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21 Nov 2002 : Column 777—continued

Foundry Industry

8. Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): How the capacity thresholds for the pollution prevention control regulations in the foundry industry are assessed; and if she will make a statement. [81210]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): The regulations prescribe various capacity thresholds for different activities, including for the foundry industry, and derive from the EC directive on integrated pollution prevention and control. In assessing permit applications, regulators will determine

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the capacity of an installation on a case-by-case basis. The starting point is the operator's description of the installation.

Mr. Bailey : I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. There are concerns, particularly among small foundries, that they are being assessed on the basis of a theoretical 24-hour production capacity when in fact they have neither the moulding nor the cleaning capacity to operate for more than eight hours. As a result, the extra regulations would incur considerably increased costs, which could put some of them out of business. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to work with the small foundries to ensure that they are not inappropriately regulated?

Mr. Meacher: I am happy to do so and consider the matter further. The precise definition of capacity thresholds is set out in the regulations. Operators should be clear whether they are subject to the full integrated pollution prevention and control regulations or, if they run the smaller operations about which my hon. Friend is concerned, only to air pollution controls. I repeat that the starting point for assessing an installation's capacity on a case-by-case basis is the operator's own description, but if there are problems that can be resolved under the regulations that are binding on all member states, I am happy to look at the details.

Sheep Dips

10. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): When she last discussed the efficacy of continued use of organophosphate sheep dips with representatives of (a) the medical profession and (b) the pharmaceutical industry. [81212]

The Minister for Rural Affairs (Alun Michael): The Veterinary Products Committee has considered the question of continued authorisation of organophosphate sheep dips on a number of occasions. Its most recent advice on that issue, provided in October, was that no new regulatory action was necessary at that time.

Mr. Llwyd : I thank the Minister for his reply, which is not encouraging. Over the past five years, compelling evidence has built up of the link between organophosphate toxins and the debilitating disease that they cause. For 10 years, there has been an all-party group on the issue. Is it not the case that the Government refuse to do anything until they are dragged kicking and screaming to the High Court, as happened with the miners' compensation issue?

Alun Michael: The hon. Gentleman mixes two inappropriate comments. Following Government intervention, all OP sheep dips are now supplied in containers with enclosed transfer systems. A number of measures have been taken to ensure safety, and the advice of the specialists is as I stated in the reply to the hon. Gentleman's first question.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Does the Minister accept that the Government have a special responsibility to the victims of OP poisoning, because for many years

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those who were using OPs had to use them on Government instructions? Their use was not voluntary. The sheep dip was not simply an approved product; it was compulsory. Does the Minister therefore accept that there is a special responsibility to secure justice for those victims?

Alun Michael: The Government have a responsibility to act on the best scientific advice. The original question was about the continuation of use, and it remains the view that there is currently no scientific justification for banning OP sheep dips. On the basis of the advice, precautionary measures to ensure people's safety have been taken by the Government.

Livestock Industry

11. Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the biosecurity regulations governing the livestock industry. [81215]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): Extra biosecurity rules introduced in the aftermath of the foot and mouth disease outbreak are kept under review. Although standards of biosecurity have improved in some respects, there is no room for complacency.

Mr. Wiggin : I welcome the action plan for the briefing session mentioned earlier. It is true that the 20-day rule has been adhered to extremely conscientiously by farmers, and I find it very positive that Customs and Excise will try to prevent smuggling, but will the Minister do more to prevent double standards being inflicted on farmers? We know that the Government are not bringing in amnesty bins and landing cards, and it strikes me as most unfair that when farmers are doing their very best on biosecurity the Government are not doing what they should be doing to support them.

Mr. Morley: That is not the case. We accept that if we are trying to minimise the risk of disease, we must tackle various aspects of the problem. That must include borders and points of entry. We have introduced measures, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and we want to do more. We must identify exactly where the risks are, and a risk assessment is currently under development. The Government accept our responsibilities—for example, for border control—but the livestock industry must recognise that it, too, has responsibilities to reduce the risk of disease, and that involves movement restrictions. We will discuss in due course whether the 20-day restriction is appropriate, but there must be restrictions and they must be permanent.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): The Minister will be aware of the criticism of the number of officials who are employed in livestock markets and collection centres to oversee biosecurity measures. Would not some of those people be better employed at airports and seaports to ensure that exotic animal diseases do not enter this country?

Mr. Morley: Again, it is a question of risk and where resources are best applied. If we do not think carefully

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about where the risks are, we could deploy a great deal of money, resources and people power, and not reduce risk. By their nature, livestock markets, where animals intermingle, are an area of extremely high risk, so biosecurity must apply. Markets recognise that and we acknowledge the work that they have done to reduce risk.


12. Mr. David Cameron (Witney): What representations she has received about tax treatment of biodiesel and other biofuels; and if she will make a statement. [81216]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): The Government have received representations from industry, farmers and members of the public, both at meetings and in correspondence, requesting duty cuts for liquid biofuels. As with all tax matters, decisions on tax incentives rest with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Cameron : I wish the right hon. Gentleman well in his conversations with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Is it not a fact that with farm incomes low and with the widespread concern about the waste of set-aside, biofuels—biodiesel—represent an excellent opportunity for farmers and for the environment? Is not the tax treatment of such fuels in other European countries, slightly more generous than in our country? Would the Minister please take that up with the Chancellor, preferably before next week?

Mr. Meacher: I am keen to support agricultural diversification. Liquid biofuels have tremendous potential. The Government have set up the Government-industry forum on non-food uses of crops to investigate that potential. The Government have already taken action to promote the production of biofuels. As a result of the green fuels challenge, a new duty rate for biodiesel was set at 20p per litre below the rate for ultra-low sulphur diesel. I am well aware of the argument that that rate needs to be lower. As I said, I hear the argument and the matter is one for the Chancellor. On the comparison with Europe, the 20p reduction is almost the average for the European Union; it is slightly below that level. I recognise that if the industry is to be viable and not only develop used vegetable oil, which is already coming forward, the argument must be very carefully looked at.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will continue to consider this matter in a very positive way? It must be recognised that, as we need to make changes in agricultural production to meet those in the common agricultural policy, the development of biofuels is an environmentally positive way of proceeding that deals with several situations at the same time. We should encourage agriculture and the National Farmers Union to work in that direction.

Mr. Meacher: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend—this is a win-win situation in many respects. We are discussing a form of agricultural diversification that will certainly create more agricultural jobs and will produce

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an alternative transport fuel that is much more environmentally sensitive. The issue—this has to be the issue—is that it has to be cost-effective. If further duty cuts are made, they will of course involve a reduction in revenue for the Exchequer. The opportunity costs of making those reductions as opposed to others are the essential issue that the Government have to bear in mind.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Does the right hon. Gentleman understand the frustration that is currently felt in the industry about the lack of leadership from the Government on this matter? People cannot plant crops unless they are sure that there is a processing plant to take the crops, and they cannot develop processing plants unless they know that there is a market for the fuel. Can he not see that much greater leadership needs to be shown, not only by his Department but by the Treasury?

Mr. Meacher: It is not only a question of showing political leadership, as this is not a matter of political will. I was trying to tell the House that a cost is involved and that the process has to be cost-effective. Those are the calculations that the Treasury rightly has to make in considering the best way of using taxpayers' money, whether to promote an alternative form of agriculture, a new transport fuel or a reduction in greenhouse gases. I think that it can make a contribution in all those respects, but the hon. Gentleman needs to contain his frustration. The arguments are fully understood by the Government and I suggest that he wait to see what the Chancellor says in his pre-Budget report.

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