On Friday East Surrey MP and former Shadow DEFRA Secretary Peter Ainsworth sought a second reading for the Green Energy (Definition and Promotion Bill). Here are some highlights from his speech:
"There is at last cross-party agreement—something that I have long sought—on the need for Government action to put in place measures to liberate the pent-up ingenuity, creativity and capital of businesses and markets, and the public’s pent-up enthusiasm to engage with delivering real power to the people by decentralising the way in which we create and use energy in this country.
The opportunities before us are enormous. Rebuilding the economy as if the earth mattered is an enormous task, but it brings together an array of interlocking benefits—not just sustainable economic growth and safe green jobs, but enhanced global and national security, improved social justice at home and abroad, and a more thriving and robust natural environment. I think that the whole House will agree that bringing those things together is a worthy task, but it will require vision and courage, relentless attention and, above all, hope. In that mighty context, this little private Member’s Bill may seem a trifling affair. It is indeed a modest Bill—modesty befits private Members’ Bills—but I believe that if it succeeds, it will play its part in helping the clean energy sector to grow, and helping all of us citizens to find it easier to play our part in the green revolution.
A written question from the Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Peter Ainsworth MP, reminds us of an extraordinary fact about illegal timber imports:
"Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many seizures of illegal timber imports have been made in each year since 1997. 
Huw Irranca-Davies: Under current UK law it is not illegal to import timber which was illegally felled, processed or transported in another country provided the actual importation is legal. The UK Government cannot institute legal proceedings in the UK relating to a breach or breaches of sovereign laws in another country, with one exception.
The exception is CITES—the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. As a CITES signatory, the UK Government have the legal powers to seize timber or timber products containing a CITES—listed species imported without the correct CITES paperwork. Information on any such seizures is not held by core-DEFRA and should be obtained from HMRC as the relevant central Government Department.
Various environmental groups have criticised the Government's refusal to ban illegal timber imports into the UK. In January last year, WWF said that Britain was the world's third largest importer of illegal timber.
Back in January 2006, Mr Ainsworth said:
"The trade in illegally logged timber is not only environmentally destructive, it is also unfair to responsible producers who find their products undercut in the market.
It is extraordinary that the EU has yet to ban imports of illegal timber and the UK should be pressing for it to do so.
We should also, as a matter of urgency, consider UK legislation to make it unlawful to possess or market illegal timber products."
What hope for the preservation of trees as long as it is not necessarily illegal to import timber that has been felled illegally?!
Declaration of interest: Tom Greeves, who wrote this post, used to work for Peter Ainsworth.
Shadow Environment Secretary Peter Ainsworth has raised the issue of Heathrow in the House of Commons, during oral questioning of his opposite number Hilary Benn:
"Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): I, too, welcome the two new Ministers to the DEFRA brief, which they will no doubt find challenging, just as all their predecessors did.
“New modelling suggests that EU limits for Nitrogen Oxide in 2010 will be exceeded around Heathrow, necessitating capacity constraint”.
“worked with DEFRA to ensure negotiations over”
“directive take account of Heathrow’s position”.
How does the Secretary of State square that with what he told the House in May—that his attempt to delay the implementation of new EU rules on nitrogen oxide had nothing to do with decisions about airport capacity?
Hilary Benn: The simple reason why we are likely to have to apply for derogation under the new directive that gives member states the ability to apply for additional time is the existing problem that we have with PM10 and nitrogen dioxide, which, by definition is nothing to do with any decision that may yet be taken about the expansion of Heathrow. That is a problem we have now. Therefore, the answer that I gave in May was completely accurate.
Mr. Ainsworth: But surely expanding Heathrow can only make the situation worse. The Environment Agency has warned that pollution from a third runway at Heathrow could “increase morbidity and mortality”—in other words, it will mean that more people will die earlier. Does the Secretary of State agree with its analysis, and why does he not spend more time protecting the environment and less time conniving with the Department for Transport on a massive increase in pollution around London? Is it because he lacks the will, or because he lacks the influence?
Hilary Benn: I think that that is unworthy of the hon. Gentleman. First, the fact that different Departments talk to each other should not come as a great surprise to him. Secondly, as I said, the Government have made it clear that any decision about the expansion of Heathrow will have to be subject to the environmental conditions set down. That is a requirement of the directive. When we apply, the Commission has to decide whether to give us more time, and those extensions can only be until 2011 for PM10 and until 2015 for nitrogen dioxide. At that point, the UK, along with other member states, will have to meet the requirements."
ConservativeHome readers have passionate views on this issue. Let's have some more in the comments section below please!
Declaration of interest: Tom Greeves, who wrote this post, used to work for Peter Ainsworth as Conservative Central Office's Desk Officer for Culture, Media and Sport and later in Mr Ainsworth's private office.
"Bluetongue may be a misfortune but foot and mouth disease is different. The Government have been caught red-handed and are damned by their negligence. We know that the source of the outbreak was a Government-regulated and licensed laboratory. We also know from Professor Spratt’s report that the most likely cause of the infection was leaking drains. The Secretary of State has attempted to maintain that foot and mouth escaped from Pirbright through an extraordinary combination of circumstances, but the really extraordinary thing was the state of the drains at Pirbright.
The Government’s initial reaction to the outbreak was, I am afraid, characteristic. The Prime Minister announced that he was taking personal charge and immediately sent his spin machine into overdrive in an attempt to pin the blame on Merial, the private company at the site. That was shabby and dishonest and it smacked of desperation. The reason for the Prime Minister’s desperation to find a scapegoat has since become clear. As long ago as 2002, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council stated in an official report:
“Some laboratories and other areas of the Pirbright estate are not close to the standard expected of a modern bio-medical facility and are well below that expected of a facility of such importance”.
It recommended awarding funding for biosecurity at the site. What was the reaction from the then Chancellor? In the following two years, funding from DEFRA and other Government Departments to the Institute for Animal Health was cut.
It gets worse. In July 2004, Merial wrote to DEFRA with proposals to replace the drains. Nothing happened for two years. Tenders for repairing the drainage systems were finally received in October 2006. Why did it take so long to obtain those tenders? Why did work not start until July this year? Why were repairs to the drainage system not prioritised? Is it not clear that if the Government had acted in a timely way on the repeated warnings about the integrity of the effluent pipes at Pirbright, the farming industry would not be facing a bill for hundreds of millions of pounds, and the reputation of British science would not have been dealt a body blow."
More in Hansard here.
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