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Ruth Kelly: The right hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. In the north-east of England with the Ensus site, but also on other sites, the production process has very substantial direct greenhouse gas savings from well to wheel. Part of the reason for that is, as I have explained, that the co-products are also used to substitute for animal feed. What it does not take into account is the indirect impact. The report suggests that even in those cases we ought to think through the indirect impact. Clearly, we do not currently have a mechanism for measuring the indirect impact, or for safeguarding against the potential greenhouse gas consequences or the increase in food prices that might
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result. In future, however, we should aspire to that. The report sets out a cautious approach that will give us time to have those global negotiations to put in place progressive measures to control land use, and to make sure that as far as possible—it will not always be possible—first or indeed second generation biofuels are produced on idle or marginal land.

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): Does the Secretary of State share my concerns about the conclusions of the Environmental Audit Committee, which came out in favour of a moratorium? Does she not agree that the way forward is through greater and better certification and regulation? The consequence of throwing the baby out with the bathwater is that without investment in first generation biofuels, damage will be done to the potential for future investment in second and third generation biofuels, which are likely to have a much more beneficial impact.

Ruth Kelly: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who makes an important point. The reason that investors are prepared to invest in clean technology and think about second generation biofuels is that there is a market for biofuels. Part of our approach must be to take that into account and to think about how the risks can be minimised, while examining the evidence and collecting the data necessary to make good judgments in future, and ensuring that sufficient investment takes place in those innovative technologies.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The rush to biofuels seems to have led to at least three unexpected consequences: first, higher food prices; secondly, deforestation; and, thirdly, a sliver of sanity belatedly creeping into the Government. The Secretary of State knows that the 10 per cent. by 2020 target is dear to the heart of José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President. Although she is clearly doing the right thing in sending out signed copies of the report to any interested parties in the EU, she must also remember that the largest biofuels producer is France, which has just taken over the presidency of the EU. What else will she do to ensure that a sliver of sanity also breaks out in Brussels, and that it reconsiders its targets on biofuels?

Ruth Kelly: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I will seek to persuade my European partners and the European Commission to take such evidence seriously, and to encourage them and their scientific experts to work with those in the RFA in examining it. However, to say that biofuels inevitably increase food prices is a bit simplistic. One of the messages of the report is that some biofuels have a significant impact, especially in the short term and on certain types of rural poor. In the longer term, the effects are much mitigated, and the world should perhaps be thinking about policies to mitigate those impacts in the short term too. It is important to have a balanced approach, and to encourage France and Italy, which are already showing signs of working with us in this area, to continue the pursuit of a sustainable biofuels industry.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Following that reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), does the Secretary of State recall that when the House debated such matters last month,
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the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform willingly signed up to and endorsed the 10 per cent. target for biofuels in transport fuels by 2020. A month later, the Secretary of State is resiling from that, saying that it is unsustainable and unobtainable. Given that the decision on the draft EU directive will be taken by majority voting, what confidence does she have that her new conditionality and different target will be accepted, as the directive is, after all, mandatory?

Ruth Kelly: I said that we should be arguing for a non-binding target, but a target of 10 per cent. conditional on certain elements: first, second generation biofuels should emerge; and secondly, unsustainable land use change should be avoided and sustainability safeguards adopted. I said that we should review the evidence in 2011-12, and again later, to confirm those targets.

That is an approach for which we shall negotiate very hard in Europe. I believe that it is beginning to gain currency in France and Italy, and I hope that other countries will also see the merits of adopting a conditional rather than a binding target.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP): Will the Secretary of State explain why she has confidence in the sustainability criteria that she is currently negotiating with the European Union? I should like to know why she feels that she could possibly have confidence in those. Will she also tell us what direct control she will exercise to ensure that biofuels used in the United Kingdom come from sustainable sources?

Ruth Kelly: The hon. Gentleman asks what confidence I have in the sustainability criteria that are currently being negotiated. The report concluded that they ought to be made more sophisticated. Although we have tried to capture the direct impacts on greenhouse gas emissions from well to wheel, we have not yet attempted to calculate the impact of the indirect effects of biofuel production, which is an incredibly difficult calculation. Before January this year, hardly anyone with an interest in the subject even considered the possibility of significant indirect effects on either greenhouse gas emissions or food prices. One of the challenges that we face is to work with our European partners intensively over the next few months to develop a set of sustainability criteria that include a measure of indirect impact.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): The Secretary of State admitted a moment ago that growing food shortages and soaring food prices had rendered the redirecting of cereal and root crops to biofuel production highly questionable. She is presumably aware that much of our current biodiesel production results from the refining of used cooking oil. Can she tell us what percentage of it comes from that source, and has she any idea of the potential annual tonnage?

Ruth Kelly: I am afraid I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the figures that he seeks today, although I shall be happy to provide them if they are available. However, I have talked to suppliers about their innovations in that regard. The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that the current developments are having an impact—particularly in Scotland, I understand. This is what is typically known as second generation biofuel. Again, the impact on both greenhouse gases and food prices will depend
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on the indirect effects, which are not currently captured in our sustainability reporting mechanisms, although that is what we aspire to for the future.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I listened to the statement with growing concern. Last year, I purchased a biofuel car believing that I was saving the planet. Could the Secretary of State give me some clear advice? As she will know, a biofuel car can run on biofuel or petrol. When I next pull into Morrisons in Welingborough, should I go to the petrol pump or the biofuel pump?

Ruth Kelly: My advice is that the hon. Gentleman should adapt to the evidence, as the Government have. However, let me make a serious point.

The Gallagher review has made it clear that investment in biofuel production should be encouraged, and in particular that it should rise above the current level of 2.5 per cent., so that investors are confident enough to proceed with the investments in bioethanol that are planned in the United Kingdom.

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Points of Order

5.3 pm

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), to whom I have given notice of my point of order, visited my constituency on Friday with no notice. I understand that although he was quite far north in Warrington, he believed that he was in Warrington, South. Although I am cheered by the fact that Opposition Front Benchers cannot even find the constituencies they are supposed to be targeting, will you take this opportunity to remind them that they too should observe the courtesies of the House, and perhaps even buy a map?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Although that is not a point of order for the Chair, the hon. Lady would be right to approach the other hon. Member about this matter. It is a courtesy of the House for Members to inform other Members when they are visiting their constituencies.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Given the success yesterday of the British grand prix held at Silverstone in my constituency, have you received any representations from Ministers to make a statement on the implications of contracts for that event after 2010? If it is to move from Silverstone, it is essential that an alternative venue be up and ready at that time. If not, there is a real risk that we may lose the British grand prix altogether.

Madam Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order for the Chair, but the hon. Gentleman’s comments are on the record and members of the Transport team are present to have heard them.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. That race may be coming to the Castle Donington circuit in North-West Leicestershire, but my point relates to the fact that ETS Europe was given £156 million by the UK taxpayer to handle the key stage 2 and key stage 3 marking process. It has just announced that it will not be able to post the key stage 2 results for a further eight days and the key stage 3 results for a further 11 days. That is utter and depressing incompetence. Has there been any indication from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families that he wishes to make a statement on this, particularly for those parts of the country, such as Leicestershire, where the schools break up this Friday? The results will be given in the summer holidays, causing substantial inconvenience.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Once again I have to say that although that was not a point or order for the Chair, I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern and his remarks are now on the record. I have not been advised that the Secretary of State wishes to come to the House to make any such statement.

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[3rd Allotted Day]

ESTIMATES, 2008-09


Public Transport

[Relevant documents: The Fifth Report from the Transport Committee, HC 84, on Ticketing and Concessionary Travel on Public Transport, and the Government response, HC 708.]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

5.6 pm

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I very much welcome the decision to have in this important estimates debate a discussion on the Transport Committee’s report on ticketing and concessionary travel on public transport. That report focuses on the new national concessionary local travel scheme for older and disabled people. It also discusses a number of other important issues, including integrated ticketing, smartcard technology and revenue protection, which includes looking at how to minimise fare dodging. All those issues are extremely important for passengers and public alike and it is extremely important that we have the opportunity today to discuss both the report and the issues raised in it.

A great deal of attention was attracted by the inquiry. More than 40 organisations and individuals submitted written evidence and the Committee held four oral evidence sessions, questioning 24 witnesses including the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris). The Government published their response on 16 June.

The English concessionary free bus travel scheme, benefiting up to 11 million older and disabled people at a total cost of £1 billion, is extremely welcome. We have been discussing the scheme for England. Of course that is because the schemes for Scotland and Wales have already been operating following decisions from the devolved Administrations. It is an important scheme about which there was a great deal of campaigning over a long period.

It is important that the scheme be properly funded and that the extra £223 million allocated to local authorities by special grant this year—with more to follow next year and the year afterwards, in addition to the £31 million provided for the new passes— reimburses operators and authorities fairly. There is currently a great deal of dispute, not only about the amount of funding made available but about the way in which it is allocated. Perhaps through the review of the bus service operators grant, this matter can be addressed. It is extremely
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important that a scheme that is popular and welcome should be funded properly and fairly. Although the concessionary passes are Integrated Transport Smartcard Organisation—ITSO—compliant smartcards, only 5 to 10 per cent. of the bus fleet will be equipped to process them by the end of 2008. Part of the reason for that appears to be the cost to the bus operators of installing the equipment to use those cards to their full. That is not a satisfactory situation. The Government must speed up this process, both to secure the best and optimum use of the card and to obtain more accurate information about who is travelling using the card. That is extremely important in relation to the revenue issues to which I have referred.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Will the hon. Lady address the inequality of the service in respect of those areas of the country where there are no public bus or coach services? I fully support and welcome a Government—or taxpayer—contribution to public transport, but what are we going to do for the people who live in those rural areas where there is no, or very little, bus transport?

Mrs. Ellman: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and anticipates my next comment. The report considered this issue. Concessionary fare schemes are very much to be welcomed, but the transport has to be there for people to be able to enjoy them. The Committee raised the question of community transport, and called for more support to enable more community transport to be provided and for that to be eligible for the concessions, or equivalent concessions, so that people, and particularly those living in rural areas, would be able to benefit from widened opportunities in terms of transport. That is what the scheme is all about.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I wish to reiterate what my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) said about rural counties. In Shropshire this month, many bus services are being stopped. Although it is great that the Government want to have concessionary travel, my constituents are extremely concerned that if there are no services in some places, there will be two classes of citizen. Those who live in London and other cities can take advantage of such schemes, but those who live in rural areas such as Shropshire cannot.

Mrs. Ellman: The absence of bus services in some areas is a very important issue, and it is one of the consequences of deregulation. That issue is being addressed through the new Local Transport Bill, which is before Parliament. It is important that that Bill is sufficiently strengthened to enable the services that are required to meet local needs to be developed.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that although the inequalities that have been talked about do exist, this system is of benefit even to people who live in rural areas, because when they visit towns or go on holiday or come to London, they can now travel on the buses if they have a pass, whereas before they had no service whatever?

Mrs. Ellman: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. A point that was consistently raised during the long campaign for such a national scheme
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was that when people went away from where they lived to other areas, they were not able to take advantage of concessionary local transport. Because of the existence of this concessionary scheme, people can take advantage of such local transport schemes everywhere, even in places where they do not live.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): The point the hon. Lady makes rightly suggests that, as the Government have acknowledged, the number of people visiting tourist resorts, including coastal towns such as mine of Worthing, is likely to put greater pressure on bus services in those areas, leading to the costs falling disproportionately on those areas. Does she think the formula the Government have drawn up to decide how to reimburse local authorities accurately reflects those extra pressures, particularly on tourist areas?

Mrs. Ellman: The important point the hon. Gentleman makes underlines the need for an evaluation of the way the scheme is working and a closer look at how the available revenues allocated to local authorities are to be disbursed. His point has been raised by a number of local authorities, and our Committee’s report talks about the importance of evaluating the scheme and of a re-evaluation of how the money is allocated. The point he makes was one of the ideas that we had when we put that proposal forward.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). Would it not have been better if the Government had said that, for the first couple of years, local authorities would be able to work out their costs, indent for them, and then have an evaluation and a formula? Instead, we will have winners and losers and will have to work out what to do about that. If local authorities could claim their actual costs, it would be much fairer to our rate payers, nearly half of whom are elderly and are having to bear the costs of the Government’s error.

Mrs. Ellman: It was important that the scheme went ahead, and it is equally important that a proper evaluation is made and anomalies are put right.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend also accept the obverse argument on the evaluation, expressed by some of the companies, that local authorities have not always made the payments for the number of passengers carried? Much as I would want to comment about the services that the companies offer, evaluation is needed by both sides, as I am sure she would agree.

Mrs. Ellman: My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Discussions are needed between the transport authorities and the operators, as well as the Government. Many of the issues involve the accuracy of information on who is travelling, when they are travelling and where they are travelling. That is why it is important that the appropriate technology is installed as quickly as possible on the buses involved.

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