HC Deb 08 March 1972 vol 832 cc1446-7
39. Mr. Maddan

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his estimate of the total annual expenditure by central Government on all forms of pollution control.

Mr. Peter Walker

This information is not readily available, as much of the expenditure on pollution control is incurred as an element of other expenditure, from which it cannot be separated. Local authorities and industry account for a great deal of additional outlay.

Mr. Maddan

Would my right hon. Friend agree that it is very important to know that there are enough funds for these purposes? Would he comment on the recent statements of the Royal Commission on the subject?

Mr. Walker

There are plenty of funds available. As to the statement of the Royal Commission yesterday, in view of the suggestion therein that there have been delays in taking action in this sphere by my Department, Sir Eric Ashby has asked me to make it clear that he did not say and does not think that the Department of the Environment has been in any way dilatory in preparing legislation to deal with the problem of toxic waste disposal.

Mr. Pavitt

Has the right hon. Gentleman taken note of the recent Stockholm Conference and its findings that, where there is a large profit in industrial complexes, there is a large amount of pollution? In the light of that, will he look to the possibility of having a survey whereby he can charge industry which makes pollution with the responsibility of clearing it up?

Mr. Walker

I agree with that principle. That new water proposals which we are bringing in will mean that, in future, those that provide sewage for the river system will have to meet the cost of treating it properly.

Mr. Emery

Would not my right hon. Friend reconsider his original reply? There is criticism that there is not enough money available from central Government for pollution control, because people do not understand how much is available and is being used. Is there not more money available than is actually being used? Would my right hon. Friend also try to ensure that the amount of money that industry is using for pollution control is quantified so as to bring the whole problem into proper perspective?

Mr. Walker

It is difficult accurately to quantify, although estimates have been made that about £400 million has been spent by industry on clean air proposals. But a great deal of additional expenditure is required.

Mr. Dalyell

The right hon. Gentleman said that there were plenty of funds. How much?

Mr. Walker

For example, in terms of water and sewage alone we have announced expenditure of £1,300 million over the next five years. There are many grants for clearance of derelict land and so on, and most of them are open-ended.

Mr. Denis Howell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those of us who support his proposals were interested in his correction about Sir Eric Ashby, which is of some importance? Can he arrange for Sir Eric to make a statement about what he meant in his criticisms?

Mr. Walker

Obviously this is up to Sir Eric Ashby, but last April the Government announced that they intended to take action within the framework of local government reform. We were consulted thereafter by the Royal Commission. Before any of the recent publicity on toxic waste, correspondence took place between myself and Sir Eric Ashby in which I made it clear that, if necessary, I would use the present Local Government Bill to take immediate action. However, due to the co-operation of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell), we can do it still more speedily.