by climate change, is something that the Government could not stop in every instance, no matter how much money they spent. We need a fair set of criteria that are transparent and acceptable to the House, and that is the policy on which we are working. One can never talk
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about not abandoning areas if it is nature that is the problem. On the point about compensation, in the adaptation toolkit—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must try to get through the Order Paper. I ask hon. Members to appreciate that I must try to call those whose names are on the Order Paper.

Aviation (Emissions)

5. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): What recent assessment he has made of the environmental effect of greenhouse gas emissions from aviation. [202792]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): Aviation’s climate change impact is currently responsible for about 6 or 7 per cent. of the UK’s total carbon dioxide emissions and 1.6 per cent. of global CO2 emissions. Recent research in 2000 by the European Commission’s TRADEOFF project suggested that the total climate change impact of aviation up to 2000 was 1.9 times greater than its CO2 impact alone.

Simon Hughes: Given that the recent National Audit Office report showed that there have been no reductions in UK carbon dioxide emissions

which means that since 1990, if aviation and shipping emissions are included, we have had no reductions in CO2, may we have an assurance from the Secretary of State that when he talks to Transport Ministers about plans to build extra runways at Heathrow and elsewhere, and when the Climate Change Bill comes back to the House, aviation and shipping emissions will be included, not hidden away to pretend that they do not matter?

Hilary Benn: There is no question of hiding anything away or saying that it does not matter. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Bill makes provision to include those emissions once there is international agreement on how to divide up responsibility, for example, for a flight that leaves Heathrow flown by an American airline, refuels in Dubai and ends up in Sydney, or for ships refuelling from bunker fuel ships in international waters with a Panamanian flag. It is a practical problem. The second thing that we are already doing will mean that aviation is included in the EU emissions trading scheme. As the hon. Gentleman will realise, that means that aviation emissions will be capped in Europe at their 2004-06 level and any growth above that will have to be compensated for by reductions elsewhere.

John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): Further to that point, as my right hon. Friend is aware, aviation and shipping are included in the Bill, but he said that international agreement needs to come first. If we do not get international agreement, can he reassure me that we will go down the road of an agreement within the EU, and if that does not go ahead, we will take unilateral decisions and ensure reductions ourselves?

Hilary Benn: Of course, domestic emissions from aviation are already included in the totals in the Bill, and yes, it is true that Europe is leading because the international air transport organisation has not taken
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the lead in dealing with emissions from aviation. We are firmly committed to support Europe’s EU emissions trading scheme and aviation’s inclusion in it. That is the best hope we have in the world of making progress on the issue.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): When considering carbon emissions from aviation, however, will the Secretary of State ensure that proper regard is given to the comparative emissions from the different modes of transport available to people? Will he bear in mind that in the highlands and islands, where the alternatives are often long road journeys and ferry journeys, aviation with a well-filled plane travelling not too high can be a carbon-efficient way of moving people around? Will he ensure that they are not penalised for using that mode of transport?

Hilary Benn: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point. That is why, in looking at the operation of aviation’s inclusion in the EU emissions trading scheme, account has been taken of precisely that point in respect of a number of EU countries where those facts obtain.

Climate Change

6. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What steps the Government have taken to encourage participation in combating climate change at local community level. [202793]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Joan Ruddock): The Government have taken a range of initiatives to assist communities in combating climate change. The climate challenge fund has provided assistance to 83 projects led by local authorities and third sector organisations to encourage more positive attitudes towards tackling climate change. For example, it enabled the Women’s Institute to develop successful eco teams to raise awareness and encourage action to reduce emissions. The environmental action fund provided yearly grants of up to £250,000 to voluntary and community sector organisations to help them meet the Government’s sustainable development objectives in England.

Mr. Cunningham: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but does she think more can be done to encourage local authorities and householders to do more?

Joan Ruddock: Let me give my hon. Friend that assurance. We have introduced new Government performance framework indicators on climate change, which will enable local authorities to reduce their own operations’ emissions and per capita emissions from their community. We are rolling out the green homes service with the Act on CO2 advice line, which will enable householders to tackle their emissions through greater energy savings. We are tackling waste and water usage, and towards the end of the year we will roll out the green neighbourhoods scheme, looking for 100 selected neighbourhoods to help to reduce their carbon footprint by 60 per cent. We are looking for 3,000 households and focusing on the most hard to treat housing stock. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that we intend to do more, and that we have the co-operation of local authorities.


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Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Notwithstanding what the Minister has just said, should she not be braver and more proactive with regard to encouraging individuals to take action on climate change and their carbon footprints? She will be aware of schemes, operated by some local authorities, in which reductions in council tax are offered for climate change measures taken in the house. Would that not be a more proactive way forward, in encouraging people to get something back in return for taking care of the climate?

Joan Ruddock: I agree with the hon. Lady about initiatives that local authorities can take; we have made it possible for them to do that. Furthermore, probably no Government in the world are more active than ours about messages to individuals. There is, for example, the Act on CO2 campaign. I have just written to the hon. Lady and all other hon. Members about the new nationwide advertising campaign that will begin next week; she will see that a great deal of effort has gone behind that. Some 40 per cent. of our CO2 emissions come from the actions of individuals. The Government are explaining that and we are enabling and encouraging people on how they can reduce their own emissions. That is a vital part of tackling dangerous climate change, and we are extremely active on it.


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