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Mr. Gummer: Is it not also true that the sheer business of getting out stone that is necessary leaves behind a good deal of waste that will be classified as virgin material and will therefore cause real defacement and trouble in such beautiful parts of the countryside as the hon. Gentleman's constituency?

Mr. Thomas: That may well be so. I am given to understand that the maximum amount of hard waste that could be recycled would be only 1 or 2 per cent. of virgin aggregates.

Imports also give rise to concern. Although imported aggregates will be taxed, by-products will not, although they are taxed in this country. I fear that the market will be flooded by imports, which will need to be transported for long distances.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the most disastrous impact of the aggregates levy will be experienced in Northern Ireland? It will necessitate the relocation of jobs in the Irish Republic, where there are nearly 300 miles of border and 400 crossing points. We know of the problems with tobacco and oil smuggling; now there must be a new incentive for dodging tax on aggregates. Surely the Government should conduct research into all the implications, including the human hardship that would be caused, and—even at this late stage—defer the imposition of the tax on 1 April until further consideration has been given. I hope that would also avoid the embarrassment that may result—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The hon. Gentleman is wandering into a speech rather than making an intervention.

Mr. Beggs: I understand that there is to be a judicial review.

Mr. Thomas: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comprehensive intervention. I too understand that a judicial review is to be initiated soon. I also understand

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that the aggregates tax is to be phased in Northern Ireland. The issues have not been resolved, however, and they need to be resolved if there is only a month to go.

David Taylor: Is it not the case that the proposed level of the tax, £1.60 per tonne, is three to four times the profit margin of typical companies? That, moreover, is based on very poor-quality research by an obscure company that has now gone into liquidation. It consulted only a few people, and only one in 10 said they would be willing to pay anything towards the so-called closure of their local quarries. Should the Government not rethink the tax?

Mr. Thomas: I agree that a research programme that merely asks how much people would be prepared to pay for the closure of a local quarry is, in fact, no research programme. That underlines the need for a genuinely independent environmental tax—green tax—commission to perform such research and inform Members. That would enable us to hold the Government to account.

The report also suggests the introduction of an incinerator tax. That has prompted great interest in Wales, where a couple of incinerators are proposed—one in Crumlin Bowers and one in the Wrexham area. The proposal has given the Committee a higher profile in the Welsh media, but I think it should be considered carefully.

As was mentioned earlier, we recently returned from Germany, where I noted that incineration was counted as a renewable in the energy programme. I do not think we want to consider it as such in this country, and I hope the Government will resist the idea.

I think we may see some innovative schemes. I am certainly interested in what Ireland has just done about carrier bags. Finding them 15 miles away from the nearest supermarket, on top of a mountain, is not a very pleasurable experience when one is taking a walk. It is obvious that something must be done about packaging. I also think that the points made about an aviation tax are central. It was excluded from the Kyoto protocol, deliberately. The arrangement dates back to, I think, the Copenhagen principles. It is a very old agreement, and it needs to be reviewed. The Government have an opportunity to take the lead.

We also need to increase the opportunity for biodiesel to be used in this country. A 20p rebate has been announced, but according to information I have received from Cargill plc a further reduction of about 15p is needed,


That is the important thing. We should not use taxation just to subsidise things; we should use it to help the market and to produce a commercially viable situation.

The Government have taken some major steps, especially in their first year. We have yet to see them do so in their second term. The problem is that some of their steps forward have been followed up by a lack of co-ordination, or a lack of joined-up government, and certainly by a lack of momentum.

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4.19 pm

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): I join in the chorus of congratulation to members of the Environmental Audit Committee on producing an excellent report. It is hard-hitting, but, with one slight qualification, it hits the right targets, and I sincerely hope that its recommendations will be reflected in practical policy outcomes sooner rather than later. I look forward to hearing what my right hon. Friend the Minister has to say about the recommendations.

In a necessarily brief contribution to the debate, I want to highlight three areas in which the need for a more comprehensive use of environmental taxation measures is particularly important, the first of which is waste. I draw the attention of the Minister and the House to early-day motion 851, on sustainable waste strategy, which contains ideas developed by the Socialist Environment and Resources Association and Friends of the Earth. It has the support of some 60 Members across the political parties, and I commend it to Treasury Ministers. I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments on it.

Several hon. Members have referred to the second issue that I want to comment on: the lack of a tax on aviation fuel, which must be addressed and cannot be ignored for ever. Air traffic is a major and fast-growing source of noise and pollution. It is true that improvements in technology have reduced noise, but that has been outstripped by the great increase in the number of flights. If the sector grows unchecked, there will be consequences not only for atmospheric pollution but for noise pollution, affecting those unfortunate enough to live close to increasingly busy airports.

Even 10 years ago, emissions from international aviation accounted for about 3.5 per cent. of man-made global warming. According to the current UK trend, aviation is the fastest-growing area of carbon dioxide emission in this country. As has been pointed out, aviation fuel is exempted from taxation by international agreement. I urge the Government to take international steps—I do not suggest that the problem can be dealt with solely at a UK level—to tackle pollution from aircraft fuel emissions, and the consequences of noise pollution.

I suggested that we should deal with air travel pollution by taxing aviation fuel, but perhaps that is not the right way to control the growth of air travel. The Institute for Public Policy Research, which is held in high regard by the Treasury, made several recommendations on emissions trading in respect of aviation fuel that are worthy of consideration. It also made some interesting recommendations on regional airports and the need to control air travel in parts of the country where growth is particularly heavy. Expanding airports in the south to provide extra capacity for short-haul air travel is surely the wrong strategy. If we invest in high-speed rail, we could easily achieve a real transfer from air travel to rail travel for journeys of 400 miles or less. That is another example of the way in which environmental policy and transport policy are closely interlinked.

David Taylor: Does my hon. Friend anticipate as keenly as I do a more coherent and well-directed environmental framework within which regional airports can operate, once the Government's 30-year aviation strategy is eventually announced? It is important that

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regional airports do not expand to take the surplus decanted from London airports without an environmental framework in place to protect their local populations.

Mr. Lazarowicz: My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. It is ironic that much of the increase in air traffic in the UK—at regional and international airports—could be met by a transfer to rail, rather than by simply ratcheting up the increase in domestic air travel.

The third and final issue that I want to address is the political hot potato of fuel duty on vehicles, which has given rise to much political opportunism over the years. Although I am in no sense criticising the Environmental Audit Committee, I note with interest that, despite its otherwise bold recommendations, this is one area in which it was somewhat coy. It said that the Government must

without exploring in much detail the available options. I know that the Committee had already discussed the matter, but I hope that it will return to it in due course.

There are important issues associated with tax on vehicle fuel that cannot be ignored or dumped. Road transport produces one quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions in this country. Making motoring more expensive in real terms must be one of the methods used to bring down that pollution. Other methods—persuading motorists to use lower emission fuel, and investing in alternative forms of transport—are also important, but if we are really to tackle the problem we must use all those methods, including a rise in real terms of vehicle fuel taxation.

After all, the likelihood is that the cost of motoring will fall in real terms in the next 10 years, for a number of reasons. In the UK in particular, car prices are likely to fall in real terms. Perversely, if fuel duty stays the same as fuel efficiency increases, motorists will be encouraged to use their cars more, instead of switching to public transport, thus bringing no benefit to atmospheric pollution. Traffic congestion would also increase.

Likely falls in the cost of motoring contrast with the cost of bus and rail travel, which, according to current trends, is at best likely to remain static, and may increase in real terms. Set against the cost of public transport, a reduction in the cost of private motoring will do nothing to encourage people to use public transport, but cause big problems in the delivery of the Government's 10-year transport plan.

I realise that these issues are difficult to discuss in the climate since the fuel protest, but a steady, real-terms increase in fuel duty is necessary to keep the cost of motoring stable, encourage more people off the roads and on to bus and rail, and create a level playing field. Many environmental organisations, such as Friends of the Earth, have made detailed and comprehensive proposals about vehicle fuel taxation, and I urge the Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take account of them in the forthcoming Budget proposals.

The Government have made a very good start by using environmental taxation as an important weapon in their armoury to promote environmental sustainability in this country. As we have discovered in today's debate, it is easy in theory to call for environmental taxation measures,

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but specific measures often give rise to considerable opposition on both sides of the House, because of their possible impact on individual constituencies. I praise the Government for so far resisting calls to draw back from environmental taxation measures, and I urge them to be consistent by taking forward that policy and building on the Environmental Audit Committee's excellent proposals.

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