Previous Section Index Home Page

Marine Habitats

5. Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to safeguard marine habitats. [219291]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw) rose—

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): You’re busy this morning.

Jonathan Shaw: This is a bit of a one-man band today— [ Interruption. ] My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says that he is right behind me, which is very reassuring.

The Government are committed to establishing by 2012 a network of well-managed marine protected areas that will conserve the richness of our marine environment.

Martin Salter: I congratulate the Minister on reshuffling his entire ministerial team. What contribution does he think the Severn barrage will make to aquatic life, bearing in mind the dire warnings from the powerful coalition of wildlife and fishery groups about the damage that the barrage will do to migratory fish runs of salmon and sea trout, which provide such vital income and recreational assets to the Wye, Usk and Severn catchment areas?

Jonathan Shaw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has a proud and distinguished record as Labour’s angling spokesman; he has a done a great deal that has been welcomed in all sections of the fishing community.

On the Severn barrage, I am well aware that the Severn and its tributaries, including the Wye and the Usk, are valuable spawning grounds for a number of important migratory fish, including salmon and eels. Our feasibility study will examine the possibility of developing the barrage, which could provide 5 per cent. of this country’s electricity and make a huge contribution to our renewable efforts. However, we will need to balance that against the important environmental damage that would be caused. Those are the issues that confront us today, and we must make balanced choices. What my
17 July 2008 : Column 390
hon. Friend and anglers have said about the barrage will form part of our consideration as we move forward on the feasibility study.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): What is the Minister doing to reduce the effect of the American crayfish and advantage the British crayfish?

Jonathan Shaw: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in the Marine Bill we are introducing changes in respect of salmon and freshwater and migratory fish; there will be new measures to allow the Environment Agency to ensure that particular species are not put into waters where they can breed and have an impact on native species.

Sir Patrick Cormack: They are already there.

Jonathan Shaw: As the hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position, they are already there. The Environment Agency is doing its best to tackle the issue, and we will be introducing further powers—this has been welcomed by the Environment Agency and by many anglers—to reduce these alien species and ensure that we protect our native species.

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), I have great concerns about the Severn barrage. The Severn estuary not only has the second highest tidal range in the world, but in winter its mudflats, saltflats and rocky marshes provide vital breeding grounds and overwintering habitats for 65,000 birds, which feed on a huge variety of invertebrate, insect and, sadly, fish life in the estuary. Will the Minister assure me that he will take care to protect the biodiversity of the Severn estuary and ensure that if this plan does, foolishly, go ahead, compensatory habitat will be provided for all those species.

Jonathan Shaw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Of course, all those measures will need to be considered in the feasibility study, which will last roughly two years and cost about £9 million. It is also important to take into account the fact that climate change is also impacting on wildlife and that we need to reduce our carbon levels. We may conclude that the Severn barrage will make such a significant contribution that it will help wildlife and all of mankind. Those issues need to be considered carefully, and the environmental points that both she and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) have made will form part of our consideration as we advance the feasibility study.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): A great deal of the damage to marine habitats is done by fishing. Some £97 million of European fisheries fund money was supposed to be used to promote more sustainable and environmentally friendly fishing gears and practices. Is it not the case that that money is not available because the Government failed to agree with the devolved Administrations and failed to consult on and submit our programme to the Commission by the deadline? Perhaps the Minister can tell us when we will get our money and whether the EU has confirmed that DEFRA will not be fined for a late submission of the operational programme?

17 July 2008 : Column 391

Jonathan Shaw: The hon. Gentleman will know that I was in Brussels till half-past 10 on Monday negotiating the changes to the European fisheries fund. New regulations will impact on all member states and will provide more flexibility within the fund. Obviously, we must look at the detail of those and discuss that with the industry. His question about whether we will miss out is obviously outdated because of the changes that were agreed in the Commission earlier this week.


6. Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): What estimate he has made of the number of regulations which his Department and its agencies enforce. [219292]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas) rose—

Hon. Members: Oh!

Mr. Woolas: Second fiddle!

On 28 April, DEFRA placed a report in the Library on its statutory instruments between January 2000 and December 2007. The report shows that DEFRA implemented 1,036 statutory instruments between those dates and revoked 840, dating back to 2000 and earlier.

Mr. Evennett: I am grateful for the Minister’s response. However, with input costs rising and British businesses forced to compete on an uneven playing field with the rest of Europe, they can ill afford a regulatory burden that is increasing year on year. What is the cost to industry of those regulations, and will the Minister take steps further to reduce the bureaucracy and red tape that prohibits business from doing its job?

Mr. Woolas: I would challenge the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. In fact, the direction of travel is downwards. The plan that DEFRA started to implement in 2007 will reduce the administrative burden by just under a third by 2010, so we are moving in the right direction.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): I know that at least one of the ministerial team is aware of the case in my constituency of the greengrocer who was prohibited from selling kiwi fruit because they were 4 g too light. What plans are being made to review the EU grading laws and does he believe that, in an era of rising food prices and shortages, such decisions are best left to the consumer, instead of being the subject of regulation?

Mr. Woolas: I have been informed about this particular case. My hon. Friend will accept that it is important that we have rules for quality produce, as that is what the buyers want and what the consumers want, as is supported across the House. The vast majority of traders play by the rules and do not want to be undermined by those who do not. However, we are of course aware of the case that my hon. Friend raises.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): What effort is the Department making to reduce the burden of regulation, especially from the European Union, when it comes to the problem that hill farmers
17 July 2008 : Column 392
will face if electronic tagging of sheep is introduced? What effort is the Minister making to reduce that burden on farmers?

Mr. Woolas: In relation to the DEFRA delivery agencies, which act as regulatory bodies to protect the environment and the consumer, we have a simplification plan, which is working. We are reducing regulation, but our goal is quality regulation, including for the hill farmers whom the hon. Gentleman mentions.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): It seems to me that the Minister does not really know what he is talking about when he mentions reducing the burden of regulation. That is because his Department is perpetrating a complete con trick on the industry and the public, because it measures the burden of regulation only by what it calls “administrative burdens”. Why does he not allow for the full cost to industry of all these burdens? For example, DEFRA says that the admin cost of the catchment sensitive farming regulation is £391,000 a year; it is actually £210 million a year. DEFRA says that the cost of the nitrates directive is £1.5 million a year, but the true cost, including all the investment that industry has to make, is £250 million a year. Despite all the Government’s warm words about farming, the Department is stifling farmers’ ability to compete.

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman is ungenerous in his remarks and his analysis. He refers to the costs of regulation but ignores the benefits. One person’s regulation is another’s protection—a point that is often missed. Many of the regulations to which he refers are supported by the industries because they help to ensure that the cowboys and bad guys do not get an unfair advantage. He has made an accusation about costs, but he has completely ignored the costs to the taxpayer of non-regulation of environmental protection. For example, what would he say to the water industry, which spends £288 million a year treating nitrates from run-off? I suppose that he would not include that as a cost.

Bovine TB

7. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): What the cost was of compensation for cattle which tested positive for bovine tuberculosis in each of the last five years. [219293]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): In England, the following amounts were paid in compensation for cattle slaughtered under bovine tuberculosis controls in each of the last five calendar years: £26 million in 2003; £25 million in 2004; £27 million in 2005; £16 million in 2006, and £15 million in 2007.

Mr. Gray: The Secretary of State’s rapid production of the figures will not disguise the fact that, over the past 10 years, some 200,000 cattle—most of them perfectly healthy—have been slaughtered. Their carcases have been burned, needlessly, at a cost some £600 million to the public purse so far. This year, 40,000 cattle have been killed, at a vast cost, and the predictions are that £300 million a year will be spent on TB across England by 2012. Does he accept that that is appalling wasteful
17 July 2008 : Column 393
for the public purse, and that it is a tragedy that those animals are being slaughtered needlessly? Does he also accept that farmers in hot-spot areas such as North Wiltshire are distraught at his announcement this week that he will ignore the recommendation from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that some culling of badgers in some areas may have some effect on restraining this appalling disease?

Hilary Benn: I would say to the hon. Gentleman and his constituents that bovine TB is an appalling disease that has a terrible impact. I have ignored nothing, however: I have looked at the science and, in the end, I have to make a judgment. I have reached my decision about what will be effective in dealing with the problem. As I explained to the House in my oral statement last week, the science and the practicality tell me—and the House—that badger culling will not contribute. That was the view of Professor Bourne, so we have to use the means currently at our disposal. That is why I want to sit down with the industry to discuss what further steps we should take, and it is also why we are significantly increasing the investment in vaccines.

Water Prices

8. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions he has had with Ofwat on the periodic review of water price limits 2009. [219294]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met representatives of Ofwat on 3 June. DEFRA is in regular contact with Ofwat on a range of issues, including the 2009 periodic review of water price limits.

Linda Gilroy: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. When will the metering and charging review be set up, and when will it report? Will he reassure the House that it will report in good time for Ofwat to take its findings into consideration, and for all of us to have access to them?

Mr. Woolas: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her input to this policy area on behalf of her constituents facing high water and sewage charges. We are determined to ensure fairness. The review will be launched imminently and it will dovetail into the Ofwat PRO9 process—that is, the price review process for 2009. That will ensure that we can make better progress towards water efficiency measures and, through an examination of tariffs, a fairer system for her constituents.

Pitt Report

9. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): When he will allocate funding to implement the recommendations of the final Pitt report. [219295]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): A total of £34.5 million has been provisionally set aside to deal with the recommendations in Sir Michael Pitt’s report. I will fully consider the recommendations before making a final allocation and response with a costed action plan this autumn.

17 July 2008 : Column 394

Tim Loughton: As Sir Michael makes no fewer than 92 recommendations, is the Secretary of State satisfied that the money that he has set aside will be sufficient to implement them? Many hinge on better joint working between the various agencies, and a good job of work remains to be done in that regard. What assurances can he give the House about Sir Michael Pitt’s ongoing reporting to Parliament about the progress of the implementation of his practical recommendations—or will we just have to wait for the recriminations after the next deluge hits us?

Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman’s last comment is a bit unfair. I will continue to report to the House about the progress being made in implementing the recommendations. As I told the House when I made my statement, Sir Michael will have a continuing role. Only last week, indeed, in the light of his report and together with him, I met the heads of all the agencies and bodies involved to see what further progress has been made, and what more we need to do together. From memory, Sir Michael has said that about 80 per cent. of his recommendations call for a different way of doing things, and do not require additional expenditure. I shall weigh all that up when, as I promised, I report back to the House with the plan in the autumn.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): In Sir Michael’s report he lays emphasis on the importance of improving the resilience of utilities’ facilities where there are cases of severe flooding. What reassurance, pursuant to the last answer given by the Minister of State, can the Secretary of State give me that the cost of utilities improving the resilience of their facilities in view of flooding will not be passed on to consumers, but will come from the balance sheets of the companies?

Hilary Benn: As the right hon. Gentleman will know, ultimately that is a matter for the regulator, but I am able to report to the House that National Grid has purchased 1.2 km of relocatable defences like the ones that were used to protect Walham during the flooding last year; CE Electric has purchased seven temporary defence kits; and EDF Energy has also purchased a number. The National Grid and Central Networks have put defences around Walham and Castlemead substations following the floods last year. That demonstrates to the House how, now that all of us have had a wake-up call, the utility companies are responding.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will realise that one of the missing parts of the jigsaw is the Humber, the Trent and the Tame river basin flood strategy, which we shall probably have in two years’ time. Until that part is in place, does he believe that local authorities and other interested parties can take the best possible future measures?

Hilary Benn: We have made it very clear in the decisions that we have taken that the Environment Agency will now have overall responsibility for dealing with flooding from whatever source, and that local authorities will lead on surface water flooding. That was what Sir Michael recommended, and we shall now put it in place, through a flood and water Bill. Clearly it takes time for some of those plans to come forward.
17 July 2008 : Column 395
The other practical contribution that we are making, of course, is to provide more money for flood defence.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): The Government are not displaying any sense of urgency whatever. They have failed to come forward with a detailed action plan, which is the least that the Secretary of State could do to satisfy the House, and to satisfy the victims of last summer’s floods; already one year has passed since then. The Government are embarking on a consultation on the restructuring of internal drainage boards. They probably have more engineers; we know from the Select Committee report that there is a shortage. What are the implications for ongoing maintenance of this restructuring? Will there be even fewer engineers at the end of the restructuring?

Hilary Benn: First, I do not accept what the hon. Lady says about how we have responded to what happened last year. Indeed, she does not have to take my word for it; she just has to look at what Sir Michael said in his interim report about the urgent recommendations, and what he said in his final report about the progress that has been made. Secondly, we are carrying out the consultation to ensure that the contribution of internal drainage boards can be as effective as possible, and clearly we have no intention of doing something that will make it more difficult for them to do their job effectively; on the contrary.

Next Section Index Home Page