Previous SectionIndexHome Page

National Air Quality Targets

3. Mr. John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): What progress has been made on meeting the national air quality strategy targets. [113300]

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Urban Quality of Life (Alun Michael): We have met, or are on course to meet, air quality objectives for five of the nine pollutants in England—namely benzene, 1,3-butadiene, carbon monoxide, lead and sulphur dioxide. Significant progress has been made towards meeting air quality objectives for nitrogen dioxide, particles, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and ozone. That is a result of the measures that have been implemented to reduce emissions of these pollutants, and their precursors, particularly from road transport and industry.

John Robertson: I thank the Minister for his answer and I commend the Government for the work that they have done. However, conditions such as asthma are greatly exacerbated by pollution. Pollution may not cause it, but, as I know from my experience, it certainly makes it worse. The number of asthma sufferers now totals 5 million. Has the Minister examined the research on the effects of long-term air pollution carried out by the air pollution unit of the Department of Health?

15 May 2003 : Column 446

When will the measures that he has announced have a significant effect on air pollution, so that conditions such as asthma can be significantly ameliorated?

Alun Michael: My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is now greater sensitivity towards pollutants and a greater understanding of their impact. We do not believe that the battle is yet won: pointing to indicators of progress does not mean that we are satisfied with the position that we have reached. Although the emissions of most pollutants are falling, concentration levels of some are not falling as fast as we would like. I can reassure my hon. Friend that we shall remain focused on the targets and work with our colleagues in the Department of Health to remain fully sensitive to the points that he makes.

Norman Baker (Lewes): Does the Minister accept that the good work done in tackling air pollution will be undermined if the airline industry is not brought under control? Is he aware that Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports alone emit more than 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and 13,000 tonnes of nitrogen dioxide each year? The industry's CO2 emissions are set to double between 1990 and 2010. Will his Department support the imposition of a European Union aviation fuel tax, and also tell the Department for Transport that it must resist the discredited predict-and-provide policy for more runways in the south-east?

Alun Michael: The hon. Gentleman addresses transport policy and tax in his question, which confirms the important fact that many Departments make a contribution to these policy issues. We are conscious of the impact of air transport and the situation around airports, which is clear from our statement on the consultation documents on the future of air transport in the south-east.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): Does my right hon. Friend accept that air pollution is not simply an urban problem? It has a worrying effect in rural areas, especially given the amount of ozone from motorways. Is it right to put special effort into monitoring that, and does he agree that that should be part of a properly constituted overall policy, instead of one that just concentrates on urban areas?

Alun Michael: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Ozone levels in rural areas are a problem, and we are not satisfied with the progress that has been made. It should be remembered that ozone is a highly trans-boundary pollutant and we are taking measures nationally to control ozone precursors, such as nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds. Internationally agreed measures are the most effective ways to tackle that pollutant, as ground-level ozone concentrations in southern England are influenced largely by trans-boundary pollution. The UK will play a key role in seeking agreements on those issues, and my hon. Friend is right to highlight them as an area for concern.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): Surprisingly, many local air quality management areas exist in small market towns, and some of those are set to deteriorate further

15 May 2003 : Column 447

as a result of unsympathetic planning. What discussions has the Minister had with his local government colleagues to ensure that planning guidance is tightened up to prevent that from happening?

Alun Michael: The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that air pollution problems arise in areas such as market towns, where one would not expect them, and he has raised the issue in the House in the past. I can assure him that air quality issues are considered across government by this Department and our colleagues in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Department for Transport.

Sustainable Development

4. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): If she will make a statement on the outcomes of the 11th meeting of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development. [113301]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): The 11th session of the Commission concluded last week, having agreed a reform package and a new work programme that focuses on results and actions rather than textual negotiations. The outcome holds some promise that the CSD will be able to effectively fulfil its task of following up implementation of the Johannesburg world summit on sustainable development.

Joan Ruddock : Given the lack of binding targets on renewable energy set at Johannesburg and the fact that the follow-up on energy will not begin until 2006, what strategies are the Government developing on expanding the use of renewable energy globally, and will a British Minister attend the Bonn conference on that subject next month?

Margaret Beckett: We are mindful of the importance of the Bonn conference and we shall certainly be represented at a senior level. Unfortunately, we have not had much notice of those dates and Ministers' diaries are under considerable pressure. We are trying to find out who might be able to attend, but I cannot tell my hon. Friend at this point. I can tell her that we are involved in the renewable energy and energy efficiency partnership. We are taking that forward with great vigour and there is great interest in it from many companies and organisations across the world. We hope that it will be a fruitful vehicle. We are also working with other states that are pursuing similar partnerships internationally. I can assure my hon. Friend that the coalition of people who wish to pursue the advance of renewable energy is alive and well.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): On the issue of sustainable development and road fuels, the Secretary of State will be aware of the contribution that is being made by the development of biodiesel, especially from the use of oilseed rape as a feedstock. However, the 20p duty derogation is not considered sufficient to pump-prime the industry in the UK. What representations could her Department make, even at this late stage in the passage

15 May 2003 : Column 448

of the Finance Bill, to try to increase the derogation from 20p to 28p, thus triggering an important development in sustainability?

Margaret Beckett: We have had many discussions with our Treasury colleagues and I can, in all honesty, tell the right hon. Gentleman that there is no unwillingness in the Treasury team to look at those issues. There have already been, and there will continue to be, extensive discussions. The industry is very aware of the position: so far, it has not been able to make its case with sufficient force to convince the Treasury about the further steps that would make the dramatic difference that has been suggested. Treasury Ministers are open to those discussions—

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): Why not try it?

Margaret Beckett: We are talking about substantial sums of money. The Treasury has already made a substantial potential concession in revenue terms and is willing to consider discussions, but the case must be made.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): My right hon. Friend will know that there is a growing network of eco-schools, where children of all ages learn about sustainable development in practical ways. That is a good way of embedding in future generations knowledge of, and responsibility for, sustainable development. Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether the Department already disseminates information on sustainable development to the network of eco-schools? If not, does she not think that it is a really good idea and is a way of improving people's understanding of sustainable development?

Margaret Beckett: I share my hon. Friend's view that it is a good way of improving the understanding of sustainable development. DEFRA and the Department for Education and Skills make substantial information available to schools. Offhand, I am not aware whether special information is devoted to the network of eco-schools, but I shall certainly draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the relevant staff.

Cormorants (Inland Fisheries)

5. Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): How much public money has been spent by her Department over the last seven years on research into predation of inland fisheries by cormorants; and what conclusions have been reached. [113303]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Department has spent £1.4 million on research into predation of inland fisheries by piscivorous birds over the past eight years.The research programme significantly improved our understanding of the behaviour of fish-eating birds, their numbers and distribution and the extent of the problems they cause to

15 May 2003 : Column 449

fisheries, and helped towards the development of effective management strategies. The results of the early research have been published.

Mr. Salter : Does the Minister agree that it will come as no surprise to either anglers or the taxpayers who funded the research to learn that cormorants eat fish? The point is what will the Minister do to make it easier for fishery owners and angling clubs to protect their stocks and their livelihoods, especially in the light of the news this week that at Walthamstow reservoir, fish stocks worth £50,000 were predated in a single year?

Mr. Morley: I know of my hon. Friend's interest in this matter. Indeed, he took me to Walthamstow reservoir to see the problem. Unfortunately, on that particular morning there was a thick fog so I can only say that I could see no problem. However, I know that there is a problem and that my hon. Friend is serious about it. As he knows, we have spent a great deal of money on looking into ways of dealing with the matter; for example, research is currently under way on fish refuges, which may be helpful in dealing with the problem. My hon. Friend will also know that in the worst-case scenario we can issue licences for control, but people have to demonstrate an economic loss and that other ways of deterring cormorants have been tried and have failed. We are willing to work with the angling world to find out how we can deter cormorants from eating its fish.

David Burnside (South Antrim): May I declare an interest? I have a pond on my farm in County Antrim—[Interruption.]—I will invite the Minister there.

At this time of year, I go to Movanagher fish farm to buy brown trout to stock the pond. All year round, I never see a cormorant, but within 24 hours cormorants come in and eat every one of those trout—[Interruption.] This is a serious point. At Movanagher fish farm, at fish farms throughout the United Kingdom and in commercial and sporting fishing, it is a disaster. The only way to deal with the problem is not to waste money on civil servants but to designate a number of days when cormorant stocks throughout the UK can be culled.

Mr. Morley: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. Of course there is an issue regarding still-water fisheries and the trend towards inland cormorant breeding, but his suggested solution may not work, and non-lethal deterrents may be equally effective. We do take the problem seriously; we must identify the most effective way of deterring such predation, and to do so we must examine the whole range of options.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): We have been talking about fish-eating birds; may we discuss the situation with regard to a fish-eating animal—the otter? Only this week there has been a report that the otters are coming back in great numbers.

Mr. Speaker: Order. We shall have to leave the otters for another day.

15 May 2003 : Column 450

Next Section

IndexHome Page