All Debates between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley

Wed 8th January 2014
3 interactions (181 words)
Tue 29th October 2013
3 interactions (241 words)
Tue 30th July 2013
3 interactions (141 words)
Tue 5th February 2013
3 interactions (132 words)
Mon 8th October 2012
2 interactions (3,014 words)
Wed 18th July 2012
3 interactions (198 words)
Thu 5th July 2012
2 interactions (2,883 words)
Thu 14th June 2012
3 interactions (271 words)
Tue 12th July 2011
4 interactions (304 words)

Peatlands

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Wednesday 8th January 2014

(7 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, of course, we have to take all factors into account in these decisions, but I shall pass on my noble friend’s comments to my colleagues at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
- Hansard -

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, reminded us, only around 4% of our deep peat is in sufficiently good condition still to be actively forming peat. That is a decline from 6% in 2003. We also know that Birmingham, Exeter, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield, as well as all of Cornwall, rely on peat catchments for their water. The Peak District peatlands alone supply 4 million people. Will the Minister therefore tell us what estimate the Government have made of the costs that could be avoided if the water storage and purification services provided by upland peat were restored?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Lord will not be surprised to hear that I do not have a figure for that, but the gist of his question is entirely right. Peatlands perform an absolutely essential function in ensuring that we have clean and pure water supplies.

EU: Regulation on Chemicals

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Wednesday 27th November 2013

(7 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
- Hansard -

My Lords, there are significant consequences for small and medium-sized enterprises of incomplete registration. Can the Minister please tell us how many businesses have already been informed by the European Chemicals Agency that their registration is incomplete, and what action has he taken to ensure that businesses complete all of the agency’s registration requirements in time to avoid those significant consequences?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

In terms of specific numbers, no, I cannot. However, I will write to the noble Lord on his question.

Bovine Tuberculosis

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Tuesday 26th November 2013

(7 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, perhaps I should clarify the answer I gave to the noble Lord. Research by Professor Christl Donnelly indicates that up to 50% of infections in the high-incidence area are due to badgers. Bovine TB can affect a wide range of species, including pigs, sheep, goats and camelids; it can affect wildlife—for example, badgers and wild deer—and pets, including cats and dogs, and of course humans. The key thing, however, is that in cattle and badgers the infection is self-sustaining. It is thought that most other species generally only act as spillover hosts.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
- Hansard -

My Lords, the Government’s strategy is obsessed by badgers and the transfer in what is a really difficult issue for farmers and is costly to the taxpayer. What are the Government learning from the recent outbreak of bovine tuberculosis in County Durham, clearly caused by cattle-to-cattle transmission?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I cannot accept the noble Lord’s first contention, but in response to his question about Durham, this is a beef-fattening unit, and it will therefore have bought animals in from elsewhere. That is why we introduced risk-based trading in partnership with auctioneers and the industry, to provide fuller information about TB status and history of selling herds to the market. Initially this is on a voluntary basis, but we will look at it again if necessary. We are also considering post-movement testing of cattle for those moving from high-incidence areas.

Animal Welfare: Cats and Dogs

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Wednesday 20th November 2013

(7 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
- Hansard -

My Lords, may I first congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Black, on securing this excellent debate and on the way in which he introduced it? The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, is right to resist getting a dog or a cat until she is ready. I was not so strong, and have two delightful dogs, Chesil and Otis, at home.

We are a nation of animal lovers. One quarter of us have a dog and a fifth of UK households have a cat, but it is clear that, as has been reiterated by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and others in the debate, there are more cats, kittens, dogs and puppies than there are good homes for them. The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, has given us a timely reminder of the need to educate owners and potential owners in the run-up to Christmas.

The defining legislation is, of course, as we have heard, the Animal Welfare Act 2006, brought in by the Labour Government. Under that Act, powers exist for secondary legislation and codes of practice to be made to promote the welfare of animals. I know that the Government are considering a number of specific issues, including updating or bringing in new regulations or codes. Until such new provisions are made, existing laws will continue to apply. We look forward with impatience. As a result of that legislation, there is guidance for pet owners and codes of practice that can also be used in courts as evidence in cases brought before them relating to poor welfare. Clearly, owners should therefore be aware of them and I wonder whether the Minister has any plans to publicise them further through vets, pet shops, pet insurers or other media.

There is a plethora of legislation relating to the keeping of cats and dogs, their sale and their welfare. Your Lordships’ House is separately debating the need for stronger dog control. I pay tribute to the work of Angela Smith MP and Julie Hilling MP who are driving a lot of this work in the other place, and to my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon who is leading for this side on the Bill that we are interrupting this evening.

When we ask people about the welfare of dogs and cats, many ask what we can do about breeding and better regulation of breeders. The Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999 provides protection for dogs used in breeding establishments. Under this legislation, any person who keeps a breeding establishment for dogs at any premises and carries on at those premises a business of breeding dogs for sale must obtain a licence from the local council. Those people who are not in the business of breeding dogs for sale—the so-called hobby breeders—and produce fewer than five litters in any period of 12 months do not need a licence. I would be interested in whether the Minister agrees with the noble Lord, Lord Black, and others who argue that this should be lowered to two litters in 12 months and whether that should be extended to cats.

The local council has the discretion under current legislation whether to grant a licence and, before doing so, must satisfy itself that the animals are provided with suitable accommodation, food, water and bedding material; that they are adequately exercised and visited at suitable intervals; and that all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent and control the spread of diseases among dogs. Local councils are responsible for enforcing the legislation. I am interested to know the Minister’s judgment as to whether he believes that councils still have the resources and expertise to do that.

In addition to ensuring that dogs are kept in suitable accommodation, the law also places limits on the frequency and timing of breeding from a bitch. Bitches cannot be mated before they are one year old, must have no more than six litters in a lifetime and can have only one litter every 12 months. Breeding records must be kept to ensure that these requirements are adhered to. Puppies produced at licensed breeding establishments can be sold only at those premises or a licensed pet shop. There is no mention of the internet. Does the Minister agree that this regime needs to be revisited?

The Welsh Assembly Government are acting: they began a three-part consultation in 2010, which ended last month. It seeks to repeal the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 and replace it with regulations made under Section 13 of the Animal Welfare Act in relation to Wales. The policy intent is to improve the animal welfare of all dogs on licensed breeding establishments. Importantly, once again, we in England are being left behind. Wales will have consulted and be reforming the laws on dog breeding before the coalition Government have even begun.

On this side, we therefore call on the Government to follow the leadership on animal welfare being demonstrated by the Labour Administration in Wales and to consult on the law and regulations on breeding of dogs and licensed breeding establishments in England so as to repeal outdated legislation and bring forward new regulations to improve the animal welfare of all dogs on licensed breeding establishments.

The Pet Animals Act 1951, as amended in 1983, protects the welfare of animals sold as pets. It requires any person keeping a pet shop to be licensed by the local council. That council may attach any conditions to the licence, may inspect the licensed premises at all reasonable times and may refuse a licence if the conditions at the premises are unsatisfactory or if the terms are not being complied with. Councils are responsible for enforcing the law in this area and anyone who has reason to believe that a pet shop is keeping animals in inadequate conditions should raise the matter with the council. However, much of this Act, which was written in 1951, is still relevant but much is out of date. Even its 1983 revision predates internet sales of pets, which we have heard is rife. Pets cannot be sold in the street, on barrows or at markets but they can be sold on the internet. Will the Minister please tell us when that will be updated?

If I had time, I would talk about puppy farms, which have been addressed well by the noble Lords, Lord Lexden and Lord Trees. I would also have referred to the excellent brief by Cats Protection and have raised the issues around neutering, which were so admirably raised by the noble Lord, Lord Black.

I have run out of time. We have had a good debate and I look forward to hearing answers to some of the questions from the Minister.

Lord De Mauley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley) (Con)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Black on securing a debate on this important subject. I echo the generous comments made by him and other noble Lords about the wonderful charities operating with pets. My noble friend reminded me, as did the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that I, too, should declare an interest as a 50% shareholder in a rescue poodle crossed with a Shih Tzu. I am not sure of the breed name for that.

Although I am the Minister with responsibility for companion animal welfare, my ministerial remit applies only to England. As noble Lords will know, animal welfare is a devolved policy area in the United Kingdom, so I hope my noble friend Lord Lexden will forgive me if I therefore focus on what we are doing to improve welfare for cats and dogs in England. He might like to know that I regularly meet with Ministers from the devolved Administrations and our discussions range widely.

Promoting responsible pet ownership—something referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle—remains a clear element of the coalition commitment. More responsible pet owners lead to improved welfare for all pets. The comprehensive legislation providing for and underpinning the welfare of all pet animals is the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and my noble friend paid a fitting tribute to the previous Government for so legislating. That Act not only introduces offences for animal fighting and cruelty, but offers a preventive element by placing a duty of care on owners to provide for the welfare needs of their animals. There are statutory codes of practice on the welfare of cats and dogs that summarise the important things to consider when making decisions on how to care for a pet.

A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend, spoke of the sale of pets and in particular the Pet Animals Act 1951. I understand that there were proposed plans under the previous Government to review existing legislation following the introduction of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. However, they did not pursue the matter. This Government are not pursuing an overhaul either. Having said that, legislation is already being looked at under the red-tape challenge. In the context of my noble friend Lady Parminter’s broad question, perhaps I can return to that later.

In addition, noble Lords are well aware of timetabling pressures. We need to focus on the most urgent changes necessary to protect public safety. We see those changes now in Clauses 98 and 99 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill currently before your Lordships. Rather than take time now—and we will be short of time—I hope that noble Lords are prepared to have those debates when we come to those parts of the Bill.

Where someone is in the business of selling animals as pets in a pet shop or through any other medium, they must be licensed under the 1951 Act. Despite being more than 60 years old, the Pet Animals Act still requires someone who is in the business of selling animals to have a valid licence from their local authority. I will return to that subject in a moment.

As well as important legislative changes we are making to improve the welfare of cats and dogs in United Kingdom, we are also taking forward important non-legislative policies and tools. The key issue here, as my noble friend Lord Black said, is the advertising and selling of cats, dogs and other pets online, which is increasingly controversial as the use of the internet to facilitate such sales increases. We have seen prohibited dogs for sale and cats and dogs kept in unacceptable conditions being advertised. I know that some organisations have called for the advertising of pets online simply to be prohibited. However, having considered this very carefully, my position is that such an approach would be very difficult to enforce and indeed would be likely to increase the risk of pushing unscrupulous advertisers underground.

We stand a much greater chance of success by engendering an improved culture in how our pets are bought and sold in this country. This must be done by better education of buyers, sellers and those in the middle, such as advertising sites that link the two. To that end, I thank the members of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group for their work in this area and their successes so far.

PAAG is a group of animal welfare, keeping and veterinary organisations that have come together to look at the issue of pet advertising. In September, I was privileged to represent the Government in endorsing their minimum standards for classified websites, attending the launch of the standards and holding a meeting with representatives from seven of the most prominent classified ad sites in the country. The engagement with PAAG and the Government on this matter by the sites has been really very encouraging, and I am grateful.

We are also working with PAAG and the sites to ensure that potential new pet owners are as fully informed as possible about ownership and the responsibilities that it brings. This is especially important today when purchasing a pet is so easy. Most of the websites already provide welfare advice and we are aiming to top this up with on-screen devices such as pop-ups that will further remind new owners of their duties under the Animal Welfare Act and the responsibility that comes with owning a pet.

In the past year, and as part of the move to the new GOV.UK website, we have included additional information on points to consider when buying a puppy and highlighted important organisations, which are well placed to offer detailed advice in order to ensure that your puppy is healthy. We will continue to remind the public of using the valuable resources that are already available—such as the BVA AWF puppy contract when considering buying a puppy. The wonderful pet charities have extensive user-friendly information available. Above all, we urge the public to consider re-homing a rescue cat or dog before buying a kitten or puppy.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, I am conscious that we are approaching the festive season when people begin to consider pets as presents. I reiterate the 35 year-old message that a pet is for life. It is a message that the Government will be sending out over the next few weeks to ensure that pet ownership is not seen as a light undertaking.

The work on advertising of cats and dogs crosses over into that of breeding, as we see significant numbers of puppies and kittens for sale, as noble Lord, Lord Trees, and others mentioned. As noble Lords will know, there is legislation on the breeding of dogs to protect the welfare of all dogs involved.

Under the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999, local authorities have the power to license those in the business of breeding dogs. I reiterate that the so-called five litter test, which is referred to in the legislation, is a maximum, not a minimum limit. Whether someone needs a licence is first and foremost about whether they are in the business of breeding and selling dogs. There is an obvious read-across into how HMRC defines trading for tax reporting purposes. It helpfully provides nine indicators to aid individuals and authorities in determining whether their earnings are from trading. If some of these indicators are met by dog breeders, then they are in the business of breeding dogs and must be subject to licensing conditions. But even if someone is not in the business of breeding, anyone producing five litters or more per year must be licensed.

For further clarity, I think it is worth addressing the issue of so-called “hobby breeders”, which some noble Lords have referred to. Where hobby breeders are in the business—for instance, there is a profit-seeking motive or a systematic selling system—then these too should be licensed, even if they breed only two litters per year.

I should also emphasise that all breeders of dogs and cats, regardless of their licensing status, may be investigated by local authorities under the Animal Welfare Act where there are welfare concerns. It is for local authorities to prioritise such activities in their area and demonstrate the level of necessary resource that should be allocated. The public should alert their local authority where they have welfare concerns on any breeding establishment or if they believe an unlicensed breeder should be licensed.

The noble Lord, Lord Trees, spoke of standards of breeding. I am very heartened by initiatives such as the BVA and the Kennel Club canine health schemes, and veterinarians are generally being proactive in educating breeders and owner clients on the health consequences of breeding dogs with inherited disease or extreme conformation. The work here of the Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding to improve standards is very welcome. The noble Lord, I hope, will be pleased to hear that Defra is assisting in supporting updating of the guidance for breeding establishments, which will be released shortly and should contribute to better implementation and enforcement of the regulations.

I am about half way through what I wanted to say, but I have just been told that I have no more than two minutes left. I will go as far as I can and then if I may write to noble Lords on points that I am unable to cover. My noble friends Lord Black and Lady Fookes made important points about the benefits of neutering. The Government recommend that owners ensure their pets are neutered in order to limit the number of accidental litters and safeguard the welfare of existing animals. I know that a number of charities are strong advocates of neutering. I cannot commit to a government-backed national neutering day, but we will certainly work with those I have mentioned in order to ensure that the public receive the right message on neutering.

My noble friend Lord Black referred to attacks on cats. Such attacks are immensely distressing for owners and, clearly, for the pets involved. I can assure my noble friend that this is something the Government take very seriously. It is not the norm for dogs routinely to attack cats, although many naturally have a chasing instinct. I will write to my noble friend further on that.

I know that I have to write my noble friend Lady Parminter on the consolidation of the dog legislation—not something that we propose to do, but I need to explain to her why not. Likewise, I must write to my noble friend Lady Fookes about electronic training aids, which is an important subject. I have made sure that I have personally experienced those aids, so that I can form an opinion on them. Yes, I survived.

I wanted to find a moment to tell my noble friend that Defra’s chief vet will be holding an “Ask Defra” session on cat welfare and cat protection shortly.

In closing, I thank noble Lords for an interesting debate on this important issue which is, as your Lordships know, something in which I am particularly interested. I hope that what I have said this evening, perhaps combined with what I shall say in writing, will be useful to clarify what the Government are doing and the work we continue to do in this area.

Food: Waste

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Tuesday 29th October 2013

(7 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My noble friend makes a very important point. Indeed, that is why we are continuing to pursue the Courtauld commitment initiative, which was started under the previous Government and which has been extremely effective.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
- Hansard -

My Lords, as the growth in popularity of TV food programmes shows, we Brits love our food but we also love a two-for-one offer and the convenience of bagged salad. Between bake-off and BOGOF is the contradiction that many of us throw away more and more food while the numbers becoming reliant on food banks are spiralling, as people struggle with the cost of living crisis. Is there not a need therefore for the Government to work with retailers, broadcasters and others to help educate consumers, rather than having an Education Secretary who stigmatises and blames food bank users while downgrading the importance of cooking in the curriculum?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I was with the noble Lord until shortly before the end, which is why we place such store by the “Love Food Hate Waste” programme, which was initiated by WRAP. The good news, which the noble Lord may not know, is that “Buy one, get one free” deals represent a relatively small proportion of supermarket promotions. The majority of promotions are temporary price reductions: for example, “Was £8, now £6”. “Buy one, get one free” deals are often on non-perishable items or items with long lives, and WRAP is working with retailers to encourage alternative promotions for perishable foods.

Bees

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Tuesday 30th July 2013

(7 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I am really very grateful to the noble Baroness. Farmers have not been complaining to me recently about the numbers of elephants but I shall keep my ears open.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, reports this weekend that bees and other pollinators have bred well this year are most welcome. More concerning are reports that the lead government scientist on the effect of neonicotinoids on bees is joining Syngenta, one of the leading manufacturers of the insecticide. She previously worked on a Syngenta-funded project on bees and pesticides for Fera. Given the widespread concerns among the public about bee health, what assurances can the Minister give us that this closeness between policymakers and commercial interests benefits taxpayers more than shareholders?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, of course, all public servants go through the proper procedures before they take up a role outside government after they leave government.

Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2013

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Monday 22nd July 2013

(7 years, 9 months ago)

Grand Committee

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, as we have heard from my noble friend, we are returning to what is, for us on this side of the Committee, the vexed question of the abolition of the agricultural wages board, which we have consistently opposed. In opening, the Minister implied that the agricultural wages board was all about the minimum wage for farm workers. It is worth reminding the Committee at the outset, by way of clarification, that it is about so much more than just the minimum wage. This is doing away with a whole wage structure, training, regulations and measures in respect of accommodation and farm dogs, and all sorts of other things.

My noble friend Lord Whitty talked about the timing. I will return to the issue of Wales in a moment, but this also follows yesterday’s Tolpuddle festival—an occasion on which, in beautiful sunny Dorset, we remember the Tolpuddle Martyrs. In 1834, George Loveless, James Loveless, James Hammett, James Brine, Thomas Standfield and Thomas’s son John were all charged with having taken an illegal oath and then transported to Australia. That was the basis of the formation of the trade union movement in many ways and is rightly celebrated every year at Tolpuddle, when those martyrs are remembered.

My noble friend was right to probe the lack of an impact assessment. At the time, we kept returning to the impact assessment for the legislation which abolished the agricultural wages board, and we will keep reminding people that 150,000 workers are affected by the abolition of the board and that £240 million will be taken out of farm workers’ pockets. I know that that is contested by the Government, but they did not take advantage of this opportunity to publish any kind of impact assessment on these regulations to repair that.

I also want to comment on the implications for existing terms and conditions for individual employees. The abolition of the agricultural wages order largely protects existing employees engaged prior to 1 October 2013 with no specific contractual provisions. However, I note an article in Farming UK dated 26 June which quotes Colin Hall, a partner at BTF Partnership and a director of the 50 Club Horticultural Employers’ Association, as saying:

“For others, however, such as those more recently employed with a specific contractual provision reserving the employer’s right to amend their contractual terms following abolition of the AWO, or those employed on or after 1 October 2013, the implications are greater.”

There may be some currently employed workers who have particular contractual provisions who will be affected by these changes. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether he and his department are planning on working with agricultural employers and advising them on their new obligations as employers following the abolition of the board and the bringing into force of the regulations that we are debating today.

The Minister may have seen the article in Farmers’ Weekly on 11 July—I know that he is a keen listener to “Farming Today”, and I am sure that he is as assiduous in reading Farmers’ Weekly—about Peter Bailey, who was employed as a tractor driver and stockman in Berkshire for more than 22 years. He was awarded £38,000 for underpayment of wages after working an average 55-hour week at a farm there. Defra took up the case with the board and in the end Mr Bailey was able, through a tribunal, to prove that he was being exploited, not getting the pay he was entitled to and forced to work more hours than he should have, and that his employer was at fault. The tribunal found against the employer. That was a contravention of the old agricultural wages order but demonstrates that some farmers struggle to put existing employment regulations into proper effect. As things change, it is a particularly vulnerable time for employers. We need to ensure that they are properly advised so that they do not, inadvertently, do the wrong thing by their staff.

It is equally important that farm workers know their rights, reduced as they are. For any of them listening, I strongly recommend that if they are not a member of a trade union they quickly join because they will need one more than before as they will have to negotiate their pay and conditions on a case-by-case basis with employers. They will need the advice and support of a trade union to do that effectively. It is also worth noting—this was not something that was in force or that we even knew about when we debated the legislation to get rid of the board—that as of 29 July, this month, workers unfairly dismissed or discriminated against by their employers will be charged a fee for taking their claim to a tribunal. That means, in the absence of the protection of the agricultural wages board, that these typically extremely lowly paid workers will be denied the access to justice of a tribunal unless they are willing to pay a fee, with no guarantee, if the case is found in their favour, that they will get that fee back.

It is worth saying that the law is also changing so that if their employer—who might be their landlord—sidles up to them in the farmyard and makes them an offer to do things slightly differently and change terms and conditions, they would not be able to use that conversation in a tribunal either. That would no longer be admissible. I find that of huge regret, and we were not able to debate it when those orders went through. The changes to their pay and conditions as a result of this order and the new law abolishing the agricultural wages board increase the risk of agricultural workers suffering.

My noble friend Lord Whitty raised the issue of Wales and asked some highly pertinent questions about how this will work given the decision of the Welsh Assembly Government effectively to retain the agricultural wages board in the Principality. I would be very interested to hear how the two will work together. I understand that these regulations were laid before that decision was made by the Welsh Assembly Government, so perhaps there is unfortunate rather than deliberate problems of timing. It will certainly be September before the other place has a chance to debate these regulations. If we do not have a satisfactory answer from the Minister now, we will have to decide whether we want to pray against the regulations or leave it for the Minister to come back with some proper consideration of these matters when they come to the Commons in September. There will certainly be a problem if the agricultural wages board arrangements are to apply in Wales while the changes to leave entitlement are being made in these regulations. The exemptions were put in place in 1998 for a good reason. If they are to apply in Wales while also being changed it will create a problem which the Minister will have to resolve.

So for all the reasons that my noble friend Lord Whitty gave, we are not opposing these regulations as such, subject to some reassurance on the Welsh issue, because they are merely tidying up. However we hugely regret the abolition of the agricultural wages board. I do not think that it has been properly thought through. I think that, in combination with some of the other changes that are taking place, there will be more farm workers who are exploited beyond the few who are exploited at the moment, one example of which I gave from a recent report in the agricultural press.

With those words, I am happy to listen with bated breath to what the Minister will tell us.

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Knight, for their contributions. As I said earlier, the amendments we are proposing to the Working Time Regulations are necessary technical amendments to the legislation as a result of the end of the agricultural minimum wage regulatory regime on 1 October, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, was good enough to acknowledge. The amendments have no impact on levels of protection for agricultural workers and I believe that they are, in themselves, relatively uncontentious. However I recognise that, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, recent developments in Wales raise certain issues in regard to abolition of the agricultural wages board which noble Lords are rightly interested to hear about.

The Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill, passed by the National Assembly for Wales on Wednesday last week, would restore a separate agricultural minimum wage regime in Wales. It might be helpful here if I gave noble Lords some explanation about relevant procedural matters.

Under the Government of Wales Act 2006 there is a recognised procedure for the consideration of whether Bills passed by the National Assembly for Wales are within its legislative competence. Essentially, this provides that the Attorney-General and the Counsel General for Wales—either or both—have four weeks after a Bill is passed by the National Assembly in which to decide whether to refer any question of competence to the Supreme Court. After this period, if no referral is made and the Secretary of State for Wales has indicated that he will not use his powers under the Government of Wales Act to intervene, the Bill is submitted for Royal Assent. This applies to all Bills passed by the National Assembly and this is the stage which we have now reached with the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill.

My right honourable friend the Attorney-General is currently assessing the legislation to determine whether its provisions are within the Assembly’s competence, as he does with all legislation passed by the Assembly. It would not be right for me to speculate here what conclusion either the Attorney-General, or indeed the Counsel General, might reach. I will say that, as noble Lords are aware from previous debates on this issue, the UK Government regard the agricultural wages regime as wage-setting and employment law, which are subjects that are not devolved to Wales. However, it is for my right honourable friend the Attorney-General and the Counsel General separately to consider whether or not a reference should be made to the Supreme Court on the question of the competence of the provisions of the Welsh Bill. This is a decision for them which it would not be appropriate for me to second-guess. Should either the Attorney-General or the Counsel General for Wales, or both, decide that such a reference should be made, it will be up to the Supreme Court to consider the Bill and make a judgment.

I hope, therefore, that that makes the position clear. There is a statutory procedure to be followed in the case of all Bills passed by the National Assembly and, quite properly, that procedure is now being followed in relation to the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty—

--- Later in debate ---
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

The noble Lord effectively asked why we do not wait to press ahead until all this has been resolved. We will not know the outcome of the Welsh position for some time, but we need certainty for people in employment in farming in the mean time. If we did not do this then new employees could effectively be left in limbo.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, asked what discussions the Government have had with Welsh Ministers about all of this. There has been extensive discussion with Welsh Ministers about the position of the agricultural wages board in Wales, and Welsh Ministers were informed of the Government’s decision to pursue abolition by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act. The UK Government communicated our view that this was a non-devolved matter which did not require the consent of the Assembly clearly to Welsh Ministers.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, reiterated his position when we debated the Act—if I may shorthand it. I understand his position very well. Abolishing the agricultural minimum wage will bring agriculture into line—

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

Before the Minister moves off Wales completely, I would be grateful to know whether he considered the order applying just to England, so that we would not have this issue. Given that detailed conversations were going on with Ministers in the Welsh Assembly Government, was that an option?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

The words I used apply to both England and Wales. That is the point. It would leave those coming into agricultural employment in Wales in limbo as well. We do not want them to be left without certainty as to commencement of leave year and the other things we have been referring to here.

Littering from Vehicles Bill [HL]

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Friday 19th July 2013

(7 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, I have no wish to disrupt the consensus that congratulates the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on a good Bill and on seeking to address a serious problem which, clearly, your Lordships care greatly about, judging by this debate and the passion with which some addressed it. We are also grateful to the noble Lord for garnering support for his Bill from a number of organisations and for reflecting that support. I am also grateful for the briefings we have had, and have heard in part quoted, from CPRE and Living Streets. He is right about the need for a culture change, which was reflected by my noble friend Lord Judd and others.

There is a danger in over-romanticising the past. We heard a flavour of that in some of the contributions today. It is probably true that we have cleaner air and bathing water. We are even seeing some culture change around people’s attitude to dog fouling, although not among everyone. It is still a problem but less of a problem than it was when I was growing up. However, I find it very odd when I see people hanging from trees bags containing dog mess that they have picked up. I do not understand what that is about. I am happy to say that none of them appears to be nappy bags, so I do not think that they were anything to do with the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and his nappy bags. It is a strange habit that leaves me completely perplexed as I walk around the countryside occasionally walking my dog.

It is true that the problem of littering from vehicles is getting worse. I noted the comments made by the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. The drive-through restaurant is a problem that has increased littering from vehicles. Perhaps the corporate social responsibility of McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and others that he mentioned can be pricked to help councils deal with that. In some areas, those organisations try to do a little to deal with it. Certainly, where I live in Dorset, we see the same sort of rubbish that the noble Earl sees where he lives and much of it appears to be generated by the drive-through restaurants.

I wholeheartedly support this Bill and want to see it progressed. I have four points to make. The first, to repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, is to hear about the effect in London. We will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that. In Committee, we should explore whether this proposal will apply just to the road and verges off the road, as implied in Clause 6. Clause 1 refers to Section 87 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which refers to any place “open to the air” in the area of the authority. We need to clarify the definitions.

I am also interested in how we can enforce this Bill. We can learn from the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and his experience travelling around the continent. Will we end up being able to use technology? I am not one to romanticise the past. Sometimes I romanticise the future and perhaps there are aspects of technology that we can use in terms of our smartphones that know where we are to take pictures of people if we can catch them in the act. But catching people in the act, as we know when trying to discourage dog fouling, is quite tricky. Indeed, the act of dog fouling tends to take a little longer than throwing something from a moving vehicle. I especially am interested in whether local authorities with CCTV would be able to use that technology in enforcing these measures and whether the latest code of practice generated by the Protection of Freedoms Act would allow that to happen, particularly given that this is the enforcement of a civil offence. That is something else we might want to explore in Committee.

Finally, I am interested in what would happen to the proceeds of these fines. According to the Bill, the levels would be set in regulations, which of course is right. Would a council be able to generate a surplus? Should it be effective in enforcement? Would it cover just the cost of the administration of prosecuting people for these civil offences? Could it also cover the cost of litter clearance? Those are interesting issues. There are some people who wanted this Bill to be more aggressive. They may want more aggressive fines and would be very comfortable with councils generating a surplus.

I do not wish to detain the House. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and, certainly, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, were very keen that we should see an end to any procrastination from the Government on this issue. I look forward to hearing from the Minister whether he will accept the invitation made by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, to bring forward a government Bill to bring into effect the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, whom we support wholeheartedly.

Lord De Mauley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Marlesford for introducing his Bill. Like my noble friend Lord Lawson, I congratulate him on his persistence. I know that this is an issue he cares deeply about, as do other noble Lords, and I share that concern. Like him and the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, I regularly collect litter along the road which runs past my house. Let me make clear that it is thoroughly irresponsible to throw litter from vehicles, as it is to litter in any other way. It is important that we find an effective way to bring home to people that throwing litter from car windows is unacceptable behaviour.

I agree with my noble friend that roadside litter is a blight on some areas of England. I travel around the country carrying out my role and clearly notice that while some parts of the country are clean, others are regrettably less so. This reinforces the fact that those responsible for tackling littering all take slightly different approaches to fulfilling their responsibilities and that some are more successful than others.

What has come out of this debate today, among other important things, is that littering from vehicles has always been a difficult problem to solve. The sense of anonymity that the litterer appears to feel while encased in his car only serves to accentuate that problem. Unfortunately, for many people it seems that it is almost second nature. When confronted with an empty drinks can or a chocolate wrapper in their box on wheels, they see throwing it out of the window as an acceptable course of action, rather than, as they should, taking it home with them.

The high-profile case of the broadcaster Alice Arnold who, like my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury, took matters into her own hands and delivered a discarded plastic bottle back to its owner while at a set of traffic lights near Hampton Court, led to her being hailed a national heroine. This highlighted the strength of feeling that many of us have about this matter and the need for action. We also need to ensure that any such action is based on sound evidence in order for it to be effective and to make a difference.

Throwing litter from vehicles is already a criminal offence under Section 87 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. There already are considerable penalties for those who litter, including prosecution in a magistrates’ court where an offender can be fined up to £2,500 and acquire a criminal record. As an alternative to prosecution, a local authority enforcement officer can issue offenders with an on-the-spot fixed penalty of up to £80. The threat of a criminal record for throwing away a piece of litter can act as a strong deterrent, especially as it could have implications for the offender’s career and finances.

However, the seriousness of these consequences also means that it is important that enforcement officers have good evidence which would stand up in court before issuing a fixed penalty notice for littering. When litter is thrown from a vehicle I know that it is not always easy for enforcement officers to know exactly who threw it, especially if the vehicle is moving.

As he explained, through his Bill, my noble friend seeks to enable local authorities to issue civil penalties to the registered keeper of a vehicle if someone inside his vehicle jettisons litter. The key point in his proposal would remove the problem currently faced by enforcement officers of identifying the littering offender with the degree of certainty that would be required for a criminal prosecution. Essentially, this Bill says that we do not quite know who committed this crime but someone should pay, so we will punish the only person we can identify.

The Bill is similar to provisions brought in under the ninth and 10th London Local Authorities Acts, to which several noble Lords have referred, which apply only in London. These powers, which were introduced with the support of London Councils and came fully into force in June 2012, allow London boroughs to issue a civil penalty to the registered keeper of a vehicle where enforcement officers witness littering from it. My department is closely watching this new approach. We have already started the process with London Councils of examining how effective this legislation is and whether it provides a viable way forward in tackling this issue nationally.

However, I have to tell my noble friend that London Councils tells us that there are some emerging questions. Most importantly, as yet none of the London boroughs has issued a single civil penalty notice for littering using the new powers. As a result, as yet we have no data on whether the civil penalty for littering from vehicles in London has been effective in reducing littering behaviour. As the London boroughs have been aware that these powers were coming since the ninth London Local Authorities Act was passed in 2007, this delay in beginning to use the powers in itself seems to suggest that setting up and operating this new approach is not quite as simple as it may seem.

We understand that two boroughs were expected to begin piloting the new approach late last year but they seem to have faced some delays, particularly in setting up the new appeals system. Other boroughs have mentioned difficulties in identifying littering offences using CCTV cameras—the noble Lord, Lord Knight, asked about that—or the need to reorganise their back office functions to handle enforcement of both civil contraventions and criminal littering offences.

Another borough mentioned the anomaly that the new powers create in that littering is a criminal offence if it occurs outside in the open air but it is decriminalised once it occurs from inside a vehicle. We know that some motoring organisations have expressed concern that making the owner of a vehicle responsible for all littering from it regardless of who committed the offence could be seen as an infringement of an owner’s civil liberties, which of course we want to avoid.

I sympathise strongly with my noble friend’s impatience. We all want to see a reduction in this problem. The approach taken in London may ultimately show us the way forward but, until it has had significant practical use, we will not know for sure whether it makes it easier for enforcement officers to take effective action and whether that, in turn, would lead to a reduction in litter on our streets.

However, the issuing of fines is not and cannot be the only answer. With the best will in the world, enforcement officers cannot be everywhere at once and the use of CCTV does not appear to be a magic bullet. Apprehending those who litter at night, at speed, in isolated areas or on quiet rural roads, which many noble Lords were concerned about, will remain difficult.

If we are to tackle the problem effectively, changing people’s behaviour is essential, as my noble friend Lord Cormack said. If people did not feel it to be acceptable to throw their litter out of their car windows, the problem would not exist. As I said in response to the proposals of my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones on leafleting a couple of weeks ago, we believe that the most effective way to change people’s behaviour is to change their attitudes to littering. Changing legislation is not the only answer or even the best solution.

The fact that littering is a criminal offence reflects the unacceptable and harmful nature of this behaviour and it has a certain deterrent effect. Treating littering from vehicles as a civil contravention may make it easier for local authorities to tackle the problem but there is also a risk of sending the wrong message about the seriousness of this conduct.

Of course, the balance between taking action against polluters, criminals and those who persistently behave in an anti-social way while protecting the civil liberties of law-abiding citizens is a delicate one, but we must do our best to get it right. Ultimately, we believe in treating people as adults and providing the freedom to do the right thing, rather than simply making it easier for enforcement officers to fine someone—anyone— whether or not they have got the real culprit.

I referred to the need to change people’s attitudes, as did the noble Lord, Lord Judd, very sensitively. We continue to back Keep Britain Tidy’s call to action. The Love Where You Live initiative works with businesses, local authorities and civil society organisations to make an important contribution to behaviour change on littering in all its forms and to enable local authorities, civil society groups and communities to take local action together to improve their neighbourhoods and engender renewed civic pride.

As part of the Love Where You Live initiative, a meeting of representatives from the vehicle sector, trade associations, the Highways Agency, local authorities and civic society groups convened last year to discuss littering from vehicles in general with a view to agreeing a voluntary commitment to raising its profile. Actions arising included commitments by bodies such as the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the British Parking Association and the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association to carry anti-littering messaging on their websites and vehicles; to build an anti-littering message into their training programmes; and to provide more facilities for disposing of litter, whether it be in cars or outside the wall of a pub or coffee house. These changes are simple and achievable and I thank all of those who got involved at the time and are continuing to do so now.

We have also raised awareness with other government departments. This collaborative approach, with, for example, the Highways Agency, can be seen in the electronic message signs over a number of motorways or the large banners at motorway slip roads advising drivers to dispose of their litter in a responsible manner. Of course, still more could be achieved by vehicle hirers, motoring associations, manufacturers and service stations.

I should like to comment briefly on Part 2 of the Bill, which would require local authorities to publish, at least once in a financial year, the names of any organisations with which they are contracted to collect litter and the amount paid for this service. I understand that one aim of this proposal is to enable anyone with a complaint about a particular problem to contact the relevant contractors directly. This proposal would constitute a move in the opposite direction from the decision made by the Government in 2010 to relieve local authorities of the burdensome requirement to report information about street cleaning to central government. This requirement had until then been part of a national indicator set for local authorities to report against, which we have now abolished. To reintroduce such a requirement, as the Bill would do, would be an added administrative and financial burden on local authorities and would undermine the principles of localism for very uncertain gains. Much of this information is already published or available through existing access to information legislation, with suitable safeguards to protect commercially sensitive information. Forcing the blanket publication of contracts in this way could also undermine a local authority’s ability to negotiate competitive contracts for street cleansing and waste management, thereby further increasing the cost of these services to the taxpayer. It is surely also reasonable for local authorities to determine for themselves how and to whom people should report concerns. If people are reporting incidents directly to cleaning contractors, it may make it more difficult for the local authority to monitor the performance of its contractor’s obligations.

Turning to noble Lords’ questions, my noble friend Lord Marlesford ragged me and suggested that there had been a too brief consultation on the Bill. These are not government proposals so, of course, we have not conducted a consultation. However, we wanted to know what some local authorities thought about this Bill and views were sought via the Keep Britain Tidy membership network, the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport and London Councils. We were pleased that we received 27 responses within the time available. The views they expressed were mixed. Some local authorities think that it is too costly and complicated to pursue offenders for littering from vehicles. Others were concerned that the potential for different fines for the same offence depending on whether it was criminal or civil, or that the increase in enforcement action, would lead to fewer fines being paid. Some also expressed concern at disclosing details of contracts, citing commercial confidentiality issues.

My noble friend Lord Lawson charged me with speaking to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State about this debate—of course I will. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to difficulties in moving new estates into local authority responsibility. I will talk to the Department for Communities and Local Government about that and write to him, if I may.

My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury suggested deposits on bottles and referred to legislation in place in certain states in America. I seem to remember that in my youth there were deposits on Ribena bottles. We have looked at this idea, which is in use in several US states, as part of our consideration of our packaging recycling targets. Unfortunately, the costs identified by the review appeared to outweigh the benefits, but I am happy to meet my noble friend to discuss this research further if that would be helpful to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Mawson, referred to the removal of national indicators. As I said earlier, a decision was taken in 2010 to relieve councils of the burden of reporting. Of course, a statutory duty on councils to clear litter and refuse remains. The standards to be achieved are set out in the Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse. As a matter of interest, Keep Britain Tidy’s annual local environment survey for England, which is based on the same set of indicators, shows that litter levels have remained much the same over the past decade.

The noble Lord, Lord Knight, asked who would enforce the Littering from Vehicles Bill. Of course, it is my noble friend Lord Marlesford’s Bill but my understanding is that the powers will be enforced by a civil enforcement officer, who would be either an employee of the local authority or the employee of a contractor of that authority employed to act as a civil enforcement officer. The noble Lord also asked whether local authorities would be able to keep the income and what would happen to it. My noble friend’s Bill says how penalty charge receipts are to be used. Under Schedule 4 to the London Local Authorities Act 2007, London boroughs are required to,

“keep an account of their income and expenditure in respect of the administration and enforcement of section 61 (penalty charges) of this Act”.

At the end of the financial year, any deficits should be made good out of the council’s general rate fund. If there is a surplus, the borough is required to apply this,

“to purposes connected with the improvement of the amenity of the area of the council or any part of that area”.

I assure my noble friend that we are not closed to the possibility of national legislation to tackle littering from vehicles but, as I hope I have explained, a number of significant issues need to be resolved before we decide to roll out the powers in the London Local Authorities Act to the whole country. So far, London local authorities have had more than five years to prepare for the introduction and implementation of these changes but it has evidently not proven as simple as might have been hoped. As a result, we still do not know whether the new powers actually work effectively to reduce littering. Until we have that evidence—until we are sure that simply issuing more fines for littering from vehicles will change people’s behaviour and lead to a real reduction in littering, and that decriminalisation does not send the wrong message about the seriousness of the offence in question—it would be premature to extend these potentially controversial powers nationwide.

I must express my reservations about my noble friend’s Bill. However, my noble friend has made and continues to make a really important point: litter is a blight and litter from vehicles is an important element of that. My noble friend wants to deal with it. I want to deal with it. I would be more than happy to arrange a meeting in my office for my noble friend to meet the relevant people from the local authorities trying out this method in London so that we can explore it together and see whether this is the best way to tackle it.

Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) (Amendment) Regulations 2013

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Monday 8th July 2013

(7 years, 10 months ago)

Grand Committee

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, this instrument seeks to correct an error in the 2012 regulations. The error concerns the formula used for calculating the glass remelt recycling target for producers of glass packaging. The consequence is that the proportion of producers’ glass obligations that have to be met by evidence from remelt applications is inadvertently higher than the intended 63% for 2013-15. This instrument corrects that mistake by substituting an amended formula which ensures that the 63% glass remelt target is correctly applied to a producer’s glass recycling obligation for 2013-15 and 64% for 2016-17. My officials have worked with the Environment Agency to correct the error and to check that no further changes are needed to the 2012 regulations.

Prior to the 2012 regulations coming into force, Defra carried out a written consultation, with officials engaging with a broad range of representatives from industry, regulators and other interested parties. The consultation included the correct target of 63% but the draft regulations accompanying the consultation contained the error, which went unnoticed at the time. To correct it, we recently completed a public consultation on this revised draft instrument. We invited views on the plans to correct the error and there were no responses.

In practical terms the error has had no impact on business, with UK environment agencies using a correct version of the formula and enforcing against the intended 63% target. This instrument does not impose any new burden on any business. However, I apologise unreservedly for the error and hope that I have adequately explained that this instrument is intended to do no more than correct a mistake. I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing these regulations, and in particular for his apology. He will not be surprised, and may be relieved, to know that I do not oppose them since obviously it is appropriate to correct the error. Indeed, when I first looked at the regulations I naively did what people do, and that is simply to look at them. Of course, there is no mention of the error. I looked at the impact assessment, where again there is no mention of the error. My first question to the Minister, therefore, is what has been the impact of the error? What has been the cost to the taxpayer of getting this wrong and having to reconsult, even though there were no responses to the consultation?

The Explanatory Memorandum is perfectly clear: the instrument corrects an error in the formula for calculating the glass remelt recycling target for producers of glass packaging. He is not yet on his feet in the other place, but we anticipate from the media that the Secretary of State for Education will shortly be announcing changes to the national curriculum, among which will be that primary school children will have to learn their fractions. It is worth asking when Ministers will learn theirs too, so that we do not make these errors in the future.

The regulations are fine and they do a perfectly good job. I note in passing that these are regulations which the Government support—and that occasionally the Government support regulation. These are also regulations from Europe—and occasionally the Government support regulations from Europe. These are also regulations that gold-plate EU regulations, so there are times when the Government support the gold-plating of EU regulations. As I say, that should just be noted in passing. Having dealt with these regulations around a year ago, we are here because an error was made, so my only question of any substance for the Minister is: how much is it costing us?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, as always, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his comments. Before I address them, perhaps I could say that the target we are talking about offers both economic and environmental benefits for the United Kingdom. As valuable resources for our industries become scarcer and more expensive, we need processes in place to recycle and recover them in order to retain as much of their value as we can in the economy. Indeed, the Government want the United Kingdom to move towards a zero waste economy; that is, an economy where resources are fully valued. We want to see material resources reused, recycled or recovered wherever possible, and only disposed of as a last resort. The targets in these regulations play an important part in achieving this ambition. They will help the UK to go further in recovering the value of discarded packaging materials and help to tackle the wasteful practice of burying these resources in landfill. Overall, we estimate that the whole package of targets will provide a net benefit of over £180 million to the UK economy over the period from 2013 to 2017. Over 95% of those benefits will come from revenue generated from recycled materials. We will also see greenhouse gas savings associated with diverting waste from landfill and energy savings from replacing virgin materials with recycled ones.

The Government recognise that the economic benefits will not be shared by all. These regulations will place an increased cost burden on the producers of packaging materials. However, the recycling targets will help to support wider growth and the creation of jobs in the recycling sector. I am pleased to say that when we consulted on the regulations, most businesses, including the majority of those on which the increased costs will fall, supported our approach. As I said, I am sorry for the error made in the 2012 regulations and I thank the noble Lord for taking the time to debate this instrument today. It will permit producers to continue to meet their obligations under the correct glass remelt recycling target.

We have not calculated the cost of correcting the error. I do not anticipate that it will be material. It will consist basically of official time to check the regulations and prepare amended regulations. As I said in my opening speech, the effective cost of the correction is nil, because everybody has been operating on 63% anyway. The only other thing I would say to the noble Lord is that I always enjoy being ragged by him about my mathematics. With those comments, I commend the regulations.

Flooding: Insurance

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Wednesday 26th June 2013

(7 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what agreement they have reached with the insurance industry to ensure that owners of homes at risk of flooding can obtain affordable home insurance.

Lord De Mauley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, we are at an advanced stage in discussions with the insurance industry about the future of flood insurance. We aim to conclude those discussions and announce future measures as soon as possible to ensure that households can continue to access affordable flood insurance in the future.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, the Secretary of State is currently struggling to agree a fair deal on CAP reform for UK farmers, and his department has one of the worst settlements in Whitehall in today’s CSR. I hope that he does a lot better for 200,000 householders in this negotiation with insurers. This House rises on the deadline for concluding the negotiation. Given the persistent interest from noble Lords on all sides, can the Minister therefore guarantee us an opportunity to question him in here on the conclusion of the negotiations before we break for the Recess?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I had hoped we might have a constructive debate about this. However, since the noble Lord has raised the common agricultural policy, perhaps I should say that it was Labour’s leadership in the last round of CAP reform that cost us €550 million in disallowance and led us to the disastrous administration of the single farm payment. We, by contrast, are tackling another immensely complex negotiation on flood insurance in a measured and sensible way. We have to balance the interests of those at high risk of flood, wider policyholders and taxpayers, while the ABI is a membership organisation with a lot of interests to represent. The noble Lord asks about an opportunity to debate the eventual outcome. I would be pleased about that; it is not my role to guarantee it, but I am sure that we will have a chance to do that.

Water Industry (Specified Infrastructure Projects) (English Undertakers) Regulations 2013

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Wednesday 12th June 2013

(7 years, 11 months ago)

Grand Committee

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, the Minister will be relieved to know that on this occasion, unlike a previous one, I will not seek to give contradictory views to represent the views of some of my colleagues on this side of the Committee. This debate comes at an inconvenient time for Thames Water but, therefore, at an opportune time for Parliament. I will make some general comments and then delve a little into some of the specifics of the Thames tideway tunnel project. In making my comments, I am grateful as ever to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of your Lordships’ House. Its third report of this Session brings these regulations to the special attention of the Committee on the grounds that they give rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to us. I am particularly grateful that the Committee is willing to delegate me to take forward all those public policy issues. It is right that we should reflect on them.

As the committee points out, the Explanatory Memorandum implies that these regulations are generic and apply to all water and sewerage companies and large infrastructure projects that meet the criteria. That was clearly set out by the Minister. However, the only project to which the regulations are expected to apply over the next 10 years is the Thames tideway tunnel. The impact assessment therefore exclusively estimates the impact of the project in relation to these regulations. We have debated the tunnel before, but there are issues I would like to raise as events have moved on.

First, I will make some generic comments. The arguments put for establishing a separate body to manage the finance, delivery and extraordinary risks of major water infrastructure projects are reasonable. The example of the Thames tunnel is helpful. It will cost more than £4 billion and, while Thames Water will carry out associated investment at its own risk, the cost of the main tunnel is a considerable financial risk to put on a company with a turnover of £1.8 billion. Assuming that Thames Water is well regulated and responsible, there is logic in establishing a separate infrastructure provider to construct the tunnel and have Thames Water effectively lease it back.

These regulations then extend the reach of Ofwat to these providers, which is important to ensure that the public interest is protected. The alternatives discussed by the Minister and in the accompanying papers are to leave things as they are or to require that the project be put out to tender by the water company. Defra discounts the former because Ofwat would struggle to regulate the financial arrangements when they are bound in with the rest of the company’s activities. To some extent, I struggle to see how it can effectively regulate the general finances of a company and then the separate finances of a big project, but cannot manage to do it when they are done together. However, I am happy to believe those involved when they tell me that they cannot. I am also happy with the desirability of a separate provider over the complexity of negotiating a new licence, which is the implication of requiring the company to tender a major project. Therefore, I am happy with the regulations as they stand in the generality.

Let me then turn to the specifics of the Thames tideway tunnel and the figures in the impact assessment. I remind the Committee that I rent a flat here in London very close to one of the sites for the construction of the tunnel, so in that respect have an interest. Thames Water has also been to see me to brief—or some would say lobby—me about the project. I accept the basis of the company’s argument. The capital’s Victorian sewerage system has served the capital well, but urgently needs more capacity to meet the needs of modern-day London. The Thames tideway tunnel will ensure that the capital has a sewerage system fit for purpose for at least another century.

The tidal part of the river remains an environmental and public health hazard. It cannot be acceptable to allow the tidal River Thames to be an open sewer. Sewage discharges into the tidal River Thames breach the urban waste water treatment directive and British taxpayers would face the prospect of substantial fines if the tunnel is not built. Other world-leading cities, including Paris, Stockholm, Helsinki and Washington DC, as well as the Rhine/Ruhr conurbation in Germany, are forging ahead with similar schemes. I agree with Thames Water’s briefing that London is in danger of being left behind and facing substantial fines if we do not act.

I am happy to support the project. The benefits to employment in London should be maximised and the impact on residents minimised, and I am pleased on progress in moving more material off the roads and on to the river during the construction phase. However, I also note the recent remarks by the new chair of Ofwat, Jonson Cox. Interestingly, Mr Cox is a water industry insider. He said last week that some unlisted companies have a moral case to answer over allegations, that they,

“use shareholder loans to avoid UK taxation”,

through “complex offshore holding structures”. He said:

“A good number use high-coupon shareholder loans to improve their equity returns … It appears that this reduces tax liability for the benefit of shareholders”.

He went on:

“Tax policy is not for an economic regulator and these structures may be legal and common in private equity. But some aspects are morally questionable in a vital public service”.

Thames Water has published its annual results this week. It appears that the company pays no corporation tax on its £1.8 billion turnover while continuing to pay executives many times more than the Prime Minister. In my view, this is unacceptable—it stinks. Why should the public be reducing the risk to shareholders of Thames Water through the Water Industry Financial Assistance Act 2012, if it then uses every last trick in the book to maximise shareholder return at the expense of the UK taxpayer? Does the Minister agree that these loopholes must be addressed as a matter of urgency? The logic of allowing profit is to reward the risks, particularly of investment, but that is undermined by excessive profit, excessive executive pay and tax avoidance when Parliament and the Government are acting to reduce the risk to Thames Water customers and shareholders.

When we turn to the impact assessment, why should the taxpayer be funding an extra £5 million of regulatory cost of Ofwat in setting up these arrangements? Could we not find a way of billing Thames Water for this expense, given that Thames Water pocketed a £5 million credit from the Treasury in a year when it made £550 million in profits? Given that the chief executive, Martin Baggs, was awarded a pay rise of 5.9%, taking his basic salary to £450,000 plus a bonus of £274,000 as part of a scheme to,

“reward significant improvement in the group’s financial and corporate performance”,

as well as picking up a further £366,000 in shares next month under the company's long-term incentive plan, maybe the £5 million could be found from senior executive salaries alone. Does the Minister agree?

On the narrow question of the regulations, I am content. On the question of Thames Water fulfilling its moral responsibilities and thereby breaching the trust on which the financing of the Thames tideway tunnel is based, I am not.

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, this has been an interesting debate on a number of issues relating to the draft regulation and indeed to the Thames tideway tunnel. I thank the noble Lord for his views and his insightful interventions. I thank him for agreeing that the general approach we are taking is reasonable. That is perhaps the most important thing to come out of today, and it is extremely helpful. I will come back to his specific points in a moment.

As I indicated in my introduction, it is important that these regulations should be considered separately from the specific Thames tideway tunnel project in London. In summary, the regulations enable the creation of infrastructure providers regulated by the Water Services Regulation Authority, Ofwat, to finance and deliver large or complex water or sewerage infrastructure projects. They provide for the procuring, licensing and regulating of an infrastructure provider that is separate from a water or sewerage company. They set out how the Secretary of State or Ofwat can specify to which projects the regulations would apply and how they designate the company that is to become an infrastructure provider. The regulations are intended to apply to all such large or complex water or sewerage projects that may be proposed in the future, where their application would be considered to result in better value for money for both customers and taxpayers.

I turn specifically to the Thames tideway tunnel, and I think the noble Lord has already made similar points. Climate change, population growth and higher customer expectations of environmental standards and supply resilience are anticipated to require larger and more complex infrastructure than the existing regulatory regime was designed to provide for. For example, changing rainfall patterns are expected to result in wetter winters and drier summers—who would believe it after last summer?—and to aggravate water scarcity conditions in the south and the east. This may lead to an increased requirement for potentially complex arrangements for transporting water.

Moreover, heavy rainfall events are likely to become more frequent—that we can all believe. In London, these events will further strain an already overtaxed sewerage system, leading to more overflows of untreated wastewater, containing raw sewage, into the Thames. Even after ongoing upgrades to sewage treatment works and the Lee tunnel are completed by the end of 2015, just over 18 million tonnes of wastewater will enter the Thames every year from London’s combined sewer overflows when storm-water capacity is exceeded. These overflows currently occur on average about once a week and have a significant environmental impact on the river. They increase the likelihood of fish kills, create a higher health hazard for the users of the river and damage the aesthetic appeal of the Thames.

EUC Report: EU Sugar Regime

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Monday 3rd June 2013

(7 years, 11 months ago)

Grand Committee

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Carter on introducing this debate. I think that I am the first to speak in this debate who is not a member of the committee, so I congratulate the committee as a whole on an excellent and concise report, which has been mirrored by this debate. I, too, aspire to be both excellent and concise in making my comments now, though I feel somewhat more confident in one than the other. I will leave it up to the Committee to judge which.

The EU sugar regime is impossible to defend, and I am pleased that no one has sought to do so today. Coming to this fresh, it is difficult for me to think of a worse example of the problems of the common agricultural policy and the need rapidly to reform away from the legacy policy enshrined in this regime.

In trying to understand EU matters, it is always easy to get bogged down in jargon. When I read the response from the vice-president to the committee, I was reminded of some of those problems. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, read out a particularly interesting section on how consumers might be able to engage with the High Level Forum for a Better Functioning Food Supply Chain. It goes on,

“In this context, consumer organisations have supported the work done under the B2B platform of the High Level Forum”—

blah blah; it is a lot of euro-babble. I would therefore like to think how I would explain it to a lay person. What would I say? This is an attempt, based on my efforts to understand the regime.

It was established 45 years ago as a Common Market organisation to protect producers of sugar. It does so, as I understand it, by using taxpayers’ money to pay a direct subsidy to producers and by setting a minimum price paid to producers by sugar factories. At the same time, we are also subsidising some of these farmers through rural development grants—and this is to produce a product that we know is unhealthy, leading to obesity and with some links to cancer.

Having then interfered with the market once, we are then locked into a spiral of constant, costly market interference. To prevent overproduction in response to the generous price, and to in some way control the cost, there are then quotas to set a limit on production. Production in excess of the quota is known as out-of-quota sugar and strict rules then govern its use. It can be exported up to another limit, sold for biofuel or other industrial non-food uses, or be counted against the following year’s quota of sugar. The quotas can be varied to try to keep up with changes in the amount of sugar that people want to buy.

So far so good, in terms of the story, but of course it does not end there, because some of the poorest countries in the world grow sugar cane. Although we know that those countries would be better off if they refined it themselves, we like to import it and refine it here. Indeed, when our beet production was limited, some of our refiners adapted to refine cane sugar themselves as well. So, we give free access to preferred poorer countries to fill the gap between what we allow ourselves to produce and what we need. Fair enough— as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, reminds us, these countries need the help—but they get it on our terms.

However, it seems that the Commission is very bad at giving extra money to help those countries produce the cane sugar we need, so we have to make up the shortfall, which we do by importing from other countries, rather than, say, allowing ourselves to produce some more. We sometimes pay our beet producers to store some sugar so we can release it on to the market to make up for shortfall, but we are normally too slow to do this because the Commission is not proving that good at responding quickly.

I may have misunderstood some of the detail but that appears to be the story from my reading today. It is a story that could have been written by the most swivel-eyed of Eurosceptics. It is madness and needs to change. At no point are consumers accounted for and, despite all this public money, consumers are paying a lot more for sugar, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, set out so well.

Of course, it is easier to say what is wrong with the system than how we get from where we are now to a market-based system. I welcome the committee’s report, which is sensible and discusses the risks for ACP and LDC countries as well as others in the industry of changing too fast. I also welcome the Government’s response, although I note the comments of my noble friend Lord Carter and others who have spoken on the unacceptable lateness of that response. I also agree that the response on research appears a little complacent. However, we are all broadly in agreement.

My position on the main specific issues is that quotas are outdated measures that create artificial shortages on the EU market, do not deliver supply to meet demand, drive prices up, affect consumers heavily, limit the functioning of the market and hinder farmers from adapting to market signals. They also hamper efficient producers and stop new entrants from joining the industry and helping to develop it. Therefore, as we have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, they should be abolished as soon as possible. I hope that the Government will find some friends on the Council and reject the Parliament’s proposal to delay from 2017 to 2020. I suspect that they will end up compromising on 2018. If so, I guess that I can live with that, provided that it is adhered to with no concessions to being subject to progress and such like, as argued by some MEPs.

On cane refiners, regardless of whether the quotas stay or are abolished, beet growers and cane refiners must be treated fairly. A mechanism could be introduced so that when it is clear that a refiner’s raw material needs cannot be supplied from the preferential countries or topped up from beet production, raw cane sugar from other sources would be made available at low or no import duty.

On developing countries, through the European Parliamentary Labour Party we are pushing the Commission to ensure measures to help mitigate the effects of abolition of the quotas, such as increasing competitiveness and diversifying production. We must move away from a costly system that fails to stabilise the market, is doing little to serve producers and is certainly not serving consumers.

We would do well to recycle some of the savings from abolition into education about the health effects of consuming too much sugar. However, I agree with the committee that health is no reason to continue with the barmy EU sugar regime. I am, incidentally, unpersuaded as yet by the argument for using tax in this area, as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, argued, given the comments that we have already made about consumer pricing.

We would do well to ensure that assistance to preferred suppliers works and assist others to follow the Mauritius example and those supported by the Fair Trade Foundation to process more sugar domestically.

Most of all, we must get on with regime change. My one question to the Minister—I promised him only one question—is to ask how likely it is that we will get agreement, as planned, by the end of this month, and whether the Government will stick to their determination to phase out quotas before 2020.

Lord De Mauley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for instigating the debate, to all noble Lords who have spoken today and to the entire committee for its work on this report.

In responding to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and others, perhaps I may begin with an abject apology for the delay in sending the Government’s response to the committee. My honourable friend David Heath has written to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and to my noble friend Lord Boswell. However, I would like to make clear that the delay was unsatisfactory and that we need to do better in future. I should also emphasise that this episode in no way reflects on the Government’s appreciation of the committee’s work or of the report. Indeed, I find myself in the happy position of being able to say that the Government agree with the vast majority of the report’s recommendations.

It has, of course, been, as noble Lords have said, some time since the report was published. In the mean time, the common agricultural policy reform negotiations have continued, albeit slowly, and it may help if I recap the main developments.

The Commission’s proposal in October 2011 included very little on sugar. This reflected the intention not to re-enact quotas when they expire under current legislation in 2015. In fact, there was very little discussion on sugar for the first year of the negotiations. When the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers and the European Parliament concluded their separate discussions on the issue in March this year, the focus was very much on the future of beet quotas, and two different visions of the future emerged. As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, the Council took the view that quotas should be extended to 2017 but no further. This reflected a compromise between two broad groups. In the main, those member states that currently have a beet quota wanted to retain it, while those without a quota supported the early abolition of quotas. The European Parliament, too, had internal divisions, but eventually concluded that beet quotas should be extended until 2020.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, and my noble friends Lady Parminter and Lady Byford asked about our view on the timing of the end of quotas, as did the noble Lord, Lord Knight, in his final question. The Council mandate is for quotas to end in 2017, and the European Parliament has voted to keep quotas to 2020. Those two dates represent the starting point for the negotiations, and we remain optimistic about which end of the range we will end up at.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked how influential we have been in the negotiations on the CAP. Our support was key in ensuring that the Council reached agreement on a 2017 end date. More widely, we have seen successes in stopping excessive coupled payments and in allowing the four parts of the United Kingdom to make their own decisions on implementing the agreement.

The next step in the process is the so-called trilogue negotiations between the Irish presidency, on behalf of the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission. Those negotiations are ongoing and any agreement between the parties on sugar is now likely to occur in the context of an overall agreement on CAP reform. As the committee heard when the Secretary of State appeared before it on 15 May, much remains to be done to secure that agreement. However, we are still optimistic that, under the able chairmanship of the Irish Agriculture Minister, Simon Coveney, a deal will be struck by the end of June.

For our part, the UK Government have done, and will continue to do, all that we can to promote the liberalisation of the EU sugar regime in respect of both beet and cane, and I thank the committee again for its report as adding weight with the Commission to that argument. We do so for good reason. EU market prices have consistently been at least 50% above world market prices for the past few years, a level of distortion not seen in any other CAP regime. That distortion arises from both production quotas for EU beet and very high tariffs on imports of cane. As a result, wholesale sugar prices for EU food and drink manufacturers have been inflated by around 35%, while EU consumers have suffered a 1% increase in the overall cost of the average food basket. At the same time, producers in many poorer countries find it difficult to market their sugar in Europe, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, mentioned. That hinders their economic development, and undermines to some extent the EU’s own aid programmes to these countries.

Abolishing beet quotas would be an important step towards removing current market distortions. It is disappointing, therefore, that the Council could not agree with the Commission’s proposal in this respect. We do not wish to see any further delay beyond 2017. However, even more disappointing is that neither the Council nor the European Parliament has addressed the need for additional measures on cane imports. The very high tariffs that apply have an even greater distorting effect on the market than beet quotas. The exemptions from those tariffs for African, Caribbean and Pacific states and less developed countries are valuable, but the supply from those sources is less than was anticipated at the time of the last reform. That has left the market with a shortage of sugar and idle capacity in EU refineries, which is putting their future viability under threat.

The abolition of beet quotas would ease the supply shortage, but would also increase the risks to the viability of the refining sector, as market prices are expected to drop while the cost of their raw material remains high. Losing the refining industry would reduce competition and introduce food security risks to the EU market. It would also lead to job losses, including at the Tate & Lyle factory in London, and threaten the livelihood of growers of cane in developing countries that currently supply EU refineries.

The Government will therefore continue to seek fair treatment for cane refineries as the CAP reform negotiations progress. The focus in the negotiations on beet quotas has also meant that there has been relatively little discussion on inter-professional agreements, or IPAs. As touched on during the debate, IPAs govern the contractual relationship between beet processors and growers and have traditionally been valued by both parties.

The Commission’s proposals contain different wording to that in current legislation and, as indicated in the debate today, this has caused some concern whether the intention is to change the ground rules. We hope that the Commission’s own response to the committee’s report will provide some reassurance that there is no agenda to weaken the negotiating position of growers. However, this is something that we will pay close attention to as detailed rules are drawn up.

I will now answer noble Lords’ questions to the best of my ability. To start with, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, as the Secretary of State explained when he appeared before the committee, a great deal of effort has been put into developing relationships and building alliances. Noble Lords would not expect me to go into detail about our negotiating tactics, but every opportunity is being used to build on that groundwork so as to make the case for further liberalisation while accommodating other views where possible. That approach bore fruit in securing the agreement to a 2017 end date for quotas as part of the council mandate, and we should be defending that agreement very strongly for the remainder of the negotiations.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked how we could achieve 2017 without financial compensation. We have strong support from some in the Council for the end of quotas. We are optimistic that the agreement will stick. We have not seen requests for compensation from other member states, and do not see a case for that. Compensation for less developed countries is another matter, and measures can be considered within the context of the European Development Fund.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, and my noble friend Lady Parminter asked about work by the competition authorities. As indicated in the Government’s response, the EU competition authorities, supported by the OFT, are undertaking an investigation and we would prefer to see that completed before considering further reviews.

My noble friend Lord Caithness suggested that we have relaxed our demand for an end date for quotas to 2017. We argued strongly for 2015 but there was very little support in Council. In a negotiation with 26 other member states some compromise has to be made and, with Germany, France and others pushing for 2020, an end date of 2017 was a relative negotiation success.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked for an update on the state of play on risk management discussions in the CAP negotiations. The past 18 months have been very challenging for farmers, with some difficult weather conditions such as late snow, even as recently as Easter, as noble Lords will know. The Government are therefore considering how best to support farmers to manage risks. The rural development regulation offers opportunities for supporting risk management. For instance, the proposed risk management toolkit, if used, could provide subsidies for agri-insurance and mutual funds. However, consideration should be given as to whether subsidies in this area are permanent or temporary and to what degree these sorts of products are needed by farmers in the United Kingdom. As the toolkit is in Pillar 2, using it would mean there would be less money available of course for other Pillar 2 activities and priorities.

The UK is opposed to the income stabilisation tool proposed by the Commission. We are concerned that it is unstable and unpredictable. In any case, the countries that use such tools, such as Canada, have them instead of direct payments, not in addition. We should not focus solely on the risk management tools set out in the Commission’s proposals that directly address risk management in the rural development regulation. There are other activities enabled by the rural development regulation that can be used to support farmers to manage their risks, for example by enabling them to make investments in physical assets which help to mitigate some of the risks that they may face. The development of the next English rural development programme is under way and Defra is building an evidence base. We will be considering the objectives and priorities for funding through the next programme based on that evidence and the objectives for rural development set out in the draft EU rural development regulation.

The use of tools available under the rural development regulation is only one of several options. We are working with industry, the financial sector and charities to consider what might be done. We will meet again with their representatives in July to look at the impact of recent bad weather on farming cash flows. There is a frost insurance scheme and a private sector scheme for sugar beet. There is a market for such schemes without public money.

My noble friend Lady Byford asked how the ACP and less developed countries could be helped to stand on their own two feet. There are a number of factors holding less developed countries back, including economies of scale, infrastructure and skills at both farm and processing level. Solutions need to be tailored to the specific national problems, which is being done under the accompanying measures for the last reform, albeit too slowly. My noble friend asked which countries have received assistance and how it is being disbursed. I think the noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked about that too. The main beneficiaries have been Kenya, Mozambique, Ivory Coast, Swaziland and Tanzania. My understanding is that of the £1.2 billion intended for accompanying measures, some £0.95 billion has been awarded, of which £0.5 billion has actually been paid. My colleagues in the Department for International Development are pressing the Commission on that slow disbursement.

My noble friend Lady Byford and the noble Lord, Lord Carter, also asked why, if sugar prices have declined for the producer, consumers are paying more in real terms. Available data suggest that retail prices did not fall in line with the cut in EU prices following the last reform. Sugar users contend that this is attributable to generally rising costs within the supply chain, for example, energy and labour. However, others have questioned the extent to which sugar users have been able to capture the price cuts and not pass them on to consumers. As indicated in the government response, the European Commission authorities are making inquiries into alleged anti-competitive practices, which may throw some light on this area.

My noble friend also asked whether the use of the term “inefficient” to describe the production systems in some countries is a reference from a grower’s or a refiner’s viewpoint. It is generally meant to refer to those countries or regions whose growers have the lowest yields.

My noble friend Lord Caithness asked whether the EU study results expected in February have come in yet and what they are. I am afraid that the results of this study have not yet been published. We are as keen as your Lordships to read it and engage with the Commission on how any conclusions can be taken forward. We will ensure that the committee is made aware of the study’s results when they are published.

My noble friend Lord Caithness also asked about mandatory written contracts. The Government are sympathetic to the concerns that he referred to in the context of interprofessional agreements. The issue, as I understand it, is not so much about what is in the Commission’s proposals but about what might be introduced in the detailed rules that will follow. While wishing to see normal competition principles apply as far as possible, the Government are also mindful of the need not to unbalance the legal framework governing the relationship between growers and processors. When it comes to negotiations on the Commission’s detailed rules in due course, the Committee may be assured that we will consult all interested parties to identify whether any issues arise in practice.

My noble friend Lady Parminter asked whether the Government have any plans to look at the role that fiscal incentives can play in shaping positive food choices. We keep all evidence on the impact of taxation on promoting healthier food choices under review. We believe that the voluntary action that we have put in place through the public health responsibility deal is delivering results; 33 companies have signed up to pledge to help the population reduce their calorie consumption. I argue that this is the right way forward, but I emphasise that we are not complacent and we are clear that this is something for all food businesses, not just some. If we do not get continued progress, we will have to consider alternative approaches.

In conclusion, there is much that the Government and the committee can agree upon, including support for genuine CAP reform that removes distortions from the market and delivers real benefit to consumers and producers, a desire to see strong, competitive beet processing and cane refining industries in the United Kingdom and appropriate safeguards for producers, both in the UK and in developing countries. We will continue to make the case for that vision in EU and other international negotiations. The committee’s continued interest and contribution to the debate would be most welcome.

Insurance: Flood Risk Areas

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Wednesday 22nd May 2013

(7 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I have to admit to the noble Lord that this is not in my policy area, so I have not. I attend the regular ministerial meetings so I know a certain amount about what is going on. In negotiations, it is very important that the intricate details are kept confidential, and I hope that the noble Lord will understand that, but, as I say, I am confident that we are working towards a solution.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is right that the time that it has taken to reach this agreement is unacceptable. Last week we discussed the Defra delays over doing something about plastic bags. This week we return to this question. I declare my interest as someone whose home was flooded last July. Why do we keep having these Defra delays? Is it that Ministers are not showing leadership and providing a sense of urgency, or is it that right now it is impossible for this Government to agree about anything?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, whenever we talk about flood insurance, the noble Lord leads with his chin. I just say this to him, once again: the statement of principles, which his Government put in place, did nothing about affordability. That is what we are seeking to tackle this time.

Reservoirs Act 1975 (Exemptions, Appeals and Inspections) (England) Regulations 2013

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Monday 20th May 2013

(7 years, 11 months ago)

Grand Committee

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

The amendments to the Reservoirs Act 1975 by Schedule 4 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 introduce a more risk-based approach to the management of large raised reservoirs, and these regulations are a key component of this process. The regulations are required to be brought into force as soon as the substantive provisions amending the 1975 Act are commenced.

By way of background to the Reservoirs Act 1975, while it is rare for a large raised reservoir to fail, the impact of such failure on life and property could be considerable. During the 2007 summer floods, there was a near-miss incident at Ulley reservoir where a complete reservoir failure was averted only by emergency action. In his review of the 2007 floods, Sir Michael Pitt made recommendations for improvements to reservoir safety. These recommendations were addressed through amendments to the 1975 Act made by Schedule 4 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.

Regulation-making powers inserted into the 1975 Act by the 2010 Act include the allowance of specific exemptions from the 1975 Act, the introduction of appeal rights and clarity on the timing of inspections. The regulations relating to exemptions specify what are not to be treated as large raised reservoirs for the purposes of the 1975 Act. Exemptions from the 1975 Act include tips that are covered by mines and quarries legislation and canals and inland navigations, and these exemptions are maintained. Due to the new definition of a large raised reservoir as a result of the 2010 Act, other bodies of water potentially fall within the scope of the 1975 Act. This has led to a new exemption for road and rail embankments with drains that have not been artificially blocked, such as with gates. Where a road or rail embankment effectively acts as a flood storage reservoir, it should be recognised as such and managed accordingly.

The regulations also provide undertakers of large raised reservoirs with the right to an appeal. An undertaker may appeal against the designation of a large raised reservoir as high risk and against notices given by the Environment Agency either to appoint an engineer or to carry out a recommendation of an engineer in the interests of safety. The regulations provide that the First-tier Tribunal will hear all appeals under the amended 1975 Act. To maintain the credibility of the 1975 Act and the efficacy of the designation regime, it is important that the appeals mechanism is independent, efficient and comprehensive and is a fair and cost-effective way of adjudicating any disputes. The process for bringing an appeal is governed both by these regulations and by the Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (General Regulatory Chamber) Rules 2009.

The regulations also set out the timings of inspections. Previously, under the 1975 Act, all large raised reservoirs had to be supervised and inspected, whereas the 2010 Act amends this to include only those large raised reservoirs designated as high risk. Transitional arrangements will be in place to ensure the smooth introduction of these requirements. The regulations also require the Secretary of State to review the operation and effect of these regulations and to publish a report within five years after they come into force. The powers to make these regulations are contained in the amendments made by Schedule 4, which were commenced in October 2011. The substantive provisions introducing a more risk-based approach to reservoir management cannot be implemented without these regulations.

The amendments to the Reservoirs Act 1975 introduce a more risk-based approach to the management of large raised reservoirs and these regulations are a key component of that process. They are a necessary and appropriate statutory obligation and I therefore commend them to the Committee.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, anyone observing this debate might think that, based on attendance, there is little interest in these regulations. However, I think that this is one of those circumstances where attendance signifies consent, and lack of attendance signifies positive consent. I think the fact that more noble Lords have not attended the debate simply demonstrates the extent to which the regulations are not contentious.

I remember well the floods of 2007 and how perilously close we came to real disaster when emergency action averted the failure of Ulley reservoir. That was why the previous Government, of whom I was a member, asked Sir Michael Pitt to carry out the review, and the Pitt report recommended these improvements to reservoir safety legislation and, in particular, this risk-based approach. It would be extremely churlish of me to be anything but supportive of these regulations given that they reflect the work that was done following the Pitt review. It merely remains for me to ask two or three questions that arise from the regulations.

The first, which might sound slightly oppositional, is straightforward. Why has it taken so long to bring forward the regulations given that Sir Michael Pitt carried out his review some time ago? They are dealing with significant matters of risk in respect of flooding and we have had a lot of flooding activity in the past 12 months. Everyone has noticed the nature of the weather during that time and the flooding that goes with it, so it would be helpful to know whether more could have been done to bring these forward sooner.

The second question is on Regulation 3 and those items not treated as being large raised reservoirs. As the Minister said in his opening comments, certain items such as tips, which have been exempted as large raised reservoirs, and other items are being added here. Assuming that some of those items might have some high risk attached to them on a risk-based approach, how is that risk being assessed? Who is inspecting them and how is the risk then being raised and dealt with by the owners of those bodies of water? If none is of high risk because of its very nature—such as its embankments or drains—then to ask whether the risk-based approach would not have dealt with it without this piece of legislation is perhaps rather a pedantic, subsequential question to that.

Finally, Regulation 4 deals with the right to appeal first against designation and Regulation 5 with the right to appeal against a notice. The basis of that appeal is to be able to go to a First-tier Tribunal. Can the Minister update us on how much capacity the Tribunals Service has to deal with these appeals? What is his expectation regarding the volume of appeals? As we refer more things to the Tribunals Service, there is a general concern that the service’s funding is not growing. I am quite confident in saying that. I suspect that it might be shrinking, and yet we are asking it to do more work. In these matters of public safety, which is what these regulations are dealing with, we would certainly not want appeals to be delayed because of a backlog at the Tribunals Service due to its lack of capacity.

That is probably my most significant question. The Minister has been assiduous in writing to me when things do not initially seem as forthcoming as they could be, and any information that he could give us about the Government’s assessment of the Tribunals Service’s capacity would be very helpful. Incidentally, if an appeal is unreasonably delayed in the Tribunals Service and an incident then occurred, where would the liability fall? Would it fall with the owner of the reservoir or with the Government because they did not have sufficient capacity in the Tribunals Service?

My final question also relates to the Tribunals Service. There was some mention either in the impact assessment or the Explanatory Notes of discussions that are still going on with the Tribunals Service about how it will deal with technical matters as opposed to legal matters when appeals are being heard. If the Minister has any update to put on the record about those discussions that would obviously be very helpful.

To summarise, we on this side are extremely happy to see the Government coming forward with these regulations, although we would have liked them to have happened a little quicker. There are one or two issues of concern in terms of the tribunal arrangements for appeals, but it is right that people should be able to appeal and it is right that it should be done in the context of the Tribunals Service. I therefore do not have any substantial argument with the way in which this is going forward. On that basis, I hope that I have given the Minister enough time, by talking a little longer, for him to give us some answers.

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comments and questions: I will do my best to answer them. As he kindly said, if there is anything that I am unable to answer now I will of course write to him.

The noble Lord's first question was why in the broadest terms it has taken this long to get to where we are today. I acknowledge that phase 1 has taken longer than I would have liked. He was kind enough to acknowledge, and he is right, that resources have to be prioritised. It has been, as everyone knows, important to deal with ongoing, relatively widespread instances of flood emergency. That simply has to take priority and I think that everyone would acknowledge that life and property must take first place.

The noble Lord also asked about the prioritisation of reservoirs, and if reservoirs are excluded from this regulation then how the risk is encompassed. Tips and so forth are covered by the mines and quarries legislation, save for other extant arrangements there, and the Health and Safety Executive leads on that. I hope that that is adequately helpful to him. Canals are managed using risk-based management approaches.

The noble Lord asked about the right to appeal under Regulation 4 and he was specifically concerned about the capacity of the Tribunals Service. We are in discussion with the service about the likely workload and the resources needed at the moment and I cannot at this stage go further. However, he has pinpointed the right question. We agree with him and are investigating how we will deal with it.

On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will agree that the Grand Committee has considered the regulations.

Environment: Plastic Bags

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Tuesday 14th May 2013

(7 years, 12 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

The noble and learned Baroness raises an important question. It is one that we are considering. At the moment, we have not been able to find a bag that is of sufficient strength to do the job, but it is a very important subject and we are looking at it closely.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, the noble Lord said that it will take until the middle of this year before he gets the data for the first year’s operation of the scheme in Wales. Will he give us a timeline for how long it will take him to assess that data so we know when he will make a decision? Will it take him a year?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, we will get on with this expeditiously. There is a lot of action already. I understand that retailers including Marks & Spencer, WHSmith and Lidl have instituted voluntary charges. Sainsbury, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose and Co-operative Food have put carrier bag recycling facilities at the front of their stores. We are providing funding for various projects in the marine environment, where the problem is often at its starkest. Keep Britain Tidy operates the Love Where You Live education and information programme. As I said, we are actively considering a charge on carrier bags based on the experience in the devolved Administrations.

Pesticides: Bees

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Wednesday 13th March 2013

(8 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

That is an important question. There is a considerable body of government-funded work that benefits bee species and other important pollinators, but we are open-minded about the introduction of what I might call a holistic strategy. My noble friend will be pleased to hear that I am meeting Friends of the Earth on Tuesday to discuss our current work and to get a better understanding of whether there is added value in bringing it all together in a holistic strategy, such as that organisation’s proposed national bee action plan, or what the noble Lord, Lord Christopher, might like to call a national pollinator action plan.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, as your Lordships know, bees as pollinators play an essential part in the lifecycle of the fruit and vegetables that we eat. The honey bee is just one of 276 native species of bee, all of which are under threat from the combination of agricultural practice, disease and pesticides. In his department’s negotiations with the EU to reduce hazards to bees, what is the Minister aiming to achieve to protect wild bees, such as the bumble bee that pollinates tomatoes and the long-tongued bees needed to pollinate field beans? As we have heard, with Friends of the Earth calling for a national bee action plan, does he agree that it is finally time for a “plan bee”?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

That was suggested to me this morning and I pointed out that it might not be something the Government would want to call it. The noble Lord makes several very interesting points, most of which I have forgotten in the hilarity. I thank him for his points.

Marine Conservation Areas

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Wednesday 13th March 2013

(8 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Yes, my Lords. First, it is worth saying that a sizeable proportion of the 58 are included in the 31 that are currently out for consultation. As regards the others, there are questions over data certainty and cost to which my noble friend Lord Eden referred earlier. We will have new scientific evidence to use along with responses to our consultation when making our final decisions on which sites should be designated this year. Further evidence will continue to become available thereafter and will be considered when making decisions on future tranches of marine conservation zones to complete the network.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, the aim of the marine Act was, as the noble Lord, Lord Eden, said, to establish an ecologically coherent network of sustainable conservation zones. The Government’s current suggestion of just 31 falls way short of achieving that aim and ignores the Government’s own science. The environmental and social gains of protecting our marine environment are obvious, but has the Minister seen the analysis showing an economic gain of £10 billion in Scotland alone through this sort of protection? Instead of trading insults with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the Guardian, should not Richard Benyon, the Minister in the noble Lord’s department, build on what the previous Government established and, as the noble Lord, Lord Eden, has asked, give us a clear timetable—not “shortly”—for further implementation?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I cannot accept very much of what the noble Lord has said. Far from what he has said, over the past three years we have been changing the way we manage our seas. We have introduced marine planning, set up new organisations to police our seas, improved marine licensing, reformed domestic fisheries management and, vitally, introduced marine conservation zones.

Horsemeat and Food Fraud

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Monday 11th February 2013

(8 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, with your Lordships’ permission, I will repeat a Statement made today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on recent developments on horsemeat and food fraud.

The events we have seen unfold over the past few days in the UK and Europe are completely unacceptable. Consumers need to be confident that food is what it says on the label. It is outrageous that consumers have been buying products labelled beef but which turn out to contain horsemeat. The Government are taking urgent action with the independent Food Standards Agency, industry and European partners.

Let me turn first to the facts. On 15 January, the FSA was notified by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland of the results of its survey of processed beef products on the Irish market. The Irish study identified trace amounts of horse and pig DNA in the majority of the sample, but identified one product, a Tesco burger, where there was evidence of flagrant adulteration with horsemeat. Investigations in Ireland are ongoing.

On 16 January, in order to investigate implications for the UK market, the FSA announced a four-point plan. This included telling implicated food businesses to test their processed beef products. It also included launching a full scientific study of processed beef products on the UK market.

On 31 January, the Prison Service of England and Wales notified the Food Standards Agency that traces of pork DNA had been found in a selection of meat pies labelled as halal. While trace contamination does not necessarily indicate fraudulent activity, any contamination is clearly of concern to faith communities, and the affected products were quarantined and contracts suspended.

On 4 February, the FSA announced that it had tested a consignment of frozen meat that was being stored at Freeza Meats in Northern Ireland for horse DNA. This consignment had been detained by the local authority in October 2012 because of labelling irregularities. The consignment is under the secure control of the local authority. None of this consignment has entered the food chain and so no recall is necessary. As part of the investigation, Newry and Mourne local authority has tested current products from Freeza Meats, and neither horse nor pig DNA has been found in any of these products. The FSA is undertaking a detailed investigation, which includes following the supply chain of Freeza Meats and any other producers that are implicated.

On the evening of 6 February, Findus Foods informed the Food Standards Agency that it had confirmation of horsemeat in frozen beef lasagne products. The lasagne was produced in Luxembourg by a French company, Comigel, with the meat supplied by another French company, Spanghero. The test results were supplied to the FSA on the morning of 7 February. The Food Standards Agency is urgently investigating this in liaison with the French authorities and the police. The FSA has assured me that it currently has no evidence to suggest that the products recalled by Findus represent a food safety risk.

The 7 February announcement that very significant amounts of horsemeat had been found in Findus lasagnes moved this issue from one of trace contamination to one of either gross negligence or criminality.

On 8 February, Aldi withdrew two beef products after its tests found that they contained horsemeat. The products were supplied by the same company, Comigel, that supplied Findus. Asda and Tesco also withdrew products from the same suppliers on a precautionary basis.

Food regulation is an area of European competence. Under the European legal framework, the main responsibility for the safety and authenticity of food lies with those who produce, sell or provide it to the consumer. In the UK, the FSA was set up by the previous Government as an independent agency. I have sought to respect its independence. It leads the operational response. I am here today to update the House on progress with its investigations and on the action that I have been taking with the industry and with European counterparts. I have made clear my expectation that food businesses need to do whatever is necessary to provide assurance to consumers that their products are what they say they are.

The Minister of State and the FSA met food retailers and suppliers on 4 February, and made clear that we expected the food industry to publish the results of its own testing of meat products to provide a clearer public picture of standards in the food chain. In response to the Findus announcement on 7 February, the FSA in addition asked that all producers and retailers test all their processed beef products for the presence of horsemeat.

On Saturday 9 February, I called in the major food retailers, manufacturers and distributors to make clear my expectation that they needed to verify and trace the source of all their processed beef products without delay. At this meeting with the British Retail Consortium, the Food and Drink Federation, the British Meat Processors Association, the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, the Institute of Grocery Distribution and individual retailers, I made clear that I expect to see the following from them: meaningful results from this testing by the end of this week; more testing of products for horse along the supply chain and industry co-operating fully with the FSA on this; publication of industry test results every three months through the FSA; and them letting the FSA know as soon as they become aware of a potential problem in their products. I made it very clear that there needs to be openness and transparency in the system for the benefit of consumers. Retailers and processors need to deliver on these commitments to reassure their customers.

Let me reiterate: the immediate testing of products will be done across the supply chain. This includes suppliers to schools, hospitals and prisons as well as to retailers. The FSA issued advice to public service providers on Sunday 10 February in advance of the working week. I would also like to reiterate that the FSA has assured me that it currently has no evidence to suggest that recalled products represent a food safety risk. The Chief Medical Officer’s advice is that even if bute is found to be present at low levels, there is a very low risk that it would cause any harm to health. People who have bought any Findus beef lasagne products are advised not to eat them and to return them to the shop they bought them from as a precaution.

The ultimate source of these incidents is still being investigated, but it is already clear that we are dealing with Europe-wide supply networks. I am taking action to ensure that there is effective liaison with the European Commission and other member states. I have been in touch with the Irish Minister, Simon Coveney, on several occasions since 28 January. I have spoken to him again twice today and have also spoken to European Commissioner Borg, the French Minister, Stéphane Le Foll, and the Romanian Minister, Daniel Constantin. I emphasised the need for rapid and effective action. I am grateful for the good co-operation that there has already been. I have agreed with Minister Coveney that there will be an urgent meeting of Ministers from the member states affected, with Commissioner Borg. In addition, we agreed that this issue will be on the agenda of the Agriculture Council on 25 February.

At the moment, this appears to be an issue of fraud and mislabelling, but if anything suggests the need for changes to surveillance and enforcement in the UK, we will not hesitate to make those changes. Once we have established the full facts of the current incidents and identified where enforcement action can be taken, we will want to look at the lessons to be learnt from this episode. I will make a further Statement about this in due course.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that I completely understand why people are so concerned about this issue. It is unacceptable that people have been deceived in this way. There appears to have been criminal activity in an attempt to defraud the consumer. The prime responsibility for dealing with this lies with retailers and food producers, who need to demonstrate that they have taken all necessary actions to ensure the integrity of the food chain in this country. I am in daily contact with the FSA. This week, I will be having further contact with European counterparts and will meet the food industry again, together with the FSA, tomorrow”.

That concludes the Statement.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, this is a very serious issue of public confidence in the food that we buy. I share the Minister’s outrage that horsemeat is being passed off as beef. Food prices are rising sharply and those having to buy cheaper food are therefore more likely to buy processed and cheaper sources of meat. We must particularly ensure that these people are confident that food standards and labelling are accurate.

Equally, food processing and manufacturing is one of the most important employers in this country. British food is an area of great potential growth for us and we must do all that we can to maintain and sustain confidence in our industry. In that vein, I am grateful to the Foods Standards Agency for its briefing and its work in providing reassurance that there is no risk to health.

However, I am concerned at the Secretary of State’s media performances over the weekend, which will have raised doubts in some people’s minds over health. For example, he said:

“We may find out, as the week progresses as the tests begin to come in, that there is a substance which is injurious to human health … We have no evidence of that at all at the moment. At the moment this is a labelling issue”.

He is sowing the seeds of doubt. For the sake of clarity, will the Minister be clear now as to whether he believes there to be any risk to human health from food sold as processed beef in this country?

Health worries focus on the traceability of horsemeat, and in particular any bute or other medicines consumed by horses entering the food chain. In 2012, the Food Standards Agency found eight instances where UK horsemeat was contaminated with bute, which is banned from entering the human food chain. In five instances the horsemeat was exported to France, in two it was exported to the Netherlands, and in one it was consumed in the UK.

There are 75 horse passport-issuing organisations in the UK, making it difficult to check their status. Each has a different design of passports, making it easier to produce forgeries. Last May, a truck was seized in this country and false horse passports were seized. I gather that abattoirs do not have to keep records of passports but should return them to owners or to Defra. Is it not time to rationalise this system so that we can trace horsemeat properly?

I also understand that the FSA carries out rigorous inspections in abattoirs. Does it inspect further upstream in manufacturing and processing plants? If not, should that now be introduced as random inspections to increase public assurance up the supply chain? Will the Minister guarantee that cuts to the Food Standards Agency have not, and will not—the Secretary of State again was very uncertain about this in a Channel 4 news report that I saw over the weekend—compromise meat hygiene inspections and its ability to ensure that meat is legal and safe?

The Minister will know that his Government removed responsibility for the labelling of product content from the FSA in 2010. Three government bodies are now responsible for ensuring that our food is correctly labelled, legal and safe: namely, Defra, the Department of Health, and the Food Standards Agency. Is that not incoherent and open to the sort of confusion that we all know can occur between different government departments? Would it not be sensible for the Government to centralise that function once more?

I understand that two types of tests are taking place—those carried out by retailers and those carried out by local authorities under the supervision of the Food Standards Agency. The local authority tests are of retail, wholesale and catering premises. Are the councils concerned being reimbursed for the cost of this work? The tests being carried out by retailers, which are due to the Secretary of State by Friday, will cover only the major retailers. Should he not ask large wholesalers and large caterers to carry out similar tests under a similar stringent timeline?

The timeline for the local authority tests is four weeks to collect and screen samples to ascertain the presence of horse DNA and another four weeks for confirmatory tests to give the proportion of other meats. As I understand it, the plan is for all those results to be published at once in mid-April. This seems an excessive timeline. I understand that we have to get the results right, but will the Minister consider releasing the results on a weekly basis as they come in, as part of his commitment to transparency? Can we also get a cast iron guarantee that schools and hospitals will be tested across the country? The Secretary of State is clear that the retailers are responsible for the food that they sell. Will the Minister tell us who he considers to be responsible for food served in schools, hospitals and prisons? Is it the head teacher or the chair of governors, the hospital manager or the prison governor? If it is the retailer who is responsible, we need to know who to hold account for food, should there be a problem in those circumstances.

The Secretary of State has also speculated in the media that there is a criminal conspiracy. Has the Minister involved the police, having acknowledged evidence of widespread criminal behaviour? Is he passing information on to the police if he has those suspicions? Can he reassure us that no UK companies are currently being investigated by Defra, the FSA or other UK authorities in respect of passing off horsemeat as beef?

Can the Minister tell us, given the Government’s growing influence as committed Europeans, how he is working with the Commission? The Irish appear to have blamed the Poles for the first case back in January, the French appear to blame the Romanians for the Findus case, and the Poles and Romanians are denying responsibility robustly. Is the Commission going to get a grip and answer questions on where the horsemeat comes from so that we can begin the important work of traceability?

However, it is not just the Commission that needs to get a grip. We need the Government to give clear advice to people and public sector caterers on what they should do with their frozen beef products. Ministers need to stop sending mixed messages about whether they would eat beef lasagne or not. A full police investigation into the alleged criminal adulteration of meat products is needed. The European police are being involved. We have heard about an international criminal conspiracy. What is happening with the UK police? The Irish Government called in the police and special fraud investigators at the beginning of this month. Perhaps our Government must do the same.

A quicker testing regime is needed to reassure the public about what is happening. Supermarkets and food industry tests must be reported by Friday, but the Government need to speed up the official tests that they are conducting across 28 local authorities. We need some positive release around the horse slaughter tests that are going on at the moment. Those in the UK are testing for bute, which is banned from the human food chain. Given the concerns about the horse passport system and horse traceability, we believe that meat should be held in storage until proven clean.

With these sorts of measures and robust action from Ministers on the front foot, I think that we can get some reassurance back into our food supply. At the moment, I do not see that from Ministers. I see uncertainty in their media performances and their performances generally on this issue. Our British food industry needs them to step up to the plate and raise their game.

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Secretary of State held an urgent meeting with food businesses on Saturday to get to the bottom of this unacceptable situation. The Government and the FSA insisted that more and tougher testing will take place. The food industry has accepted this, and we expect to see initial results from industry testing by the end of the week. Retailers and industry bodies will now work with the FSA on making checks further down the food chain. They have also agreed to let the FSA know as soon as they become aware of a potential problem in their products. At the moment, there is no evidence to suggest that there is a food safety risk.

The noble Lord asked about the split of responsibilities. By law, retailers are ultimately responsible for ensuring their products’ safety and accurate labelling. However, we join up across government to back this up with nearly 100,000 risk-based checks each year. The front-line testing regime checks that what is in the packet is what it says on the packet and was the same before 2010 as it has been since. There continues to be a rigorous risk-based system of checks by local authorities’ trading standards teams, overseen by the FSA. That is how the testing works.

The noble Lord asked about public sector purchasing, and he is right to do so. Public institutions are within the scope of the UK-specific authenticity sampling programme and, therefore, suppliers of meat products to schools, hospitals and prisons are included in the local authority surveillance programme. In addition, suppliers including caterers to public institutions are part of the extensive testing regime that the Food Standards Agency has established with the food industry, including food service businesses, to reinforce the integrity and confidence of processed beef supplies in Britain. This approach means that we will have an established industry testing approach, with the FSA undertaking additional verification and validation of authenticity, which ensures that industry takes responsibility for providing assurance to consumers, with the FSA providing appropriate oversight.

The noble Lord asked about local authorities and mentioned that results of testing were to come mid-April. My right honourable friend spoke to the chairman of the FSA today, and test results will be announced as soon as they are available, which is what the noble Lord asked for. He asked, too, about police involvement. The FSA is in touch with the police and Europol. We are investigating the food chain at the moment. The police have been informed and will take action if they find that people in this country have been deliberately defrauding consumers. If criminal activity has taken place abroad, the relevant authorities will be notified.

The noble Lord asked about collaboration with our European colleagues. The Statement mentions a certain amount about that. The Secretary of State spoke to EU Commissioner Borg today, and to Ministers in countries including Ireland, France and Romania. There will be meetings at official and ministerial level over the next few days and we will do all we can to assist in tracing sources of the meat in question.

The noble Lord asked about testing of horses killed in abattoirs for bute. Hitherto, under the regime that we inherited from the previous Government, we conducted risk-based testing, backed up by the passporting system. From now on, all horses going to abattoirs are being tested for bute and no horse carcasses can leave an abattoir until they are declared clear.

Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2013

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Thursday 7th February 2013

(8 years, 3 months ago)

Grand Committee

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, these regulations are principally to transpose in England and Wales the industrial emissions directive. It is not a completely new directive. It recasts seven current directives into a single one about regulating emissions from various industrial activities. It therefore provides a welcome simplification of EU legislation.

It also maintains and in some cases clarifies or strengthens the provisions of the component directives. Like the component directives, it aims, through a permitting system, to achieve a high level of protection for the environment taken as a whole. That is consistent with our belief that we need to improve the environment for future generations, make our economy more environmentally sustainable and improve our quality of life and well-being. The directive applies to some 10,000 industrial installations in England and Wales, ranging from power stations to intensive pig farms and from waste incinerators to dry cleaners. Nearly all are already subject to one or more of the component directives.

The directive contains provisions to improve the implementation of current controls on a range of industrial activities where appropriate, particularly through better development and application of best available techniques, known as BAT. The concept of BAT is founded on the need for the techniques to be both technically and economically viable in the industry sector concerned.

The directive includes only relatively small and justifiable additions to the range of industrial installations covered by the directive. Reflecting productive UK input during negotiation, the directive reflects UK practice in respect of risk-based inspections and site monitoring. For the same reason, it also contains important optional time-limited transitional provisions regarding control of emissions from large combustion plants—notably those in the electricity generating sector. These should assist the UK in managing the transition to low-carbon power generation while maintaining security of electricity supplies.

The directive also covers waste incineration plants and a wide range of activities in which volatile organic solvents are used. Its requirements in those respects are virtually unchanged from those in the component directives. In both cases, we have taken the opportunity in England to ensure that only those requirements will be applied.

We also considered whether, for installations subject only to the directive’s controls on solvent emissions, we should take the directive’s option of requiring only registration rather than permitting. Consultation showed little support for that and so we have not done so. However, we continue to explore with the local authority regulators how further simplification can be made in the current permitting requirements and the associated compliance assessment procedures. That exploration will include further review of the case for a registration system. If a case is found, we will further amend the regulations at the first available opportunity.

Another directive derogation allows a single permit to cover several operators. While this may be of use elsewhere in Europe, consultees in England and Wales could see no practical use for it. These regulations therefore do not transpose it but, again, we would amend the regulations if businesses were to demonstrate to us that a single permit for several operators would be of significant practical benefit.

I hope that I have demonstrated that there has been extensive discussion with industry and regulators throughout the negation of the directive and during the preparation of these regulations. Nothing in them should therefore come as any surprise.

The component directives are currently transposed through the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. They transpose not only the component directives but a wide range of other environmental directives in a way that standardises, as far as possible, the mechanics of permitting, compliance assessment and enforcement. The regulations before the Committee therefore amend those regulations so as to transpose the industrial emissions directive. Within that framework, we continue to look for ways in which administrative burdens on operators subject to the directive can be reduced. In particular, regulators continue to develop simplified arrangements for permitting, compliance monitoring, data reporting and charging for permits.

The regulations before the Committee also remove some otiose descriptions of industrial activities which have no foundation in the component directives and they repeal three other statutory instruments which have no current purpose. I therefore commend these regulations to the Committee as providing transposition of a directive in accordance with our EU obligations, simplification of current regulations and protection for the environment.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his opening remarks on what are clearly very important though somewhat technical regulations. I am sure that the noble Lord has been sweating under a towel overnight and getting his head around all the detail.

The Opposition obviously support the notion that we should take a set of regulations and try to bring them together under a single overarching regulation. That is good practice. It is something that we sought to do in the past and will seek to do in the future. Certainly, as the impact assessment says, leaving the existing regulations unamended would lead to infraction and the probability of heavy daily fines for failure to transpose. Clearly it is in the public interest that we proceed with these regulations.

I am also extremely happy with the process that the department has adopted of consulting properly on how the transposition is taking place, with a very full impact assessment so that we can transparently see how this all works. As I say, these are quite technical, so the only questions I have may well have answers in the documentation and I just have not been able to resolve them, and perhaps one or two do not have answers in the documentation, and that would be a result as far as I am concerned because then I might have added a bit of value.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lord for his helpful comments. I shall deal with last question first. I have been given a dictionary definition of “otiose”; it is “of no use”. I hope that is helpful.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

It is extremely helpful. One could argue that my comment was otiose, in which case we become circular. However, that is a clarification.

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I would never argue that.

These regulations make the amendments necessary to transpose an EU directive which, in recasting seven into one, is largely a simplification. The alternative would have been yet another set of freestanding regulations obscuring the continuity of the regulatory requirements that the industrial emissions directive requires. Implementation of the directive’s requirements will correspondingly be in continuity with current arrangements for the permitting, inspection and compliance assessment of the installations it covers. For those installations subject to integrated pollution prevention and control, the concept of best available techniques and the consequences for periodic permit review is already well established and should hold no surprises. By definition, best available techniques cannot remain static. By that same definition, they have to be technically and economically viable. It is for industry to contribute the information which, ultimately, only it can provide in order to ensure that conclusions on BAT accord with that definition.

In answer to the noble Lord’s first question, all derogations have been utilised, except for two cases where industry and regulators called strongly to keep the current UK systems in place. The consultation indicated that one derogation that would allow solvent emission activities to be registered rather than permitted might increase the regulatory burden rather than reduce it. Consultees could see no practical benefit in another derogation allowing one permit to cover multiple sites and operators. As I intimated in my opening speech, in both cases we would further amend the regulations to provide the derogation if a need were subsequently demonstrated.

The noble Lord asked when we would publish guidance on the directive. In relation to activities subject to integrated pollution prevention and control, it will be published very soon, in the light of consultation last year. For other activities, it will be published in the course of the next few months, subject to our consideration of the need for, and the form of, guidance from government and regulators.

The noble Lord asked a specific question about costs. The answer is that it refers to the costs additional to the current regulations. He asked how one is to know that the large combustion plant and power station provisions will not erode security of electricity supply. The provisions were negotiated on the basis of significant input from the industry and the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The indications were that the operational flexibilities that we gained would help to prevent a cliff edge developing as plants are retired during this decade.

He asked a question about air quality. The directive addresses pollutant emissions to air from industry and will contribute to maintenance and improvement of air quality, particularly in respect of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. However, industry is not the only source of these pollutants. In 2010, industry accounted for some 43% of emissions of nitrogen oxides in England, while transport sources accounted for some 45%. For particulate matter, industry accounted for some 31% and transport 27%.

Economic growth is ultimately dependent on a healthy natural environment. The directive is about environmental protection and so is key in this regard. In transposing the directive, these regulations will play a significant part in nurturing that dependency. We look to the regulators to use to the full the proportionate approach that the regulations allow, and we look to industry to respond creatively. We look forward to the growth and further environmental improvement that could result.

Food: Banks

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Tuesday 5th February 2013

(8 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I think I have laboured the point on that enough.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, we have heard about the increasing reliance on food banks from a number of noble Lords. We know that a quarter of parents put food back when they get to the checkout in the supermarket because they are struggling with rising prices and falling wages, and that the hereditary poor are increasing again. Will the Minister agree to visit a local food bank with me so that we can thank its volunteers together and ask the recipients whether they are in work and what is their view of benefits reform under this Government?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, as I said in my initial Answer, I shall shortly be visiting FoodCycle. I agree with much of what the noble Lord says.

Thames Tideway Tunnel

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Tuesday 15th January 2013

(8 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, my understanding is that those who are not connected and not currently paying sewerage charges will not pay this charge. If that is not correct, I will write to my noble friend.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, I, too, live in a property that may be affected by the construction of the tunnel and I, too, have not given advance notice of my question to the Minister.

Although I see no other option but to proceed with the project, I agree with my noble friend Lord Berkeley that the huge cost to the consumer is of great concern. How will the Minister ensure that, in the interests of consumers, there is proper parliamentary scrutiny—in this House and in the other place—of the cost, which may well rise, and of the funding vehicle, which has now, by ministerial answer, been guaranteed by the taxpayer?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

That is a fair point. Anything that needs to come to Parliament will, of course, do so. If there is anything else that the noble Lord and I think it would be appropriate to debate, we will put it up for debate.

Employment: Rural Employment

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Wednesday 5th December 2012

(8 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they have introduced to boost rural employment in the United Kingdom.

Lord De Mauley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, employment will be boosted in all areas by national initiatives to promote economic growth. Support for apprenticeships will provide the skills that employers need, while welfare reforms will help people into work. In England, a £165 million package to stimulate rural growth includes five pilot rural growth networks and funding to transform rural business performers. Investment and action to improve rural broadband and network services will support rural economic growth and employment opportunities. I declare an interest as the owner of a farm, and therefore involved in rural businesses.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response, as far as it goes. There was no mention of rural employment in today’s Autumn Statement. The Chancellor referred to the interesting report of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, on growth, yet the only mention of rural issues was a passing reference to European funds and to the paltry £15 million being spent on the five rural growth network pilots that the Minister mentioned. However, my question to the Minister is on those five networks. The first job created by Labour’s Future Jobs Fund was for a young farm worker in Wiltshire. Will the Minister tell me how many rural jobs the rural growth network has generated to date?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord a specific answer on that, but I will try to give him an answer that is of interest to the south-west of England. The South-West Skills Programme offers vocational and technical training opportunities for farmers, foresters and agrifeed businesses. The programme has provided training for a total of 9,497 trainees.

Flooding: Insurance

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Thursday 29th November 2012

(8 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, this is a serious matter. We have been working very hard with the industry on this extremely complex issue. We need a lasting solution that ensures affordable insurance bills for those at flood risk but does not place unsustainable costs on wider policyholders and the taxpayer. The ball is now in the industry’s court. The ABI understands the Government’s position. It is up to the ABI to come back to us with a practical and sustainable option that provides insurance for those that need it without increasing bills for all or placing unacceptable burdens on the taxpayer.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, first, I offer sympathy to those who have lost loved ones and suffered the trauma of flooding in the past week. This is the third time since July that this matter has been raised at Question Time. The Minister consistently tells us that the Government are in intense and constructive negotiations with the insurance industry. Today, he tells us that it is a priority. Yet today I received an e-mail from the Association of British Insurers saying that negotiations are currently at an impasse. The Minister now says that it is up to the Association of British Insurers to come up with a better deal and yet he has been asked a perfectly good question by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on whether he agrees with the proposal that it has put forward. When will Defra sort this out and give comfort to the 200,000 people who are really struggling to get flood insurance?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Lord on his first point. We really feel strongly for those affected by this. The emergency services, local authorities and the Environment Agency have been working extremely hard for them and I pay tribute to that. In answer to the noble Lord’s question, the statement of principles that his party put in place takes no account of the affordability of insurance, so I will not take any criticism from the other side.

Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) (Amendment) Regulations 2012

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Tuesday 20th November 2012

(8 years, 5 months ago)

Grand Committee

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

In making that comment, the noble Lord reinforces his point that engagement with the industry is a wise course, alongside engagement with the recycling industry, which stands to gain more business and more employment as a result of these regulations.

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I start by thanking noble Lords for taking the time to get into this very complicated subject and to debate these important issues today. I listened very carefully to the points made, including to very specific concerns about aspects of the regulations, and will try to answer as many of them as I can. Before I respond to the points about targets, I will address concerns raised about the process of developing the regulations.

First, I assure the Committee that all responses received to the consultation were given due consideration, and that information presented was taken into account when building the evidence. I can only apologise sincerely to my noble friend Lord Jenkin for the time it took him to get a meeting. I will add that I hear clearly the message of my noble friend Lord Lindsay. As part of the consultation process, my department considered carefully the advice of the Advisory Committee on Packaging. This is an important body that represents most of the packaging chain.

My noble friend Lord Jenkin suggested that the Explanatory Memorandum accompanying the regulation did not provide an accurate summary of the consultation responses received, and that opposition to the plastics targets was not properly represented. The memorandum states that overall, taken as a whole, respondents to the consultation were supportive of increasing the targets. However, it acknowledged that there was some concern about the level of increase for certain materials, notably plastics. I ask my noble friend to accept that this reflected the fact that the plastics producers who opposed the preferred option on the grounds that it was unachievable represented between 10% and 15% of the total obligated tonnage for plastics. The majority of respondents who expressed a preference supported the higher targets; only a minority expressly opposed them.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, the calculations I have been given indicate what I have just stated. Furthermore, I understand that there were opposing views even among the members of those associations who responded to the consultation. I do not argue with the fact that there has been opposition and that it is important to consider it. Indeed, I have and am considering it.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

I have a question about the Advisory Committee on Packaging. It used to be an arm’s-length body, but after the review it was taken into Defra. I think that this Committee would find it valuable to know what opposition was expressed within that committee. Is the Minister willing to publish the minutes of the advisory committee’s meetings to see how the debate was represented?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

If I may, I shall come to the advisory committee later in the debate.

My noble friend Lord Jenkin referred to his concerns about the achievability of the targets. I shall go into some detail on that because I think it will be helpful to noble Lords. The 42% recycling rate was consulted on and, as I said, the majority of the consultation responses supported the proposal. I acknowledge that the target is challenging and we will monitor progress closely, calling on the expertise of the Advisory Committee on Packaging. In responding to the consultation, waste companies, reprocessors and local authorities felt that the infrastructure was sufficient to deal with demand and that further infrastructure would come on stream by 2017 to cope with increased supply and demand—I think that that is the question to which the noble Lord, Lord Knight, referred. The quality of recyclates is also something that the Government take seriously. My officials are working on an action plan, to which my noble friend referred, to address the quality of recyclates, and it will be published shortly.

I turn now to the targets themselves. As I say, it might be helpful to noble Lords if I go into a little detail on these. Defra has conducted a full analysis of how the targets can be achieved. As with any projections, assumptions have been made. That is why we exposed our analysis to scrutiny through public consultation and we asked industry if we had got it right. Most of the organisations that will be required to collect, sort and reprocess the additional material thought that the higher targets would be achievable. However, as we heard today, some in the plastics manufacturing industry remain concerned about the achievability of the plastics targets. Officials have met representatives of the industry and, as my noble friend said, I myself have met them. I have carefully reviewed the concerns raised and the evidence provided.

I will take the different targets in turn, starting with plastic bottles. The lion’s share of hitting this target will fall to bottle recycling. Good progress has been made, with the UK now recycling just over half of the bottles that are thrown away. However, around 240,000 tonnes of household plastic bottles that are disposed of in households with access to plastic bottle recycling collection points still end up in landfill. This makes no sense. The material has a value of at least £18 million. We must get it out of landfill and into recycling. This can be done relatively cheaply because the infrastructure is already in place. Nearly every local authority in the country is collecting bottles, while the sorting and reprocessing infrastructure is well established and the end markets are thriving. The key to capturing thousands more tonnes of plastic bottles is communication. I want to see industry and local authorities working together to communicate to the householder. For example, the plastics industry could follow the model adopted by the metal packaging and reprocessing industry under its “Metal Matters” campaign, which has increased householder participation in recycling schemes by up to 40%.

The other source of plastic packaging we expect to make a major contribution to achieving the targets is from the commercial and industrial sector. Our estimates suggest that a significant tonnage is currently being recycled but is not being counted by the PRN system. Indeed, in 2005 almost 350,000 tonnes of commercial and industrial plastic packaging was collected for recycling compared with apparently less than 280,000 tonnes in 2010. We believe that the disappearance of 70,000 tonnes was largely because there was no need for the material to be counted towards meeting the recycling targets, but that it actually continues to be recycled outside the PRN system.

Trees: British Ash Tree

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Monday 5th November 2012

(8 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

I am delighted to contribute, although I ran out of time some time ago and it is always amusing to be accused of being party-political by the noble Lord. However, I refer him to an article in the New Scientist, dated 31 October, by Andy Coghlan, in which he talks through the science. It is clear that the science changed in 2010. It is also clear that Ministers were not consulted by officials in 2009. That is something we can discuss at a later date. I am looking forward to the Minister’s reassurances.

Lord De Mauley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Selborne and all noble Lords for their extremely helpful contributions in this debate.

The ash is one of our most recognisable trees and we have about 80 million of them in our country. This debate focuses on the dangers to them posed by Chalara fraxinea, but of course it goes much wider. I must declare an interest as a grower of trees, including ash. The Government are taking the threat posed to the British ash tree extremely seriously. Let me start by setting out very clearly the current situation, our scientific understanding and the action we are taking. Ash dieback is a disease caused by a fungal pathogen that has devastated ash across northern Europe. With ash trees representing 5 per cent of Britain’s woodland cover, the potential impact of this disease on our landscape is significant.

I am going to try to avoid being party political, but before 2010, the scientific evidence in Europe indicated that the organism responsible for ash dieback disease was one that was already widespread and native in Great Britain. This precluded the use of import restrictions as a means of control. In 2010, new scientific evidence was published which correctly identified the pathogen that caused the disease. Between 2009 and 2012 the Forestry Commission inspected 15,000 individual ash trees across the country located in more than 8,000 groups. Of these, 103 trees were discovered to be in ill health. None of these was identified as caused by Chalara.

In February 2012, a routine nursery inspection discovered Chalara, and this finding was confirmed on 7 March. Immediately, the UK plant health authorities deployed additional resources to carry out trace-forward inspections of material known to have been supplied from the infected nurseries. Over the summer, 1,000 at-risk sites were identified and 100,000 saplings were destroyed. In parallel, the authorities developed a pest risk analysis, required, as noble Lords know, as the basis for intervention. Once completed, this analysis was fast-tracked into a shortened consultation to discover the extent of Chalara in Great Britain. During this time, the industry instituted a voluntary moratorium on imports of ash planting material, and I offer it my strong thanks.

On Friday 26 October, this consultation closed. From the early afternoon of Monday 29 October, the movement of ash from anywhere that is not a certified pest-free area—right now, nowhere has that label—became a criminal offence in time for the start of the main UK planting season at the end of November. During the consultation period, Chalara was confirmed in the wider environment in East Anglia. These trees had no apparent connection to nurseries and suggested the presence of Chalara in Great Britain for quite some time. It is possible that this infection was caused by spores blown by the wind from continental Europe, but further investigation is ongoing.

I turn now to the current situation. As my noble friend Lord Selborne said, this morning’s situation report confirmed Chalara in 14 nursery sites, 36 sites where ash has recently been planted and 32 sites in the wider environment. Over the weekend, we have confirmed that, in addition to the cases in the wider environment in East Anglia, there are also cases in Essex and Kent.

Our scientific understanding suggests that Chalara is not currently spreading. The period of spore release is normally the summer. In the winter, the main method of spreading the disease would be movements of ash material. This, as I have said, is now banned. As ash leaves fall to the ground, there exists a risk, although it is rated as low, of the spread of the disease through the long-distance movement of leaf litter on, for example, boots and tyres. In answer to my noble friend Lord King, we have no intention of unwarranted closure of woodlands to those who wish to enjoy them, but we ask woodland visitors to ensure that they take appropriate precautions when leaving woodland.

Our understanding of Chalara continues to develop. Last Thursday, Defra Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Boyd convened a group of international experts to understand better the epidemiology of Chalara fraxinea. We are dealing with considerable biological uncertainty but we are determined to make the best use of the science available to tackle this pathogen.

Flooding: Defence Programme

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Thursday 1st November 2012

(8 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. Defra’s partnership funding approach provides a contribution to the economic benefits of flood and coastal erosion risk management projects, including avoiding the damage to business, agricultural land and infrastructure. It specifically allows the involvement of farmers and others from the private sector as well as local authorities. Many schemes that are justified principally on the basis of protection of households also protect businesses. Many flood management projects reduce the risk to farmland.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, the previous Government negotiated the statement of principles with the insurance industry to guarantee universal flood insurance coverage for homes in flood-affected areas. I should declare my interest as someone whose home was flooded this summer. That statement expires in June next year. The insurance industry has warned that unless new proposals are published by the end of November this year, it will be too late to ensure that the new alternative is in place by July next year. In response to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, the Minister told us that he would make announcements in due course. Can he reassure us that that will be this month?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, the statement of principles to which the noble Lord referred did not go to the issue of affordability. In answer to his question, we are in intense and constructive negotiations, and we will make an announcement as soon as we can.

Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Wednesday 24th October 2012

(8 years, 6 months ago)

Grand Committee

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, I welcome some movement on this issue by Defra because, like others, including the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, I very much agree that the use of wild animals in circuses is not appropriate. However, I am not talking about domesticated animals. I also agree that wild animals are treated cruelly in circuses. I noted the Minister’s comment right at the beginning of his speech that this measure is the first step towards introducing a ban on ethical grounds. I hope that when he winds up he will say whether the Government will stick to the commitment made by his predecessor to introduce an ethical ban in this Parliament. That would enforce the will of the other place which voted unanimously to introduce such a ban, using Section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act. The Minister’s noble friend Lady Parminter asked about Defra’s latest opinion regarding the legal position of such a ban. It would be interesting to hear the answer to that question as well.

I strongly support the principle of a ban. Some worry that bringing forward regulations that last for seven years, with a review after five years, might undermine the notion that there is any momentum behind that principle. However, I was pleased to hear the Minister say that this measure is the first step and if he can reassure us on the timeline, I would be most grateful. Clearly, we need to improve welfare standards. That is the reason why I oppose the use of wild animals in circuses. In so far as it goes there is some merit in these regulations in improving those standards. However, it is worth asking whether it would have been easier, cheaper and clearer to go for an outright ban. Those circuses that use wild animals would hear that message and a timeline set out by government and would phase them out over the intervening couple of years rather than getting used to a new set of regulations which are only temporary anyway, which may be phased out in favour of the ban on which there is all-party agreement.

Reference was made obliquely, which I wish to address head on, as to whether the enforcement mechanism in these regulations is flawed. Clearly, if we are bringing forward regulations that are not going to work and that are only temporary anyway, there is not very much point in proceeding.

I am most grateful to the RSPCA and the Born Free Foundation for forwarding me the joint briefing they have prepared and in which they go into some detail. I have copied relevant sections to the Minister so that he could have time properly to consider the argument they made. I shall summarise it. The main sanction in these regulations is to suspend the licence. If the licence is suspended, something has to happen to the animals that are then being held without a licence. Regulations state that a licence is required for any place where a wild animal associated with such a circus is kept. Therefore keeping them where the circus is is not an option unless, I guess, the circus holds an alternative licence for that location, which is extremely unlikely, given that we are talking about a travelling circus. Moving the animals is possible only if the site where the animals are held during the suspension also holds a licence. Any site that held the animals without a licence would find itself in contravention of the regulations. Given that suspensions come into effect immediately and initial granting of a licence requires prior inspection by a Defra inspector, plus the relevant fees to be paid et cetera, that clearly is not a practical solution either, unless the expectation is that the circus owner would hold an additional licence for their home site to cover this eventuality, if he is allowed to move them to that alternative site under this licensing regime, which seems a bit unlikely, given my reading of the regulations.

The only other possible option—unless the Minister tells me otherwise—is moving animals to another licensed circus during a suspension, again, if the circus is allowed to move them. However, given that we have heard from the Minister that the Secretary of State is required to have 14 days’ notice if a wild animal is introduced to any circus—I guess to add it to the stock list that the Minister referred to in his opening comments—I cannot see how that will work either. There are real questions about whether these regulations are enforceable using the sanction set out. Even if the Minister is unable to do anything else, if he can answer that question I will go away happy that I have achieved something.

There are four other points that I would like to make briefly. The first is about whether the welfare standard is good enough. I have a fundamental problem, which is one I wrestled with in my brief tenure as a Defra Minister five years ago, and I never managed to resolve it. It is that the same animal could be held under different licence regimes if it was unfortunate enough to be moved about into different settings, and each has a different standard of welfare and husbandry attached to it. Let us take the example of a small primate: a marmoset monkey would be a common one. On a Monday, the marmoset might be held in a pet shop under a pet shop licence under a particular standard of welfare and then be sold and held under a dangerous wild animal licence in someone’s home, which is a different set of standards. Then perhaps that does not work out, as keeping primates as pets often does not work out, so on the Wednesday, the animal is sold to a circus. In the circus, it is held under another set of welfare and husbandry standards. Then perhaps the circus owner finds that this marmoset is not such an attraction and is not easily forced into doing the amusing things that punters want to pay for, so on the Thursday, the animal ends up in a zoo and is under another set of welfare standards, which are the highest welfare standards.

There are those who oppose zoos altogether, and we debated that the other day. It does not seem logical or credible that, if we are starting with the principle of animal welfare in how these animals should be kept, there are four different licensing regimes, and that is before I get into the distraction of the Home Office licensing regime if they are to be used for experimentation, because that is a whole different debate that I do not think we want to get into. I would like to see the welfare standards in these regulations at the highest current licence standard, which is the standard that we have for zoos, animal parks and rescue centres. I do not think that they deliver that and there is a real question about whether the welfare standards are good enough.

My second point is around the quality of the licensing inspections and the expertise that will be deployed in Condition 6(2) of the regulations dealing with the inspectors that the circus owners themselves would use. It is notable, for example, that in a famous case in 1997 of Mary Chipperfield Promotions in Hampshire, the farm was an official MAFF quarantine facility. It carried a Dangerous Wild Animals Act licence, it was registered under the performing animals regulation and the co-owner, Roger Crawley, was at the time a government zoo inspector. It had all sorts of regulations, which should have reassured us that this was a quality establishment. Yet the evidence eventually gathered at Mary Chipperfield’s facility, including that acquired by a friend of mine, Alison Cronin, who runs a Monkey World, led to the conviction on various charges of Mary Chipperfield, her elephant keeper and Roger Crawley for cruelty to a sick elephant.

That tells me that even at the highest standard of regulation we have had problems with animal welfare. We know of other examples of premises and circuses that had been inspected where the wool has been pulled over inspectors’ eyes over the training of elephants. Local authorities have some competence in this licensing regime and I am concerned about whether they consistently have the expertise available to them to do any of the licensing.

I note what the Minister said about the regulations being enforced by Defra using vets from the existing list of veterinarians. Obviously, I have every respect for the Royal College, for its self-regulation and the standards of vets. But I would like the Minister's reassurance that vets with a vested interest in circuses are not engaged on that list. We have a fundamental problem around the level of expertise in the veterinary population in dealing with some of these species of wild animals. Not many vets are experienced in dealing with elephants, lions, some of the other wild cats and the primates that may be kept in circuses. If any of those few are making a living out of working for circuses, there is a conflict of interest and I want some reassurance that those conflicted vets would not be engaged on the list.

My penultimate point is about travel time. I note that in Condition 10 of the regulations no maximum travel time has been listed. I recall a debate we had towards the end of the summer before the Recess about the transportation of horses. There was widespread concern across your Lordships' House about travel time for horses. Noble Lords probably share the same concern about travel time for wild animals and yet no maximum limit has been set. Why not?

Finally, there is the issue of new species and the ability in these regulations for circus operators to submit new species to Defra for inclusion in the stock list. Given that these regulations are temporary, I find a facility to include new species odd because it undermines the notion that a ban is coming pretty soon in this Parliament—if the previous promises are to be kept. But if there are good reasons for including new species, we should shift the presumption from Defra having to produce individual standards for those new species to the circus operators themselves having to provide evidence that any animals that they are adding to the stock list will not suffer. That would be more manageable for Defra and we would then have the presumption the right way round.

I am sorry to have spoken a lot longer than anyone else although I guess that that is sometimes my role in this place. Beyond the principle, I am most concerned about the enforcement mechanism. But if the Minister could also give me some answers about the welfare standards, the quality of the inspection, travel time and the arrangements for new species, I would be most grateful.

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords for their comments and questions. I will do my best to address the points raised.

My noble friend Lady Parminter asked whether the regulations created a two-tier framework for animal welfare, particularly in comparison with zoos. If anything, the status quo signifies a two-tier system. While the Animal Welfare Act 2006 already applies, operators of travelling circuses that have wild animals are, in animal welfare terms, otherwise unregulated. The regulations will address that.

It is right that there are some differences in the detail of welfare standards because we are talking about very different operating environments and different sources of exercise and enrichment, but I do not accept that we are somehow making things worse through these regulations. It is right to introduce targeted welfare standards, inspections and enforcement for travelling circuses, which are exempt from other regimes that would protect the animals.

My noble friend asked specifically about chaining. The new regulations should be thought of as an extension to the Animal Welfare Act and its existing provisions. It is already a criminal offence to cause a circus animal unnecessary suffering or to fail to provide for its welfare needs. If anybody—welfare groups or a member of the public—has evidence of this happening, they should contact the relevant enforcement authority. These regulations will require regular announced but, more importantly, unannounced inspections, as well as routine veterinary visits. They also limit unsupervised wild animal access to a named group of suitably trained or experienced staff and they require circuses to keep detailed records of all aspects of the animal’s day-to-day life. If our inspectors discover any of these alleged cases of abuse or neglect, enforcement action should be taken.

My noble friend asked which welfare organisations were in favour of the regulations. The British Veterinary Zoological Society supports a regulatory approach. She also asked about the issue of the grounds for a ban. The 2007 Radford report on circus animals concluded that there was insufficient scientific evidence to demonstrate that travelling circuses are unable to meet the welfare needs of wild animals presently being used in the United Kingdom. The position of lack of scientific evidence has not changed. There is insufficient evidence that a ban is required for welfare reasons and any such ban would be vulnerable to challenge. That is what we must avoid.

Consequently, we are now looking carefully at the means by which a ban can be introduced on ethical grounds. There are a number of issues to consider in developing the ethical case and the exact nature of a ban. We must not rush primary legislation on such an emotive issue. We need to get it right. The detail must be correct to ensure that it will not fall at the first challenge. Nevertheless, we are determined to pursue this and we are confident that we will get there.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, suggested that Defra had been procrastinating. The situation has not changed since my noble friend Lord Taylor’s Written Ministerial Statement on 12 July that we expect to be able to publish draft legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny this Session. We are working on a draft Bill. He specifically raised the issue of elephants suffering under licensing. There is a far greater chance of uncovering animal abuse with regular licensing inspections than without. It should be remembered that the trial of the elephant Annie’s former keeper has not yet been resolved, so I cannot comment any further on that particular case and I am sure that noble Lords will understand that.

Generally, in answer to the noble Lord’s point about cruelty, it need hardly be said that training should not involve animal suffering. These standards prescribe that animals must receive immediate and tangible rewards and positive reinforcement when they exhibit desired behaviour during training and performance. They also prohibit seeking a desired behaviour from any animal in any way that would cause pain, suffering, injury or disease.

I thank my noble friend Lord Colwyn for his supportive words. My noble friend Lord Redesdale made some interesting points, which I have taken on board. I can confirm that the definition of “wild animal” is consistent with the Zoo Licensing Act 1981—therefore, budgerigars are not considered to be wild animals. Nevertheless, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 still applies of course.

The noble Lord, Lord Knight, raised a number of issues, some of which I have already addressed in answering other points. Regarding whether the period of seven years would conflict with a ban coming into place sooner than that, the regulations include the standard sunset provision. There is no connection to or conflict with this and the timescale of a ban. Government policy is that all new domestic regulations expire seven years after they are made. That does not prevent the licensing regulations becoming redundant earlier where their provisions are superseded by the proposed ban.

The noble Lord, Lord Knight, kindly raised with me in advance the enforcement provisions and how they would work. If a circus operator chooses not to comply with the law, it will be at risk of a licence suspension and possible revocation. The simple remedy is to comply or to cease using wild animals. It is important to understand what will happen in practice and already happens for other regulations. Ongoing dialogue between inspectors and operators will mean that a suspension could not come as a surprise to the operator. Only if the operator refuses to take action to restore compliance with licensing conditions will the possibility of a suspension arise. If a suspension notice is issued, it will clarify precisely what must be done and by when. Continued failure to comply would lead to revocation of a licence and prosecution. It is not the case that an operator would be prosecuted for taking steps identified in a suspension notice.

Compliance with the licensing conditions could be restored by the removal of all the animals of the affected species from the stock list of the circus. They will then be covered by a combination of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and, of course, the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The circus licensing regulations would no longer apply to those animals, and they would have to be removed from the circus.

I should add that neither the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments nor the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has had any adverse comments on the enforceability of the regulations.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

I hope that the Committee will indulge me in asking a question. If the operator disagrees with the suspension of a licence and wants to appeal under Regulation 14, what will that operator do with his or her animals while waiting for the outcome? Clearly, paragraph (4) would allow the court to permit the operator to continue operating a travelling circus, which is a way out, but if the court were not minded to, my worry is that the animals would then be kept illegally. That is what I do not understand.

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I am sure that I will be able to give the noble Lord an answer to that question in a moment.

The noble Lord mentioned conflict of interest. Inspectors have been vetted for conflict of interest; the process already in use for zoos will be followed. He also raised a specific point about primates, which interested me. May I ask him to accept that today we are dealing with these regulations but I am quite happy to talk to him outside about the broader issue of the welfare of animals?

The noble Lord asked about new species. Any new animals introduced will be protected by the rigorous new standards required by the licensing scheme and will be inspected regularly, along with the species that are currently used. However, we cannot use regulations made under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to prohibit the introduction of new animals outright. Any attempt to use these licensing regulations to prohibit the use of certain species would be highly vulnerable to legal challenge. Our position is that a ban via primary legislation on ethical grounds is the most secure way of achieving the successful ban we want. We cannot prevent the use of new animals until that primary legislation has been enacted.

The noble Lord asked about the period of time that animals may travel for. There must be a stationary period of at least 12 hours in any 24-hour period when the circus moves between venues or layover sites. During transport, animals should be offered water, feed and the opportunity to rest as appropriate to their species, age, health and physiological state. Licensed animals should not be taken from the transport vehicle during transport, except at pre-planned rest stops as defined in the journey plan or under emergency conditions. Every effort must be made to make a journey as comfortable as possible for the animals being transported, including adhering to all traffic laws.

On the noble Lord’s earlier point about enforcement and his supplementary question, suspension can be delayed in taking effect. If the court refuses to suspend the suspension, a fine can result. Enforcement and prosecution will produce compliance. I am not entirely sure that that satisfies the noble Lord, and I will write to him on that specific point. I hope that I have answered the main points raised by noble Lords. If I have not, I will write to them following the debate.

Specific legislation setting down welfare standards for animals with such complex welfare needs, especially in such a constantly changing environment, is long overdue. Similar species in more static environments have been subject to their own specific licensing legislation for at least 30 years. By contrast, wild animals in circuses have not been the specific subject of any legislation since an Act in the 1920s.

The Government have promised to bring forward primary legislation to ban wild animals from travelling circuses. This ban will be on ethical grounds and will, understandably, I hope, take a little time. It would not be right to rush legislation through Parliament that sought to prohibit an activity that has long been legal and for which it has proved hard to find evidence that an animal’s welfare is irredeemably compromised. However, the Government are satisfied that there is a risk that welfare issues need to be addressed. In the interim, the welfare of these animals is, of course, paramount. The Government believe that these regulations will safeguard the welfare of wild animals in travelling circuses while a ban is introduced.

Bovine Tuberculosis

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Tuesday 23rd October 2012

(8 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Statement is as follows.

“Bovine tuberculosis is the most pressing animal health problem in the United Kingdom. The importance of the epidemic for our cattle farmers, their families and their communities cannot be overemphasised. This was once a disease isolated to small pockets of the country. It has now spread extensively through the west of England and Wales. The number of new cases has doubled every nine years. Last year, TB led to the slaughter of 26,000 cattle in England at a cost of nearly £100 million. In the past 10 years bovine TB has cost the taxpayer £500 million. It is estimated that this will rise to £1 billion over the next decade if the disease is left unchecked.

The task of managing bovine TB and bringing it under control is difficult and complex. The Government are committed to using all the tools at their disposal and to continuing to develop new ones as a package of measures to tackle the disease. In high-risk areas, herds are tested annually and any cattle that test positive are slaughtered. Restrictions on cattle movements have been further strengthened to reduce the chance of disease spreading from cattle to cattle. Only last week we announced plans for a new surveillance testing regime and stricter cattle movement controls. We also continue to look at ways to improve the testing of cattle for TB.

Research in this country over the past 15 years has demonstrated that cattle and badgers can transmit the disease to each other. Culling badgers can lead to a reduction of the disease in cattle if it is carried out over a large enough area and for a sufficient length of time. That is why we believe that, based on the best available evidence, culling badgers to control TB can make a significant contribution. It is crucial that we get this right. The National Farmers’ Union has taken the lead on behalf of the farming industry to plan and organise the pilot culls. It has been working tirelessly over the past few months, signing up farmers and landowners in the pilot areas and ensuring that contractors are properly trained. I have been immensely impressed by the effort, commitment and determination that have been demonstrated by farmers in the two pilot areas. I am also most grateful to the police in the two areas for their support.

The exceptionally bad weather this summer has put a number of pressures on our farmers and caused significant problems. Protracted legal proceedings and the request of the police to delay the start until after the Olympics and Paralympics have also meant that we have moved beyond the optimal time for delivering an effective cull. We should have begun in the summer. In addition to these problems, the most recent fieldwork has revealed that badger numbers in the two areas are significantly higher than previously thought. This only highlights the scale of the problem we are dealing with.

Evidence suggests that at least 70% of the badgers in the areas must be removed. This is based on the results of the randomised badger culling trial so that we can be confident that culling will reduce TB in cattle. Despite a greatly increased effort over the past few days and weeks, the farmers delivering this policy have concluded that they cannot be confident that it will be possible to remove enough badgers based on these higher numbers and considering the lateness of the season. It would be wrong to go ahead if those on the ground cannot be confident of removing at least 70% of the populations.

Today I have received a letter from the president of the NFU on behalf of the companies co-ordinating the culls, explaining why they do not feel they can go ahead this year and requesting that they be postponed until next summer. In these circumstances, it is the right thing to do and, as they are the people who have to deliver this policy on the ground and work within the science, I respect their decision. I have placed a copy of the letter in the Libraries of both Houses.

By starting the pilots next summer we can build on the work that has already been done and ensure that the cull will conform to the scientific criteria and evidence base. I know that this will be very disappointing for many, particularly those farmers in the two pilot areas, but I fully support the decision of the NFU to delay the start of culling operations.

I must emphasise that there is no change to the Government’s policy. We remain absolutely committed to it, but we must ensure that we work with the NFU to get the delivery right. We also remain committed to our wider TB eradication programme and to continuing to strengthen it, so that we can move towards our goal of a TB-free England. Vaccination is another tool and one that we would all like to be able to deploy more widely. Unfortunately, we are not yet there in terms of its development or practicality. If we had a viable and legal cattle vaccine, we would be using it. It will, however, be some years before this is the case and neither we nor the industry can afford to wait that long. It is for this reason that we must look at all the options.

The Government are determined to tackle bovine TB by all the means available to us. Now, in the next few months, we will ensure that the pilot culls can be implemented effectively, in the best possible conditions, with the right resources. Having looked at all the evidence over many years, I am utterly convinced that badger control is the right thing to do, and indeed the higher than expected badger numbers only serve to underline the need for urgent action. I remain fully committed to working with the farming industry to ensure that the pilot culls can be delivered effectively, safely and humanely next summer”.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement and for advance sight of it this morning. We welcome this statement and it is right that it should start by setting out the scale of the animal health problem, and the cost to farmers and to taxpayers of slaughtering infected cattle. This is an acute problem for farmers and I know from talking to them in the West Country over many years what a toll it is taking on them personally and financially. It is therefore also right that the Statement concludes with the need to work with farmers. But as the president of the NFU says in his letter to the Secretary of State,

“all decisions must be based on the science”.

Why then no mention of working with the scientists?

I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in his place. He is one of the leading scientific authorities on this issue. What meetings has the new Secretary of State had with the noble Lord and his colleagues? Did the Minister read the comments of the noble Lord in last week’s debate on scientific advisors? He said,

“it is still the case that the Government, perhaps too often, prefer policy-based evidence rather than evidence-based policy … The fact is that the overwhelming majority of scientific experts have concluded that the policy of killing badgers to control TB in cattle will have only a small beneficial effect, if any. It is essentially a waste of effort and money, and a distraction from the business of getting on top of a serious animal health problem that can have devastating effects on the livelihoods of farmers”.—[Official Report, 17/10/12; col. GC514.]

The truth is that this is yet another humiliating moment for the Government and for Defra because they put prejudice and ideology before science and evidence. Can the Minister confirm that this is more of an NHS Bill type of pause, rather than another government U-turn? It is certainly another in a chain of weekly incompetent humiliations: plebgate; the west coast main line fiasco, when they also got the numbers wrong; the energy policy on the hoof last week; the great train snobbery; and now this from Defra.

From Defra we have had the abandoned forestry sell off, chaos over circus animals, a U-turn on shooting buzzards to protect game birds and now a pause on shooting badgers. No wonder the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said this weekend in the Observer that the Government,

“seems unable to manage its affairs competently”.

He described it as a,

“dog of a coalition government”.

I do not think the noble Lord likes dogs. I suspect he would like the country to put it out of its misery and have this “dog of a coalition” put down. However, beyond the endemic incompetence in Defra and the Government there are serious specific questions to answer. As my colleague Mary Creagh MP said in the other place today:

“Labour has warned the Government for two years that the badger cull was bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife”.

The Secretary of State is right not to proceed because the cull this year could not deliver the 70% mortality rate needed for the possible positive effect on bovine TB—up to 16% over nine years. His decision is based on there not being enough time to cull that many badgers in the limited time available, particularly given the growing number of badgers in the pilot areas. However, the numbers and the limited time were predictable and demonstrate the incompetence in Defra and that this announcement was inevitable. His Statement blames the weather, the police and the Olympics for a limited time window.

Was it not the Home Secretary who ruled out policing the cull this summer, not the police? Was not the limited window therefore predictable and decided by Ministers? Is it not the case that in July last year Natural England gave Defra badger population figures that projected from the randomised badger-culling trial that the numbers of badgers in pilot areas was 3,300 per 350 square kilometres? This is broadly the same as the current estimate of 3,000 per 300 square kilometres, so the larger number of badgers was predictable too.

Why did the Secretary of State in the other place today say that it was only in September this year that Natural England determined deficiencies in the numbers of badgers to be culled? Is it just to cover Defra’s incompetence or is it that those projections last year were ignored because it was inconvenient evidence not policy-based evidence? Can the Minister tell us whether the estimates of badger numbers in the planned pilot cull areas were reviewed by the independent expert panel overseeing the pilots? I have heard not. If so, that is shameful.

What is the department going to do during this pause before doing the cull next year? Will it need to secure more money? The Secretary of State said today in the other place that the Government will compensate the police forces in Avon and Somerset and Gloucestershire for their costs in preparing for the abandoned cull. If it is a more intensive cull of the larger numbers of badgers, will he need more than the current projection of £500,000 per cull area per year? Will there be any compensation for the two companies engaged to do the shooting? I gather £850,000 was to be spent on surveying badgers; £248,000 on post mortems; and £713,000 on checking the humaneness of the cull. Will those contractors be compensated?

Beyond the finance questions there are other areas of work between now and when the cull starts next summer. Will Ministers meet representatives of the tourism industry in Somerset and Gloucestershire? The notion of marksmen across the countryside that I know well shooting badgers at night has clear risks. Those risks are heightened because the location of shoots will be kept secret to frustrate protesters, but if the location of shooting is secret how will visitors in the summer months be warned to keep away?

How will Ministers work with farmers to maximise the effectiveness of the welcome announcement last week on changes to the testing regime and cattle movement restrictions? These sorts of biosecurity measures are a key component in controlling this dreadful disease. Can more be done with government support to improve biosecurity?

Finally, there is the core question of vaccination. The possible benefits of a cull are marginal. Sir John Beddington, the Chief Scientific Adviser, has said that it will, at best, result in a 12% to 16% reduction in the disease after nine years. The Statement pays tribute to the tireless work of farmers and contractors in preparing for the cull and funding it. What is the Government’s estimate of what can be done on vaccination over nine years with the same unity of purpose? The emerging DIVA test is an encouraging development to allow a diseased animal to be differentiated from a vaccinated animal. Surely this now makes it possible seriously to engage with the EU in lifting the ban on exports from vaccinated animals. The vaccine itself is 50% to 60% effective. We need more efficacy but it appears that good progress is being made in finding a scientific solution. Surely it is right to focus on this rather than on what the 30 eminent animal disease experts writing in the Observer 10 days ago described as a “costly distraction”.

My party is clear that bovine TB is a blight on dairy farming and causes untold misery to dairy farmers. We take it very seriously and we all want a solution. We know that growing numbers of diseased badgers are passing the disease to cattle and costing the taxpayer a fortune, but, unfortunately, the logic of then culling them does not follow because the science tells us that that is most likely to spread the disease unless such a scale of geography and intensity is used that it is clearly nigh on impossible to then deliver the cull. We must be led by the science and the science leads us to vaccination with interim efforts on biosecurity. That is what we want. That is what the nation wants. I hope that, after reflecting on this shambles today, the Secretary of State will abandon his dogmatic view and get it right by listening to both farmers and scientists.

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response to the Statement. I start by reiterating that bovine TB is the most pressing animal health problem facing our cattle farmers. No one wants to kill badgers but we absolutely have to bear down on this terrible disease.

What has been announced today is a postponement until next summer of the pilots that were due to start this autumn. There is no change of government policy. We and the farming industry remain committed to taking forward this evidence-based policy. We are totally committed to tackling bovine TB through a range of measures, including a controlled cull of badgers. The cull in the two pilot areas will go ahead next summer when we are completely satisfied that all the arrangements are in place.

The leading experts whom Defra brought together last year agreed that the evidence shows that culling done in the right way and carried out over a sufficient area and length of time in a co-ordinated and efficient way can reduce the spread of the disease to cattle with benefits remaining for many years. The policy is firmly based on evidence from the randomised badger-culling trial. Using the results of this trial, culling over an area of 150 square kilometres could be expected to lead to an average 16% reduction in TB incidence in the local area. This figure was agreed by an independent panel of scientists at a meeting with Professor Bob Watson, Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser, on 4 April last year. We are clearly not saying that this is the whole answer but it is a very important part of the answer alongside testing and surveillance, movement restrictions and the removal and slaughter of affected animals. We wanted to be absolutely sure that we had the most robust data available to ensure that the right logistics were in place for an effective cull. The population estimates show the problem of badgers spreading bovine TB to be even worse than expected. The right decision has been taken, based on the available evidence.

Natural England’s figures were estimated on RBCT data and, in validating the estimates provided by the applicants, some gaps were found that raised concerns. Due to the importance of this data for the effectiveness of the policy, it was responsible, in taking a science-based approach, to check these numbers through further fieldwork. This further fieldwork has led to updated estimates of the badger population that are higher than originally expected. The discovery that there are far more badgers than previously thought shows the problem could be much bigger than we feared. All of the preparations for the pilot culls were geared up for a smaller number of badgers, so it is absolutely right that the NFU looks again at what resources it needs to make sure we get it right.

The noble Lord, Lord Knight, asked about policing. It was agreed with the Home Office that the cull should not proceed before the Olympics. The noble Lord asked about the costs of the culling operations and whether they would be met by the participating farmers. The costs that fall to Government are those to do with ensuring that the pilots meet their purpose. It is right to pilot the policy and confirm our assumptions about the effectiveness, safety and humaneness of controlled shooting. As regards costs more generally, the Secretary of State has said that he will have a comprehensive breakdown of the money spent so far prepared and laid before Parliament. The noble Lord specifically asked about policing costs. These will depend on the extent of protester activity and it is right that the Government should recompense the police for additional costs.

The noble Lord asked about vaccination, which is an important issue. Work to develop an oral badger vaccine and a cattle vaccine is continuing and is a high priority. Defra has been investing significantly in developing bovine TB vaccines for both badgers and cattle for a long time. We have a licensed, injectable vaccine that can and is used on badgers. The problem with it is, however, two-fold. First, it is very expensive to catch all the badgers. Secondly, it has to be done every year. So it is a very expensive process and is not really practicable on a wide scale. Since 1994, Defra has invested more than £43 million in badger and cattle vaccination and associated diagnostics and expects to spend another £15.5 million over four years. Even if these vaccinations were available, they are not a magic bullet and additional measures would still be necessary.

The Government fully support the NFU’s decision to postpone the culls as the responsible thing to do to ensure the pilots are carried out effectively. It would be irresponsible to rush ahead and risk making the problem worse if it is not carried out properly. This disease led to the slaughter of 26,000 cattle in England last year and cost nearly £100 million. Without further action it would cost the taxpayer an estimated £1 billion over the next decade.

Zoos

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Monday 8th October 2012

(8 years, 7 months ago)

Grand Committee

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for International Development
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Harrison on securing this interesting debate, and I hope that the visitor numbers for Chester Zoo and London zoo rise as a result of the attention that they will no doubt receive. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, on his new position, and warmly welcome him to the Dispatch Box. I am sure that he is relieved to have moved on from the sort of “super-sub” role that he was performing there and which is now being performed by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell. He has a hard act to follow in the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who I really enjoyed working with, and I wish him in turn all the best at the Home Office.

We have heard praise for the great work that Chester Zoo and London zoo perform. We were privileged to listen to a particularly moving speech by the noble Lord, Lord Paul, regarding his involvement in London zoo. My own experience, more personally, is with Monkey World in Dorset, which is licensed as a zoo but is actually a sanctuary. Effectively, it is the largest rescue centre for primates in Europe; it is also the nursery for orang-utans for Europe and is about the only place in the world successfully breeding woolly monkeys at the moment. Not that it wants to treat many of the species of primate there—it has more than enough chimpanzees, for example; I think that it is on its third or fourth troupe of chimps—but, sadly, that is a demonstration of the need for a rescue centre.

Monkey World started by rescuing chimps from the beaches of Spain and has now grown to encompass all manner of primates. It is not a collection, though, and that is an important thing to say in the context of the debate about zoos. A lot of zoos look to collect a couple of each species so that they can show everyone what they all look like. Clearly that does not apply to all zoos, nor to all species, but we should move welfare standards so that animals live as closely to how they live in the wild as possible. My noble friend Lady Rendell talked about the Jaguar being a solitary animal. Clearly you would not want to put a bunch of Jaguars in an enclosure together, but there are other species that you would want to because that is the way that they like to live and we do not want to put them in solitary confinement.

When my children were young, we followed the recommendation of their grandfather and took them to Marwell Zoo, near Winchester in Hampshire, which showed me as a parent the extraordinary educational value that well managed zoos can offer. Indeed, when I was exchanging views on zoos on Twitter over the weekend, one came from a friend of mine who works in one of the most innovative schools that I know, the Essa Academy in Bolton, talking about the marvellous educational value of zoos and what technology can now do to enhance that using, for example, augmented reality to show evolution and some of the extinct species that obviously are no longer available in zoos.

When I was a Defra Minister, I was also pleased to visit a wonderful project in the heart of the Amazon that the Darwin Initiative was funding with the Zoological Society for London to sustain local communities that were farming ornamental fish and looking at alternative ways of creating a living for those people.

It is worth recalling, though, that there are problems at times with zoos. We heard about those from my noble friend Lord Harrison in his fine speech, and there are horror stories from around the world of cramped cages, the illegal trade of social animals living in solitary confinement and animals dying of malnutrition, including in US zoos—this is not confined to zoos in the poorer parts of the world but can be in some of the richest places in the world. When I was researching this, I was hoping that I would not find any examples from this country that would cause me concern, but sadly there are indeed areas of concern. I had a look on YouTube at a film about Noah’s Ark zoo near Bristol that was made a couple of years ago. According to the TV report, it would appear that that zoo was effectively breeding tigers to supply circuses. We will shortly be debating wild animals and circuses. Certainly, we on this side do not support the use of wild animals in circuses and encourage the Government to end that practice as soon as they can. The keeper of that zoo seemed to regard it as being just a business and had lost touch with the conservation and education concepts that are at the heart of a successful zoo.

I have also seen the Born Free Foundation’s excellent report evaluating the implementation and enforcement of the 1999 directive, to which my noble friend Lady Smith referred. The foundation produces specific country reports for members of the Union. It is worth noting that the report says of England:

“Despite a concerted effort by Defra to support and advise Local Authorities in the implementation and enforcement of the ZLA, it is questionable as to whether Local Authorities have the time, funding and expertise to ensure effective application of zoo legislation in England”.

That point has been made in the debate with reference to the Zoo Licensing Act. The document continues:

“Overall, the findings of this investigation indicated that licensed zoos in England were not fully compliant with the ZLA”.

That has to be of great concern in this debate. The document further states:

“Overall, English zoos were making an insignificant contribution to Threatened and ‘conservation sensitive’ species”.

The report also contains other findings. Those findings are clearly of considerable concern to us and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to them. I would also be interested to hear anything he has to say about the story that appeared in the Sunday Express this week about zoos being inappropriately hired out for wild raves. Will he comment on the questions raised about local authority capability and expertise, consistent licensing quality and consistent inspection by local authorities? On balance, we are in favour of well managed zoos but are concerned that more needs to be done to raise the quality of regulation.

Lord De Mauley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for bringing this debate today, and to all noble Lords for their contributions. In fact, noble Lords probably have no idea how grateful I am for the opportunity to be here today.

I assure your Lordships that the Government are firmly of the view that well managed zoos play a key role in a number of areas. Most importantly, zoos play a significant part in promoting wildlife conservation. Several noble Lords referred to that. As I see it, this is their key role, and their activities include direct financial and in-kind support for projects aimed at conserving populations in the wild in this country and overseas. They also contribute and work together in managed breeding programmes and carry out research; for example, to support field conservation as well as to learn more about the animals in their care.

Noble Lords may have seen the “top 10” list of endangered species whose future is most reliant on conservation programmes supported by UK zoos. The list, published by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums in August, contains species such as the scimitar-horned oryx, from north Africa, which is extinct in the wild, and our own white-clawed crayfish, which is endangered. As an example, Bristol zoo has bred these crayfish in captivity and recently reintroduced 80 into the wild in the south-west. My noble friend Lord Redesdale mentioned another successful example.

Zoos have an important role in raising public awareness, as the noble Lord, Lord Paul, so movingly said, and educating their visitors, who are often young people, about wild animals and their habitats in a relaxed and natural setting. The noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, also spoke about the importance of the educational facet of zoos. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, rightly said, zoos contribute to their local and regional economies. Last year a BIAZA report estimated that zoos contribute more than £600 million pounds to the economy each year. That economic contribution is important However, I am sure that BIAZA will be the first to agree that the contribution of zoos to conservation is paramount. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, highlighted a number of areas where work might be done with BIAZA to supplement support through its work. Following this debate, I shall ask officials to meet BIAZA to discuss a range of issues, and I myself will also look forward to meeting it in due course. One of the specific issues that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, raised was its concern about access to lottery funding, and I shall make sure that that is on the agenda.

We value the work that BIAZA is doing continuously to raise standards among its members, not to mention the key role that it plays in supporting the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria in striving to raise standards across Europe. The Government also benefit from BIAZA’s expertise in that two members of the Zoos Expert Committee—the Government’s advisory body on zoos matters—are currently also from BIAZA member zoos.

I should add that we welcome the contribution made by the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions and the National Farm Attractions Network and we look forward to continuing to work with all organisations involved in zoos matters.

Of course, not everyone supports zoos, and some zoos are indeed still striving to meet the required standards. I shall come back to that because noble Lords have specifically raised the issue.

The Born Free Foundation asks that the conservation and education contributions made by zoos are formally evaluated and measured. Zoos are expected to review their activities. Indeed, this is a recommendation of the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice—to which the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, among others, referred—which sets out the minimum standards that zoos are expected to meet. The conservation and education contribution is also assessed at each zoo inspection to make sure that these activities are taking place and are commensurate with the size and nature of the zoo.

The Born Free Foundation also asks for species-specific guidelines for zoos, illustrating the optimum standards for zoo animals. As noble Lords may know, the Government have recently updated and published the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice, which for the first time include a specific section on elephants. The welfare of elephants in zoos had become a matter of concern, with research indicating that serious problems existed. These new standards, which we introduced after discussions with BIAZA, will help to ensure that improvements are made to the welfare of elephants in UK zoos. While I am not yet persuaded that specific guidelines are needed for all animal species, I am happy to look at any evidence which suggests that further government intervention is needed. The Born Free Foundation’s inquiry has been very useful in raising awareness of zoos standards across Europe and I welcome any action which will help to improve standards wherever there are difficulties.

The Captive Animals Protection Society—the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, referred to this, as did other noble Lords—claims that the zoo licensing and inspection system is not being implemented properly and that, as a result, zoo animals are suffering. It is claimed that most of this is because local authorities are inconsistent in their application of the legislation. The Government have always been concerned to help and support local authorities in their role. They have had this role for 30 years—local authorities have been responsible for implementing the zoo licensing and inspection system since 1981. They arrange regular zoo inspections and issue zoo licences. They have powers to attach conditions to zoo licences to require that the standards are met. They have powers to require zoos to comply with any conditions, and ultimately they have powers to close a zoo.

It is the Government’s position that local authorities are best placed to implement the zoo licensing system. They know their local area and have close links with local communities. In many cases, they will be in touch with the zoos in their areas on a day-to-day basis, where they will be able to spot problems before they arise. To help them to carry out these activities, the Government have published comprehensive guidance on the requirements of the 1981 Act and have made this widely available.

I should add that, partly in response to concerns expressed about inconsistency in the implementation of the Act, the Government commissioned research to review local authority implementation. The research found that it was generally good and had improved in recent years, but that further improvement could be made.

The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and my noble friend Lord Redesdale expressed concern that central government support to local authorities in delivering their zoo licensing obligations has diminished recently. Many local authorities have responded positively to these challenging times by working collaboratively to share good practice across local authority boundaries and through nominating officials who are experts in zoo licensing and who willingly share that knowledge and expertise with their colleagues in other local authorities. My noble friend Lord Redesdale asked me to look into self-regulation, and I am certainly happy to do that, although the directive clearly has an impact on it.

Let me assure noble Lords that the Government are tenacious and, to be fair, I pay tribute to the previous Administration who worked hard over many years to make sure that zoos aspire to and strive to achieve ever higher standards. The 1981 Act first set out the legislative framework for the inspection and licensing of zoos. This framework provided the model for the 1999 EU zoos directive. It is fair to say that the UK has led the way in setting and measuring standards in zoos since that time.

The Secretary of State’s standards are at the heart of the zoo licensing and inspection system. They are the minimum which zoos must meet and are taken into account by zoo inspectors and by local authority licensing officers. The Secretary of State has a list of zoo inspectors who he can call upon, including veterinary surgeons and practitioners who have experience of zoo animals and people who are competent to inspect animals in zoos, to advise on their welfare and to advise on the management of zoos generally. Inspectors play a key role in checking that zoos are meeting the required standards. They also support and assist zoos, helping them with any improvements which may be needed. They also support local authorities, for example, by recommending conditions which should be attached to zoo licences.

Successive Governments have also put in place arrangements to make sure they have the best possible advice to help them in developing policy on zoos matters. The Zoos Expert Committee consists of people who, between them, have a wide range of expertise in zoos matters. They provide independent, impartial and objective advice to the Government, which is invaluable, and for which I am very grateful. In particular, the committee has been instrumental in our work to support local authorities who arguably have the most important role in ensuring high standards in zoos.

But what of the future? I can advise your Lordships that the updated standards will come into effect on 1 November. Also on that date, a new guidance document will come into effect. Zoo Licensing Act 1981: Guide to the Act’s Provisions replaces and updates the existing guidance on the legislation and simplifies and brings together the ad hoc documents which are currently in place. It will help local authorities in carrying out their roles.

In November, Defra officials are hosting a second seminar for Secretary of State Zoo Inspectors who will have the opportunity to share their experiences and to compare their approaches to inspections. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, asked whether the Government could undertake further assessment of inspection reports. The Government have not only looked at local authorities’ implementation of licensing and the contribution that zoos make to education and research but have also responded to concerns on elephant welfare and have put measures in place to improve it.

The noble Lord, Lord Knight, referred to the Born Free Foundation’s 2009 EU zoo inquiry. The Government welcomed the BFF’s report on England’s zoos and have looked at it carefully in the context of their review of standards in their work on the new guidance for local authorities, taking it into account where appropriate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised the Captive Animals Protection Society report A Licence to Suffer. The Government welcome that report and I shall cut things short a bit by saying that we have also taken it very much into account in the preparation of the guidelines, as I think she kindly mentioned.

I hope that noble Lords will agree that the Government are working hard to maintain and improve standards in zoos. I have not mentioned the subject of the better running of European zoos. I suspect that I am running out of time, like the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, but it is extremely important to us and we are at the heart of that. I can assure noble Lords that the Government will do all they can to help support improving standards in zoos, but at the same time we have to continue to recognise in the European context individual member states’ authority in ensuring high standards in zoos in their countries, and the Commission’s role in holding member states to account in complying with the directive.

Finally, I acknowledge the good work being done in zoos up and down the country, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for giving us an insight into the activities of Chester Zoo in particular, which I know he holds in high regard.

Flooding: Insurance

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Wednesday 18th July 2012

(8 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I will certainly pass that suggestion on.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, a week last Saturday the River Wey rose and chose to flow through the ground floor of my house. I now know the scale of difficulty that this is causing thousands of householders around the country. I take this opportunity to thank not only neighbours but staff in the Environment Agency and the insurance industry for their support. These people tell me in conversations that we will be lucky to end the summer with ground water at anything other than normal winter levels. Is it not therefore urgent that before Defra Ministers go on holiday, they must conclude a deal with insurers to incentivise householders to invest in flood resilience for householders’ homes to be insurable and for their premiums to be affordable?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, there is a lot in that question. I agree with the general thrust of what the noble Lord has said. Like him, I pay tribute to the Environment Agency staff who have worked tirelessly for 24 hours a day through the recent floods, the front-line emergency services, the Flood Forecasting Centre staff and the local authorities, all of whom have been working extremely hard.

Fishing Boats (Satellite-Tracking Devices and Electronic Reporting) (England) Scheme 2012

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Thursday 5th July 2012

(8 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, the sustainability of global fish stocks is currently a matter of considerable concern. That sustainability depends in great part upon effective control and reliable data to inform the science. The electronic transmission of both satellite position reports—or VMS, vessel monitoring systems—and fishing activity reports in the form of electronic logbooks, forms an essential element of modern fisheries control. It is used more and more throughout the world to monitor fishing activity. The old paper-based systems of logbooks and landing declarations are both cumbersome and time-consuming for fishermen to complete. The input of the data from these paper records on to computerised databases is also resource-intensive for fisheries administrations.

Under EU law, the requirement to have this electronic equipment has now been extended from fishing vessels over 15 metres to fishing vessels over 12 metres. Extension of the technology to smaller vessels will significantly improve the monitoring in real time of fishing activity, as logbook information will be transmitted back to shore on a daily basis, rather than having to wait for the vessel to complete its trip, as at present. It will also greatly increase the risk of detection of attempts to misrecord catches and so contribute positively towards improving compliance and ensuring the sustainability of fish stocks.

The benefits of this new technology are therefore clear. Essentially, though, electronic logbooks and satellite tracking devices are control tools. Because of that, the Government have contributed towards their capital cost in the past. We think it right to continue to do so, and the new scheme therefore provides funding to smaller fishing vessels as required by Community law. It also allows for the funding of the installation of similar technology on vessels below 12 metres, should a decision for that be taken in future.

The Government are pleased to be able to offer financial assistance to fishermen in the purchase of the necessary VMS hardware and electronic logbook software. Similar assistance is being provided by other fisheries administrations in the UK and other member states. In England, the scheme will be administered by the Marine Management Organisation.

For VMS, we have appointed a single supplier of the equipment. However, for the electronic logbook software we have aimed to ensure best value for money by adopting a type approval process under which any software supplier can submit a product for approval. Six software systems have so far been approved. This will offer fishermen a choice of software to meet their own needs and introduce competition between suppliers.

Grant aid will be made available only for approved software systems. I nevertheless recognise that some fishermen may wish to purchase more sophisticated software that contains functions beyond those necessary to comply with our EU obligations. It is therefore reasonable to place a cap on the level of financial assistance that the taxpayer will provide, so we propose to limit the total amount of funding that will be available to English fishing vessels to £4,500 per vessel. On this basis, the overall cost of the funding scheme is not expected to exceed £770,000 for the 170 or so English vessels over 12 metres, and 90% of this is recoverable from Community funds under the EU aid regime, which provides cofinancing for member states’ expenditure on statutory control measures. The remaining amounts will be found from existing budgets.

We believe that the relatively modest costs of this scheme will deliver real benefits to both fishermen and fisheries administrations, so the scheme will provide real value for money. I beg to move.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

From the outset, my Lords, I make it clear that we do not oppose the draft scheme. Following the extension of Council regulation 1224/2009, it is clear that a funding scheme is needed to provide for payment to obtain the necessary equipment, and that the installation of satellite tracking devices and electronic logbooks on board fishing vessels is a positive step in promoting better working practices across the industry. We hope that the transition to an electronic system will provide a more effective and efficient method of determining what fish are caught and what location the stocks are fished from and, potentially, to address the difficult problem of discards, which many of us find repugnant. Any steps that are taken to improve industry standards to ensure the preservation of fish stocks will be wholeheartedly supported on this side, as are any measures for better working standards across the industry.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships’ House. I shall merely ask a couple of questions that were asked by my honourable friend Gavin Shuker in the other place which the Minister who was on duty, James Paice, did not have an opportunity to respond to, and I will be delighted if the Minister wants to respond in writing. When will the scheme be implemented, and have the Government set in place a timetable for the completion of the works? Has the EU set a deadline on carrying out this widening of the regulations, and will the Government be able to meet it? As I said at the beginning, though, we do not oppose this draft scheme and indeed welcome many of the elements of it. Any clarification of the details would be welcome.

Horses: Transportation

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Thursday 5th July 2012

(8 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Home Office
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Mallalieu said in her authoritative speech, this is a timely debate because we finally have the opportunity to make some good progress on this important issue. I am delighted to join not only the consensus in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, on his opening of the debate but the consensus that seems to be emerging, even from the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in favour of stronger EU regulation, if only on this particular issue.

I speak as a former Minister for the horse. When I was leafing back through the 2005 strategy that we produced at that time in Defra, I found that some of the stats were worth repeating to show the importance of the horse industry to this country. It had a gross output in 2005 of around £3.4 billion; it employed up to 250,000 people directly and indirectly; 2.5 million people ride in this country; and 11 million people have some interest in the horse industry, 5 million of them having an active interest. The horse population was then certainly at least 600,000 and could total nearly 1 million horses.

Although it is largely left to my wife, I, too, am a horse owner and I would certainly endorse the view that has been put by so many of your Lordships about the remarkable nature of these animals. That nature has of course been celebrated very successfully, first in the novel War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, then in the wonderful stage adaptation and then in the slightly less wonderful but certainly watchable movie of the same name. I am also a patron of a charity called TheHorseCourse, which is doing innovative work with horses in prisons by using one of the remarkable features of these animals: they provide instant feedback to people because of their nature—they are both pack and prey animals. That is proving extremely effective for some of the more difficult offenders, particularly young offenders. I have seen that work at Portland young offender institution.

As the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said in repeating the excellent Library note from, I think, 2008, we are a nation of horse lovers: hence our concern about transportation and welfare within the EU. This country’s affection for the horse is reflected in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and especially in the five freedoms that we gave all animals in that Act: a need for a suitable environment; a need for a suitable diet; a need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns; a need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals; and a need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease. We have heard graphically from speakers in this debate how horses are being denied those freedoms in the way in which some of them are being transported around the European Union.

Unfortunately this tradition in our culture is not uniform across EU member states, although I agree with those who say that it is not that citizens of other states want to be cruel; it is just that the culture is different. I am pleased that our tradition is now to some extent reflected in the 1997 revision of the treaty of Rome that happened in the Amsterdam treaty. The wording was changed to:

“Desiring to ensure improved protection and respect for the welfare of animals as sentient beings”—

the first time that animals were recognised as sentient beings in the treaty of Rome. This was then strengthened in the Lisbon treaty, which says:

“In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”.

That is a very important context for legislation and action by the Commission and member states on horse welfare and for concerns about the lack of consistent implementation of current regulations. As a result of those treaty changes, these are now fundamental animal welfare obligations on member states for which the Commission should be held to account. It should in turn be held to account on how it is using its powers to pursue member states that allow the unnecessary suffering of horses that are being transported unnecessary and inhumanely long distances. I am pleased that the Commission is currently focusing its efforts on enforcing the existing regulation and on guidance on its implementation. However, I agree with World Horse Welfare when it says that:

“Enforcement of any legislation is essential and there are certainly areas where guidance could have a positive impact. However, enforcement and guidance alone cannot address the key problem of journey times, which do not reflect current scientific knowledge about the impact of long journeys on horses, and other serious issues such as minimum space allowances which should be increased and vehicle standards, which are in need of improvement”.

We need a maximum journey of 12 hours at the very extreme, and ideally lower; and we need an enforceable regime, as transportation crosses borders so easily. Surely in these days of GPS tracking and other recording technology in vehicles, it must be possible to ensure manageable enforcement across the European Union.

I join my noble friend in congratulating the Government on pressing the Commission on this issue through their intervention last month, and am pleased to see the Council now agreeing to encourage the Commission to act. I look forward to the Minister’s update on the Commission’s response and would gently say to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that we should push for what we want, even if inevitably negotiation means that we have to give ground in achieving our ambition. However, I accept from his hand gesture that you can argue that one both ways; it is six of one and half a dozen of the other.

I also look forward to the Minister’s response on the tripartite agreement, which all speakers have mentioned and which was examined in particular detail by the noble Lord, Lord Dear. I support his call for the Government to look at this a little more and to come back to us with an update if they need to. I also support what the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, said about getting more publicity if the Government’s obviously legendary spin machine can do anything to raise the profile of this, around which there is considerable public interest.

This is an important issue. The UK has a proud international reputation as a world leader on animal welfare and conservation. I hope that the Government can continue to influence progress on this issue. On that they will have our full support.

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, in view of my own strong feelings in this area, I particularly thank my noble friend Lord Higgins for initiating debate and all noble Lords for participating today. I have a personal relationship with horses that goes back to my childhood. I have ridden under rules and we almost always have horses on the farm at home. My wife and mother are both members of equine welfare organisations and I am president of SPANA, the charity that concerns itself with the welfare of equids in developing countries, so this is a subject I feel strongly about. I applaud the work of World Horse Welfare and the Horse Trust, to which noble Lords have referred today, as well as other laudable organisations working in this field.

As my noble friend Lord Higgins said, there is a special relationship between the British public and horses, and I share the view of those who want to see the best possible welfare standards applied to all equines, both in this country and abroad. However, we have to acknowledge, as did the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that our views are not necessarily shared by all EU countries, many of which regard equines simply as farmed animals. The Government want to see the highest welfare standards for all animals but, to enable us to make the strongest case to those who do not share our views, these standards, particularly in relation to journey times, must be based on the best scientific evidence available. We would prefer to see a trade in meat and meat products or germ plasm rather than a trade in live animals and that animals are slaughtered as close as is practicable to their point of production. But the export of live animals for slaughter, however repugnant we may find it, is a legal trade.

During the peak of live exports 20 or so years ago, the Government and many local and port authorities were thwarted legally when they sought either to ban or curtail this trade. However, the fact that the trade is legal does not mean that we cannot insist that the highest welfare standards, backed up by the available scientific evidence, are applied to it without exception. That is why we have been pressing, are pressing and will continue to press the EU Commission to adopt the recommendation from the European Food Safety Agency that horses going to slaughter should face journeys of no more than 12 hours duration. That would be a significant improvement on the current rules, which allow journeys of up to 24 hours.

At the EU Council meeting on 18 June my right honourable friend Jim Paice, Minister of State for Agriculture and Farming, expressed the Government’s strong disappointment that the EU Commission was not intending to implement the EFSA recommendation on horses going to slaughter. We will continue to push hard for the adoption of the EFSA recommendation at the earliest possible opportunity. What we cannot, unfortunately, do is act unilaterally in an area already covered by directly applicable EU welfare and trade rules.

The current EU legislation on welfare during transport, EU Council Regulation 1/2005, has been in place for more than five years. The Commission’s recent review of the impact of the legislation noted that, while the welfare of animals during transport has benefited overall, significant problems still persist, particularly in relation to enforcement. We want to see the Food and Veterinary Office of the EU Commission taking a robust line against those member states that, five years on, have failed adequately to implement the welfare during transport legislation. We want to see the journey times for all animals, especially but not only those going to slaughter, reviewed to determine whether the current journey time rules are in line with existing and emerging scientific evidence.

In this debate we have mainly been talking about horses, but my noble friend Lord Caithness mentioned other species. We also want, for example, to see a discussion on better protection for infant livestock such as calves. We do not believe that it is right that unweaned calves should face extremely long journeys, sometimes from one end of the Community to the other. Our own research suggests—the noble Lord, Lord Knight, referred to this—that the quality of the transport and the competence of the driver, for example, are as important factors as the overall journey time experienced by livestock.

My noble friend Lord Higgins asked about enforcement and suggested that it was unsatisfactory that this should be entirely in the hands of local authorities. The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency and local authorities are responsible for regulation and enforcement action. They inspect livestock transportation on the basis of an assessment of risk and additionally they will investigate claims of illegality or poor transport practices impacting on the welfare of animals. Their inspectors are active at major ports inspecting both imports and exports of horses. They may also inspect horses at the point of loading where they have prior intelligence that there may be welfare concerns. I can tell your Lordships that a successful prosecution involving the export of horses has concluded in Essex in the past few days.

My noble friend pointed to the trade between Poland and Italy and/or Spain. I am grateful to him and to my noble friend Lady Trumpington for calling my attention to a very similar trade between Poland and Germany. These are specific examples of the international trade in horses for slaughter, which is a cause for grave concern. I have looked into it—there was, indeed, a recent TV programme about it—and it looks very much as if my noble friends are tragically right. I have drawn this to the attention of my colleagues at the department and I shall return to the issue in a moment.

My noble friends Lord Higgins and Lord Addington and the noble Lord, Lord Dear, asked whether we will be reviewing the tripartite agreement. Defra has reviewed the risk of importing exotic equine diseases and whether the TPA needs to be amended to mitigate any increased risk. Officials have presented preliminary findings to the Chief Veterinary Officer and to the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England. Following consideration of the AHWBE’s views, proposals will be presented to my right honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr Paice, for consideration.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, referred to an increase in the number of unwanted horses as a result of the economic downturn and my noble friend Lady Trumpington also referred to the impact of the economic downturn. I have no doubt that current financial pressure is impacting across all sections of industry. Reported welfare problems include increased dumping of horses and passing horses to rescue centres as they are too expensive to keep. This is directly related to the price of feed. There are also seasonal factors in the reporting of welfare cases: not unnaturally, reports tend to increase during the winter months. Defra remains supportive of the equine industry’s contribution to the economy. The recently created health and welfare strategy group, the equine sector council, will play a valuable role in co-ordinating the views and concerns of the different welfare organisations involved in horse welfare.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, my noble friends Lord Addington and Lady Trumpington and, I think, others referred to the importance of public awareness and publicity generally to our case. The EU’s welfare strategy for 2012-15, published earlier this year, stresses the importance of raising public awareness on animal welfare issues. The EU Council has agreed with the Commission about the relevance of communicating to children, young adults and the public at large awareness of the need for respect for animals and promoting responsible ownership. We will be asking the Commission how it intends to take this work forward in future bilateral meetings with it on implementation of its strategy.

I understand that some international welfare organisations have had some success, specifically in targeting major retail chains in France and Belgium and persuading them to stop selling horsemeat from Mexico and Brazil due to the appalling conditions there. Unfortunately—I have been in communication with my noble friend Lady Trumpington on this—this appears to have resulted in a transfer of the source to Argentina, where welfare conditions are, I am afraid, little better. However, it does demonstrate the value of public opinion in Europe and the value of the work of welfare organisations. Of course, this debate is also helping to give airtime to this important subject.

My noble friend Lord Caithness said rightly that member states are deeply divided on the legislation and whether improvements should be made to it. It is true that a small majority supports the decision by the Commission not to press ahead with changes at the present time. We do not agree and want to see the EFSA recommendations introduced. We are not prepared to give up and I do not believe that we are alone.

My noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Lord, Lord Knight, referred to the European Commission’s November 2011 report on its review of regulation— I do not know whether they referred specifically to it but they referred to its contents—which highlights severe animal welfare problems during transport persisting. They are right. Reports submitted to the Food and Veterinary Office on its inspections of individual member states demonstrate that the level of enforcement of the legislation indeed varies significantly between them. The European Commission’s proposed solution to these problems involves adopting new implementing rules concerning satellite tracking systems, an increase in the number of inspections to improve existing controls, better reporting on compliance by member states, increased co-operation and communication between the competent authorities and NGOs and the dissemination of Commission guidance on the interpretation of the regulation and development of guides to good practice.

It remains to be seen how far the Commission will go. Like the noble Lord, Lord Knight, I have some doubt about the value of non-binding guides. However, at least it is actively working on a solution, and we will continue to monitor this and bring pressure to bear.

In conclusion, we care a great deal about the welfare of all equines—indeed, all animals. We acknowledge the work that the many equine welfare organisations do in caring for abandoned and badly treated animals, and the campaigns that they run to highlight welfare issues and concerns. We owe it to them—as well as, of course, to the animals themselves—to make sure that we do as much as possible at the international level to promote horse welfare. Nearer to home, we look forward to working with the recently formed equine sector council, which we hope will be a fresh and strong voice for the equine sector as a whole.

Animal Welfare

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Thursday 14th June 2012

(8 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful for the work that my noble friend has done in this area. I think that noble Lords around the House share her horror, as do I, at the conditions in which these unfortunate animals travel. As I say, we are pressing the Commission to adopt the EFSA rules. I am not aware specifically of the position on the transport of animals between South America and Italy, and I will look into it.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, the Government’s record on animal welfare is now in tatters, given that they are not listening to science on badgers, are dragging their heels on animals in circuses and have made a shambolic U-turn on shooting buzzards. [Laughter.] We can see how seriously the party opposite takes animal welfare from its reaction to that. Given that more than a million people have signed the petition on the long-distance transport of horses for slaughter organised by Animal Angels and that MEPs now agree that the limit should be eight hours, is it the Government’s policy that the limit should be eight hours or the 12 hours that the Minister talked about?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, most animal welfare NGOs want an automatic eight-hour limit on all journeys for all livestock going to slaughter. The EFSA report did not recommend such an approach, recognising that different species can be transported over different periods of time without unnecessary suffering. Scientific research supports the argument that the quality of transport and the competence of the driver tend to be the major factors in the welfare of animals during transport and not necessarily the length of the journey time.

Employment: Market and Coastal Towns

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Tuesday 12th July 2011

(9 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to increase employment in market and coastal towns in England.

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

The Government are committed to increasing employment in all areas of the country, and national policy initiatives to boost growth and jobs apply, of course, to market and coastal towns. The rural economy growth review and the seaside resorts action plan are examples of current initiatives in support of that commitment, which will benefit market and coastal communities.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Our market and coastal towns are the economic and service hub for many of us in rural England. Yet without the economies of scale and transport links of cities, our market towns too often become victims of market failure in employment, retail and housing. The protections in planning are now being weakened in the Localism Bill; and the regional development agencies, and with them the market and coastal towns initiative, are being abolished in the Public Bodies Bill. How will the local enterprise partnerships fill that gap when there is market failure in market towns, given that attracting inward investment is not in their remit? What about the many rural areas not covered by the LEPs?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Lord asks a number of questions. At this stage, let me say that our national policy initiatives to boost growth and jobs, which, as I have said, apply to market and coastal towns, include local enterprise partnerships, the regional growth fund, budget support for SMEs and measures in the Localism Bill. The important thing is that they can be applied to reflect the local context. Training and skills are also vital, and greater flexibility has been given to colleges and other training providers to offer the training that reflects the needs of the local labour market.

Water Industry (Schemes for Adoption of Private Sewers) Regulations 2011

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord De Mauley
Tuesday 17th May 2011

(9 years, 11 months ago)

Grand Committee

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to introduce these draft regulations to your Lordships. Their purpose is to effect the transfer of private sewers and lateral drains to the statutory water and sewerage companies. Under similar arrangements, sewers constructed prior to October 1937 were, under the Public Health Act 1936, automatically adopted as public sewers and are maintained by the water and sewerage companies. However, since then adoption has been undertaken on a voluntary basis. While it was the likely intention of the 1936 Act and subsequent legislation that sewers should be adopted, for various reasons that has not happened on a universal basis. Even where adoption agreements were reached and new sewers constructed to the requisite standards, the adoption process was not always followed through.

The result is a legacy of unadopted private sewers and drains that has accumulated since 1937. Very often, the owners of these assets—typically householders—are unaware of their responsibilities and liabilities. The repair and maintenance of private sewers can be very expensive for individual householders. Where drainage arrangements are shared, it can be difficult to recover costs from those who use the sewers but are unaffected by any problems. Private sewers may run beneath a neighbour’s land or a highway, such that access is both difficult and costly.

While many private sewers function satisfactorily, the disparate ownership of these assets, which are essential to everyday life and important to public health, means that they are not always maintained in an economic and integrated way to a consistent, high standard. Many of us are aware of examples of persistent sewerage problems that require attention. In addition, there is the inequity that private sewer owners pay not only for the maintenance of their sewers but also, through their sewerage charges, for the upkeep of pre-1937 sewers, which are maintained by the water and sewerage companies. The transfer proposed in the regulations will place the owners of post-1937 private sewers on a similar footing to those with pre-1937 sewers. Successive consultations have concluded that an overnight transfer to the water and sewerage companies is the preferred approach.

Not all sewers will be transferred. Those which carry only surface water and do not discharge to a public sewer will not be transferred. The same will apply to sewerage systems that serve a single, centrally managed site or cartilage, as for example might be the case with a shopping mall or industrial estate. Systems that drain to private treatment facilities or to septic tanks and the like are also excluded.

Action is necessary to redress the failures of the 1936 Act. The objective is to ensure better maintenance of what are currently private sewers, resulting in less environmental pollution, the minimising of threats to public health, fewer complaints from householders and businesses about what is perceived to be a costly and unfair burden, and fewer disputes requiring local authority intervention. In the longer term, an integrated approach will achieve a better managed sewerage system that will have lower maintenance costs and will be more resilient and effective. The water and sewerage companies which already have a sewer maintenance capability are well placed to take this on.

The impact assessment estimates that additional costs will add to water bills an average of £5 per annum from 2011, rising to £8 per annum by 2019, with a range from £3 to £14 across the companies. While increases in charges can never be welcome, at up to a little over £1 a month, these relatively modest annual increases are to be preferred to a system in which costs fall unequally across water charge payers or unfairly on individuals. Overall, they represent a sound investment in the future maintenance of essential assets. The transfer exercise does not itself trigger major expenditure on those parts of the system that are currently working satisfactorily; it will be for the water and sewerage companies to assess and prioritise what is essential short-term maintenance, repair or replacement.

The draft regulations provide, at Regulation 3, for the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to make schemes for the transfer of private sewers and private lateral drains to the statutory water and sewerage undertakers. Sewers are defined as all drains that are shared. Lateral drains are those which serve a single property but lie outside the boundary of that property. Pumping stations which form part of the system will also be transferred. In order to qualify for transfer, private sewers and lateral drains must be connected to the public system on 1 July 2011. The transfer itself will take place on 1 October 2011, with the exception of pumping stations, which may be transferred individually or in groups at any time before 1 October 2016. As I have said, sewers and related equipment that carry surface water only and do not discharge to a public sewer will not be transferred. Sewers constructed after 1 October will be the subject of separate proposals for mandatory adoption arrangements that are not under consideration today, but which should be the subject of consultation shortly.

Regulation 4 makes provision for the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to make supplementary schemes for transfer. Private sewers and lateral drains which are connected to a public sewer between 1 July and the commencement of Section 42 of the Floods and Water Management Act 2010, currently planned for 1 October 2011, will neither qualify for transfer on 1 July nor be subject to new-build arrangements for adoption which will be effective upon commencement of Section 42. Unfortunately, it was not possible to synchronise the dates: therefore it is necessary to introduce a supplementary transfer scheme to cater for sewers connected between these dates. Supplementary transfer is planned for 1 April 2012.

Regulation 5 makes provision for certain exemptions, including for railway land which would present operational difficulties for water and sewerage companies, and for Crown land, where the arrangement is for sewers to be transferred unless relevant land is “opted out” of transfer. Regulation 6 makes provision for sewerage undertakers to make a declaration to vest private sewers by publishing notice in the London Gazette and the local press, and by sending individual notices to the owners of private sewers. Regulation 7 provides that where there are existing declarations, the provisions of the regulations shall not apply. Regulations 8 and 9 provide that outstanding appeals will be discontinued and that Section 104 adoption agreements that have been executed will cease. Where a sewer remains to be built or connected, a Section 104 agreement will remain valid. Existing legislation provides for a right of appeal to Ofwat against transfer of assets for both the owners of private sewers and third parties through whose land a drain may pass or who may be disadvantaged by the transfer.

Finally, the regulations are relatively short-lived in that they are subject to a sunset clause effective in 2016. They provide for a once-and-for-all transfer of private sewers, lateral drains and associated private pumping stations. Once the transfer is complete, by 2016 for pumping stations, the regulations will serve no further purpose and will be repealed automatically. I hope that noble Lords will accept them.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, I apologise that I was not here for the opening of the Minister’s speech. I had not been made aware that today’s running order had changed, and I worked off the business papers rather than today’s list. It is just one of those things.

I should say at the outset that we very much welcome the regulations. They reflect the work that we did in government. If you are one of those people who live on an estate with private sewers and you are impatient for them to be adopted by the sewerage undertaker, you might be asking why it has taken so long. We had a consultation in 2003, another one in 2007, a third one in August last year, and now finally we have the legislation needed for this to take effect from October this year.

Certainly some of my former constituents in Shepherd’s Croft in Portland will be delighted. They live in former prison officers’ accommodation where the Crown used to be the owner of the estate and the housing. They are responsible for the sewerage, which was never brought up to the standard at which the water company was willing to take it on. There remained a whole series of problems about who would pay, the Crown or the residents, when sewage was bubbling up in people’s gardens. I do not think any of us wants to see that. It will be a relief to them and to many others around the country that a way forward has now been found. That very much informs my fulsome support for what is being done here.

I have a couple of questions for the Minister. I have read the accompanying papers, which are very helpful and complete. Indeed, the completeness is probably the reason why I might not have grasped some of the detail. Once I got on to the latter pages, the details might have passed me by, and I can only apologise if my questions are answered in the detail. It appears that over the long term there are good net benefits to be had from making this change. My reading was that after 32 years the net benefit would start to accrue. Obviously that is welcome, but it is important to ask about the short-term costs being borne by the sewerage undertakers. If my reading of the notes is right, the costs are around £1 billion which then has to be absorbed by customers because ultimately the sewerage undertakers, the water companies, will seek to recoup those costs from their customers. The analysis shows that the cost to individual customers of recouping them would be between £3 and £14 per annum.

I am interested in finding out more about how that might break down. I know that this is difficult to anticipate, but I am sure that the department will be in communication with Ofwat about how this is going to be regulated to ensure that customers are treated fairly. For example, it will be interesting to know the difference between business customers and domestic customers. In the announcements that have been made about South West Water customers, and how their situation might be improved given the high water bills paid by domestic users in that region, there is a proposal that business customers should pay more so that domestic customers pay less. That raises a legitimate question not only for the water companies, the sewerage undertakers, but also for businesses across the country about whether they will be the ones asked to pay the bulk of the costs of dealing with the legacy of private sewerage and drainage systems. Alternatively, will they be applied evenly across domestic customers as well?

There is a also question about whether the geographic distribution of these costs will be evenly spread or whether, because of regional variation—in the case of the south-west, the large extent of the coast and the cost of sewerage treatment in that area is high—each undertaker will have effectively to wash their face. Questions will be raised with regard to South West Water in particular, which I know has been very active given the Walker report and other things. Will South West Water’s customers end up losing the benefit of the announcement made by the Chancellor in the Budget if they have to pay extra costs because of the particular liabilities in that region?

My only other question concerns the exemption in Clause 5 of the statutory instrument for private sewers and exempt private lateral drains on Crown land. This goes back to my experience as a constituency MP in Dorset, where prison officers’ houses were built on Crown Estate land and subsequently have been sold on. Where the lease to such properties has been passed on but the freehold remains in Crown ownership, will homes in those circumstances be exempt from this transfer because they are on Crown land or will the transfer go ahead, allowing them to benefit from the sewers being maintained and the possibility of the roads then being adopted as well? I know that this is a big issue for some residents. Having made those comments, I am happy to support the regulations.