HC Deb 29 October 1990 vol 178 cc765-79

Lords amendment: No. 3, in page 4, line 19, at end insert ("and to which conditions as specified in directions in accordance with section 7(3A) below shall apply")

Mr. Trippier

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient also to consider the following amendments: Lords amendment No. 13 and the Government motion to disagree; Lords amendment No. 14 and amendments (a) to (d) thereto, and the Government motion to disagree.

Mr. Trippier

As the Opposition have tabled several amendments to Lords amendment No. 14, I fully respect their wish that there should be a debate on this issue, which involves the Valdez principle. In those circumstances, it would be appropriate for the Opposition to open the debate so that I have to speak only once.

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

I am grateful to the Minister for providing the Opposition with the opportunity to outline their case. If he listens to the debate, I hope that he will reconsider the Government's position on Lords amendment No. 14, which was added to the Bill in the other place after a constructive debate. Ministers in the other place did not answer the case put forward by our colleagues there.

If the Government insist on rejecting the Valdez principle, their rejection of it will be even further proof that they are not using the Bill to improve environmental protection and that they are continuing to waste the opportunity that the legislation could provide. We have said all along that the title "Environmental Protection Bill" is very grand, but the contents of the Bill do not match its title.

The fact that the amendment is incorporated in part I, which deals with integrated pollution control, is significant. Integrated pollution control is a principle that the Opposition have supported throughout consideration of the Bill—in Committee, on report and in another place. The problem is that the Government have taken a good principle and implemented it in a second rate way. They have not laid down with sufficient clarity the principles on which authorisation should be based. They have never said that they are ambitious about implementing integrated pollution control. They refer to changing the structure of applications instead of to the imposition of new and progressively tighter controls on industry.

The Government's attitude led the Opposition in the other place to table the amendment that incorporates the Valdez principle. We are keen that that principle should remain part of the legislation. We want to take the matter further and use part I to establish an environmental protection agency to co-ordinate all the policy aspects that ought to be taken into account when considering integrated pollution control and all other aspects of environmental protection.

I remind the House of the Valdez principle. It is strange that the Minister should seek to reject it. It is not only Labour politicians in this country who have put forward such an amendment. The Valdez principle was established in the first place by United States investors, for ethical reasons. That group of people will grow in number and influence. I hope that the principle that the group advocates—that companies should carry out environmental audits—will be taken on board by the Government. The Opposition regret that they have not yet done so.

According to the Valdez principle, certain other policy aspects ought to be taken into account when considering integrated pollution control. The ones that are mentioned specifically in Lords amendment No. 14 are

  1. "(a) The minimisation of pollution to environmental media;
  2. (b) the protection of the biosphere;
  3. (c) the development of the sustainable use of natural resources;
  4. (d) the reduction, minimisation and acceptable disposal of waste;
  5. (e) the conservation of energy;
  6. (f) the minimisation of environmental health and safety risks to employees and other persons;
  7. (g) the adoption of voluntary controls over the safety of goods and services produced for sale;
  8. (h) the undertaking of adequate provision for compensation …
  9. (i) the disclosure of adequate information …
  10. (j) the undertaking of periodic assessments and audits".

I am at a loss to understand to which of those principles the Government can object. The principle to which the Government may object is that which involves energy conservation. When the matter was debated in Committee, we pressed the Government to a Division on incorporating energy conservation in the integrated pollution control conditions. The Secretary of State was present on that occasion but even he voted against it.

The Government's record on energy conservation is absolutely pathetic. The Government's White Paper states: Energy efficiency is the cheapest and quickest way of combating the threat of global warming. However, the same Government and the same Ministers have significantly cut the energy efficiency budget. They say that energy efficiency ought to improve in the future. In real terms, the energy efficiency budget was halved between 1986–87 and 1989–90. The real advances that could have been made on energy efficiency have not been made. That may be one reason why the Government object to the amendment.

Hon. Members received an interesting letter today from the CBI on the amendments that the Opposition have tabled and the inclusion of the Valdez principle in the Bill. The CBI seems to be panicking enormously about the prospects of including such measures as I have mentioned. The minimal brief that it sent shows that it does not seem to understand the implications of the amendment passed by the other place.

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The fact that the CBI sent that note to hon. Members asking them to reject the Valdez principle, and the fact that the Minister will ask us to reject it, shows that Ministers and industry have far too negative an attitude on environmental protection as simply a cost rather than an opportunity. It would be in the interests of industry to push it to have industrial environmental audits and energy efficiency programmes. The Minister knows that many problems could be alleviated if industry changed its attitude, and environmental audits are certainly one opportunity.

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Lady is being uncharacteristically unfair and is giving the House the impression that perhaps part I of the Bill was the idea of the Opposition. She cannot be allowed to get away with that, because it is perfectly clear that part I, which we put together and which, admittedly, was amended from time to time by the Opposition, is intended to raise standards of pollution control. It was entirely the idea of the Government and it is entirely to our credit that the legislation is before the House. It certainly will not be easy for industry to comply with the new regulations. Is the hon. Lady trying to deny that?

Mrs. Taylor

The Minister is mistaken. I did not claim credit for the ideas behind the Bill. We can claim credit for trying to widen the implementation of IPC to ensure that industry takes on board all the needs of environmental protection rather than the narrow definition that the Government are giving it. If the Government persist in trying to implement IPC in this limited way, they will not be serving the best interests of industry. If they continue to say to industry, "All environmental protection is a great cost, and that is the end of the story," we shall not get industry to move in the direction that we want. If British industry does not take on board environmental considerations, it will be left behind because industries and companies elsewhere are becoming the leaders in many areas of clean technology. If the Government continue to send out the wrong messages, we shall slip further behind, instensifying the economic problems that we face.

I am sorry that the Minister persisted in insisting that there should be a negative approach to those problems. The concept behind IPC is an integrated approach to pollution control. Where better than the Bill, therefore, to introduce all the other considerations that I have mentioned, from energy conservation to environmental auditing? If the Minister persists in talking down industry and talking about the problems of environmental legislation rather than the opportunities, he will not be doing industry any favours, and he certainly will not be doing the environment any favours.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I congratulate the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) on her election. I hope that it is a sign that I, too, will benefit from having responsibility for this subject. When she left the House temporarily, I inherited her office. It may therefore be a good place to do one's apprenticeship on the way up the environment-political ladder.

The Lords amendment was sponsored jointly in the other place by the Labour party and Liberal Democrats, and my noble friend Lord Ross spoke in support of it for my party. I do not therefore need to elaborate on the view that we hold—that it is entirely appropriate to set out the specific principles for defining integrated pollution control.

The list, which has come to be known as the Valdez principles, sets out directions that the Secretary of State should give when permission or authorisation is sought. As the Minister will readily concede, the directions are general and cover subject matters rather than specific requirements. For example, they relate to the requirement that the conditions develop the sustainable use of natural resources". I should have thought that he would happily welcome that principle. They require that the consequences of the conditions are the reduction, minimisation and acceptable disposal of waste. I should have thought that that was entirely acceptable.

I am aware, for example, that if waste disposal were environmentally best achieved by incineration, the consumption of energy would be higher than if another method of waste disposal were used. In absolute terms, therefore, one could not say that that method was the most energy efficient. That, however, is not inconsistent with the principle, in as much as it can be achieved, of "the conservation of energy", as set out in paragraph (e) of Lords amendment No. 14.

I join the hon. Member for Dewsbury in saying that the CBI's fears, which are set out briefly, appear to relate to a misunderstanding of the principles of Lords amendment No. 14. The CBI asked the House to reject the amendment for three main reasons: that the principles impose on industry absolute liability for damage, compulsory environmental audits and total disclosure of information. The proposal on absolute liability for damage is that there should be an undertaking of adequate—I underline "adequate"—provision for compensation for damage caused by the person authorised, or his processes or products. It is an entirely proper principle that somebody who pollutes is required to pay adequate compensation.

The proposal on compulsory environmental audits reads: the undertaking of periodic assessments and audits to monitor the effectiveness of any principles of actions adopted. I should have thought that the CBI would welcome that. It should be built into the practice of industry and business that it periodically assesses, audits and monitors the effectiveness of its work. I do not see that Government or industry could have any objection to that. Yes, it may cost more, but the price of the environment is worth paying, and Parliament should be saying to industry and individuals, "You should pay it."

The principle on total disclosure of information—I remind the House that the amendment received sufficient support in the other place for it to have been passed only a couple of weeks ago—is that there should be the disclosure of adequate information to employees and enforcement agencies on matters relevant to the environment and health and safety". That is not total disclosure of information, but adequate information to employees and enforcement agencies on relevant matters.

Other provisions in the Bill protect proper confidentiality, and we shall debate amendments on that in a few minutes. I do not think that the CBI is right to say that, if the Lords amendment is passed, it would detract from the need to bring integrated pollution control into operation as smoothly and quickly as possible. The fact that there has not been enormous consultation on the principles is a less strong point because, first, there is international precedent for the desirability of the principles being incorporated into enabling legislation and, secondly, because the principles are consistent with an enabling part of the Bill. I ask the Minister to say that they do not tie his hands.

The amendments deal with the Labour party's proposal for an environmental protection agency. The hon. Member for Dewsbury may have read our document, which was produced this autumn a little before her document, and even before the Government's, and was entitled "What Price Our Planet?" In it, we reiterated the view, which my colleagues have enunciated for several years, that we support the idea of an Environmental Protection Agency. My only reason for not adding my name and those of others to the Labour amendment is that that would have been unfair to the hon. Lady and her colleagues. The details in one Labour amendment about the agency's functions are slightly different from ours. Given that the amendment was on the amendment paper, I thought that it was a sufficient peg on which to hang our support for the principle, without being tied to every word of the Labour party's proposal.

We think that there should be a Department of Environmental Protection, which would take some of the functions of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Trade and Industry and even the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where it deals with international environmental issues. We believe that there should be an environmental protection agency, bringing together the functions of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and of the National Rivers Authority, funded by but independent of the Government and backed up by a national environmental information law centre.

I want to give one example showing why such a system would be important, and today is an appropriate day to do so. As we all know, the Secretary of State for the Environment is not here because he is in Luxembourg at the meeting of European Community Environment Ministers before he goes on to Geneva and the world conference on climate change. The most controversial item on today's agenda is the limit to be set on CO2 emissions. The Government have made clear their policy. They believe that we should seek to achieve a limit at present levels by the year 2005. As we all know, their reason is that there will then be more emissions and first a subsequent reduction, so in 15 years we shall only be back to where we are now.

The Labour party argues that this level could be achieved by the year 2000 and prays in aid other countries that have achieved that. As the Minister knows, the Liberal Democrats argued for a better principle, for a tougher target. We argue—this is not unsupported by precedent elsewhere—that there should be a 30 per cent. cut in CO2 emissions by the year 2005, a 50 per cent. cut by the year 2015 and a 55 per cent. cut by the year 2050. We believe that that is achievable by a range of policies—taxing pollution, energy efficiency, renewable technology, more public transport and less private transport and a reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels. The Minister is unwilling to accept that as a target—indeed, he would give the Secretary of State a bit of trouble if he did so, given that the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to persuade the European Community differently in Luxembourg.

The benefit of having an independent environmental protection agency is that we would have a body that could say with authority to whichever party was in government, "We believe that this is the best advice." If an environmental protection agency existed now, it would find that the Government's environmental policy was inadequate. I may be wrong, but that is suggested by the evidence.

The argument for an independent agency of Government to advise the Government on environmental protection has never been stronger. I hope that the time will come when the Government accept that all environmental wisdom does not lie with them. We have never believed that it lies with politicians and, increasingly, politicians are aware that their views have been behind those of experts. I hope that even if the Minister does not accept the amendment for an environmental protection agency, he will say that the Government have not rejected the idea. The hon. Gentleman would find such a body a helpful ally, certainly for the environment.

6.15 pm
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Listening to the claims and counter-claims of the Labour party and the Liberal party one could be forgiven for forgetting that it was the incoming Conservative Government in 1970 who first established a Department of the Environment and the present Government who have brought forward this large Bill—the first serious attempt to deal with a range of environmental problems. [Interruption.] The interventions from the Labour Front Bench remind me that the 1974 Labour Government took public transport away from the overall responsibility of the Department of the Environment and we have been regretting the consequences for many years.

Clause 2 refers to "Prescribed processes and prescribed substances". The one prescribed substance which, sadly, is eliminated from consideration under the clause is carbon monoxide emitted by the internal combustion engine. I hope that that omission will be rectified in future legislation.

I am conscious of the fact that one or two of my colleagues may not agree with me about pollution emanating from aircraft, but aviation fuel, particularly aviation exhaust, is an increasing problem in small pockets of the countryside around airports. I hope that, in due course, whether under the aegis of an environmental protection agency or through another organisation, transport matters will be brought back under the general heading of the environment and that, sooner or later, some Government will bite the bullet and include emissions from the internal combustion engine and from aircraft in the term "prescribed substance".

Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)

Lords amendment No. 14 deals with the Valdez principles. I do not understand why the Government object to these nine or 10 principles which are to be incorporated as conditions to be considered in the granting of licences. They are all reasonable targets for all industries, obliging them to minimise pollution and waste, to protect the biosphere, to conserve energy, to conduct periodic environmental audits and so on. These principles are at the heart of the Bill. Without them, what is the Bill about?

Our amendment deals with setting up an environmental protection agency. In many environmental issues, Britain is 10 years behind Germany, Sweden, the United States and so on. Through the EPA, the functions carried out by the NRA, Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and the Nature Conservancy Council and the environmental work of local authorities would all come under one umbrella organisation.

The National Rivers Authority involves the right kind of regional infrastructure and could provide the basis for such a powerful environmental organisation. Working independently of the Government, the body would monitor the environment, conduct research, advise the Government on new legislation and enforce existing legislation. It is a disappointing fact that, although the NRA is a powerful body in many respects, the enforcement of its work in connection with river pollution is not nearly strong enough.

Meanwhile, the pollution inspectorate is plagued by all sorts of problems. For example, it is in charge of air pollution, in respect of which there have been only nine prosecutions in the past 10 years. Those figures speak for themselves and clearly illustrate the limited extent to which the relevant provisions are enforced. An environmental protection agency responsible for enforcement is therefore desperately needed.

Amendment (b) calls for the creation of a Minister for Environmental Protection. At the moment, the full range of responsibilities falls to the Department of the Environment, which also has to deal with the community charge, housing, local government finance and so on. The Department has far too many responsibilities and they are too disparate for one Secretary of State to deal with them. The establishment of such a post would constitute a recognition of the importance of green issues and the environment. A Minister for Environmental Protection should take over some of the responsibilities of the Departments of Energy, Transport and Industry and especially of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The amendments would greatly strengthen the Bill. Having served on the Committee, and having been involved at various stages in the consideration of the Bill, I believe that at present it is a weak Bill. When one considers that the Government have been in power for 10 years and that this is their first major Bill dealing with the environment, it is remarkably weak. For example, it involves hardly any financial commitment, although we know that the problem of acid rain will take billions of pounds to tackle, as will the problems of sewage and our beaches. The curbing of the greenhouse effect through energy efficiency measures will also require billions of pounds worth of investment.

Instead of tackling those major problems, the Bill deals mainly with peripheral issues. The Opposition acknowledge that, under parts I and II, structures are being set up for integrated pollution control and the better regulation of toxic waste, but nevertheless believe that the amendments would greatly strengthen the Bill.

Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)

I should like my hon. Friend the Minister seriously to consider the Opposition's two main proposals. The Valdez principles are important principles and important policy objectives, and I should like the Government to endorse them as acceptable principles and objectives to follow. Whether they are proper subject matter to be enshrined in an Act of Parliament, and whether they are capable of enforcement, is an entirely different matter. Personally, I do not believe that, if we state them in the Bill, as the amendment proposes, we shall be doing anything more than state a series of platitudes. We shall diminish their importance if we list them as proposed, because they cannot be made effective in terms of legislation. Nevertheless, I repeat that I should like my hon. Friend to confirm that the Government endorse those objectives and would like them to inform our view of the problems of the environment and environmental pollution.

The amendment would also require the establishment of an environmental protection agency. I do not think that I need say a great deal about that on this occasion. I have spoken about it extensively and I have also written about it. The House will know that, in its toxic waste report, the Select Committee on the Environment put forward the concept—before it became part of the policy of any of the political parties. I support such a concept because. at present, the way in which we deal with environmental monitoring, auditing, regulation and control is far too fragmented and leaves a great deal to be desired.

Having said that, I agree that we cannot rush the establishment of an environmental protection agency through at the tail end of our proceedings on this Bill, as the Opposition propose. I should like the Minister to tell us that the Government do not dismiss out of hand the establishment of such an agency, that the Department will continue to work out the details of how the matter can best be legislated for and that, eventually, we will introduce legislation that will establish a proper agency of the kind envisaged by the Select Committee.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

Are the Valdez principles merely platitudes, as the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) suggested, or are they practical guidelines that should govern our conduct towards the environment? That is the question before the Minister, and I hope that he will respond in detail on the Government's attitude. If the Government reject the principles as laid down in detail in the amendment, we should be told, why they are doing so and, what they propose to put in their place. How will the good will expressed on both sides of the House be turned into practical measures? The amendments deserve a detailed response from the Government, because they provide both a theoretical and a practical basis for tackling environmental problems in the long term.

The amendments are intended to probe the seriousness of the Government's commitment to genuine environmental improvement on a practical basis and founded on internationally agreed general principles. In implementing the Valdez principles, the Government would be following what is now becoming accepted international practice. If they reject them, they will be stepping out of line, and I should like to know why. The Valdez principles are internationally agreed and accepted, and the amendments are merely an attempt to integrate United Kingdom practice in that international context.

The principles relate directly to industry and industrial practice and attempt to integrate them into good environmental systems and practices. I doubt whether many people in this country would object to the protection of the biosphere or the sustainable use of natural resources or the reduction, minimisation and acceptable disposal of waste or the wise use of energy. I doubt whether they would object to environmental risk reduction or the marketing of safe products and services or to damage compensation—that is very much of live issue—or to the disclosure of incidents or to the appointment of an environmental director. That should become the industrial norm, as should environmental assessment and annual audits in industry.

In a practical way, the amendments would bring industry into consideration and allow it positively to contribute to an improved environment. I hope that increasingly, environmental or compliance auditing will become standard practice in industry and that it will be accepted as a natural and important part of business practice.

The amendments are a taste of the future. Sooner or later, they will be accepted, out of common sense and fairness towards the environment. I hope that they will be accepted sooner rather than later, and that that is what the Minister will say in his response.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

In Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister made it clear that he would consider these matters in relation to the publication of the White Paper on the environment, and the agency was, indeed, mentioned in the White Paper.

Another matter that is relevant to the amendments is the experience that we have now gained in relation to the National Rivers Authority—in many ways, the first stage in the creation of an environmental protection agency. In that respect, I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) said: we must not do everything too quickly.

We have now had some experience of the NRA, and we can see how it is operating. I do not fully agree with the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams), who referred to the NRA's weakness. Over the past few months, the opposite has been the case. There have been a number of prosecutions, most notably against various oil companies in the north-west, which have proved highly effective and have acted as a good discipline against those worst polluters of the environment.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Does my hon. Friend recall that the first prosecution took place on the very day that the authority came into operation? It was certainly quick off the mark.

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Mr. Mans

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. That proves that the NRA is effective.

We should not stand still. We should move quickly towards the creation of a fully fledged EPA to cover subjects other than water pollution. We are already entering slightly dangerous territory in which there is a demarcation dispute between HMIP matters and NRA matters. We must progress towards a situation in which we have a fully fledged Environmental Protection Agency which is separate from the Government. In that respect, I agree with the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) about the need to remove some of the expertise from local and national Government and place it in an environmental protection agency.

Unless we make progress relatively quickly, we will be duplicating a lot of work on the environment. There will be little departments at district and county level and also within the Department of the Environment dealing with exactly the same matters which one EPA could deal with. With a lack of environmental expertise in the first place, there is a danger that we might spread that expertise too thinly. We might not achieve a firm view of the policy that we should adopt in this country towards the different aspects of pollution control, which must increase in importance in future.

Mr. Trippier

I was quite amused by the reference by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) to his temporary location in the office that was formerly occupied by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). A wonderful thought flashed through my mind: if it is as lucky for him as it has been for her, he might find himself in a shadow Cabinet. My next thought was that he is already in a shadow Cabinet. It may not be a very big shadow Cabinet, but he must be a member of one. In fact, I suppose all the Liberal Members must be members of such a Cabinet.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Not quite all.

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Gentleman must enlighten me further about that important issue later.

If the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey were to be a member of the Cabinet of Her Majesty's Government, in the unlikely event of the Liberal party ever taking office, it is safe for me to say from the Dispatch Box that the hon. Gentleman can say any darn thing he likes about pollution control target dates for CO, emissions, because they are unlikely to be delivered. Although I hugely enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's catalogue of proposals about how the Liberal party would introduce stabilisation and then the reduction of CO, levels, he should have included the proposals incorporated in the alternative White Paper put forward by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) and the hon. Member for Dewsbury.

The Labour party's alternative White Paper refers to stabilisation by the year 2000. At present CO2 levels, all the research, particularly that undertaken by the Department of Energy, shows that it will be impossible for that to be achieved unless there were nil economic growth —no Opposition Member mentioned that—and half the coal mines were closed. How on earth the Labour party can square that with Arthur Scargill's National Union of Mineworkers stretches credulity to breaking point, but it might be hugely amusing.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I assume that the Minister, like the Secretary of State, has seen our alternative to the Government's White Paper, which we published in September. The Minister must not ask me to defend the Labour party's fossil fuel policy, which I believe prevents the circle from being squared with regard to stabilisation by the year 2000. The Minister will be aware from reports in the press today and over the weekend that the target of stabilisation by the year 2000 is easily achievable, because the Government's advice that there would be a great expansion of CO2 emissions by the year 2005 is inaccurate. The projection was an overestimate.

Therefore, the Labour party target is not difficult, although we believe that it is inadequate. The Minister should reconsider. I would not be content with resting on the laurels of the Labour party as a sufficient backstop as a second choice for the Government's policy.

Mr. Trippier

I would not rest on the laurels of the Labour party, and I do not want to be taken down this side street. However, I know that the hon. Gentleman would not want knowingly to mislead the House. With regard to his earlier comments about the presence in Luxembourg of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, no hon. Member should assume that any member state has made the target level as categorically clear as this Government have. That is disquietening. When I attended Council of Ministers meetings in Europe recently, I found to my horror that people are saying what they think they might be able to achieve, but are not prepared to sign up to that while others say that there is an aim or a target, but no commitment. The difference is that we have a clear commitment. When this Government sign any document, we deliver. We are respected for doing that, and I wish that that applied to many other countries.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Not about dumping in the North sea.

Mr. Trippier

I do not know about that, but I look forward to debating the matter tomorrow.

There is not much between the Opposition and the Government on how tough integrated pollution control should be. The measures enshrined in part I of the Bill were taken from recommendations made by the Royal Commission on environmental protection, which have been applauded and welcomed.

The only question that arises is: how tough should those measures be? Although I was interested to hear Opposition Members say that they should be tougher or very tough, I wonder whether they have squared that view with some of their trade union colleagues or those sponsored by them who might have something different to say if it meant that, in the rush to achieve the much higher standards enshrined in the legislation, thousands of people were to be laid off work. That is the difficulty which the Government must address. We have struck a balance between economic development and environmental enhancement. I am entirely content with that.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

With regard to jobs, the future and the future of industry, does the Minister agree with the Secretary of State, who said over the weekend: British business has been losing opportunities in European markets by failing to take a lead on the environment"? Surely the Secretary of State is acknowledging that jobs can follow environmental protection.

Mr. Trippier

I could not agree more. In trying to achieve the balance between economic development and environmental enhancement, many opportunities arise as a result of our being the pathfinders and trail blazers within Europe on integrated pollution control. If anyone doubts that, I can state that we have been asked to send a secondee from the Department of the Environment to Europe to help put together a European directive with which we can easily comply, but which many other countries will have to run very quickly to keep abreast of.

I have no difficulty in agreeing with the hon. Member for Dewsbury. Indeed, we lead the world on water consultancy, and a great deal of business can be done on that, not least in central and eastern Europe now that those areas have been emancipated.

We have debated this issue several times in the past in Standing Committee; however, I must address the concern expressed by a number of hon. Members—not least ray hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi)—with regard to the structural alterations affecting Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. From what was said in the White Paper, it must now be clear that we did not consider the time right to think of further major structural changes to the system, such as the amalgamiation of the existing regulatory bodies.

The National Rivers Authority has been in existence for a year; Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution has not existed for much longer, and recieves considerable new functions in the Bill. There has been a period of dramatic change. However, we were careful to make it clear in the White Paper that, although the Government have concluded that the case is insufficient to outweigh the disadvantages of further administrative upheaval at just the time when the new organisations are getting into their stride", we certainly had it in mind to move towards establishing a regulatory body on the lines of the environmental protection agency at some stage. I hope that that satisfies my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans), who addressed the same issue.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Does the Minister consider that that would require legislation?

Mr. Trippier

I think that it would require legislation. At this stage, it is not clear to anyone—least of all the hon. Gentleman and me—whether the new regulatory body should have, for example, a waste-regulation function. Such matters must be addressed. The commitment that I—along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment—have given constantly, on the Floor of the House and outside, that HMIP will have the necessary resources to do the job is the most important undertaking that I can repeat in this debate.

Let me say to the hon. Member for Dewsbury that I find, what has happened to the EPA in America very interesting. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) constantly refers to the EPA; he did so in Committee as well, and I understand why. The EPA, which is completely separated from the federal system in the United States, has now been brought back into the federal system, and its administrator Bill Reilley has been appointed as a Cabinet Minister—at least, I hope that his position will be confirmed shortly, as I have the highest regard for him.

I wonder how that appointment would be viewed in this country. The hon. Member for Carmarthen—and perhaps even I—might view it as a case of someone being bought off if it had happened in the United Kingdom. My point, however, is that the EPA has now been brought back into the main stream of Government; my hon. Friends who sit on the distinguished Select Comittee know that to be the case. I would not always pray in aid the EPA in the United States; I think that we must look to something rather different.

I can understand why Lords amendments Nos. 3, 13 and 14 were accepted in the other place. The main amendment that we are addressing here sets out a number of principles concerning the Valdez principles, which on the face of it are as unexceptionable as motherhood and apple pie. However, the question is whether it is appropriate to enshrine them in legislation aimed at a system of pollution control.

Lords amendment No. 14 gives effect to nine out of 10 of what have become known as the Valdez principles, which were prepared after the Exxon Valdez oil spill of April 1989. One might think, so far so good; however, putting the principles into legislation goes against the founding aims of those who prepared them. The aim of the group that prepared the principles was to create a voluntary mechanism of corporate self-governance with the goals of sustaining our fragile environment for future generations. In America, it is recognised by the most environmentally responsible individuals, companies and institutions that the Valdez principles en bloc are not feasible—as they stand—for companies. When the principles were discussed in the United Kingdom at a seminar arranged by the Green Alliance, members of environmental and other voluntary groups and the ethical investment community, it was agreed that the implications of the advent of the single market, proposals for eco-labelling, developments in public access to environmental information and the development of environmental auditing in the United Kingdom, all needed to be explored, as they would affect the applicability of the Valdez approach in the United Kingdom. In other words, environmental groups in the United Kingdom would not agree that the Valdez principles should be imported lock, stock and barrel as a United Kingdom policy objective, let alone enshrined in legislation. So much for the overview.

How does the main amendment in this group affect the systems of integrated pollution control and air pollution control? I believe that they are confusing, contradictory and incongruous; in short, the amendment is an almighty spanner in the sophisticated works of the two pollution control systems established in this part of the Bill. Let us examine each of the "sub-headings" of clause 7(4)(a) in turn. There is nothing wrong with paragraph (a), which concerns the minimisation of pollution as a general statement of intent, except that it does not belong here.

We have already provided for something much more specific in the Bill: clause 7(2) states: the best available techniques not entailing excessive cost will be used", not to minimise pollution of the environment, but to prevent releases of specific substances to the environment. Only if releases cannot be prevented will they be minimised. In all cases, BATN EEC—best available technique not entailing extra cost—must be used to render all releases harmless. That is not good enough.

6.45 pm

Let us look at another "sub-heading". The hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) specifically asked me to address what was wrong with the Valdez principles. The principles state that we will make sustainable use of renewable natural resources. The amendment that I have been talking about goes further: it would require an operator of a process to develop the sustainable use of natural resources. I must confess to the hon. Gentleman that I do not know what that means, and I think that most hon. Members would have enormous difficulty in defining it.

I am not being in any way clever, but let us pose some questions. Does it mean that a timber treatment plant operator would have to cultivate his own forest, or that a chemical operator would have to conduct research into wildlife habitats? The amendment is nonsense—and I could go on down the list. Its implementation would become a bureaucratic nightmare.

Rather than go on down the list, I must address a point made by at least two Opposition Members concerning the green audit, including the hon. Members for Angus, East and for Southwark and Bermondsey. It was the point to which the noble Lord McIntosh addressed a number of his remarks in the upper House when introducing the amendment that we are considering.

Environmental auditing as a principle is good. The United Kingdom environmental groups accept and support it, as I do myself. For heaven's sake, we have spent a great deal of time and a number of pages in the White Paper making clear what we believe about environmental auditing. I am delighted to say that this is a movement that is growing rapidly. The hon. Member for Angus, East said as much, and we should all welcome it. However, we stop short of making it mandatory. We do not regard it as helpful for the Government to be prescriptive about when or how techniques should be used.

The development of environmental audits is most assured if individual companies are encouraged to adapt the techniquies best suited to their particular circumstances. The voluntary nature of the techniques, as it has been developed by business, has encouraged a positive, objective and self-critical approach. That technique is still developing, and I do not wish to see it stop at industry; I want to see it developed throughout local authorities, and I think that I would carry the whole House with me on that point.

I am sorry that I cannot accept the strictures of the official Opposition, or indeed, members of the Liberal party. I must end, however, by completely rejecting the remarks made by the hon. Member for Carmarthen. He suggested that the Government's record on environmental protection or enhancement was bad; in fact, it is outstandingly good—and compared to that of the Labour party, it exceeds all expectations. The last time that a Labour Government were in power—and that is difficult to remember—they did not even introduce part II of the Control of Pollution Act 1974: what a disgrace.

Now the Labour party is talking about renationalising the water industry, which frankly it cannot afford to do. It cannot possibly afford to replace the £28 billion programme that has been made available only because of privatisation. It sickens me to my back teeth that, when they were last in power, Labour Members constantly cut support to water authorities, even when they were nationalised. No one believes that Labour is the party of the environment. Labour Members would have to look to all my colleagues as those who believe in environmental enhancement and an improvement in the quality of life.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments and Government motions to disagree with Lords amendments, agreed to.

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