HC Deb 12 December 1990 vol 182 cc940-2
4. Mr. Strang

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what progress has been made since the 1990 Montreal protocol review conference in implementing the agreement; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. David Trippier)

The Government have been arguing strongly for tighter controls on ozone-depleting substances within the Community than those agreed at the London meeting. We expect to agree a European regulation next week which will achieve that.

Mr. Strang

Is the Minister satisfied with the progress that is being made in Britain? As some of the alternatives that are being promoted are themselves damaging greenhouse gases, may I ask whether the Government have ruled out a levy on CFCs? Some of that money could be used to finance research and development into alternatives.

Mr. Trippier

I am very satisfied with the progress that is being made in Britain, and shortly after the London ozone conference on the Montreal protocol the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) was kind and generous enough to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) on the week's achievements. At that time we, with all other countries that attended that conference, had committed ourselves to a removal of CFCs by the year 2000. I am now saying that the British Government believe that that pace can be accelerated. I will be representing the Government in Brussels next week. We have the foremost position and the most ambitious targets and I shall be looking for support from all the other member states at that meeting. I think that we shall get it.

Mr. Squire

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it was only after the Government announced that we were beating the targets of the Montreal protocol that they were criticised by various green parties as being inadequate?

Will my hon. Friend underline his determination to beat targets for carbon dioxide emissions on the same basis —that once we show that it can be done, it is bound to be criticised as inadequate?

Mr. Trippier

A number of what I call dark green lobby groups act irresponsibly, preparing their press notices before looking at any statements from Ministers or even before the introduction of a White Paper.

Mr. Gould

Name one.

Mr. Trippier

Greenpeace is a superb example. It is not the first time that I have made that comment and I am happy to repeat it on any occasion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) is right. We are in the lead on the issue and I am proud of that. I am proud of the fact that it was British scientists who discovered the hole in the ozone layer and that we were the first to sign the Vienna convention. On two separate occasions in London we have hosted the ozone layer conference, and it is recognised, nationally and internationally, that the British Government are in the lead.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Does the Minister accept that the importance that environmental issues should have will never be accorded them by the British Government as long as his Department is distracted by subjects such as local government finance, as we have seen today, and housing, both of which are entirely unrelated to environmental policy and should be the responsibility of a separate Department? Is not the reality that we would do far better on subjects such as the ozone layer and reducing CFCs if his Department concentrated on environmental issues instead of regularly distracting Secretaries of State with other matters?

Mr. Trippier

Ministers in the Department of the Environment afford to the environment, internationally and nationally, the attention that that important subject deserves. No fewer than three Ministers are concentrating on the issues—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, myself and an Under-Secretary of State. There is a close link between the subjects that come under the aegis of the Department of the Environment. In fact, I heard the hon. Gentleman refer to that himself in a recent speech.

Mr. Summerson

Will my hon. Friend ensure not only that CFCs and other ozone-depleting subjects are not used in Britain or throughout the European Community, but that they are not manufactured in Britain for use elsewhere in the world?

Mr. Trippier

Those are the terms and conditions of the agreement to which we are signatories. That is the commitment that I shall be seeking to honour and develop at the European Council of Environment Ministers in Brussels next week. We want the end of their manufacture by 1997. The signatories of the third world or developing countries to the Montreal protocol have already agreed to such phasing out by the year 2010 because of technology transfer and also because of overseas aid, to which we are prepared to contribute.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Does the Minister agree that the original Montreal agreement, and the improvements made to it in London, were based on excellent scientific research that had no obvious marketplace benefit? As Britain spends less than a third of what is spent by, for instance, Germany on environmental research, what is the Department doing to encourage the expansion of such research, which clearly has major implications and potential benefits for the planet?

Mr. Trippier

The Department's record on expenditure for research is excellent and far outweighs the amount spent by Labour when it was in office. Last year, the Department's research budget was increased by 20 per cent.—a real-terms increase whose significance the hon. Gentleman should be kind enough to acknowledge.

Research on chlorofluorocarbons is also carried out by the industry, which has achieved success: that is why ICI is now leading other companies in finding substitutes for CFCs.