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GM Crops

12. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): If she will make a statement on her policy on assigning legal liability relating to the planting of genetically modified crops. [167017]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Government recognise that the commercial growing of GM crops raises issues of legal liability. We have made it clear that we will consult stakeholders on options for providing compensation for any economic
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losses suffered by non-GM farmers through no fault of their own. We are also considering the issue of liability for environmental damage.

Mr. Luff : I am grateful for that helpful response, but why did the Government engage in a shallow procedural trick to stop the vote on the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker)? I accept that they wanted to oppose it, but surely a debate would have been helpful. I understand that there is the prospect in the near future of a debate in Government time on GM crops. If such a debate takes place, will the Minister address the issues at much greater length than he can during a parliamentary question and answer?

Mr. Morley: I can certainly confirm that a commitment was given that there would be an opportunity for a debate on GM crops in Government time, and that commitment is being honoured. I look forward to that debate, which will give all Members an opportunity to raise whatever aspect of the issue they choose.

US Warships (Disposal)

13. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): If she will make a statement on responsibility for the US ghost ships in the UK. [167019]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): Four US ships are currently docked in Hartlepool. We understand that the company concerned intends to submit the necessary applications for planning permission and a waste management licence for the Graythorp site for the dismantling of the vessels, which would need to be considered by the relevant authorities. In the meantime, dismantling work on the ships is prevented and they are subject to regular inspection by the authorities.

Alan Simpson : The Minister will remember that, when he gave evidence before the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs during our inquiry into ghost ships, there arose the question of the point at which the legal liability for those ships would fall on the UK. In his evidence, he said that the clock was ticking under the 180-day rule, which meant that the UK would assume liability for the ships on 19 May. He also told the Committee that he would seek clarification with the EU as to whether the new 365-day regulations would come in before the weather window opened. Finally, he assured us that when the weather window opened, the ships would be returned.

Can the Minister tell the House—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that the Minister has enough to go on.

Mr. Morley: I have checked the situation under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development rules and the EU rules, and the 365-day rule is the relevant one. The ships are stored safely at Hartlepool and are regularly inspected. My hon. Friend will be aware that, following a meeting of the non-governmental organisations, I have agreed to put in
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place an overall strategy for dealing with recycling ships in the UK. The ownership of the ships and liability rests with Able UK and MARAD—the US Maritime Administration—and the regulator is the Environment Agency, in which I have the utmost confidence. The weather window for the return of the ships is, realistically, around the end of May. However, I do not want to duck the issue. I emphasise to my hon. Friend that we should consider the best environmental option, which, in my view, is to recycle them on site. Of course, that requires the necessary legal and environmental permissions. If they cannot be recycled on site, the next best option is to recycle them in the United Kingdom or the European Union. If that cannot be done, they will have to be returned. However, if we are concerned about environmental outcomes—I hope that hon. Members are—the best environmental option is to recycle on site.

Incinerators (Transport of Waste)

15. Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): What guidance she gives to local authorities on the transport of waste to incinerators. [167021]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): Section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 requires transport of controlled waste to be carried out by an authorised person in accordance with the waste duty of care code. Waste collection authorities are authorised persons for this purpose. The waste duty of care code of practice of 1996 provides guidance to everyone who handles controlled waste, including its transportation.

Bob Russell : I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, as far it went. Does he agree that the proximity principle needs to tightened so that waste is not carried long distances, and certainly not more than 10 miles? Does he also agree that, if local authorities want their waste incinerated, they should have incinerators in their backyard, thus ensuring that London's rubbish is not carted 60 miles to a proposed incinerator in Colchester?

Mr. Morley: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. Of course it is desirable to deal with waste as near as possible to its source. However, he knows that getting permission for incineration capacity is difficult. If the Liberal Democrats now support the provision of incineration capacity when that is the best environmental option, it might make matters easier.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions

16. Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC): What proportion of the increase in carbon dioxide emissions in 2003 was due to (a) an increase in energy consumption and (b) an increase in aviation fuel consumption. [167022]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): The increase can largely be accounted for by higher energy consumption, with the increase in power station emissions being partly offset by lower emissions from residential energy use, transportation and industrial energy use. The share of domestic aviation cannot yet be separately identified within transportation.

Mr. Thomas : Earlier, the Minister said that the Government had a good story to tell on the matter. By
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accident or design, that is partly true. However, are not the Government about to lose their pole position in Europe? The worrying decline in the reduction of CO 2 emissions needs to be reversed. Will he assure hon. Members that the submission that he is preparing under the EU emissions trading directive will not retreat from the aims and objectives that were set out in the initial consultation, especially the 5.8 per cent. reduction that is expected from the industrial sector?

Mr. Morley: I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will stick to the targets and objectives in the energy White Paper. When setting a cap, we must take account of current circumstances and modelling. We have already set it at 16.4 per cent. in the national allocation plan. We are discussing that with industry, but our intention is to reach 20 per cent. by 2010. We have made better progress on our Kyoto commitments, as I have outlined to hon. Members. I am confident that, once we get the European emissions trading scheme up and running, British industry will do better than the trajectory that we are setting for it and that we will reach the 20 per cent. target. However, we have said that we will make necessary adjustments in 2007 or 2008 to achieve it.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that CO 2 capture and storage in depleted undersea oilfields, which is permissible under the OSPAR convention, would make an important contribution to carbon reduction? Since that has been recognised in a recently published Department of Trade and Industry report, will he support further work on the proposal so that it can become part of the Government's carbon abatement technology programme?

Mr. Morley: It is important that we consider all the options in relation to reducing greenhouse gases and CO 2 . That will include increasing the amount of renewables—to which the Government are committed, following the energy White Paper—and clean fuel technology. We also need to look at carbon sequestration. I do not see that as a long-term solution, but it might be useful in the medium term. We would
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have to assess its environmental impact in some detail and we will. Nevertheless, it is an option, and we should give serious consideration to it.

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