HC Deb 31 October 1990 vol 178 cc981-2
12. Mr. Jacques Arnold

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what action the Government have taken to encourage green policies in industry.

Mr. Redwood

In May 1989 my Department launched an environmental programme. It set up an environmental helpline, which has already handled 6,000 queries. In April 1990 an environment unit was set up within the Department and in October 1990 I had the pleasure of launching two schemes—one jointly with the Department of the Environment, the environmental technology innovation scheme, to encourage research in green technology, and the DTI's environmental management options scheme, to spread best practice in green matters. They are positive steps forward and represent a major commitment to encourage British industry to pursue green policies.

Mr. Arnold

May I welcome the establishment of the environment unit and the other measures that my hon. Friend mentioned? What financial support are the Government giving to companies, such as Scotts in my constituency, with their environmental programmes?

Mr. Redwood

The funding for the various schemes amounts to £20 million over three years. We expect British industry to fund most research and development into new products and to promote its work to improve standards on pollution control. We believe in the "polluter pays" principle and that the main role of the Government is to set standards, which the House has been doing through the environmental protection measures.

Ms. Quin

Do not we have much catching up to do in this particular area? Will the Minister confirm that West Germany, for example, spends three times what we spend on environmentally related research and development?

Mr. Redwood

I cannot confirm that particular figure and I do not know where the hon. Lady got it. The British experience is not at all bad by international comparison. The standards that we are setting will be good ones, which many parts of British industry can already meet. There a re many problems throughout the continent of Europe and the further east, the more difficult the problems.

Sir Hal Miller

Drawing a veil over the environmental consequences of socialist Governments in eastern Europe, is my hon. Friend aware that engineering firms in the west midlands accept the thrust of Government policy to improve the environment, but are concerned about the capital costs of some of the standards under discussion in the technical committees? What contribution is my hon. Friend's Department making to the consideration of those technical standards, taking into account best available technology not entailing excessive cost? Would it be possible to extend assistance provided by the Industry Acts to meet environmental objectives?

Mr. Redwood

My Department is active in discussions with other Departments in Whitehall on the green initiative, for the reasons that my hon. Friend has described, if not for other reasons. We want sensible standards that industry can meet. The purpose of the exercise is not to drive industry out of business, but to provide a stimulus for better practice and better products.

It is also true that green policies do not always mean higher costs and increased difficulty for business. Often such policies mean controlling waste in a business, better control over stocks, a greater effort to be first right, first time and better practice within business. Such policies can cut costs rather than increase them. Part of my Department's message to business is that green business is good business and that business might find that there are offsetting cost advantages in pursuing such policies, which should be taken into account when running through the capital appraisals.

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