HC Deb 01 April 1987 vol 113 cc1087-8
11. Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what has been the increase in (a) money terms and (b) real terms in expenditure since 1979 by his Department on the conservation of the countryside; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Waldegrave

My Department's support for conservation of the countryside is channelled principally through grant in aid to the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission and in the supplementary grants given to the national parks. These grants have gone up some 275 per cent. in total since 1979, which is 115 per cent. in real terms.

Mr. Carlisle

Does my hon. Friend accept that the scale of the increase, at a time when Government expenditure has been carefully controlled, shows how great our commitment is to the countryside? Does he also agree that there is no room for complacency? in particular, there is a growing threat to our estuaries from a range of developments. Will he ensure that estuaries, which are among the best habitats, are properly protected in future?

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friend is quite right. The expenditure represents the Government's settled and steady policy of raising the priority for the protection of the countryside as compared with the position left by the Labour Government. On the question of estuaries, the formal answer is, of course, that every individual project must be considered properly on its merits in due course. I think it is right to make it clear to my hon. Friend that some of our unspoilt estuaries must remain unspoilt, and that the planning system must be used to do that.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton

Will the Minister take time today to read the back page of The Western Morning News? Had he recognised that, according to this report, in the countryside of the south-west: Rivers were getting dirtier with pollution of 40 per cent. between 1980 and 1985"? Does he recognise that the countryside people down there are drinking discoloured and unpleasant tasting water as a direct result of the meanness and shortsightedness of the Government? What will he do about it?

Mr. Waldegrave

I think that the hon. Gentleman should learn not to refer to the inhabitants of the southwest peninsula as those "people down there". The delays in the time scale for water investment are rather longer than he understands. The problems in the south-west derive largely from the absolutely savage cuts in water investment imposed by the IMF on the Labour Government after 1976. We have restored those cuts and have spent more in real terms.

Mr. Rowe

Further to that last question, would it not be much safer in those circumstances if the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) decided that he would be better off staying north of the border?

Mr. Waldegrave

I think that the hon. Gentleman is looking for a retirement home, and where better?

Mrs. Golding

How can the Minister equate his supposed care for the countryside with a letter that I received from him today saying that he is granting permission for a massive opencast site in my constituency which will involve the destruction of 27 rights of way, 47 acres of public open space, 68 acres of woodland, plus miles of hedgerow? Although this is for 100 jobs, which we all know are needed, is he aware that it will involve the complete and absolute disruption of the whole road systern in my constituency, with heavy lorries, noise and dirt?

Mr. Waldegrave

We have just had a classic definition of NIMBY—not in my back yard. Anywhere else, the hon. Lady would welcome the cheap and secure fuel and the jobs, but not in her back yard. That is not a responsible way to proceed on national issues.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

May I refer to my hon. Friend's back yard and ask him to put a stop to the silly machinations about a Severn barrage, which will cost a lot of money and be an environmental catastrophe?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am aware of my hon. Friend's robust views on the matter. There will have to be plenty of time for his views and for the equally robust opposing views of other people on the matter to be properly investigated in due course.