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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): We have so far received around 30 replies from individuals by post and e-mail, and one reply from a regional branch of the National Farmers Union, but the consultation period does not close until January. In addition, my noble Friend Lord Whitty has discussed the consultation with the president of the National Farmers Union, and officials have met the vice-president and representatives of the sugar beet and potatoes committees.
Mr. Morley: The industry is aware of the problems with rhizomania. At least one variety currently available is resistant, but I accept that the more resistant varieties that can be grown in our climate, the better it will be for the industry. These are important and serious matters. The consultation period gives Ministers a chance to discuss with the industry how best to move forward.
Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): Nottinghamshire is a large sugar-beet growing area, with a processing factory at Newark. Will my hon. Friend consider carefully representations from the area for an extension of the containment policy for another three years, so that disease-free varieties can be identified and produced successfully?
Mr. Morley: I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, but we cannot ignore the significant increase in outbreaks that has occurred in Norfolk and Suffolk. One of the options under discussion is whether we could maintain the protected zones in other parts of the countryand that would include Nottinghamshirewhere the problem is not so great.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): Is the Minister aware that the proposal to remove protected-zone status from Norfolk and Suffolk will have a devastating effect on farmers in my constituency who grow carrots and potatoes for export? Is he aware of the crucial importance of the beet industry for Norfolk? Does he not agree that it is a disgrace that the Minister with responsibility for agriculture is in the House of Lords, where Members of this House cannot question him?
Mr. Morley: We had an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall last week on that subject. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and indeed the whole ministerial team, are responsible for issues such as the hon. Gentleman raises. However, neither he nor the Department can ignore the current situation in Norfolk and Suffolk. I appreciate that it is not good news for farmers there. The sugar beet industry is important nationally, not just regionally. It is a very important part of our agriculture sector, but we must recognise the problems in Norfolk and Suffolk and try to reach a realistic agreement that will protect the interests of the whole industry.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): Why has the Minister ruled out the option of simply renewing our rhizomania status? There is no pressure from within the EU not to do so. I am sure that the Minister is aware that a recommendation to exclude Norfolk and Suffolk from the UK's protected zone will have a devastating impact on sugar beet production and horticulture throughout East Anglia. I plead with the Minister to show some common sense on this issue. Could he not allow a three-year extension of our protected statusincluding Norfolk and Suffolkto see whether scientific tests can eradicate the soil-borne virus that so threatens our sugar beet industry?
Farmers in Norfolk earlier this week overwhelmingly rejected the three proposals put forward by DEFRA. Their plea is that the Minister back the status that we have now. I hope that he will show some common sense.
Mr. Morley: I understand the concerns in Norfolk and Suffolk on this issue, but the hon. Gentleman must accept that it is not true that there is no pressure in the EU. When the protected-zone extension was agreed last time, the negotiations were very difficult and a number of member states objected. The principal objection was that, unfortunately, rhizomania had established itself in Norfolk and Suffolk. We cannot ignore the facts: we must discuss the matter with the industry and try to work out
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): Our policy is to implement the sustainable management of our forests and woodlands and to promote those standards globally. The standards we apply are set out in the UK forestry standard, published in January 1998. Our policies and programmes for forestry in England are set out in the "English Forestry Strategy", which we published in December 1998.
Mr. Miller: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I beg your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, in first congratulating my noble Friend Lord Clark of Windermere, previously chairman of the all-party group on forestry, on his appointment as chairman of the Forestry Commission.
Community forests are important in creating a buffer between some of our old industrial areas and residential areas. Does my hon. Friend agree that this programme is proving successful, particularly in the Mersey basin? Will he commit himself to working with landowners to look for an extension of these programmes?
Mr. Morley: I welcome my hon. Friend's comments on the appointment of Lord Clark, which was supported by the forestry Ministers from all the devolved Administrations. Lord Clark has a long history of involvement with forestry issues, and I am sure that his appointment will be widely welcomed.
Community forests, and forests generally, have a tremendous role to play in regeneration and in reclaiming derelict land. I am pleased that the North West regional development agency has earmarked £10 million to take that forward. There is great scope for involving private sector funds and a range of organisations in taking forward community forests, which not only provide considerable benefits for local communities, as they have in the Mersey forest, but have scope for regeneration in a way that offers a range of benefits.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): My Department has lead responsibility for the Government's strategy. DEFRA intends to put in place a departmental sustainable development strategy by spring 2002. The new Department's aims and objectives have sustainable development at their heart, and my Ministers and I have been actively working with others to take forward sustainable developmentfor instance, at the climate change talks in Marrakech and the World Trade
Margaret Beckett: If I may say so, that is a thoroughly silly question. If the hon. Lady had been listening, she would have heard that I answered her question by saying at the beginning that my Department has responsibility for sustainable development strategy. She seems to assume that it is in some way a failure of my Department, and a criticism, that we have the Treasury completely on board with regard to sustainable development. The hon. Lady herself said that the Chancellor made a great feature in his remarks of the importance of economic measures to policy development. The Treasury has agreed that sustainable development should be an underlying theme of the whole of the next spending review. That is a substantial policy achievement, and I should have thought that if the hon. Lady understood anything about how this place worked, she would have congratulated us on it.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): I hate to say it, but the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) asked an extremely sensible question. The Government's record on implementing the strategy for sustainable development is one of talking big and doing little. How sustainable is a Department for the environment that has no control over planning? What is sustainable about building millions of houses on greenfield sites? How sustainable is a Department for the environment that has no say over major transport developments? Whatever happened to joined-up government? How sustainable are Ministers who, having lost the confidence of farmers, are rapidly losing the confidence of environmentalists? They have even lost the confidence of their civil servants: in the short life of DEFRA, 14,230 working days have been lost through strike action. Is it not clear that this Christmas the first prize for the best and most stuffed turkey goes to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs?
It is a legitimate argument that planning and transport are important for sustainable development, but when arrangements were different and the responsibilities currently held by DEFRA lay with the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, there were those who expressed great concern at the implications of thatnot least in rural areas, although urban environmental issues are important, too. Certainly, great concern was often expressed at the contribution of
We have set up a planning co-ordination unit with the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions in order to bring our information to bear at the appropriate times. A senior civil servant from my Department sits on the transport board. It is certainly arguable that relationships are just as good and just as close, and that just as much information flows as when those sections were all in the same Department.
As for the notion that a loss of confidence is indicated by the factI am sorry to acknowledge itthat we have indeed lost a substantial number of days through strike action, that is a direct consequence of the policy initiated by the Conservatives when they were in government, which allowed and encouraged a great diversity of pay policy across Whitehall. Civil servants in our new Department have very, very disparate pay structures, which is what lies behind the industrial action.