The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dan Norris): The Government's priority is to reduce the amount of waste we produce. Landfilling, of which landraising is a form, should always be the last resort. The Government are reducing our reliance on landfill through the landfill tax, increasing recycling and converting waste into energy. We will shortly be consulting on further restrictions on the landfilling of certain biodegradable and recyclable wastes.
Norman Baker: I welcome that statement, but in this day and age is it not unbelievable-and appalling-that my Conservative county council wants to build 60-acre wide and 80-foot high waste mountains in the lovely Sussex countryside? Will he draw the council's attention to the Government's waste hierarchy and suggest that it moves from the 15th century to the 21st?
Dan Norris: If I did not know better, I would think that a general election is imminent. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take part in our consultation to ensure that we produce as little waste as possible that needs to go into landfill. The truth is that we need to reduce, recycle and reuse at every possible opportunity, and allowing waste to go into landfill is not a good thing. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I both went to Sussex university, so we are very familiar with the beauty of the area, and we recognise people's anger, but it is a local planning issue, plus a safety issue for the Environment Agency.
Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): Under the Government's proposals, one in every four tonnes of household waste will still be landfilled in 10 years' time. That is the most environmentally damaging form of waste disposal. Britain lags behind greener countries such as Germany, and the National Audit Office has criticised the Government for dragging their feet on recycling infrastructure. Is it not time to show leadership, commit to zero waste and end the landfilling of rotting rubbish altogether?
Dan Norris: I cannot disagree with the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he will take part in our consultation. It is an important consultation that seeks to achieve the objectives that he has just outlined, so I hope that he will play a full part in it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): Species protected by CITES are included in one of three appendices to the convention. Changes to the appendices are agreed at conferences of parties to the convention, held every two to three years. We are currently discussing the proposals put forward for COP 15 with other EU member states to agree an EU position prior to the conference in March.
Mr. Randall: I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he share my concern at the increase in the poaching of elephants for ivory? What will the Government do on the international scene to try to ensure that that is reversed?
Huw Irranca-Davies: I confirm that we will not support any COP 15 proposals if we have any doubt that CITES criteria cannot be met. In respect of elephants, at CITES COP 15 the UK will vote against any proposals-including those from Tanzania and Zambia-for further ivory stockpile sales. We will not agree to any further sales until and unless the results of the monitoring in which we are involved reveal positive effects from last year's one-off sale. We are waiting for the findings of an expert panel before reaching any decisions on proposals to downlist those countries' elephant populations on CITES.
Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): At the last CITES conference, the Government failed to oppose ivory stockpile sales, failed to oppose China's inclusion as a buyer and failed to support bans on sales in the future. Poaching has risen sharply, elephant numbers in many countries are in decline, and there are links with terrorism. Yesterday's illegal trade was blood diamonds; today's is blood ivory. Why are the Government not supporting African nations that are calling for a binding 20-year moratorium on ivory sales?
Huw Irranca-Davies: That is an interesting point, because the issue at COP 12 was whether to allow a one-off sale, which would be followed by a resting period of nine years, during which no further proposals for ivory trade or export quotas would be submitted. That would give time for the impact of the one-off sale to be closely monitored and assessed. That work is ongoing. The sale took place in late 2008, and the ivory arrived in Japan and China in early 2009. It is important that we monitor the effects of that before we reach any other decision, which refers me back to my response to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall).
Nick Herbert: The Minister is not sending a clear signal. We should be choking the ivory market, not stoking it. Where is the morality behind selling stockpiles of an illegally traded good just because it raises money? Robert Mugabe just spent the receipts on 4x4 vehicles. Would we take the same attitude to selling seized weapons or drugs for profit? Is it not time that the British Government showed some leadership and demanded that ivory stockpiles be destroyed once and for all?
Let me refer to the counter-proposals submitted by a number-not all, because it is not supported universally-of central and west African countries to extend the resting period from the existing
nine years to 20 years, during which no ivory trading could take place. I want to make it clear that the UK supports-including financially-the monitoring the illegal killing of elephants programme and the elephant trade information system. The right way to do that is to monitor the effect of that one-off sale and to see what happens, but in the meantime not to allow any further trade. The hon. Gentleman is proposing a pre-emptive strike by ruling out anything regardless of the monitoring.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): The UK's response to the Commission's Green Paper on the reform of the common fisheries policy sets out our objectives to achieve the prosperous and sustainable exploitation of fish stocks. The response makes it clear that there must be more regionalised decision making, genuine integration of fisheries with other marine policies, longer-term management planning, greater flexibility and certainty in the system and a mechanism to ease the transition to a sustainable and profitable future.
Mr. Goodwill: Does the Minister agree that the two key elements are the devolution of day-to-day management to local and regional stakeholders and a land-all policy linked to a secondary market for fish that cannot otherwise be marketed to form a feed stock for the aquaculture industry?
Huw Irranca-Davies: We are very supportive of that. In fact, we have been playing a leadership role in promoting the idea of a regionalisation of management, which would still involve ministerial accountability and the overarching strategy. The hon. Gentleman is right about the idea of a land-all policy. We need to consider innovative approaches, such as the agreement that we signed last year to look at electronic monitoring on vessels, with the agreement of skippers, to land more and kill less. That relates especially to the abhorrent issue of discards, which skippers, as much as anyone else, abhor.
John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware that fishing is very important in Scotland, and I am sure that he has heard from fisheries people there on many occasions. However, does he appreciate that they have to have a say in what is happening? It is important in Scotland in particular, which has such a large fishing community, that they have a say in the strategy.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, and we have had a great deal of engagement already in bringing forward our proposals, which I note have a wide sign-up from Scottish fisheries and their leadership and more widely in the UK. However, we will continue that engagement, including through another marine and fisheries stakeholder forum to be held in May and a North sea regional conference on CFP reform in March, where I hope to speak. We will continue the engagement with all parts of the UK.
Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): There is a widespread view around coastal communities that if people disagree with the Minister's Department, they get cut out of negotiations on important issues. I was contacted just today by the Thanet Fishermen's Association, which has been waiting since the beginning of last November for a reply on the transfer of unused quotas. Will the Minister give the fishing community and other organisations interested in CFP reform the firm assurance that they will be involved in negotiations on this important matter, even if they disagree with his Department's stance?
Huw Irranca-Davies: Yes, absolutely, but that is not to say that we will always agree. In fact, fishermen often accuse me of over-consulting and over-engagement, which can make it difficult for them to get to meetings and to engage with these matters. I guarantee that we will do as the hon. Gentleman asks, but that does not mean that we should walk away from the difficult decisions on moving from where we are now to achieving a long-term sustainable future. I know that, in his heart of hearts, he agrees with that.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dan Norris): The DEFRA-funded Waste and Resources Action Programme-known as WRAP-worked with 260 local authorities on recycling, food waste collection and waste prevention projects in the past year and is awarding £3.3 million in funding to authorities to expand food waste collection. Local authority efforts have collectively boosted national recycling rates to over 37 per cent., and we are now working via WRAP to enhance collection, sorting, reprocessing and end markets for mixed plastics recycling.
Mr. Sanders: What specific support can the Government give to my own local authority, which has a recycling rate of just 27 per cent., to enable it to bring that rate up to the level of 57 per cent. that is being achieved by the next-door authority, Teignbridge?
Dan Norris: This really is a matter for local authorities. The recycling rate in the hon. Gentleman's unitary authority, Torbay, is actually higher than he suggested, but it is still about 10 per cent. behind the average for local authorities in the west country. He certainly needs to talk to the local authority and ensure that it is getting the message that it needs to get on with this. It recycles five different forms of waste, which is to be encouraged-we suggest a minimum of two, but we want local authorities to go up to five-but it is clearly not doing as well as the best, and I suggest that he takes that up with the authority, as this is a local matter.
Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): What discussions has my hon. Friend had with the National Farmers Union on linking on-farm anaerobic digestion and composting much more closely to local government waste and recycling strategies?
Dan Norris: I have not had a meeting with the NFU directly-such discussions would happen through the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick)-but I am aware of those concerns. Anaerobic digestion is an important issue. We want to minimise the amount of waste that is created in the first place, as well as encouraging reuse and recycling. We also want to create energy from waste, so that it can make a productive difference rather than just going into landfill.
Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): Does the Minister agree that massive incinerators, such as the one that has been proposed for Hartlebury in my constituency, should play a part in waste disposal only when the maximum possible effort has been made to recycle waste locally first, and that other technologies should be explored before turning to large-scale incineration?
Dan Norris: I met the hon. Gentleman earlier this week to discuss his concerns about the proposals for an incinerator in his constituency. He knows that I see that as the last option, with the possible exception of landfill. Local authorities certainly need to explore every other option before they turn to that one.
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): Is it not the case, however, that vast quantities of material collected for recycling cannot be recycled by industry, because the quality is not good enough? We are landfilling glass, which is completely recyclable, and exporting paper to China in order to meet our recycling targets, because there is not sufficient recycling capacity in this country. Will my hon. Friend meet representatives of the packaging industries to discuss these issues before our recycling targets are increased further?
Dan Norris: I am always happy to meet those who are worried about this issue. They are right to have concerns, and we will certainly continue to consult thoroughly on this. However, figures released only this morning show that recycling has gone up to 38.3 per cent., so we are well on the way to meeting our 40 per cent. target for this year. That is encouraging, but creating better quality waste makes it more valuable, and that should be an incentive for local authorities and others to work harder.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I regularly receive representations from a range of interested parties, including water companies, drainage contractors and private sewer owners, about the proposed transfer of private sewers to the water companies in England and Wales in 2011.
Hilary Benn: Yes, I do. We consulted on this in 2007, and the change has been widely welcomed. In essence, it will create a kind of national insurance system for householders who had no idea that they faced any liability until something went wrong and they discovered that they were connected to a private sewer and were presented with an enormous bill. Handling the matter in this way represents a very sensible step forward.
Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): Many residents in rural areas-I am thinking of the Summerland estate near Enmore in my constituency-depend on septic tanks, yet their uptake is a huge financial burden to families, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet during the recession. Will the Secretary of State take the advice of Natural England and ensure that private septic tank systems are also transferred to the responsibilities of water companies?
Hilary Benn: Obviously, by definition, private septic tanks are separate, and that is not something that we are currently proposing to do. I would be happy to look further into the matter and to respond to the hon. Gentleman. I think we have to recognise that it is the transfer of the sewerage system that we have already made clear we wish to move across that will provide the principal benefit, although I recognise the situation in which his constituents find themselves.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): We all want to see a transfer of private drains and sewers to water companies; we would prefer it to be planned. Does the Secretary of State accept that by not publishing the guidance at this stage, well before the general election, he is giving insufficient time for the water and sewerage companies to plan for this transfer?
Hilary Benn: As I have already indicated, I do not think that there is enough time for this to be effective in the way that we have set it out. We will publish the consultation in the next couple of months. There has been a great deal of discussion in preparation for this happening, as the hon. Lady knows from the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) during our debate on the Flood and Water Management Bill. It is a good step. I think that there is a groundswell of support for it, and we should get on and make it happen.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) last visited East Anglia in April. During his visit, he met MPs, community groups and local authority representatives and discussed a range of issues on flood and coastal erosion risk management in the region. I am, as ever, happy to meet colleagues to discuss this very important matter.
Mr. Bellingham: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but is he aware of the anger and dismay expressed by many communities along the north Norfolk coast which are very concerned that the north Norfolk shoreline management plan envisages the use of managed retreat rather than improving existing sea defences? Will he confirm that managed retreat will play no part in his Department's future sea defence policy?
Hilary Benn: I cannot confirm that because, depending on what happens to sea level rise, it would be a very unwise Secretary of State to stand at this Dispatch Box and say, "No, not under any circumstances." However, I am aware of the concerns expressed by a number of the hon. Gentleman's constituents about the north Norfolk plan, particularly the proposal for realignment where, I think, the River Burn comes out of the estuary by Scolt Head, but we will review these proposals and I understand that revised options will be put to a meeting of elected members at a forum on Monday.