HL Deb 14 January 1986 vol 469 cc955-6
Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what positive steps they are taking to encourage alternative uses for surplus straw.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the Government are currently spending some £2 million annually on research into straw disposal and utilisation. ADAS promotional events and publications are used to inform the farming industry about alternatives to burning, and alternative uses for straw have been reviewed by a working group chaired at ministerial level. Farmers were also urged to consider alternatives in the Government's major publicity campaign last year.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that encouraging reply. Can he say whether that £2 million represents an increase over previous years, and in view of his own remarks in the introduction to his excellent report in July 1984 can he say whether there is any intention to step up research? What is the width of research over which the money is being spread, and what particular lines are being followed?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the £2 million does not represent an increase in expenditure in cash terms. The Government are now being advised by the Priorities Board on the allocation of Government research resources, and the Priorities Board in its first report has not made any specific reference to straw utilisation. It has, however, recommended an increase in the proportion of the research and development budget allocated to straw incorporation. Research, broadly speaking, extends over seven different areas of research.

Lord Alport

My Lords, in view of the inevitability of the introduction of a quota system for cereal production in this country and the fact that successful incorporation has been undertaken during the past two years by the most progressive and public-minded farmers, will the Government now consider introducing a ban on straw burning from, say, 1990?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I agree with the middle part of my noble friend's question. I disagree with the first and last parts.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, can the noble Lord say what is being done in other countries which must experience the same problem and what solutions they have come to?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, there are strict rules on burning in order to see that it is done in a responsible way. We also have strict rules which were introduced, as the noble Viscount may remember, in 1984 and were further strengthened in 1985.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there are well-tried processes for converting waste straw to building board and that this would have the added advantage of reducing the need for imported timber? What is being done to encourage this use?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord in his remarks about the value of this process. Indeed, I know of two such firms, and I have visited one. However, in a free economy people must be allowed to take their materials from where they want, though I understand that there is an increasing demand for the kind of materials to which the noble Lord is referring.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, can the noble Lord the Minister tell us whether the use of straw as a constituent in animal feeding is now being considered? I ask this particularly in view of the decreasing importance of yield in regard to agricultural production.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, one of the areas of research about which the noble Baroness asked me is indeed into the use of straw in feeding, and in particular to improve the ammonia treatment of straw. I would guess that, with the dearth of hay that will be about, quite a lot of farmers in the north of England, north of the Border, in Northern Ireland and in parts of Wales will be glad this winter that we have done work on feeding straw to animals.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, have the Government considered investing in a papermaking outlet for surplus straw? This is being done very successfully, I understand, in at least two places on the Continent. One is in Italy, and I think the other is in Denmark. This would be a very useful exercise not only in terms of using surplus straw but also as an answer to unemployment.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that question. This is the subject of a feasibility study at the present time.

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