Biodiversity

3. Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Whether she plans to introduce pilot projects to evaluate biodiversity offsets. [62876]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): In the natural environment White Paper, we announced that we will establish a voluntary approach to biodiversity offsetting and test it in a number of pilot areas. We want local authorities to express an interest in taking part in the pilot, and to hear from developers, conservation and community groups and others who want to test offsetting.

Kerry McCarthy: In an earlier reply the Secretary of State referred to section 106 agreements. In Bristol there has been a scandalous failure to enforce section 106 agreements, and hundreds of thousands of pounds have not been spent on the projects they should have been spent on. When the Minister evaluates the pilots, will he ensure that new biodiversity schemes are actually realised?

Richard Benyon: I can give the hon. Lady that assurance. That is one of the attractions of this scheme, and is why it works well in other areas. We want to dovetail it into our planning system because it offers clarity. She is right to point out that section 106 negotiations can sometimes be a bit of a horse-trading operation and can result, in certain circumstances, in token biodiversity protection activities. This scheme offers a clear, understandable, auditable, accountable system. We are delighted by the response from a number of local authorities through the consultation process. More are now coming forward since the natural environment White Paper was published, as are developers. I hope that in the coming months we will be able to give her the assurance that she needs.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): There is, of course, an excellent pilot project that will bring enormous biodiversity benefits at Pickering, in the form of the slow-the-flow flood defence scheme. Will the Minister assure me that the guidance regulations under the Reservoirs Act 1975, which are preventing that project from going ahead, will be swept away?

Richard Benyon: I have just won my bet that my hon. Friend would raise that issue, and she is entirely right to do so. I share her concerns about the application of the Reservoirs Act and its implications for Pickering. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has visited the site. We want to do all we can to ensure that the scheme goes ahead, because we think that it is a good example of how biodiversity, slowing up water, and flood protection can fit together in many areas. We want her constituents to know that the Government will look into any means possible to ensure that such schemes go ahead.

Inland Waterways

8. Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): What steps she is taking to maximise the potential of rivers and inland waterways.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): In April 2012, the Government plan to move British Waterways from the public sector to civil society, through the creation of a new waterways charity. This will give waterways users and the communities that live alongside them greater involvement in how waterways are managed, leading to a range of enhanced public benefits. It will also place the waterways on a more sustainable footing, as the charity will have access to new sources of commercial and charitable income.

Mary Macleod: We have more than 2,000 miles of rivers and inland waterways, including the Grand Union canal in Brentford in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that the announcement of the proposed merger between the Waterways Trust and the new waterways charity will provide a good opportunity to boost the value of those national assets?

Richard Benyon: I am delighted to welcome the announcement of the merger that my hon. Friend describes. It will allow the cultural and heritage purposes of the new waterways charity to be fundamentally linked with all the other benefits arising from creating the new entity. The three museums that the waterways charity now owns will become part of the new charity, and will be a fantastic resource for it in future.

Fisheries

11. Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions she has had with her EU counterparts on reform of the common fisheries Policy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): As UK Fisheries Minister, I have had discussions with a range of people about common fisheries policy reform. These include the EU Commission, Members of the European Parliament and other member states. I continue to encourage fellow Ministers to support radical reform, most recently during this week’s Fisheries Council. I will continue to press our case for reform as negotiations develop over the next year.

Tom Greatrex: I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I am aware that the mackerel quota was discussed at the meeting earlier this week. Is the Minister aware of the widespread exasperation at the fact that in her comments afterwards, the Commissioner confirmed that no action would even begin to be taken until at least October—a full 18 months after the arbitrary action that caused the problem in the first place? There is now very real concern that this will have an impact not just on the sustainability of stocks but on the livelihood of fishing fleets. Will the hon. Gentleman urge his European partners to take action more quickly?

Richard Benyon: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this matter; it is our most pressing problem, and our most valuable stock is at risk of crashing—probably within 18 months to two years—if the gross overfishing announced by the Faroes and Iceland goes ahead. I moved the issue forward at this week’s meeting by seeking to raise it to a political level. It has been dealt with by the Commission and by officials, but I believe it will take Ministers from the countries concerned to look each other in the eye and sit round a table, perhaps with an independent chairman, to negotiate. I do not care where we meet, but we have got to move this forward quickly. That is the proposal I made at the meeting, and I have followed it up with a letter. We made a number of other suggestions that highlight the urgency of this problem.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I would be grateful if the Minister were prepared to meet a delegation of fishermen from my constituency who are concerned about the Government’s proposals for the inshore fishery, as the consultation on those closes today. They are particularly concerned about what I suspect will be the unintended consequences that will be detrimental to this low-impact and sustainable sector.

Richard Benyon: I would be delighted to meet representatives of the hon. Gentleman’s local fishing community. The consultation on the under-10-metre sector, which, as he says, closes today, sought to find a solution to the level of perceived unfairness—I acknowledge it—that applies to this sector. I want to find a way forward that gives this sector more fishing opportunities and allows the local communities to invest in their local fleets, because we understand the social implications of the decline of the fishing industry in many places. I am not in the business of making life more difficult for any particular sector, and I want to ensure that this consultation feeds on the many enthusiasms we have encountered, while also setting to rest many of the fears expressed.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): The European Commission is due to publish next month the new legislative text on the reform of the common fisheries

policy. The best thing, of course, would be to abolish that dreadful policy altogether, but short of that, what specific actions have the Government urged on the Commission on regionalisation of the policy?

Richard Benyon: The right hon. Gentleman is right; we expect the paper to be published on 13 July and we will debate it at the next Council meeting on 19 July. We pushed very hard for regionalisation. He is absolutely right to say that the system is ludicrous. One of the many failures of the common fisheries policy is that factors such as net sizes are decided in Brussels, whereas they should be decided at least on a sea basin basis, if not at member state level. We are still pushing hard for regionalisation. There are counter-arguments about the legality and what other countries want, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are really pushing for this, as we believe it to be an important way forward.

Topical Questions

T4. [62898] Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): The Minister has already given a response on the inshore fishing consultation, but will he give my under-10-metres fishermen the assurance that all the responses will be carefully considered, including concerns about the suggested structure and the fact that there will still be people with quotas who no longer fish and have not done so for many years?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): Yes, I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that we will look at every response very carefully. We have had about 20 meetings around the coast, which were very well attended, and many of the areas of consultation were explained to the audience in such a way as to allay their fears. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George), we want to make life better for the under-10s and give them a more sustainable future.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): Only two weeks ago, a gamekeeper was convicted for illegally killing birds of prey in my constituency. Is it not time to think about introducing a vicarious liability offence to ensure that landowners and estate managers supervise their gamekeepers more closely and more effectively?

Richard Benyon: There are very good laws in place to punish the illegal killing of any animal. If they are not being enforced, they must be and we will take steps to make sure that happens. However, this is also a good opportunity to applaud gamekeepers for the wonderful work they do in providing excellent biodiversity across our countryside.

T8. [62902] Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con): Thames Water’s chief executive said last week that the previous costing of £3.6 billion for the Thames tideway tunnel was

“simply an indicative 2008 price”

that would “inevitably increase”. The Minister will know that under the existing pricing, Thames Water bill payers throughout the region will each have to pay £65 per annum in perpetuity for the tunnel. Will he assure me and 142 other Members of this House that our constituents will get value for money for this project?

Richard Benyon: I can—and I am one of them. I can assure my hon. Friend that my constituents and his are absolutely in our minds. We meet weekly with officials from Ofwat and Thames Water, the issue will be discussed at the DEFRA supervisory board this afternoon and I shall meet the London boroughs and the Greater London authority next week to discuss the project. I can assure my hon. Friend that its price is foremost in our minds.

Hansard Link:   http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110630/debtext/110630-0001.htm#11063049000947

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