Previous Section Index Home Page

River Pollution (House Building)

16. Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Environment Agency on the effect on river pollution of the level of house building. [315390]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jim Fitzpatrick): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Minister for marine and natural environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), held discussions with the Environment Agency in November 2009 regarding the approval of the river basin management plans developed under the water framework directive, which were published on 22 December 2009. Those discussions covered the implications of housing growth and other pressures on meeting our water quality objectives, as well as the Environment Agency's plans to improve water quality during the first river basin planning cycle, which runs from 2009 to 2015.

Mrs. Miller: I thank the Minister for his reply. The Environment Agency, the Hampshire and Isle of Wight wildlife trust and a new residents group, "Save our Loddon Valley Environment" are gravely concerned that the River Loddon in Basingstoke is polluted with phosphate levels six times the legal standard. Will the Minister confirm that his Department will endorse new house building only if it does not involve perpetuating river pollution of this scale?

Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Lady raises a very important point. It is quite straightforward for us that the Departments for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for Communities and Local Government, the Environment Agency and Ofwat work together to ensure that environmental limits in regional spatial strategies and predicted housing growth data are aligned with water resource management plans and river basin management plans. The water framework directive has raised the bar in terms of what we need to achieve. DEFRA and the DCLG are working together with the Environment Agency to produce water and planning guidance. They
4 Feb 2010 : Column 444
are aware of the phosphate issue that the hon. Lady correctly raises, and I know that it is very much under review.

Water Abstraction Licensing

17. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): When he plans to remove Crown immunity from arrangements for control of water abstraction licensing. [315391]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): We consulted last summer on the removal of certain exemptions from abstraction licence control, including the one that currently applies to the Crown. When we remove those exemptions, Crown bodies will become subject to the same licensing regime as other abstractors. We are now considering the response to the consultation.

Robert Key: The River Avon, which flows through my constituency, is a special area of conservation and has one of the highest water qualities among UK rivers, but the management of the Avon basin is being made much more difficult by the fact that the Ministry of Defence is subject to Crown immunity. It is impossible to plan sensibly and sustainably for water abstraction, low-flow problems and so on unless the MOD participates in joined-up government by simply opening up and saying, "Yes, we take this much out and put that much in."

Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point. That is why the consultation proposed that Crown immunity be removed. I know that he is particularly concerned about water abstraction in Tidworth, and the proposals for new MOD housing and other development. We intend to take action that will give him what he seeks when we have finished reflecting on the responses to the consultation.

Sustainable Fisheries

18. Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): If he will assess the merits of the effort-based approach to fish stock conservation in operation in the Faroe Islands.[315392]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): The Government will draw on the experience of many fisheries management systems throughout the world, including the one that operates in the Faroes, when considering the nature of necessary improvements to the management of fish stocks under the reform of the common fisheries policy. We need to focus on the long-term sustainability of EU fish stocks.

Mr. Pelling: Thank you for managing the business so effectively, Mr. Speaker, to get to Question 18.

I am grateful for the Minister's constructive reply. In an earlier answer, he decried the discard. The common fisheries policy is hardly a green policy. Does he think it possible for the Government to draw on the lessons of the Faroe Islands to bring about a real change in it?

Huw Irranca-Davies: Yes, indeed. The Faroes are not the only example in the world of the use of effort management. It can be used in different ways, and it has
4 Feb 2010 : Column 445
some benefits. From our point of view, however, it involves some difficult issues, including the question of how we can move from our present arrangements to an effort-management regime. We need to think about the conversion of effort management into fishing days in the context of our current quota, and about the ability of the system to respond rapidly to what is happening to species, particularly in mixed fisheries.

We are already taking action. We do not need to wait for CFP reform in order to tackle discards. I believe that some of the on-board electronic monitoring systems that we are hoping to introduce later in the year will help to signpost the way forward.

Anaerobic Digestion

20. Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): How many anaerobic digestion facilities have been opened in each of the last three years. [315396]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dan Norris): There is no centrally held record of anaerobic digestion plants. As for facilities where a permit is required under European Union waste legislation, the Environment Agency has confirmed that to date there are 11 permitted anaerobic digestion facilities, two permit applications in process for facilities, and 51 proposed anaerobic digestion sites in the permit pre-application stage.

Alistair Burt: I am delighted to say that one of the anaerobic digestion facilities, Biogen in Milton Ernest, is in my constituency. I believe that Ministers have visited it. I pay tribute to Andrew Needham and his colleagues for the work that they have done. However, does the Minister share the disappointment expressed by the National Farmers Union on Monday that an opportunity to encourage more on-farm biogas facilities was missed as a result of the failure to adopt an appropriate feed-in tariff to enable their energy to be used?

Dan Norris: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments. We rate anaerobic digestion highly, which is why we invest such a huge sum in it. We have invested £10 million in the anaerobic digestion demonstration programme, and have also convened an anaerobic digestion task group to make recommendations. We are considering those recommendations as we develop the anaerobic digestion implementation plan, which we aim to publish shortly.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises our commitment to anaerobic digestion. As for tariffs, I think that they provide a good incentive. We pay careful attention to the way in which they work in practice, and we will review their operation, but we feel that we have pitched the measures we have taken at the right place and the right time.

Dangerous Dogs

21. Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): What steps he plans to take in response to Professor Sir Patrick Bateson's report on legislation on dangerous dogs. [315397]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jim Fitzpatrick): The Government take the issue of dangerous dogs very seriously. We welcome Professor Bateson's report, which deals mainly
4 Feb 2010 : Column 446
with dog breeding and the way in which dogs are bought and sold. We will be taking views from key organisations before deciding on the Government's response to the issues raised.

I am delighted to tell the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) and I had an opportunity to engage in a preliminary discussion on these important matters yesterday, when we paid a very informative visit to the excellent Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

Martin Linton: My hon. Friend saw during his visit to Battersea that almost half of all the dogs that are admitted are Staffies or Bull-breed crosses. Most have to be put down even though they are of sound temperament, because back-street breeders are selling puppies in pubs-often to complete strangers-for £250. Does he accept that the dog control laws are no longer fit for purpose, and will he institute a review looking not only at the Bateson report, but at compulsory microchipping, a minimum age for dog ownership and some form of registration for breeders?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I cannot agree to the call for a review, because I understand that that has formal implications in respect of the procedures of the House, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the Bateson report will inform Government policy on this important issue. Recent tragic attacks have demonstrated that these very dangerous dogs still present a danger in ordinary people's homes, so we do need to look at the issue, and I agree with my hon. Friend that the Bateson report gives us an opportunity to do so.

Endangered Species

23. Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): What the Government's position is on the proposals about elephants submitted for the 15th meeting of the conference of the parties to the convention on international trade in endangered species. [315399]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): At the 15th conference of parties to CITES, the UK will vote against proposals from Tanzania and Zambia to sell their ivory stocks, and we are urging other countries to do the same. We are awaiting the findings of a CITES panel of experts before taking a view on the proposals by Zambia and Tanzania to down-list their elephant populations.

Mr. Burns: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer; his response will be widely welcomed on both sides of the House. Will he give us an assessment of the damage to the elephants if those applications are granted?

Hilary Benn: As the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), said a few moments ago, there was the decision on the one-off sale, but we have always been very clear that we have to see what the consequences are, and if the point about damaging consequences that the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), made is true, we will not support that again. We are already in favour of a nine-year ban. It is important to look at the evidence, and that is why we are so strongly opposed to what Zambia and Tanzania
4 Feb 2010 : Column 447
currently propose; it does not give sufficient time for the answer to the question to be found. That is why we have taken this decision, and I hope very much that other participants at the CITES meeting will follow the lead the United Kingdom and other countries have taken.

Topical Questions

T1. [315400] Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): As this is the first Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Question Time since David Taylor's very untimely death, may I just say how much we all miss him? He was a very regular attender at this occasion and a passionate supporter of the environment, and he was a very fine Member of Parliament and human being.

DEFRA's job is to help us all live within our environmental means. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that the new grocery supply chain code of practice, which will help suppliers receive fair terms and conditions from supermarkets, comes into force today. The Government have also accepted the Competition Commission recommendation that an independent body be introduced to enforce the code. This body will help to strike the right balance between farmers and food producers getting a fair deal and supermarkets enabling consumers to get the high-quality British food that they want at an affordable price. We will publish a consultation on how to implement this tomorrow.

Mr. Swayne: I thank the Secretary of State for his fitting tribute to David Taylor.

Countless generations of schoolboys and girls will know about the erosion of the cliffs at Barton-on-Sea from their O-level and GCSE geography lessons, but is the Secretary of State aware of the anxiety and alarm that the current consultation on managing the erosion is causing, and will he favour me with a meeting, including also his colleague the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), to discuss what is achievable and affordable with the stakeholders?

Hilary Benn: I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. I think he and I already have a date in the diary to talk about weed control, which he raised at our last Question Time, so perhaps we can deal with the two issues at the same meeting.

T3. [315402] John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): Following yesterday's publication of a survey of the country's nature-rich small pools which found that eight out of 10 of them were in a terrible state, what does the Department propose to do to tackle this problem, which is of great interest not only to the wildlife itself, but to people who are interested in wildlife?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca- Davies): It is a very good question, and we have confidence in the report's findings, which show some improvements within rivers and other waterways; however,
4 Feb 2010 : Column 448
the deterioration of ponds is specified. Pond Conservation acknowledges in its press release on the report that the news is not all bad. In fact, ponds close to rivers and other wetlands were higher quality, suggesting that there is something of a "protective network" effect when different types of freshwater habitats are close together. However, we, Natural England and other partners will work together to make sure that we can deal with this degradation, and Natural England is contributing £6 million to help create new landscape-scale wetlands.

T2. [315401] Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): May I associate myself with the Secretary of State's comments about the late David Taylor? He was an exceptional member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.May I also put it to the Secretary of State that in 2015, Britain may face a new waste mountain of FM radios? If the proposal goes through to turn off the FM signal and move solely to digital, very large numbers of perfectly serviceable radios with many years of life left will simply have to be thrown away. In the context of the Digital Economy Bill and work on this area, what work will be undertaken to evaluate the sustainability and waste implications of this proposal?

Hilary Benn: The right hon. Gentleman raises an extremely good point, and I will look into this issue and come back to him. In the meantime, I hope the House will have noted that from the first of this month, we have had a system in place for recycling the very large number of batteries used-some of which go into the FM radios he referred to-in order to make it easy for consumers going back to the shops where they bought them to pop them in the bin and ensure that they are recycled.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): May I associate myself with the remarks about my good friend David Taylor?

Will the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), in looking at how we can make our approach to fishing more sustainable and alter the common fisheries policy, examine how we can improve procurement from public bodies, using only fish from sustainable stocks?

Huw Irranca-Davies: That is an extremely important point, and there is now widespread recognition of the tick-box scheme-the Marine Stewardship Council scheme, and so on-which supermarkets are increasingly using. I notice-this sounds like product placement-that Marks & Spencer is making a big deal of this at the moment, but the Co-op, Sainsbury's and others are pushing very hard. DEFRA has a complete policy across the Department, and we are working across Government. We need to drive this down to local government as well, and to other agencies. It is important that we eat fish that comes from sustainable sources.

T4. [315403] John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): On the Department's priorities of sustainable consumption and sustainable development, what discussions have there been between it and the Department for Transport about bus regulation and whether regulation outside London needs to be modified to provide more sustainable systems of resource consumption?

4 Feb 2010 : Column 449

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jim Fitzpatrick): The hon. Gentleman will know that the Local Transport Bill dealt with bus deregulation and the position in London vis-à-vis the rest of the country. We are discussing with the Department for Transport a number of air quality issues affecting transport, and those discussions will continue.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Has my hon. Friend had a chance to see the Environmental Investigation Agency report, published on Monday, into the use of hydroflurocarbons in supermarkets, which demonstrates that their use is not being cut as much as we would like? They are 4,000 times more potent in terms of global warming than carbon dioxide-the equivalent in emissions of 5.6 billion plastic bags. May I urge my hon. Friend to legislate to create a level playing field, in order to reduce the use of these gases in supermarket refrigeration?

Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend is well known for leading on this issue and pushing the Government as hard as possible to achieve action. I have already had one meeting with him, and I am aware of the report, which we are studying. He knows that the matter was discussed at Copenhagen, and I believe there is an early-day motion down in his name that is gathering many signatures. This is an important issue and we will need to make progress on it in due course.

T5. [315405] Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): Can the Minister explain to John Porter, a dairy farmer in my constituency, why, like many farmers across England, he has still not received any 2009 payments under the single payment scheme, at a time when it has been revealed that the Rural Payment Agency's chief executive received an £11,000 bonus in the last financial year?

Jim Fitzpatrick: We have discussed the Rural Payments Agency a number of times in recent months. Its performance over recent years has improved year on year. It was able to meet its targets for this year six weeks ahead of schedule. I understand that it has concluded payments to 88 per cent. of farmers, which is more than last year. More money is also being paid out than last year. An improvement has been made, but some farmers have still not yet received their payments. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to write to me about any particular problem that he identifies, because I would be very happy to get the matter examined as soon as possible.

Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab): David Taylor's absence this morning is indeed marked.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the quality of the farmed environment is as important to those of us who live in cities as it is to those who are fortunate enough to live and work in the countryside? Will he give us a progress report on the campaign for the farmed environment?

Next Section Index Home Page