Earlier this year “Action for Diabetes” was published, which describes the actions that NHS England is taking to improve diabetes care. It covers many areas, some of

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which have been highlighted during the debate, including developing GP contracts and incentives; working with primary care services to trial and roll out case-finding; and decision-support tools to help to detect and diagnose diabetes earlier. A national conversation is also going on about obesity and taking care of one’s own health. Hon. Members have touched on that with regard to the prevention of type 2. Every member of the public is a part of that conversation. We did not talk much about individuals during the debate, but I think we would all agree that we need constantly to emphasise personal responsibility in relation to preventable or avoidable type 2.

I sometimes worry—I talked about this with the head of Diabetes UK shortly after becoming a Minister—that, because few deaths are recorded as being due to diabetes, rather than its complications, there may be a slightly more relaxed attitude among people who think they might develop diabetes, which they would never in a million years have towards a disease such as cancer, which they would immediately identify as a threat. Through debates such as today’s, and the work that we all do, we can emphasise the fact that, although people may not know many people who can be said to have died of diabetes, they will know many whose diabetes contributed to premature death or a long period of ill health. There is more work for us to do, to get that message out. That is how we can empower people to help themselves.

Jim Shannon: The Minister could not have said a truer word, because many people see diabetes as a disease that they can manage—one that is not too bad. However, she is right: the complications are far reaching and can lead to consequences that are final. In my speech I talked about education, because people must manage the condition themselves, but they need to know what they have to manage. That is my point: some people need the information reinforced, with the seriousness that the Minister expressed.

Jane Ellison: That is right. We need to make sure of that. People cannot be empowered without information. We also know, having a duty to address health inequalities, that some people and groups in the community find things much harder. I was taken by some of what the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr Reed), said about deploying technology more. Work is going on, but I agree with him that we could go further faster with that, to find ways to empower people who may not have a good sense of what to do to take care of their health, and who find it harder than others to obtain the available advice. We must work harder to reach them and I shall talk about NHS health checks in relation to that.

As to the commissioning of integrated care, NHS England is working with other organisations to help to promote services that are integrated around patients’ needs across all settings. There has been much emphasis on that. That body is implementing what it calls a customer service platform to allow patients with diabetes to self-manage, through booking their own appointments, managing their prescriptions, monitoring the care they have received and being able to view their personal health records. That picks up on some of the shadow spokesman’s points.

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NHS England has also produced a sample service specification for the management of type 1 and type 2 diabetes that is based on National Institute for Health and Care Excellence standards. It provides a model for commissioning integrated care for those with diabetes, and also highlights the specific needs of those with type 1 diabetes, where they differ from the needs of those with type 2. If the current trial of the service specification is successful, it will be offered as a tool that all clinical commissioning groups can choose to use to deliver high-quality care. That is therefore an important piece of work in progress.

There is always a challenge for any of us in making sure that the rest are as good as the best. Occasionally when we talk about the challenges of our current health infrastructure I worry about the assumption that there is a model out there, somewhere, that would absolutely guarantee the delivery of completely consistent care in a given area, across the country. In a country such as ours it is not possible to give such a top-down guarantee. Yes, we must find a way to drive care from the top, with a clear sense of direction from the strategy and mandate that we have given the NHS and Public Health England, but we must also put the tools in the hands of the clinicians, as I have been discussing. Most importantly, we must empower individuals and patients to know what they can expect and to demand good care. Nevertheless, I genuinely do not think that we could devise any system in which we could just issue a notice from the centre to say exactly how care will be delivered consistently across the country. We must find other ways to do it.

Mr Jamie Reed: I understand the Minister’s point, but we are talking about nine very simple, fairly cheap tests for people with type 1 diabetes that must be done in a primary care setting by medical professionals. We are talking about blood tests, the blood being processed and the resulting data being made available, all of which are critical to the self-management of the condition. Surely we can insist on those nine tests for every single type 1 diabetic patient.

Jane Ellison: I think that the shadow Minister has slightly misunderstood what I said. Those are the tests and that is exactly the standard to which we want everyone to work. What I am saying is that there is no top-down guarantee. We cannot sit in Whitehall and say, “It must be done like this and that is the end of it.” We have said that that is the standard, and NHS England has set a range of other standards, but to deliver that and to drive that consistency of excellence throughout the country requires a range of tools. We must acknowledge that. That is not to say that we accept patchy service—far from it—but we cannot do it with top-down diktat only; we must drive change at all levels of the system and drive towards excellence.

Mr Sanders: On that point, there is a difference between a treatment, which must be down to the clinician and what is right for the patient, and tests, which should be the same for everyone. They are just tests that would then dictate the right treatment regime, if additional interventions are required. There ought to be a mechanism

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to ensure that the tests are consistent for every patient with diabetes in the country, otherwise what is the point of having them?

Jane Ellison: I agree. The Government, NHS England and Public Health England are all looking at how we drive that consistency. How do we drive consistent excellence? What tools can we use to do that?

Perhaps it would be helpful if I gave an example. Public Health England is developing a tool to drive improvements in diabetes care and iron out variation. It will be launched later this year, and although I am not able to give much detail now, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay will be interested when it is launched. It will provide a clear picture of how diabetes care and outcomes vary across the country and among practices, which will support decisions on how to make improvements.

The Government have made transparency of data a real priority, and being very transparent about what is being delivered and identifying variation is one of the ways in which we can drive the rest to be as good as the best. I suppose I am trying to explain that, although I could send out a memo tomorrow outlining my national diktat on diabetes, that is not how we drive change. It is crunchy, it is detailed and it is about getting to that local variation and ensuring that we drive up standards in every way possible. That is one of the tools we are developing, but there are others as well.

Jim Shannon: In my speech, I called for a strategy that was not just regional but UK-wide, and I hope the Minister can respond to that. Other Members have spoken about the need for an English strategy, but there must also be one for Wales, one for Scotland and one for Northern Ireland. All four must work together so that we can address the issue together. The Melbourne initiative is very much worldwide, so although people refer to England, we must go further. What are the Government doing to initiate a UK-wide strategy?

Jane Ellison: As the hon. Gentleman knows, health is a devolved matter. That is not to say that I am not at all interested in what is going on in Northern Ireland—far from it—but it is nevertheless a devolved matter. As I have said to him in other debates, there is clearly an awful lot that we can learn from each other. People can learn from everything that I report to the House on innovation and the progress that we make in England, as well as, indeed, things that other Health Ministers report from other parts of the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, I currently have no plan for a UK-wide strategy because health is a devolved matter.

Jim Shannon: Will the Minister give way?

Jane Ellison: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I am going to make some progress.

Of course, the fact that health is a devolved matter does not mean that we cannot find areas of joint working, and the Melbourne declaration shows us the way forward on that. That is probably where we end up—the fact that it is devolved does not mean that we cannot share learning and knowledge, learn from one another’s initiatives, or operate in that global context.

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Jim Shannon: I hope that the Minister will accept that I am not being argumentative, but we had a UK-wide strategy until 2013—last year—so we have shown that we can work together. All I am asking really is: why do we not initiate a similar plan to what was there before 2013—a 10-year plan that started in 2003—and have the four regions work together? That is exactly what the Melbourne initiative is about, and we could do it because we have done it before.

Jane Ellison: I will reflect on the hon. Gentleman’s comments and perhaps we will discuss the idea again.

Jim Shannon: Thank you.

Jane Ellison: I want to discuss another area in which we can make a difference by empowering patients. Colleagues might be interested to hear about the patient experience of diabetes services survey, part of the national diabetes audit, in which I know there is always great interest in the House—we regularly answer a number of parliamentary questions about it. The survey measures the health care experiences of people with diabetes in England and Wales. It collects information online from people with diabetes by asking questions about their care using a short, validated questionnaire, and it is being tested.

Any diabetes service in England and Wales should be able to use the survey to get feedback from patients. We want to publish the first results this month or this summer. That is going to be an interesting extra tool in the box, not only to help to drive excellence and drive out variation, but to empower local services to understand at a local level what is going on and how satisfied their patients are with the service being provided. That can lead only to upward pressure to improve services, not least from patients.

Let me talk a little about the NHS health check programme. Alongside the work being done by NHS England to improve the management and care of people with diabetes, the Government are working on prevention and earlier detection, which all Members mentioned. We are continuing to roll out the NHS health check programme, which identifies those aged between 40 and 74 who are at risk of diabetes and other vascular diseases and helps them to reduce that risk. More than 15 million people are currently eligible for an NHS health check. Our economic modelling has shown that the programme has the potential to prevent more than 4,000 people a year from developing diabetes and to detect at least 20,000 cases of diabetes or kidney disease earlier. It is all about helping people to better manage and improve their quality of life.

In the past year, almost 3 million NHS health check offers were made and almost 1.5 million appointments were taken up, during a time of great change across the health system. We are now looking to challenge the system to go further and faster and to continue to increase the number of people who participate in the programme. I have been out and about and seen some great local initiatives. I visited an NHS health check team in Southwark and witnessed the important conversations they were starting with people in their local area.

Another example is Bolton, where health trainers have worked with 134 people identified as being at risk of diabetes through the NHS health check. The health

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trainers have supported people to make lifestyle changes such as eating more healthily and increasing physical activity levels, and they have helped almost half the group to return their glycaemic level to normal. That is really good evidence of effective intervention.

In Tower Hamlets, where more than 50% of the population are from ethnic minority groups, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes has been growing rapidly. To help to combat that, Tower Hamlets has incorporated the health check programme into its managed practice network scheme. I have talked to staff about that and heard about how they are approaching it. Tower Hamlets has worked hard to ensure that all diabetic patients have a care plan, and that focus has resulted in a 70% increase between 2009 and 2012. There has also been a lot of focus on the take-up of retinal screening for people with diabetes, and, again, there has been a significant rise.

We are seeing that such local interventions can really work. I firmly believe that a localist approach is important in some of these areas, because there is no one-size-fits-all approach that we can devise in Westminster that will work for every community. Such local innovations are important. I constantly challenge myself to think about how we can ensure that we spread the word about some of this great local action. We have started initiatives in that regard, but Parliament has a great role to play, and I encourage Members to tell us of effective local initiatives, so that we can spread the word.

Research on the NHS health check programme carried out by Imperial college London and Queen Mary university of London is under way. That research will improve our understanding of who is taking up the opportunity, their risk of cardiovascular disease and the incidence of diseases such as diabetes in those groups. When that work comes back, it will help us to understand how we can make those interventions count more.

We have already talked a little about obesity and sedentary lifestyles. Physical activity is a big priority of this Government, and I have had a couple of meetings in the past couple of days alone on the cross-Government action we are taking to try to hardwire physical activity into all aspects of life. We have a long way to go yet because, for too long, physical activity was left in a silo marked “health” when it is more important than that. We know that all parts of local and national Government need to address inactivity; that is one of the factors that can help to prevent diabetes.

I also want briefly to address the responsibility deal. The Government have been working with business—the hon. Member for Strangford mentioned this—on its responsibility to consider calorie reduction and clearer labelling of food. We are starting to see calories and other contents displayed on the packaging of many more foods, as we roll out consistent food labelling on a voluntary basis across the country.

The Change4Life social marketing campaign, which is one of Public Health England’s flagship programmes, is encouraging individuals to make simple changes, and it is trying to work with people in the way that the shadow Minister mentioned. The campaign is trying to talk to people in language that makes it straightforward and easy for them to understand the good choices they can make for the health of both themselves and their family.

The national child measurement programme’s findings on childhood obesity are encouraging. We know that far too many people are overweight and obese, but we

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are seeing signs of encouragement. In 2012, childhood obesity rates fell for the first time since 1998, so we must not despair over the actions we have all taken and advocated over many years. We are beginning to see that such action can have an effect, but we must never underestimate how far we have to go.

In 2013, the global burden of disease study showed that the UK has the lowest rates of early death due to diabetes of the 19 wealthy countries included in the analysis. The last data on diabetes care showed a 60% completion rate for all eight care processes recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which is a five percentage point improvement on 2010. We see progress, but we know there is much more to do. The Melbourne declaration is a timely reminder of the serious threat posed by the disease across the world, as well as here in the UK. I assure the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay, who led this debate and leads the all-party group in such an exemplary way, that diabetes is a priority on which we continue to work hard. We are pleased to see progress, but we do not underestimate how much more there is to do. Such debates are welcome opportunities to keep the issue firmly on Parliament’s radar.

Dr William McCrea (in the Chair): Mr Sanders, we still have a few moments. Do you want to make a few closing remarks?

3.43 pm

Mr Sanders: When the Minister came to the all-party group, I do not think anyone recognised that it was her first meeting because she carried it off with distinction and quickly won over a lot of friends in the group. She has been a consistent friend throughout the period.

One of the challenges of a bottom-up approach, as has been highlighted in this debate, is getting people to use the information that is out there to drive up standards. People need to be aware of where the information is and how they can best use it, which is a challenge not only for diabetes but across the health service. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions.

3.44 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Dust Pollution/Fly Infestation: Avonmouth

4 pm

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea.

First, I will provide details of an unacceptable state of affairs for my constituents in the village of Avonmouth, and then I shall outline my deep concern about procedural failures by the agencies involved to safeguard residents, with a view to gaining the Minister’s feedback on how we can ensure that such a situation never happens again, or that if it does—heaven forbid—how we ensure that action to help residents is urgent and effective. Residents living in Avonmouth village have had severe complaints about a number of pollution issues, including dust and noise. I shall cover those as well as the most recent incident: a vile infestation of flies throughout the community.

The problem arose about two months ago. Boomeco, a waste firm, had won the contract from local councils to ship refuse-derived fuel material—RDF—from Avonmouth docks to Scandinavia. Boomeco oversaw a sequence of failures involving the inadequate packaging of waste and inadequate overland transport of waste, which resulted in bags splitting open—with birds helping by pecking the bags open further—flies laying eggs in the waste, and a subsequent explosion of newly hatched flies as the weather became warm.

Residents began raising their alarm and concerns in early May, but despite action being taken to remove the source of the flies, no action was taken by any party to remove the flies that were already in the community until I, as the MP, realised that the normal mechanisms of gaining help were not working and sought, by exceptional means, emergency intervention from the elected mayor, George Ferguson. That resulted in Bristol city council’s environmental health department distributing fly spray and fly paper, and fumigating people’s properties, albeit some six to eight weeks after the problem first arose.

Residents’ main frustration has been the sluggishness of all agencies to respond to their urgent concerns about the health hazards posed by the infestation of flies in homes and local businesses. I was given repeated reassurances by the Environment Agency that the problem was either in hand or about to die out the next day, or indeed that there was no problem at all.

In terms of resolving the problem at its source, the Environment Agency revoked Boomeco’s licence to operate. I understand that, on 2 June, all cargo from Boomeco was removed from the port with the area cleansed, and that no other RDF will be placed there. I also understand that although the Environment Agency judged that the source of flies had been removed, the port of Bristol has required another RDF handler, Churngold, to remove its RDF cargo from the site, and that some of it was loaded on to a ship last week and Churngold has been required to clear the site of RDF by 21 June, if not sooner, after which the site will be cleansed. However, there has been sustained unwillingness from the Environment Agency and environmental health bodies in particular to acknowledge the difference between removing the source of the problem and removing the manifestation or residue of the problem: the infestation of flies that is still embedded in Avonmouth village.

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I have raised questions with the Environment Agency about the adequacy and nature of its inspection systems for port tenants, and I am seeking information on the number of unannounced inspections that it is undertaking. I am also concerned by the agency’s inability to reflect the reality of a situation in its assessments. In providing evidence of my concerns, I will give examples of apparently inadequate assessment relating to dust and noise pollution.

After several weeks of trying to get action from the relevant bodies to solve the fly infestation problem, I was sent an e-mail from the Environment Agency on Friday 6 June stating:

“My team also called on a number of residents. Views about fly numbers were mixed, but there was a general view that the fly numbers were not at problematic levels.”

I am sorry to say this, but either that team was not in an Avonmouth anywhere near Bristol or did not speak to residents, or it was seriously misleading about what the residents said.

In my extensive conversations with many residents in the area on that day, there was not a single one who did not think the flies were a serious problem. It was because that concern was so high and the flies were such a problem, and after realising that formal routes were not working, that I directly requested that the elected mayor use emergency contingency funding, if necessary, to get fumigation, fly spray, fly paper and anything else that was needed by residents. I am astounded that the Environment Agency claimed that flies were not a problem, but that explains why action was not forthcoming—the myth was propagated that there was no problem to solve.

The Environment Agency assessors also appear to have been inadequate in their assessment of dust pollution in the area. Residents have raised concerns about the content of dust that is falling on their houses, and especially about the magnetic nature of some of that dust. Of course, it is inevitable that ports produce dust, but it is unacceptable if a port is responsible for there being illegally toxic or dangerous dust in communities. It is the Environment Agency’s job to establish if that is the case, but I am not confident that that job has been done properly.

I hope that you will forgive me, Dr McCrea, but I realise that I should have started my speech by drawing attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I hope that you will acknowledge that as if it was done at the start of the debate. I offer my apologies.

I am not confident that the job of assessing the dust has been done properly because, for example, when assessing the contents of a resident’s fish pond filter, the Environment Agency’s assessment—that there was no problem—was in direct conflict with the opinion of a fish expert who examined the filter and advised an immediate clean-out of the pond due to the toxic nature of its contents. Residents are worried that Environment Agency assessments of other dust samples have been incomplete and inadequate, and I understand that they have had to pay for sample assessments to get a more adequate breakdown of the dust’s contents.

It has also been reported to me that an Environment Agency officer’s assessment of the noise levels of a tenant of the port was lacking in several key respects.

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Given the quality of other information that the agency has provided, I am afraid that I do not find that hard to believe.

I have also been disappointed by Bristol city council’s attitude on the legal viability of serving abatement notices on firms that break legal noise levels. I have urged the council to seek a second legal opinion from a non-council lawyer and reconsider its legal options. By being slow in serving abatement notices for any illegally high noise levels, the council is setting a precedent that even though activities may involve illegal noise levels, they are acceptable, which may have implications for licensing. That is of grave concern.

Let me return to the most recent pollution incident: the flies. A large number of bodies are involved in this case—North Somerset council and Bristol city council, whose refuse was being shipped; Boomeco, which was responsible for shipping it; the port, which is the landlord of Boomeco, the tenant; the Environment Agency; and Bristol city council again, as it has environment health responsibility for the area—so the onus of responsibility for the ongoing incident is complex. However, I am concerned that there is no plan in place to ensure that in such an emergency situation—anyone living in the area will say that it is an emergency—action comes first, with ascertaining responsibility for who picks up the bill coming second.

Will the Minister please make it clear what responsibilities those different bodies have for ensuring that residents are kept safe from such health hazards? What responsibility do they have to ensure that an emergency plan is ready, and what actions can the Government take to ensure that they have such a plan so that residents are protected?

I understand that, according to Government requirements, the port of Bristol does not have any choice about handling RDF cargo. Will the Government reassess the suitability of ports that are in such proximity to communities handling that waste? Will the Minister examine whether the Environment Agency’s assessment mechanisms are fit for purpose? The agency has lost the trust of local taxpayers, and I am deeply concerned by its ability to assess not only the fly situation accurately, but the dust and noise pollution. I have asked the EA locally to undertake a review of why its assessments appear to have been so inaccurate.

Finally, can the Minister give any reassurance to residents that the Government will look closely at why such incidents occur and put all measures in place to ensure that they do not? Will the Government do all that they can to urge Bristol city council, the Environment Agency and all other bodies involved to do their utmost strenuously to tackle this ongoing problem? There is still a plague of flies even as I speak—it has not subsided. If, by any diabolical combination of circumstance, a pollution incident does occur, will the Government work with local bodies to ensure that residents are at the top of the priority list for help, rather than being treated like second-class citizens in a third-world country, as many people in Avonmouth currently feel is the case?

4.10 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dan Rogerson): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Dr McCrea. I congratulate the hon. Member

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for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on securing this debate, which is important for her constituents who have experienced issues that have caused them great disquiet and inconvenience. I thank her for bringing those issues to our attention, so that we can, I hope, address some of the potential underlying causes as well as the symptoms, which are hopefully being dealt with as we speak.

The Environment Agency will carry out a joint air quality monitoring exercise with Bristol city council and Public Health England at the port, during which they will sample airborne dust and establish the prevailing direction from which the dust arises, allowing the agency to characterise its nature. This exercise will start shortly, but may need to continue for some time if we are to trace the source or sources of the dust accurately. A range of activities are potential sources of dust. For example, there is a stockpile of coal at the docks. If the dust is attributable to any of the operations subject to an environmental permit granted by the Environment Agency, it will work with the operator to minimise those emissions.

In respect of the fly infestation, I understand from the Environment Agency that one company was responsible for storing household-type waste destined to be used as refuse-derived fuel or RDF. This black-bag waste is sorted and baled at a waste management site a couple of miles away from the docks and sent to the docks for storage prior to export. The Environment Agency had allowed the company to operate under a regulatory position that allowed the temporary storage of this material without an environmental permit, provided that the operator met specific environmental controls.

Following complaints raised in May, the Environment Agency withdrew the regulatory position and asked the operator to remove the stored waste. The Environment Agency has confirmed that all the RDF waste had been removed from the site by 3 June. The area has been cleaned and has remained clear since then. A second company—the hon. Lady mentioned it—is carrying out a similar waste operation, but is not thought to have contributed to the recent fly infestation. As she also mentioned, that company, too, has now been asked to cease its activities by the port authorities.

I am assured that the Environment Agency has been engaging with the hon. Lady and will continue to do so. She has clearly expressed her dissatisfaction with some actions taken by the agency. I know that she met the agency recently to explore—

4.11 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.29 pm

On resuming

Dan Rogerson: I offer my commiserations to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West, but congratulate her on an energetic campaign for the chairmanship of the Select Committee on Health.

Before the Division, I was discussing the Environment Agency’s approach to engaging with my hon. Friend and residents. While she mentioned previous failures in

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communication, I hope that we have now moved on and that the agency is keeping her fully briefed. I will respond to my hon. Friend’s questions, but I will first continue to cover the issues raised with me by the Environment Agency in preparation for the debate.

The necessary legislative safeguards are in place to ensure that the risk to the environment and human health from waste management is minimised through the environment permitting system. I have made it clear to the Environment Agency that it has my full support in taking a tougher approach against those who, by their actions or omissions, demonstrate a deliberate and often repeated disregard for the law and the environment. In December last year, I wrote to the chairman of the Environment Agency, Lord Smith, and outlined areas for action, including greater scrutiny of prospective operators, such as of their financial resources, and increasing the inspection of poorly performing sites.

It has been estimated that the cost of waste crime to the UK economy is between a staggering £300 million and £800 million a year. That figure could of course be substantially higher as the full nature of waste crime means it is difficult to estimate the true cost, including tax evasion. Good progress in tackling waste crime has been made in some areas, however. For example, the number of active illegal waste sites is at its lowest for four years. In the year ending 31 March 2013, the Environment Agency’s task force closed down nearly 1,300 illegal waste sites, which is more than in any previous year. Reported fly-tipping incidents have also fallen year on year. The National Fly-tipping Prevention Group has also published its fly-tipping framework, which includes best practice on prevention, reporting, investigation and clearance of fly-tipping. The Sentencing Council guidelines to the courts on environmental offences will come into effect next month, meaning that the courts can hand down penalties that will act as a greater deterrent to offending. Despite the tough constraints on public finances, we secured an extra £5 million in the 2014 Budget specifically for tackling waste crime. We are committed to using the funding to target effort and resources on those areas where it will make the biggest difference.

The Environment Agency established a waste fires task and finish group in July 2013. Several hon. Members have raised waste fires as a potential problem, so I passed on those concerns to the agency to ensure that we get the processes right and that intervention is early when things are going wrong. My hon. Friend contended that matters that have been raised with the agency at an early stage have not been followed up quickly enough, so I will feed that into my discussions with the chief executive. Much more needs to be done, however. Earlier today I was speaking at the waste industry and profession’s annual conference, where I outlined the work that DEFRA and the Environment Agency are doing to tackle waste crime and poor or sub-standard operations. I will be writing to the key stakeholders about that shortly.

My hon. Friend mentioned refuse-derived fuel, which is produced both for the domestic market and for export and is limited to material that cannot be effectively recycled. The combination of fuel and technology is sufficient to deliver clear environmental benefits. That is why we issued a call in March for evidence to businesses, councils and stakeholders involved in the RDF industry. The aim of the call was to gain a greater understanding

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of the RDF market in England, and of any issues associated with the market, some of which my hon. Friend has outlined here, and how they might best be addressed. The call closed on 9 May and we are currently analysing the responses.

My hon. Friend asked who had responsibility for different aspects of regulation and enforcement. To clarify, the Environment Agency has responsibility for measures to prevent harm to the environment and to prevent harm and nuisance at the sites that it regulates. It has been said that the sites in question were not permitted, which is something that we will discuss with the agency. The local authority is responsible for the temporary storage of waste that is in transit. Public Health England is responsible for offering advice to ensure that the local community is protected if there are health concerns. Many of the issues about material in transit through the port will be the responsibility of the local authority. I will reflect on the issues my hon. Friend has raised and will write to her to examine how the responsibilities should apply in this particular case, so that the residents of Avonmouth can be reassured that they are properly protected from harm and nuisance.

Regarding the suitability of the docks and their proximity to the residents whom my hon. Friend represents, the Environment Agency has powers to take action against any harm or pollution caused by waste. Where a site operates on a permanent basis, the EA imposes conditions in an environmental permit to mitigate any risk from a particular site, which brings us back to whether the site in question was permanent and whether it should have been operating under a formal permit, which would have allowed more conditions to be imposed. I have set out that the EA will be monitoring dust levels, which I hope will be of some reassurance to my hon. Friend, so that we have proper evidence to trace back any potential causes of dust nuisance for her residents, which can then be dealt with.

My hon. Friend asked whether I think that the Environment Agency is fit for purpose. Yes, I do. I have worked with many people from the agency throughout the recent extreme weather events and on tackling waste crime. The agency’s structure and professionalism are of a high standard. That is not to say that we cannot improve in everything that we do. If anyone from the Government stood here and said that every agency was perfect, they would soon get short shrift. I will reflect on the issues that my hon. Friend has brought here on the behalf of her residents. Perhaps we can correspond in writing regarding any further concerns, in particular about dust monitoring. I thank her for bringing the subject to the attention of the Department and of the Chamber.

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Sulphur Regulations

4.35 pm

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea.

I am pleased to have secured this debate on a pressing issue that could have serious consequences for jobs in my constituency and the rest of the UK. I have several concerns about the regulations and several questions that I would like the Minster to address. I am worried that the EU regulations, which come into force on 1 January 2015, could put at risk over 350 jobs in my constituency and 2,000 jobs in ports across the UK. I am concerned that the European Commission and the Government have not done enough to measure the impact of the directive on local economies such as that in Hull. I am grateful to the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and the UK Chamber of Shipping for their briefings on a topic that is clearly a concern for all. The UK Chamber of Shipping and the RMT have produced estimates on the impact of the implementation of the regulations, and it is unclear whether the Government have fully assessed the evidence and are satisfied that the regulations will not dramatically undermine the shipping industry. I hope the Minister can provide some assurances that the Government have properly investigated the evidence and additional costs associated with the regulations.

I am persuaded that in an attempt to do all that we can to protect jobs, shipping companies should be given more flexibility to implement new rules in a way that does not undermine jobs. What does the Minister think of that? I will, however, add a cautionary note for the shipping industry. I am conscious that it has had several years—I believe since 2008—to prepare for the changes and substantial amounts of tax relief, in the form of tonnage tax, to aid transition. I hope that the additional costs are not used simply to reduce the payroll bill and that the industry does not use existing loopholes in legislation to meet additional costs by recruiting low-cost crew at non- UK ratings. However, the Government have a role to play in the transition and I solicit the Minister’s views on the possibility of providing mitigating support to maritime businesses to ensure stability in the shipping sector.

The Humber is the UK’s busiest trading route and positive things are happening in the estuary. Companies such as Siemens and Associated British Ports are investing millions into Hull, and there is no doubt that affordable shipping between Hull and Europe is imperative to this investment. That is why we need certainty that nothing will undermine our local shipping industry and the economic development of our ports. We need our ports to be open for business and to ensure that exporters are not priced out of using ferries sailing out of Hull.

Over the coming years, shipping and freight to the Humber will be more important than ever. I am therefore worried by a report in the Financial Times, in which Jens Holger Nielson, chief executive of Samskip, a freight company that runs into the Humber, says in response to the regulations that they will

“shut transport routes and companies across Europe”.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend for shining a spotlight on such an important issue. In addition to the point that he has

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rightly made about the likely impact of the regulations on the shipping industry and jobs, are we not also likely to see forecourt diesel prices driven up, with all that that means, and the danger of thousands more lorries on our roads as the price of transport by ship goes up relative to road transport? Does he agree that the Government need to say what they have done to avert that and what they will do now to ensure that common sense prevails?

Karl Turner: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. He is absolutely right, of course, and I will return to that point.

As the Minister is aware, the route between Harwich and Denmark is to close after 140 years, because of declining demand and the £2 million annual cost of cleaner fuel. I am concerned that other routes will follow. Echoing such fears, the Transport Committee reported that the regulations could reduce shipping activity, affect ports and roads, and cause job losses.

Any attempt to reduce sulphur emissions is commendable and no one is arguing against reducing them per se, but I am concerned that this so-called green policy will in fact have a detrimental effect on the environment—as my right hon. Friend said. I agree that increased costs will see a modal shift, with freight travelling by road instead of by sea; road freight emits around 10 times more CO2 per tonne than shipping.

In April 2008, the International Maritime Organisation agreed to reduce sulphur emissions from shipping to ensure that ships only use fuel that emits 0.1% sulphur in designated sulphur emission control areas. The entire eastern and southern seaboards of the UK sit within that control area, so every ship coming in and out of ports from Falmouth to Aberdeen will be required to comply with the regulations on 1 January 2015. At least 220 usual routes operating from the UK will be affected and there is real concern that increased costs will see the closure of many of those routes, resulting in job losses.

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. Does he agree that not only shipping companies are likely to be affected, but fantastically successful ports such as the port of Southampton, which contributes directly to around 15,000 jobs in Hampshire? It is critically important for us to have transitional arrangements so that the private sector investment that has continued in Southampton for many years carries on in future.

Karl Turner: I agree with the hon. Lady, and I thank her for her intervention. For me, the issue is mainly about the loss of employment, and she is right to mention her own constituency because I am sure that she is concerned about employment there. Although the IMO adopted the regulations, it also definitely recognised that flexibility would be required to allow companies the transition time to adapt to the new era without damage to businesses. The hon. Lady made that same point.

Following an inquiry by the Transport Committee, it reported that the regulations would see an 87% rise in fuel costs, and shipping companies estimate that

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approximately €55 million will be added to annual fuel bills. To meet such increased costs on the North sea routes will probably be economically unviable. I am told by P&O Ferries and other shipowners that, in reality, ferries tend to run on tight margins. The costs will create a problem not only for ship operators, but for exporters, leading to a detrimental effect on our region’s exports and tourism.

Hull’s local economy relies heavily on tourism, and Hull city council’s 10-year plan sees tourism as a major contributor to the economic regeneration of the city. Hull will be the city of culture in 2017 and we are working hard locally to ensure we have reliable and affordable transport links. As a result of increased fuel costs and in order to overcome the extra expenditure, ferry operators will no doubt pass them on to their customers or, worryingly, reduce services. It is therefore of great concern that the regulations could have a severe impact on the number of tourists coming through our ports and weaken the much-needed tourism economy.

No one disputes the need to reduce sulphur emissions, but, if we consider the resulting increased use of road haulage and accept that shipping produces considerably less carbon emissions per tonne kilometre than any other commonly used means of freight transportation, the environmental argument for the policy in the regulations is undermined.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate, which is timely, because today the Freight Transport Association is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Does he accept that the argument that we need to focus on is how the regulations will be implemented, and the timing, because the UK Chamber of Shipping has accepted and, in my understanding, is content with the move on sulphur emissions?

Karl Turner: I agree entirely with the hon. Lady; it is true that timing is the issue. Some argue that businesses have had long enough, frankly, and that some assistance has been provided through tax subsidies. However, as a Member for Parliament for east Hull, where unemployment is high, when businesses tell me that they are worried about job losses, I have to be concerned.

The Hull and Humber chamber of commerce has also expressed worries that the regulations will have a negative impact on the local road haulage sector—job losses in that sector as well perhaps. It argues that increased costs will inevitably be passed on to consumers, such as road haulage firms, and those firms may see it as necessary either to travel longer distances by road, with shorter sea crossings, again increasing CO2 emissions, or to relocate to other areas of the UK where the implications of the fuel cost increase are less dramatic. Both options are damaging to the economy and indeed to the environment.

As I have said a few times in my remarks, no one has a problem with reducing sulphur emissions, but I am not convinced that the regulations will achieve that goal. I am not convinced that the Government have fully considered the evidence or the true impact that the regulations will have on jobs, the environment, our roads and the shipping industry. We absolutely have to ensure that sulphur emissions are reduced, but that needs to be balanced with growth in a fragile economy.

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The Government plan to review the effects of the policy in 2019, but I ask the Minister to consider a review much earlier, perhaps 12 months after implementation.

Hull is having a tough time and we need to work hard to protect every local job in my city. Our roads are at bursting point and the last thing that we need next year is heavier lorry congestion. I urge the Minister to push the European Commission for more implementation time and to do all that he can do to ensure that jobs and the environment are fully protected.

4.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Dr McCrea. Like other Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) on securing this important debate. The sulphur regulations will undoubtedly have an impact on the shipping industry, jobs and the environment. I will answer a number of his points but also put on record some of what the Government have been doing. Some of the information that has been put about is perhaps slightly disappointing.

The hon. Gentleman was right to identify at the start of his speech that the fundamental issue is air pollution and its impact on human health and the environment. Everybody accepts that air pollution is bad for people’s health. We are talking not just about quality of life, although that is important, but about costs to industry and the commercial sector when people are off work because they are sick, and costs to the national health service for treating those who need treatment. Reducing sulphur emissions will undoubtedly provide benefits to public health, in both inland and coastal communities. Reducing the emissions will also provide benefits to the environment. Sulphur is linked to acid rain, which affects plant life and crops, and can upset the balance of delicate marine eco-systems.

For exactly those reasons the Government have worked consistently with the International Maritime Organisation, or IMO—the international body with the knowledge and expertise to regulate international shipping appropriately and proportionately—to develop measures to regulate pollutant emissions from ships. Throughout the whole of that process, under both this Government and the previous Government, the aim has been to develop measures that are effective and proportionate, with a view to implementing them in a way that minimises both the regulatory burden on and the cost to industry.

In the IMO, pollutant emissions from ships are controlled by annex VI to the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships, more commonly known as MARPOL. Although it is true that a number of operators have worked to reduce emissions, sadly some have taken no steps on the issue. The regulations, which date back to 2008, and some of the new limits in MARPOL annex VI stem from the recognition by the international shipping community and the Government that the new limits need to be supported. The limits will help air quality and will also have consequential benefits for human health and for the environment.

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): I agree with the Minister—I know many shipping and ferry companies based in my region do, as well—that the intention of

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reducing emissions is admirable, but there is a twofold concern, which he has already raised. One element is the cost of the changes: one local ferry company has calculated that it will have to spend £320 million on converting its fleet. But it takes three months to convert each ship, and it is those time scales that are of most concern to companies.

Stephen Hammond: My hon. Friend is of course right, and she will hear in my speech what I did immediately I became shipping Minister, some 21 months ago, to recognise that. She will also want to hear about some of the work we are now doing with companies to reassure them about how they can minimise costs.

My hon. Friend will also recognise, as did the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East, that the Government and the EU are not seeking to impose on the industry something that was announced only today, yesterday, a month or a year ago. The industry has had over six years to get its head around the regulations. Indeed, it is worth reading into the record what the view of the UK Chamber of Shipping was when the proposals were first announced back in 2008. I quote directly from the chamber of shipping’s document:

“The IMO’s proposal to progressively reduce sulphur emissions globally to the equivalent of 0.5 per cent sulphur content in all fuel by 2020, and in designated sensitive coastal areas to 0.1 per cent sulphur content equivalent by 2015, is a major move forward. These realistic deadlines also give the oil industry the time it needs to ensure that the required quantities of low sulphur fuel will be readily available.”

That was its view in 2008, and at that stage it recognised that the time scales were realistic.

A time scale was put in place for reducing the global sulphur limit. There is a separate, staged timetable for reducing levels to the more stringent limit in designated emission control areas. In almost all respects, the IMO MARPOL standards have been incorporated into EU law, in the directive on sulphur in marine fuels. The origin of the requirements does not lie solely in the UK. It is not that the UK Government are placing burdens on the shipping industry; on the contrary, the requirements are part of an international worldwide agreement, stemming from international and European agreements. The industry was fully consulted on those at the time.

I have to say that I am pretty disappointed that the UK Chamber of Shipping continues to react as if the sulphur limits are new and are somehow inherently undesirable, or else that the UK Government should have avoided them. The fact of the matter is that the regulations are about the protection of health and protection of the environment, which is a legal obligation. The UK Chamber of Shipping has been brought into the Government’s deliberations at every opportunity. It is well aware of what the Government can and cannot do legally and of the fact that we have pushed back continually to try to change the time scales.

Again, in 2009 the UK Chamber of Shipping wrote to The Guardian:

“The latest IMO legislation was recognised by governments and the shipping and refining industries as a prime example of ambitious but pragmatic rule-making.”

It recognised that in 2009, so to pretend today that the regulations are something new is slightly disingenuous.

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Karl Turner: Does the Minister accept that the chamber of shipping is saying that ferry operators are concerned about job losses and about their businesses failing as a result? That is an issue for me, as Member of Parliament for east Hull. Will he address that directly—is there anything he can do as a Government Minister?

Stephen Hammond: The hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned. If he waits a few minutes I will tell him directly what the Government have done and are doing now.

The idea that is being put forward today, namely that these are new regulations and a crunch is coming—there is not; there is a date for implementation coming—is not supported by all of the chamber’s own members. On the contrary, some members of the chamber belong to the Trident Alliance, which is a coalition of shipping owners and operators who share a common interest and do not share the views being put across.

I accept that shipping is not the only source of pollutant emissions, but without the controls, polluting emissions from ships will grow significantly because of the reductions made by other modes of transport: unless action is taken, by 2020 shipping will account for more than half of all sulphur emissions in Europe.

As everyone has recognised, the limits undoubtedly pose challenges for shipowners, particularly for those whose ships operate predominantly or exclusively in an emission control area. The Government appreciate that some shipowners, and ferry operators in particular, have raised concerns about the cost of complying with the new limits. From our discussions, we are conscious that the impacts are not spread evenly, and that routes for multipurpose vessels—those carrying both passengers and freight—are likely to see the highest costs. We also recognise the importance of ferries and jobs.

Throughout the whole process we have therefore sought to implement the sulphur limits in a way that maximises the opportunity for the industry to minimise the economic impact. I became shipping Minister in 2012, and immediately in October of that year and again in 2013 I chaired round-table meetings of industry stakeholders, including from shipping, the ports, abatement technology—more colloquially known as scrubbing technology—oil refining and logistics sectors, to consider how we could make sure that people could work to comply with the regulations in a way that minimised regulation and cost. As a direct result, we commissioned a survey to look at the economic costs to industry.

Penny Mordaunt: I thank the Minister for what he has done with the shipping sector. Whatever the sector needs, whether it be incentives or a boot up the backside, that work needs to carry on. Does he recognise that it is not just the sector itself that is affected, but the ports and jobs connected to ports? In Portsmouth we are putting a lot of money into our commercial port. Will he give us an assurance today that our ambitions—whether on ferries, cruise liners or freight—will be able to be met if the directive is implemented?

Stephen Hammond: I certainly hope to be able to do that by the end of my speech, and to explain some of the things we are doing. Portsmouth, like so many other places, including Hull, has a booming port industry. There is a renaissance, particularly in my hon. Friend’s

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port and in my home town of Southampton, from where there are huge exports, the like of which would not have been dreamed of 15 years ago. That is a tribute to the port industry, which is now a great success.

As a direct result of the round-table discussions, which were also about commissioning work on the economic costs, I immediately contacted the Secretary-General of the IMO and made exactly the point that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East made: we must not wait for a review of the 2020 regulations, but should start a review immediately. I persuaded the IMO that it should start the review promptly following the implementation of these regulations.

Another outcome of the meetings is that the Government are looking at ways of helping the industry. My officials have been working closely with the UK Chamber of Shipping—which is why I am so disappointed—for a considerable period. We have solicited an assurance from the European Union that it will meet individual ferry operators who approach it to discuss a route to compliance. I accept that there are important issues to address, but both those things are a major step forward in helping the industry with the prospect of the regulatory burden.

One question is whether, as ships are encouraged to use fuels with a lower sulphur content, there will be sufficient fuel available. That is why the review is so important. It is equally important to look at other issues. Do we have an opportunity not to implement the sulphur limits? No, we do not because we would fail to meet international treaty obligations. More than that, we consistently spoke to EU fellow nations, none of which was prepared to deflect or move away from the time scales. If we do not implement the new limits, non-compliant UK-flagged ships will still be subject to enforcement action at UK ports. We do not have the opportunity or option of avoiding the limits. We cannot delay implementing the limits even on vulnerable routes. There is no exemption and that is why we have worked with the EU to allow ferry operators to discuss flexible implementation.

We held extensive discussions with other north European states that will be affected by the limits that will apply in the North sea. We pressed for exemptions for vulnerable routes, but there was no support from other members. The Government have not only pressed the case for ferry operators directly with the EU, but negotiated with other countries.

Shipowners have the option of installing scrubber technology or the exhaust gas cleaning system and we have been working with them on the cost of those systems. I recognise that significant capital is required and the Department is exploring the scope for securing EU finance under the trans-European network programme and affordable capital from the European investment bank for shipowners and ports that want to benefit from investment in that green technology.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East referred to a possible modal shift from sea to road and the identification of total fuel costs. Again, we are consulting on draft UK legislation. Part of that consultation is directly about the cost, but if we look at whether the implementation of the 0.1% sulphur limit will lead to a rise in costs for motorists, even if every ship in the emissions control area used 0.1% sulphur fuel rather than the abatement technology, we see that would still

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be less than 10% of the total market for middle-distillate diesel fuel. There will be a potential cost for motorists, but it will not be as great as stated. It is highly unlikely that every ship will use that. Many will use the scrubbing technology and I hope that the Government will be able to secure EU finance to enable shipowners to make transitional arrangements.

We have also been discussing with the industry our plans for applying a much more pragmatic approach to enforcement. It is important that enforcement is consistent and fair. My officials have already discussed with other member states and the Commission how to ensure a fair and consistent approach throughout the EU, so that services from UK ports are not unfairly disadvantaged.

It is important to look beyond compliance with the limits in the control area. I have been working closely with the Secretary-General of the IMO on the availability of 0.5% sulphur fuel in 2020, which will be the next challenge. l am pleased with the leadership that the UK has shown. We have been prominent, with the support of the Dutch and the Americans, in ensuring that the IMO is committed to engaging constructively and undertaking an early review.

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There is no doubt that the sulphur limits are coming in in 2015 and prospectively in 2020. However, if the review shows that the fuel is not available, I will certainly negotiate with the IMO to push that limit back because it would be unfair to impose that on the industry. This Government and, to give them credit, the previous Government have worked with the industry to find ways of mitigating the cost and the regulatory burden and to ensure that jobs in this country are protected. That is why we are working to secure finance and transitional arrangements for people to implement scrubbing technology.

I hope that I have been able to reassure my hon. Friends and the hon. Gentleman that the Government, unlike the image that might have been presented, are taking the matter extraordinarily seriously. We have done so during my time in office and before. We have actively worked to support British shipping and the all-important jobs that come with it.

Question put and agreed to.

5.7 pm

Sitting adjourned.