HC Deb 25 July 1990 vol 177 cc452-4
7. Mr. Alan W. Williams

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the total number of employees of (a) Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and (b) the National Rivers Authority.

Mr. Chris Patten

The total number of staff in post in HMIP is 215. The National Rivers Authority employs a total of some 6,700 staff, of which some 750 are engaged in pollution control responsibilities.

Mr. Williams

Does the Minister accept that there are appalling double standards in that the NRA has 6,000 staff to deal with water pollution while HMIP has only 200 staff to deal with air pollution and toxic waste management? Does that not result in poor monitoring and poor regulation? Is it not time that the Department considered the possibility of the NRA taking over the functions of HMIP, especially as the latter appears to be a shambles?

Mr. Patten

I am delighted with the hon. Gentleman's well-merited commendation of the NRA, whose performance is a result of the Government's admirable legislation on water privatisation which has had a beneficial effect on the water environment.

The hon. Gentleman may not have heard, but in my original answer I said that the correct figure for staff in the NRA doing jobs more or less comparable with those in HMIP was 750, not 6,700, although the jobs cannot be precisely compared. We are increasing the complement of HMIP, we have increased the salaries for pollution inspectors, and we are continuing to recruit.

The problem faced by both the public sector and the private sector in Britain and in other countries is a shortage of people with the requisite skills. We shall be saying a great deal about higher education and training in our White Paper later this year.

Mr. Churchill

Will my right hon. Friend convey to the director of HMIP the strong exception taken by my constituents and by the people of Greater Manchester to the inspectorate's rubber stamping of a proposal for a chemical and clinical waste incinerator at Trafford Park? Does my hon. Friend agree that the centre of a conurbation of 3 million people is no fit place for chemical, clinical, and toxic waste incinerators and will he investigate the situation?

Mr. Patten

I will certainly do that. As I understand it, my hon. Friend has an opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment tomorrow and I am sure that he will be satisfied with the Government's response.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Does the Secretary of State accept that many difficulties are being encountered by both the NRA and HMIP in trying to work out their new relationship? At times, the two bodies have to monitor the same pipe or outlet to different standards. Does not that emphasise the need for an independent, integrated environmental protection executive, and does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he was wrong in Committee to reject our proposals for such an executive? Does he accept that there will not be proper progress on protecting and cleaning up the environment until such an executive is established?

Mr. Patten

No, I do not agree with the hon. Lady's last point. It is a matter to which we have paid close attention, but I am far from convinced that the right way to ensure better monitoring and regulation of pollution is to have a further reorganisation of the inspectorates charged with those responsibilities.

We are always open to bright ideas, even when they come from the Opposition, although that is all too rare an occurrence. We are looking forward to the announcement of some bright ideas about local government finance from Mr. Peter Mandelson later today. I am sure that it will take account of all that the Opposition have said about domestic rates.

I assure the hon. Lady that we shall deal with those institutional matters in our White Paper later this year. I do not take the view that institutional arrangements can substitute for sensible policies—and we have been pursuing sensible policies.