Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Betting Shops – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 19th July 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test 5:00 pm, 19th July 2011

Approximate 7.5 million to 8 million tonnes of waste wood is produced every year. It is mostly construction waste, and the greater part—some 80%—is landfilled, which is a far higher proportion than for other waste items. About 1.2 million tonnes is recycled and reused for animal bedding, plywood, fibreboard and so on, but energy is recovered from only about 0.3 million tonnes or 4% of the total. However, according to Eunomia Research & Consulting, a net estimated saving of 1,400 kg of CO2 per tonne of wood can be made where waste wood is used as fuel for biomass energy. If waste food in landfill was sent to digestion with wood to energy recovery, the joint product would be about 42 TW of energy a year, or getting on for a fifth of our renewable energy target, by 2020.

The benefits of diverting wood and indeed other categories of waste from landfill are clear and straightforward. Despite the strides that have been taken to reduce landfill as a destination for our waste, we still have a long way to go, and for some waste streams, as I have illustrated, almost the whole distance. So how might we get moving on this diversion? There have been suggestions that such wastes should simply be banned from landfill. That is what a number of countries do, and that in itself stimulates substantially the sort of use that I have outlined. That appears to be the Government’s intention, because in the waste review 2011 they stated:

“As a starting point, in 2012 we will consult on whether to introduce a restriction on the landfilling of wood waste…Building on this we will review the case for restrictions on sending other materials to landfill over the course of the Parliament”.

That is encouraging until we recognise that that is exactly where we were in 2009. The 2009 renewable energy strategy stated that the Government would consult later that year on banning certain kinds of material from landfill. In March 2010, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did indeed produce such a consultation with a view to banning a number of wastes from landfill. That consultation set out an EU target that by 2020 a minimum of 70% by weight of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste should be prepared for reuse, or should be recycled or recovered. We have a long way to go on that target.

The results of the consultation were “published”—I say that advisedly—in September of last year. Hon. Members will have to work very hard to find them because, astonishingly, they were published straight to DEFRA’s archive, and I am not sure that that counts as publication at all. Fortunately, the Welsh Assembly Government published the responses to their part of the consultation on their website, and hon. Members can access the results there. I suppose that it is not surprising that the consultation responses were smuggled out and filed away so abruptly, because a landfill ban was supported by over two thirds of consultees. However, the Government’s response was that they were

“not minded to introduce landfill bans in England at the present time” but would reach a view on the best way to ensure waste was dealt with in the most appropriate way as part of the waste policy review that was announced by Secretary of State earlier this year.

Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker, that waste review was under way at the same time as the consultation, following which the Government decided to consult on a landfill ban of wood followed by other waste, with a view to banning them between 2012 and 2015.

If a consultation had taken place, why have another one? And why did the Government say that that were not minded to introduce a landfill ban if they were just a few months later? Why hide the results of such a consultation from public view at a time at which they were consulting on something very similar? If we really wanted to make progress on such a ban—and I think the case for doing so is overwhelming—would it not be easier to note the consultation results and get on with it? I fear that I am missing something, but I hope that when the Minister responds to the debate he will be able to put me right. At the very least, I hope that he can restore the results of the consultation to the DEFRA website so that we can all see what has transpired, then perhaps get on with it substantially before 2015.

Photo of Chris Kelly Chris Kelly Conservative, Dudley South 5:05 pm, 19th July 2011

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this pre-recess Adjournment debate. We have a problem in Dudley borough: the number of roaming horses that residents have to put up with, particularly in the Brierley Hill, Brockmore and Pensnett, and Wordsley wards in my constituency. The problem of roaming horses is now so widespread that residents have set up an action group, Dudley Borough Against Roaming Horses, with nearly 600 people having signed up to the group’s Facebook page—not quite as many as the 1,500 members of my Facebook group.

The problem of roaming horses has been widely reported elsewhere in the country. Indeed, the Highways Agency reported in 2009 that more than 200 stray horses are removed from its roads across the country every year. It might be helpful to highlight the fact that the methods used to address the problem vary by type of land, depending on whether it is highway, public land or private property. Public authorities appear to interpret the rules differently, as do third-party organisations. I will concentrate on the actions of my local authority, Dudley metropolitan borough council, later in my remarks.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs cites three pieces of legislation that can be used to remove roaming horses: the Animals Act 1971, the Highways Act 1980 and the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Other organisations advocate the use of other legislation or regulations to address the problem, including section 24 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847.

Having researched the problem on behalf of my residents, it quickly became clear to me that different councils appear to be deploying different legal approaches. For example, Cardiff council has used antisocial behaviour orders to punish the owners of stray horses, and my own local authority has used section 24 of the 1847 Act, which states that officers are permitted to seize cattle, including horses, found on the highways. I commend Dudley metropolitan borough council for the innovative way it is trying to tackle this costly and worrying problem. I support the council, West Midlands police and the Highways Agency in using any of the methods at their disposal to protect the taxpayers of my borough and safeguard the welfare of these poor creatures, which is an issue I will return to.

There is a long tradition of horse ownership in the black country, and there are many responsible owners who legitimately graze animals and whose horses are legally insured, passported and chipped. There is also a long history of less responsible horse owners, who often tether their horses on council land so as to avoid grazing charges and food costs. Their horses are normally secured with chains and moved from site to site to feed, which is known as “fly-grazing”. I do not think that any of the owners of these tethered horses in my constituency have received or read DEFRA’s code on tethering, which has been available on its website since March.

The amount of grazing land in the borough is limited, and I am told that the council’s current waiting list exceeds 200, with little likelihood of many on the list ever obtaining grazing space. The council does have the opportunity to develop more grazing fields, but horses can be powerful animals and there would need to be significant investment in new fencing and infrastructure to release the fields for use.

The problem of stray horses and illegal grazing has been a long-standing problem in the borough. In the latter part of 2010 and early 2011 the number of stray and illegally grazing horses reported to the council increased, which in turn raised considerable concern within local communities. The cause of the problem was irresponsible horse owners abandoning their horses on open land with no regard to the potential danger to their animals or the public. Inevitably, these animals strayed while looking for food and water and got on to the local road network, causing significant upheaval.

Today I call for clear guidance to be placed on the LocalGov.co.uk website, based on best practice from across the country on how to tackle the issue, and for advice to be placed on Direct.gov.uk to advise people in my borough and across the country.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport) 5:09 pm, 19th July 2011

I wish to speak about something that is a great boost for the countryside—rural country sports and the benefits that they bring to the countryside and to the economy. In the time it takes me to load two cartridges into my over and under shotgun and shoot the pheasant on the far side of the Chamber, my time will be up because I have only four minutes.

Eighty thousand people participate in country sports in Northern Ireland, contributing £45 million to the local economy in the past year. Some 480,000 people are involved in country sports across the whole of the United Kingdom, with the equivalent of some 70,000 jobs in primary and secondary roles. They contribute some £2 billion each year in goods and services and some £6 billion in the whole UK economy. The role of country sports is critical. Shooting, in particular, is important to the management of two thirds of the rural land area.

Two million hectares are actively managed for conservation as a result of shooting. It is recorded that shoot providers spend some £250 million a year on conservation. Indeed, shooters spend some 2.7 million days on conservation—the equivalent of 12,000 full-time jobs.

There are 17 hunting packs in Northern Ireland and some 325 registered hunts across the whole of the United Kingdom. Eight hundred people in Northern Ireland are involved in hunts, and some 45,000 people are so involved in the rest of the UK. The benefits are clear—they come from the farriers, the veterinary surgeons, the feed merchants, the insurance companies, the saddleries, the horse box people and horse lorry suppliers.

Point-to-points have been described as

“the lifeblood of the racing industry in Ireland”,

and they clearly are. They contribute some £5.3 million to the economy, and on the UK mainland they do even better than that. Point-to-points are a good opportunity for horses to graduate to national hunt racing—ultimately, to the Cheltenham gold cup. One example of that would be the aptly named Looks Like Trouble, who was born and bred in Northern Ireland. This is clearly how champions are created. The overseas interest in the horse industry is also of great importance, and a great many people can see the benefits of that.

Shooting takes care of almost 1 million hectares in Northern Ireland, with £10 million spent on habitat improvement and wildlife management, and some 640 jobs created in Northern Ireland and some 12,000 jobs across the whole of the United Kingdom—Scotland, Wales and England. It can do better, and I believe it will. Some 150,000 people regularly shoot clay pigeons. There are about 1,000 shooting clubs in the United Kingdom, and the benefits and spin-offs that they bring are very important for the industry and the sector.

Angling in Northern Ireland is worth about £40 million. Some 420 angling destinations in Northern Ireland are open to tourists, and Northern Ireland is one of the best places in Europe to fish. We have some 800 jobs in angling in Northern Ireland, and by 2015 there will be 2,000. In relation to antisocial behaviour, of 660 youths in England who took part in a police angling scheme, 98% are still fishing and not one has reoffended. There is clearly a lesson to be learned from that. Casting for Recovery, a unique charity specially designed for women who have or have had breast cancer, uses angling to promote mental and physical healing.

Time has not permitted me fully to express the benefits of country sports to the economy, but I hope that I have managed to highlight the great spin-offs that come from this thriving industry. Perhaps Members have seen it as being more than what they thought earlier on. Now I will go and collect that pheasant on the far side of the Chamber.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Conservative, Tiverton and Honiton 5:13 pm, 19th July 2011

It is great pleasure to speak in this debate about the TB situation in my constituency. I very much welcome the statement made by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs earlier today, and I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister here this afternoon. He, too, has put a lot of work into putting proper controls in place to try to eradicate TB eventually.

Many people do not realise the emotional effect that this disease has had on farming. Someone who has TB in their cattle is unable to trade, especially in young stock, and it affects their business extremely badly. Where testing of cattle is taking place, someone’s cattle might be grazing in the summer, they bring them inside for the winter, they are tested, some of them prove positive for TB, and they are then culled to take the disease out of their herd. The farmer then puts the rest of the cattle back out in the field the following summer, only for them to be infected by the wildlife, such as badgers, roaming around in the fields. If we are going to test cattle successfully and take out the infected animals, it is absolute nonsense if we do not tackle the problem in wildlife.

What I like about what the Secretary of State said this afternoon is that she had consulted everybody properly to get a scientifically backed way of culling badgers, to reduce the reservoir of disease. In the long run the farming industry is losing. Devon alone is losing nearly 2,000 cattle this year. It is terrible because not only are those cattle being lost, but it is very much the heifers, the young stock that are the seedcorn of the dairy industry for the future, that are affected. We want to see excellent milk production and good-quality milk in this country. That can happen only if we have the necessary stock to carry on the dairy industry. Across the country, 10 times as many cattle are now taken with the disease as was the case 10 or 12 years ago. We cannot go on like that, because eventually the industry will be destroyed. This country has such great grass-growing potential, particularly in the west country. The Blackdown hills in Tiverton and Honiton are probably one of the best dairy areas in the country.

We must be sure that cattle can be out grazing without being infected with TB. Everybody wants to see cattle out in the fields. That is what people come to Devon to see. This issue affects not only good agricultural production, but the tourism that benefits from the cattle. The last thing we want to do is to shut them up in sheds all summer to keep the badgers out. It is right to tackle the pool of disease, and I welcome the Government proposals. I look forward to the pilot schemes. I suspect that pilots will take place in the west country, possibly in Devon, which is one of the great hot spots. Let us consider how the controlled shooting will work and ensure that we do it humanely, and then we can go forward to an even greater cull.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley 5:17 pm, 19th July 2011

I am not interested in media-driven lynch mobs. I am not interested in the politically motivated settling of personal vendettas. The big issue in my Colne Valley constituency is the wanton destruction of beautiful and historic countryside.

Thousands of concerned local residents have attended public meetings, registered their objections via e-mail and on the council website, written letters and contacted their local representatives to oppose plans to bulldoze the countryside for hundreds of new homes and industrial developments. I called one such public meeting in Lindley in north Huddersfield to oppose plans for 300 new homes and a data campus on Lindley moor. The church hall was packed on a Friday evening with hundreds of concerned local residents. There have been other recent meetings in Slaithwaite and Meltham.

These plans are being forced through with little meaningful consultation and little regard for the already creaking local infrastructure. Roads are clogged, schools are oversubscribed and people are extremely lucky if they can get an NHS dentist. That all stems from the previous Government’s regional special strategies and top-down housing targets, which were imposed on local communities. My local Kirklees council was given a figure of 28,000 new homes. It is still pursuing that figure via a blueprint for development called the local development framework, which has been widely lambasted—rightly so.

The consultation has been flawed, with thousands of homes failing to receive the consultation leaflet that had supposedly been delivered to all homes in the area. As a result, my hon. Friend Simon Reevell and I called for the LDF consultation to be suspended. That was because the LDF in our area was not

“reflecting local people’s aspirations and decisions on important issues such as...housing and economic development.”

A High Court judgment on 7 February this year stated that councils should make the intended abolition of the regional strategies, otherwise known as the top-down targets, a “material consideration” pending enactment of the Localism Bill. However, the housing target numbers remain at Kirklees council.

I warmly welcome the Government’s promise to reform the planning system radically and to give neighbourhoods much more ability to determine the shape of the places in which their inhabitants live. The Localism Bill will give local people a real say in what developments go on in their area. Community groups, parish councils and local business organisations will be involved in developing neighbourhood plans. However, we have to wait for the autumn for that to happen.

Another change that I would like to see is related to the new homes bonus. I have proposed in the Chamber a higher rate of bonus for homes built on brownfield sites, to incentivise developers to go for those sites over and above greenfield sites. I really believe that developers and my local council need to engage better with local communities. That will happen after the Localism Bill becomes law later this year, but planning applications also need to demonstrate clear improvements to local infrastructure. The plans for housing at Lindley moor, for example, show little regard for the heavily oversubscribed schools and clogged roads.

Finally, I stand side by side with the many people in my constituency who are deeply worried and angered by the way in which plans for homes and the data campus are being railroaded through with little genuine consultation, no regard for infrastructure and little explanation of the need. We are not anti-development, we just want better, sustainable developments that involve the whole community.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole 5:21 pm, 19th July 2011

I want to talk about bioethanol. As Members may have heard in other debates, there is a strong vision, both cross-Humber and cross-party, in our area, in that we want to see the Humber being developed into a renewables centre hub. Indeed, we have Siemens coming to the area, and we have huge progress on carbon capture and storage. A key part of our vision for the area involves bioethanol, for which we will have two plants in the Humber—one is in Hull and one is proposed on the south bank.

There are concerns about the future of UK bioethanol because of what seems to be some confusion in policy and the legislative framework, emanating from both the European Union and the UK. The UK bioethanol industry has invested more than £550 million in the past five years, with a further £200 million to be invested imminently. It has created thousands of highly skilled jobs and reinvigorated manufacturing communities in the north and north-east of England, where we especially need those jobs.

In my own area, northern Lincolnshire, the proposed Vireol plant would provide 750 jobs in construction and a further 70 directly at the plant, plus those in the supply chain once it was up and running. However, there is concern that because of policy uncertainty and the tough financial climate in which we find ourselves, bioethanol projects in the UK may have stalled. Recently, the Ensus plant in Teesside had to shut down temporarily.

Biofuels have been controversial in the past, and I am certainly not talking about biodiesel. I am talking about bioethanol production that would also produce a high-quality feed product, so we would get two uses from the crop. It is an entirely sustainable process, which is why the Conservative party’s policy Green Paper on a low-carbon economy signals support for sustainable biofuels.

However, there is a problem at the moment with biofuels in the UK, particularly bioethanol, because of the domination of US imports. I am pro-free trade, pro-United States and pro-transatlantic agreements, but we have to accept that those US imports are supported by a domestic subsidy in the United States that is designed to support the industry and blending over there. It is not aimed at undercutting UK bioethanol production. A number of countries in the European Union, such as France and Germany, have already categorised those imports differently, and I ask the Minister whether the UK will consider doing that.

I am conscious of the time, so it is difficult to go into all the details of this important issue—[ Interruption. ] An extension would be nice, but that is not going to happen.

There are four things that we seek from the Government: a commitment that the UK is committed to bioethanol; a confirmation that we will make it part of our carbon reduction target; a clear signal that bioethanol is part of the 10% target for renewable transport; and action to ensure that the problem of bioethanol imports from the US, which seem to undercut the UK with the domestic subsidy that I mentioned, will be addressed. I apologise to the Minister because this issue cuts across, by my count, five different Departments, and I am sorry that it has landed in his lap today, but perhaps that demonstrates why we need more clarity and direction from one Department on this. Any assurance that the Minister can give us will be greatly appreciated by my constituents.

Photo of James Paice James Paice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:25 pm, 19th July 2011

I thank all the hon. Members who have contributed to this debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole

(Andrew Percy) suggests, I am surprised by some of the issues about which it has fallen to me to respond, and which have—at least for today—fallen under the DEFRA umbrella. I will do my utmost to respond to the points that have been made, in the order in which hon. Members spoke.

Dr Whitehead, whom I have always respected for his knowledge of waste and renewables policies, rightly raised the issue of landfill bans. I hope that he will understand that I answer on behalf of Lord Henley, who leads on this issue and is therefore far more acquainted with it than I am. We have immense sympathy with the hon. Gentleman—and in fact there is very little difference in what we are trying to achieve. I know that he chided us a little, and I will try to answer him, but we are trying to prioritise efforts to manage all our waste—not just domestic waste, but also industrial waste. We tend to concentrate on worrying about what councils do with domestic waste and ignore the wider issues of industrial waste, but we are trying to prioritise our efforts in line with the waste hierarchy and reduce the carbon impact of our waste, as well as considering what sort of inheritance we are leaving for future generations in terms of the contents of holes in the ground.

We are rightly concentrating on the higher levels of the hierarchy, including reducing waste in the first place, and then working through reuse, recycling and energy recovery before we end up at landfill. Clearly we want to move to a zero-waste economy in which all our material resources are fully valued or used in one way or another. The hon. Gentleman talked particularly about landfill, and I am sure the House will agree that landfill should be the option of last resort for most waste, especially for biodegradable waste.

We need to move towards eliminating landfill, and landfill volumes have fallen by a third in the last three years. That must be good news and the waste review, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, will play a substantial role in pushing wastes up the hierarchy and away from landfill. We are going further, and that is why we are maintaining landfill tax increases towards a floor of £80 per tonne in 2014-15.

On the specific issue of the consultation on restricting wood waste being sent to landfill, I can say from a personal perspective that I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is a huge waste of a valuable resource. There have been times when I have been known to fumble around some skips to fetch decent bits of timber out for a bit of DIY at home. I commend that approach to other hon. Members—if we all did our bit, perhaps we would not need to ban landfill.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the consultation that was begun under the previous Government—one of a number that they set in train in the last few weeks of their life and left to the new Government to resolve.

The Government were committed to a waste review, which is why we had to respond to the earlier consultation, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. That consultation—on banning individual items from landfill—was very general, unlike the specific and more targeted consultation on wood waste, which we are talking about now. That consultation allows us to explore in much greater detail the practical implications of dealing with different types of wood. For instance, some wood waste might be treated with toxic materials that we cannot burn. There is a raft of issues. However, he raised a specific point about the previous consultation and criticised us for putting it in the archive. This is not an issue of secrecy; it is just where these things eventually belong. The DEFRA website has been refreshed over the past year under the new Government. The material has not been buried—or even put in landfill—but is freely available in the archive. I can assure him that we take this seriously.

My hon. Friend Chris Kelly referred to the problem of roaming horses. I am sure that that is an issue of which most of us, whether we have urban or rural constituencies, have some understanding, although perhaps not in the fine detail to which he referred. He referred to fly-grazing—horses being chained on the verge. I suspect that virtually every Member has witnessed that and, if nothing else, questioned the welfare of those horses. He rightly listed the three pieces of legislation to which DEFRA Ministers usually refer—in fact, he virtually delivered my speech. I am not going to waste time, or insult him, by repeating them. He also rightly referred to the innovative use of other legislation, particularly by Dudley metropolitan borough council. I congratulate it on that sort of innovation; it is what we expect from local government. However, if he can think of other areas, we would be happy to consider them. He specifically referred to putting guidance online, and I am happy to consider that and respond to him when we have had time to reflect further.

Jim Shannon was not on my list of speakers—so, not for the first time, I will have to wing it. Fortunately, he spoke about a subject extremely close to my heart, and I could not disagree with any of his points about the value of country sports, not just to the country’s heritage, but to the economy and job creation. There was one important point that he did not make but which I feel strongly about: although country sports might provide only a handful of jobs in a particular area, in a rural area a handful of jobs can be very important. We need to understand that point. He referred to the racing industry. As he knows, I represent the area surrounding Newmarket, where about 7,000 jobs are dependent on the racing industry. I can assure him that the Government strongly support the continuity of country sports and recognise their economic contribution.

My hon. Friend Neil Parish had the good fortune to raise an issue that we have largely answered today already, so I hope that he will forgive me if I do not wax too lyrical about bovine TB, as it was discussed earlier in the Chamber. I would make one critical point, however. He spoke about the trauma to families of disease breakdown. For the past four years, more than a quarter of the herds in Devon have been under restriction at some time during the year. That is a huge proportion, and demonstrates just how bad the problem is in Devon. Unusually, he underestimated the seriousness of the situation. I think that he said that about 2,000 cattle were slaughtered in Devon, but the actual figure is 5,700. That, too, demonstrates the seriousness of the situation. I cannot tell him the location of the pilots because we have not got to that stage yet. We expect applications for licences to be made, but as I have said in the media today, I would be astonished if one of them was not in the south-west somewhere.

Photo of James Paice James Paice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Even I do not think that Shropshire is in the south-west. Two suitable sites will be selected.

My hon. Friend Jason McCartney referred to the green belt. Let me make it absolutely clear that this Government will maintain the green belt, despite some spurious reports about how the national policy planning framework will weaken it. It will not. The Government have no intention of weakening the key protections for the green belt. Inappropriate development should not be approved in the green belt except in very special circumstances. This is a matter for local planning authorities, through the planning process. Clearly my hon. Friend has differences of opinion—on the face of it, it sounds as if I would entirely agree—with his local council about the number of houses. I need to stress, as he did, that our commitment to abolish regional spatial strategies means that there is absolutely no obligation for local authorities to pursue the planning policies that they may have been forced into by the previous Government. Local authorities can stop, as mine has, and start again if they so wish. I wish him success in persuading his local authority to do that.

Finally, my hon. Friend Andrew Percy spoke about the bioethanol industry. In answer to his final point, the Department that is primarily responsible is the Department for Transport, as he probably knows. The Government strongly support the use of biofuels, as long as they are sustainable. The industry—particularly the ethanol sector, to which he referred—has done a considerable amount to improve its greenhouse gas savings. The latest data suggest that bioethanol from home-grown wheat and sugar beet achieved direct emissions savings of 60% and 77% respectively, compared with fossil fuels, which is a significant gain. However, there are concerns, particularly about the indirect effects of displacing food production, which is why sustainability is so important.

I can also assure my hon. Friend that we are looking carefully at the issue of tariffs, to which he referred. I fully understand what he was saying; it always amazes me that although the United States is very good at telling others to practise free trade, it then introduces its own domestic support—in this case for the ethanol sector, taking something like a third of the corn production in the United States for that purpose. As he said, other countries in the EU have not allowed the use of the chemical tariff for fuel ethanol, which attracts lower duty than the other categories. At present the British Government are examining the legality of that and looking into whether we can learn lessons from the approach taken by other EU countries. Let me conclude by assuring my hon. Friend that we support the domestic bioethanol industry, which has shown the way forward. Clearly sustainability is at the heart of it, but so too is fair and free trade. We must ensure that that does not work against our own domestic industry.

I thank you for the opportunity to respond on DEFRA issues, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wish you and all Members of the House present a very pleasant summer recess.