Previous Section Index Home Page

24 Jun 2010 : Column 427

Mrs Spelman: Obviously, the common agricultural policy determines in large part the remuneration that farmers receive, and taxpayers from all member states contribute to its funding. As the hon. Gentleman will just have heard, I have made it clear that, as part of the CAP reform negotiations that will take place shortly, my objective is to ensure that we get the best deal for farmers, taxpayers and consumers alike.

T8. [3969] Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Smallholdings in Carshalton suffer badly from fly-tipping. What consideration have the Government given to the National Farmers Union's request to extend fines for people who fly-tip and to extend the Flycatcher database to include private land?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): I am very interested in the NFU's suggestions. I have been following advice on this issue from organisations such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Fly-tipping is by and large a local issue, and it is often solved at a very local level by the immediate community. It is a burden that often falls to landowners, and to farmers, to clear up. We will be working with the NFU to get a better strategy, but also trusting local communities and empowering them with the necessary laws and regulations that they need to bear down on this scourge of the rural environment.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Does the answer that the Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) a few moments ago mean that she will indeed be arguing aggressively within the European Union for Europe-wide cuts in agricultural subsidies?

Mrs Spelman: I have made it clear that my objective as part of the CAP reform negotiations is to get a better deal for Britain's farmers and taxpayers. That should include, for example, proper recognition of the measures that farmers take to protect the environment at the same time as producing food in a sustainable way. The negotiations are at the early stages. It will be quite some time before we know how the UK will be affected, but my objective is to get us the best deal.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): On landfill, the coalition agreement says that the Government hope to promote energy from waste through anaerobic digestion. How will that be done?

Mrs Spelman: My hon. Friend, whose constituency is not far from mine, will perhaps have observed that our local authorities find that the increasing cost of the landfill tax is a strong incentive to try to reduce the amount of material that goes into recycling. There are opportunities for organic waste not to go to recycling at all; it is often composted by people who live in a rural or suburban locations. As regards anaerobic digestion, it is possible to consider collection from places where large quantities are produced, such as hospitals, catering outlets and schools.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): The plan to privatise British Waterways by the back door-that is what the Minister is planning-has been knocking about for decades. What makes him think it will work this time?

24 Jun 2010 : Column 428

Richard Benyon: It is not a plan to privatise British Waterways, but a plan to mutualise it. That was a very good suggestion that was made under the previous Government. It will offer the opportunity for longer-term secure funding. This is the sort of organisation that can exist in a voluntary sector role, as long as it has the proper resources to call on. I urge hon. Members to look carefully at the proposals that are being made. We are listening and consulting; we have not made any decisions yet. This is a method of securing a long-term, viable future for waterways that we all value greatly.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): Will the Minister give the House an update on the health of bees in this country and on what future measures are planned to help the current situation?

Mr Paice: The whole House has always taken a great interest in bee health, and we were very critical when the previous Government initially planned to cut funding for it. My hon. Friend may be aware that this week, using a significant contribution from DEFRA, a £10 million research programme was launched on the whole issue of bees and other pollinators, because we recognise their value to the economy.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): What support can the Secretary of State's Department give to traditional markets to encourage the sale of local produce?

Mrs Spelman: I thank the hon. Lady for that question. As I am sure she has seen, there is now a proliferation of farmers markets in most locations, because consumers very much like the diversity of high-quality produce that they offer. The decision about facilitating a farmers market in a particular location rests with local government. However, I am happy to discuss with colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government how we might give further encouragement so that we see more such markets.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): As part of her forthcoming review of arm's length bodies, will the Secretary of State consider the track record of the Environment Agency in facilitating the introduction of hydroelectric power schemes on rivers? Its indecision and delay are an obstacle to progress on the River Avon in my constituency.

Mrs Spelman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I believe that the question of hydroelectric power is one for the Department of Energy and Climate Change rather than the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. However, the Environment Agency operates as an arm's length body and, as I have previously said, will form part of the review.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): Canals and waterways are vital in my constituency in inner London, where there is a huge renaissance thanks to the Olympics. I welcome the Minister's tone, but what conversations has he had with the Treasury? It is vital that British Waterways is not sold down the canal but is there for the long term, to protect this asset for the British public as a mutual.

Richard Benyon: I am aware that Regent's canal, in the hon. Lady's constituency, is a great heritage asset to that part of London. People who love it, and those who
24 Jun 2010 : Column 429
love the canals in my constituency and elsewhere, will look on with great concern to ensure that that point is made and that the Treasury understands-and it does-the need to provide British Waterways with the endowment it needs to gear up for the necessary repairs and maintenance of our canals.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I welcome the Ministers to their responsibilities. They will probably be aware by now that the previous Government were being taken to court by the WWF and the Angling Trust for non-compliance with the European Union water framework directive. Will the new Government adopt a different strategy on that important environmental legislation, based on involving local communities and stakeholders rather than lawyers?

24 Jun 2010 : Column 430

Richard Benyon: We want to see much greater consultation with local communities, anglers and all sorts of interest groups-

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Liberals?

Richard Benyon: And Liberal Democrats, certainly. We want that consultation on the management of our river systems, and it is important to understand that we are talking about not just river ways but the whole system, including the farmers who ensure that the water that gets into the rivers is clean. The water framework directive is a vital piece of legislation and a good directive with which we want to comply, and we will work with all parties to ensure that it is a success.

24 Jun 2010 : Column 431

Business of the House

11.32 am

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): The business for the week commencing 28 June will include:

Monday 28 June-Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 29 June-Opposition day (2nd allotted day). There will be a full day's debate on local government financing. This debate will arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 30 June-General debate on the progress and prospects in energy efficiency.

Thursday 1 July-General debate on global poverty.

The provisional business for the week commencing 5 July will include:

Monday 5 July-Motion relating to the clear line of sight project, followed by the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Tuesday 6 July-Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Wednesday 7 July-Opposition day (3rd allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 8 July-General debate on defendant anonymity.

Ms Winterton: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business.

It is important that today we take the opportunity to acknowledge that the Leader of the House has been working extremely hard this week to fine-tune his leak-prevention strategy. I certainly detected his guiding hand in the reports of the unprecedented move by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask journalists to sign a written legal agreement that they would only take photographs of him and not ask any questions, just in case he let the cat out of the bag about anything in the Budget. That was a magnificent move, not least because it vindicated the work that the Opposition have been putting in week after week, making helpful and constructive suggestions about how to get the Leader of the House's leak-prevention strategy up to scratch. Sadly for the Chancellor, the media refused to co-operate and, frankly, things have been going downhill ever since.

The Secretary of State for Education announced his plans for free schools to the papers and came to the House only because the Opposition tabled an urgent question. The Secretary of State for Health announced to the media the biggest shake-up of the NHS operating framework at 9.25 on Monday morning, but a written ministerial statement did not appear until 12.40. As for the Budget, most of it, including detailed figures, was in the Sunday papers-my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) made a point of order about that this week.

Obviously, an investigation of what went wrong will be in order, but Labour Members are quietly confident that the Leader of the House and Deputy Leader of the House can become the Government's Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. They might like to have as their prime
24 Jun 2010 : Column 432
suspect the ventriloquist's dummy, the Chief Secretary, who tells us very little when he comes to the House, but may be rather more garrulous with journalists as the Liberal Democrat mouthpiece for Conservative policies. Perhaps the Leader of the House could put in the Library the advice that is being given to the Cabinet about making announcements to the House before making them to journalists.

Why is there no oral statement today from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on changes to the state pension age, which mean that men in their 50s will lose on average £8,000 of state pension?

Last week, the Leader of the House stated that he had set out in response to a written question how the Government would inform Parliament of the numerous reviews and commissions that are taking place. It is not clear from his reply where the review took place that led on Monday to the Prime Minister's saying, in response to an intervention from me, that the Sheffield Forgemasters loan was a piece of "financial engineering". Those remarks have caused huge concern among industrialists in Sheffield and south Yorkshire. The implications of the Prime Minister's words are that he is backing Japanese and Korean industrialists against UK manufacturing. I urge the Leader of the House to provide more information about the reviews' terms of reference.

May we have a general debate on today's findings by the Institute for Fiscal Studies? The IFS shows that, under Labour's plans, the poorest 10% would have been virtually untouched, but under the Chancellor's Budget, their incomes are cut by more than 2.5%. Even the Government's appointed public sector pay commissioner has said that there is no logic to the brutish cuts that the Chancellor proposes. Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister himself to lead the debate on the IFS findings so that he can explain to the House why he said yesterday that it was a fair Budget?

I thank the Leader of the House for granting the general debate on defendant anonymity. That is very welcome.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her last comment. I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) on her success in the election for the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.

I am afraid that the right hon. Lady is wrong about the written ministerial statement on the NHS operating framework. It was issued on time, just after half-past nine, and the document, which was the subject of the point of order, was deposited in the Library at 9.34 am. All the normal procedures were followed in respect of that document.

It is indeed the case that more urgent questions are being granted. I listened to your important speech to the Hansard Society, Mr Speaker, when you said:

The previous Government also experienced that change of approach. We welcome it and are happy to come to the House to answer urgent questions when they are granted.

On Sheffield, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills dealt with that point extensively
24 Jun 2010 : Column 433
in his speech in the Budget debate yesterday, and I understand that the Deputy Prime Minister is meeting Sheffield Forgemasters tomorrow in his constituency.

So far as welfare is concerned, the right hon. Lady will know that on Monday the Budget debate will be opened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. He will deal robustly with the points that she has made. She will also know that, for the first time, the Red Book contains a whole section on the impact of tax and welfare changes on households, from page 63 all the way to page 69. I am sure that she will have read the conclusion about child poverty on page 69, which says:

Let me say to the right hon. Lady that of course I take seriously the question of leaks, as I have said before. The House should be the first place to hear of any major changes in Government policy, and we also take seriously the suggestion of any leaks in advance of statements. However, on her general point, the House would take the Opposition more seriously, first, if they exhibited just some remorse for the mess that they left this country in, and secondly, if they indicated how they would fill the £50 billion gap in the public finances that they left us to inherit.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Speaker: Order. A great many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As always, I would like to be able to accommodate everybody, but a single, short supplementary question and a characteristically brief reply from the Front Bench are the order of the day.

Mr Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): Now that we realise how much the previous Government misled the public about transport infrastructure investment, promising money that simply did not exist, can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on enabling greater private sector investment in our transport infrastructure, including helping to boost projects such as the regeneration of Crewe railway station in my constituency?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Along with many other hon. Friends, I had occasion to visit Crewe railway station some two years ago, in order to secure his election to the House. He will have heard my right hon. Friend the Chancellor refer in his Budget statement to a generous regional investment fund to take forward transport and other infrastructure projects that will lead to jobs. My hon. Friend will also know that we favour much longer railway franchises, which will enable the train operating companies to take a longer-term view and therefore afford major investment projects such as that in Crewe railway station.

Next Section Index Home Page