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House of Lords

Wednesday, 22nd May 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Wisley Airfield

Lord Eden of Winton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proposals they have received for development of the Wisley airfield site.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has received no firm proposals for development of the Wisley airfield site. The site is, however, one of several being investigated by Surrey County Council in their waste local plan as a possible site for a large-scale waste treatment and processing facility.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, how is it possible for seemingly sensible people to put forward proposals for a large-scale industrial waste disposal processing plant on this site which would result in an industrial complex covering some 28 acres, with buildings 100 feet high, chimney-stacks more than 200 feet high, resultant heavy traffic, noise and widespread air pollution causing lasting damage to the long established, world renowned gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society on the other side of the road? Will my noble friend ensure that such a proposal never gets off the ground?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I suggest that my noble friend cools it. As part of the local plan process, objections to Surrey's waste plan, including those to the inclusion of Wisley airfield in the list of potential sites, will be heard at a public local inquiry due to open on 5th November 1996. My right honourable friend sees no ground for his intervention in the plan at this time.

Lord Finsberg: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I must declare an interest in this site in that as a DoE Minister I was taken to the ombudsman on the grounds of maladministration when I took a decision on the future of Wisley Airport in the early 1980s? However, at that time there was no question of any nonsensical development like this even being considered.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I am interested in my noble friend's background to this whole situation. Under the Government's policy for green belts, industrial development of this nature is inappropriate in the green belt. There is a general presumption against inappropriate development except in very special circumstances.

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Your Lordships may be interested to know that when I lived in Cambridge I constantly had a sticker on the back of my car saying, "Keep Trumpington's Green Belt".

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, in the week of the Chelsea Flower Show, would it not be appropriate for my noble friend now to give categoric assurance that such a gross act of vandalism should not be allowed to take place?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, my noble friend again presumes that the matter has gone beyond a very early stage. One of the troubles with Surrey is that it is running out of existing landfill capacity. It has put forward a number of sites. Suitable sites outside the green belt are difficult to find because almost all open land is within the green belt and no major industrial sites are available for such use. However, I have already said that development of this nature is thoroughly inappropriate in a green belt.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the noble Baroness the Minister aware that in the United States of America, which has plans for such incinerating plants, the requirement is that they do not produce more than 0.001 per cent. of dioxin, which is produced when plastics are burnt? Can she assure us that no plant in this country will be allowed to emit greater levels of dioxin? Can she reassure us that any incineration plants will have scrubbers in their chimneys so that any effluent will be prevented from escaping?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, very tempting! I am not terribly good on dioxins. However, I believe that the best I can do is to give the noble Countess the Government's view on waste. They published their White Paper, Making Waste Work, on 12th December. It includes targets to reduce the proportion of controlled waste going to landfill to 60 per cent., and to recover the value--for example, through waste-to-energy--of 40 per cent. of municipal waste by the year 2005. I commend the White Paper to the noble Countess.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, did I hear the noble Baroness aright when I understood her to say that development of this nature is "thoroughly inappropriate" in a green belt? If that is so, will she indicate that the Government take that view, and will she convey it to Surrey--whatever the disadvantages that the noble Baroness described--so that the noble Lord, Lord Eden, is satisfied?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, any planning application for development which is regarded as inappropriate in a green belt, and which the planning authority is minded to approve, must be treated as a departure from the development plan and referred to the Secretary of State. This gives him the opportunity to decide whether there are any issues which merit his intervention to call in the application for his determination.

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Beef Industry: Vegetable Protein Exports

2.37 p.m.

Baroness Strange asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In view of the difficulties being experienced by the United Kingdom beef industry, whether they consider it appropriate that most of the distillers dark grains (a high protein vegetable feed) produced in Scotland is currently being exported to Finland.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the decision on where to sell the material residues of the distilling process is a matter for the industry itself.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that fairly informative and fairly helpful reply. Does he not agree that in all fairness, if other countries ban the import of our beef, we should ban the export of Scottish vegetable protein with which most of our beef cattle are currently being safely fed? That is particularly so since, when winter comes, such cows as we have left will need protein vegetable food.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, my noble friend is right. Protein is of extreme importance during the winter months. There are other sources of protein such as peas, beans, soya bean and linseed. As concerns banning exports from this country, the European Union ban was imposed under Community law. Unilateral action by any individual member state is illegal.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, will the Minister explain why America and Canada banned the import of British beef and to what extent those bans adversely affect the United Kingdom beef industry? Secondly, did we contest those decisions at the time?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord whether the decisions were contested at the time. However, the banning of British beef imports by America and Canada is a matter for those countries, although we might not like their decision.

The Earl of Balfour: My Lords, are Her Majesty's Government aware that the producers of brewers mash, distillers dark grains and what used to be called millers offal often achieve a better price if such produce is put aboard a ship for export rather than distributed to farmers in this country?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, perhaps it would be a good idea to give my noble friend Lord Balfour the figures relating to the export of distillers waste in 1995. The total production of distillers waste in this country was 207,000 tonnes. The total production of dark grains was 39,000 tonnes. That is the dried protein supplement which I believe is treated with molasses. The total export of waste was 8,000 tonnes. My noble friend Lady Strange mentioned Finland in her Question. I believe that only 190 tonnes of waste were exported to that country. We import waste from other countries amounting to 160,000 tonnes.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, what steps have been taken so far, as indicated by the noble Earl's colleague

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in another place in the recent debate, and what progress has been made in relaxing the rules on set-aside so that beef cattle in the log jam on farms at the moment can be grazed on that land in the meantime?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, many acres designated for set-aside are totally inappropriate for grazing by beef cattle. The animals might get fodder or gut fill out of it, but there is certainly no protein level from the green herbage growing there.

The other question concerned progress. I assume that the noble Baroness refers to the Statement made yesterday in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister which was repeated in this House. My right honourable friend said of the proceedings aimed at lifting the ban:

    "Those proceedings will begin this week ... the application for these interim remedies should be heard within two to six weeks".

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