HC Deb 16 November 2000 vol 356 cc1062-3
10. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

If he will make a statement on research funded by his Department into biofuels. [137143]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin)

The Ministry spends around £0.6 million per annum on energy crops research, concentrating on the development of higher-yielding crops and of improved crop protection which avoids the need for the use of pesticides. Furthermore, under our rural development programme, £30 million will be available to support the planting of energy crops and to set up producer groups.

Dr. Starkey

I welcome the Government's commitment to funding research on energy crops and biofuels. Does my hon. Friend agree that such crops have the potential to provide more environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuel, and that they can be a very useful diversification opportunity for farmers? Will she outline any measures that she is proposing to build on the pre-Budget report to look at ways of improving the economic competitiveness of biofuels?

Ms Quin

My hon. Friend makes some important points. This is an exciting area for agriculture and for the general economy. MAFF is very keen to play its part in the examination of new alternative energy sources. A number of Departments are interested. A fund exists in the Department of Trade and Industry for alternative energy sources, there is the new opportunities fund announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and there are also the resources announced in the pre-Budget report.

I recently launched the second stage of the IENICA project in York, which is also looking at the development of these new opportunities across the European Union as a whole.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Does the Minister agree that the most valuable innovation would be a serious tax incentive for biodiesel? Is the Ministry giving the Chancellor of the Exchequer the evidence that he needs to take a step that would be in the interests of the Government's environmental policy and their agricultural policy?

Ms Quin

We have had discussions very recently with the Treasury on these matters. It is obviously important to look at the economics involved in biofuels, to determine the most viable prospects for such alternative crops. We are very keen to take the work forward. There are possibilities, and the new developments happening all the time alter the previous economic appraisals of viability. For that reason, it is important for Government Departments, including MAFF, to look at the issue very closely.

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