§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. John M. Taylor.]9.37 am
§ The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. David Trippier)
I am very pleased to have another opportunity to set out to the House the Government's environmental record.
Our last major debate on the environment took place on 12 July. That we are again debating environmental policy reflects the priority that we as a Government, this House and the nation as a whole attach to this most central of issues. I very much hope that, unlike last time, the Opposition will have the grace to allow the Government to respond to the points made in the debate.
This debate is centred on the White Paper anniversary report, published on the exact anniversary day of the original White Paper launch—25 September. The anniversary report is acknowledged as a tremendous achievement. It is as unique in its way as was the original White Paper.
The original White Paper was the first comprehensive policy statement on the environment by any British Government. The anniversary report is the first time that a British Government have subjected their own implementation of its policies to such public scrutiny.
I hope that right hon. and hon. Members who wish to participate in this debate will have now had an opportunity to read the anniversary report in detail. Those who have read it must agree that it is an exercise in open government. Every one of the original White Paper commitments is accounted for, every action taken to date is described, and the plans for every aspect of concern are set out. Every commitment is attributed to a specific department. The targets that we have set ourselves are clearly summarised; so, too, is the substantial additional expenditure that we have given to the environment over the past year.
In all, of the 350 commitments in the original White Paper, more than 200 have already been fulfilled in this first year alone and significant progress has been made with the remainder. Well over 400 individual environmental measures have been taken over the past 12 months to deliver our commitments, ranging from telephone helplines for those concerned about air quality to major international agreements on new standards for cars and water. There are 400 commitments to take forward in the next year—from proposals for new standards for indoor air quality to work on the major international agreements which we hope will be signed at the earth summit in Brazil in June 1992.
Accountability and openness are not the only unique features of the report. Over the past year, the Government have put in place unparalleled mechanisms to keep the environment at the heart of policy making. Every Department now has a Minister charged with environmental responsibilities—no Government have ever taken such a cross-departmental approach to an issue. We have published guidance which every Department must use in assessing the environmental impact of its policies and programmes. Again, that is a first. We have given advice to Departments on drawing up environmental housekeeping strategies for themselves—another first which every Department must complete by the end of 1992. We have 688 made public the existence of two standing committees of Ministers, one chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and one by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—again an unprecedented step.
One of the Government's White Paper commitments was to establish a dialogue with the business community on environmental issues. The Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Trade and Industry appointed the Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment in May. Since then the 25 business men and women on the committee have been working to an ambitious programme. Earlier this week, they published their first report containing 35 action recommendations, principally on global warming and recycling. Of those recommendations, about half are addressed to the Government; the other half are addressed to industry itself. They call for the setting of tough targets for improving energy efficiency and recycling materials, as well as other specific action.
It is a measure of how seriously the Government take the committee's work that we have responded to its recommendations within a month of their being submitted to us. Apart from those recommendations relating to fiscal measures, which are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we have set targets for action on every one of the recommendations—and we shall report again on progress in six months.
What the members of the committee have shown is that, when it comes to the environment, Britain's business community is able to provide clear, vigorous and effective leadership. That is a vital component of the nation's action on the environment, because only business can actually deliver environmental improvements.
When we published the original White Paper more than a year ago, the overall reaction was, "Good ideas, let's wait to see how they are delivered." If I may be allowed a topical rugby metaphor, we had, so to speak lined up the ball for a conversion. The question was, would we convert it?
My answer is an emphatic yes. The House does not have to take my word for it, because the action taken to deliver our commitments is there for all to see in the report.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
The evidence is not there in the Bolsover area. The Minister will know that, contrary to the Government's views about linking business with the environment—we all agree that coal can successfully be converted to coke—for some reason the Coalite works in Bolsover seems to be polluting the whole environment. Certainly that is the suggestion now that the incinerator is to be replaced at the end of November. We have farms with dioxin-contaminated milk which must be transferred to the west midlands, where it is not being destroyed at the proper temperature, so dioxin is being spread in the west midlands. We now have evidence of a cluster of breast cancers in and around Bolsover—50 per cent. more than in other parts of north Derbyshire. The River Doe Lea is much more polluted than all other rivers in the area. It is high time that the Minister went to see Anglo-United and told it to get its act together and stop polluting the environment.
§ Mr. Trippier
I sympathise with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am not going to suggest to him or to the House that I am not prepared to pay such a visit. As the hon. Gentleman knows very well, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member 689 for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), dealt with that very point at Question Time on Wednesday. Of course what is going on in the Bolsover area is a matter of great concern to the hon. Gentleman, as it is to me and to the whole House. An investigation is being carried out at the moment, not only by Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution but by the National Rivers Authority. The most comforting assurance that I can give the hon. Gentleman, which I am sure that he will welcome, is that the results of the study will be made public.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
I am glad that HMIP is now becoming involved in Bolsover. However, the British people must be asking where it has been all these years. Dioxin is already in the environment. It is in the people, it is causing breast cancer, it is in the milk of cows, and it is in the rivers at 1,000 times background levels. Where has HMIP been all these years to allow dioxin to escape into the environment?
§ Mr. Trippier
The hon. Gentleman is on to a weak point. I should remind him and the House that the Government set up Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, for which we got no credit whatsoever from Her Majesty's Opposition. The hon. Gentleman heard me say on numerous occasions when the Environmental Protection Bill was being considered in Committee that it was under strength. It is no longer under strength. I shall make an announcement later, indicating how I hope to increase the inspectorate.
Of course, we have not done everthing in just a year, nor have we taken things forward in every aspect as much as we would have wished. But our readiness to act is clear, and our willingness to deliver is illustrated by our early success with our half of the original commitments. We have made many new commitments. We are not sitting back in self-congratulation and the pace will not be slackened.
Yet no sooner is the ball winging towards the uprights than we find that the goal posts are being moved. This year, I am being told that the test was not whether we could deliver our unprecedented number of detailed commitments, as I had thought, but whether we would do a lot more than we said we would do just a year ago.
I and my right hon. Friend would be the first to admit that the White Paper process is the beginning of a long road. We said that it was a first step, not the last word. But I think that everyone concerned needs to realise that this is not a process without cost, nor one that can magically happen overnight.
I believe that there is a balance to be struck between environmental enhancement and economic development. I believe that this Government have got that balance right. To make sure that we keep that balance, we have created new forums to discuss environmental issues with business, with local government and with the voluntary sector, because the environment needs every one of us to work together.
There are Opposition Members who take some perverse delight in running down Britain's environmental record and who are all too often to be found, both at home and abroad, adding their voices to those who accuse Britain of being the dirty man of Europe. Being deliberately deceitful about the Government's policies has become something of a habit for the Labour party. It is just another deceit. 690 However, that is not an accusation that I could level at the Leader of the Opposition, as he has not found time to say anything at all about the environment—true or false.
§ Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)
Bearing in mind that Labour Members have made many promises without costing them, will my hon. Friend tell us whether they have made promises about the environment in which they claim to be interested? If so, have they costed them, or is it something else that they say that they may do in future if economic growth comes their way?
§ Mr. Trippier
That is a good point on which I can give my hon. Friend not only a specific example, but an assurance. Let us have the assurance first. If the Opposition do not cost their proposals, we do. The renationalisation of the water industry would cost £3.8 billion—and that is to say absolutely nothing of the £28 billion programme which is currently in place and which will run for the rest of the decade. As I shall illustrate later, that cost could not be met, and I do not think that Labour would do it.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Do not actions speak louder than words? Does the Minister recall the vandalism of the former Secretary of State for the Environment, his right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who, at the very time that the White Paper was issued, turned down the inspectors' recommendation for a tunnel under Oxleas wood? Does not that presage terrible problems for the Thames corridor plans of the present Secretary of State for the Environment? I refer to the decision in respect of roads and the environment and to the prospective legislation that will put railways into the same category, especially in relation to the channel link. Surely that threatens the environment, and surely the Government's proposals for removing the power of the House to make the final decision on railways means that the Government are not to be trusted with the environment. That is proved by their actions.
§ Mr. Trippier
I understand and have previously heard the views that the hon. Gentleman has just expressed. As he knows, as that matter is quasi-judicial, under planning law it has been left to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman was wrong about the timetable. The White Paper was launched in September 1990 when the Secretary of State for the Environment was my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten).
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the green belt, which enables us all to have a degree of green and open space and fresh air, has been doubled under this Conservative Government?
§ Mr. Trippier
I try regularly to remind everyone of that point, and I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of it. That is something of which the Government are enormously proud. It featured hugely in the White Paper and was mentioned again in the anniversary document.
I remind the House that Britain is now taking the environmental lead in Europe. I offer some key examples. Our own system of integrated pollution control, introduced in the Environmental Protection Act 1990, is to be adopted across Europe in the coming years. So that was a first. We have led on proposals for environmental 691 labelling of products, for environmental reporting by companies, for public access to information, and on directives as diverse as the nitrates directive and forthcoming tighter controls over emissions from cars and heavy diesels.
For those who still feel that we are lagging, let me say that Britain is one of only a handful of countries to have set a target for reductions in carbon dioxide. We are now developing a programme of measures to implement this target. The number of countries that have produced full comprehensive environmental strategies like our own can be numbered on the fingers of one hand. In the Montreal protocol which controls ozone-depleting substances, United Nations negotiations on climate change, in biodiversity and on forestry Britain is among the leading nations.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I have no doubt about the Minister's commitment, but I seriously doubt that of the Government. Despite what the hon. Gentleman has said, from which I do not dissent, the fact is that only 15 minutes of the time that the Prime Minister chaired the summit of the Group of Seven countries was spent on the environment. Not one word on the environment passed the Prime Minister's lips when he welcomed the Queen's Speech at the start of this Session. Neither the Chancellor's speech on the Queen's Speech nor his autumn statement, which is meant to be central to Government thinking, contained one word on the environment. The Government's commitment to the environment can have no credibility—I stress that I am talking about the Government, not the Minister—if the Prime Minister and the Chancellor do not think that the environment is important, even if lesser Ministers do.
§ Mr. Trippier
It is not a case of a word, because the anniversary document contains a tremendous number of words and has the seal of the Prime Minister, who wrote the foreword. The hon. Gentleman must admit that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was the first world leader to commit himself to going to Rio next June for the world summit. We have not yet had similar commitments from all the Heads of Government of the other European member states. Our commitment is real. The fact that my right hon. Friend made an important speech on the environment shortly after becoming Prime Minister is itself significant. In contrast, I have not heard any major speech on the environment, either inside or outside the House, from the Leader of the Opposition.
We have also set the pace in the negotiations for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development next year. As I have said, the Prime Minister was the first to commit himself to attending that conference. We are playing a leading part in the negotiations of the framework conventions on climate change and biodiversity; and we have committed financial assistance and resources to assisting developing countries in preparing for the convention.
In June we held a seminar on biodiversity to prepare the United Kingdom's contribution on biodiversity. In the 692 same month, we hosted an UNCED workshop on biotechnology. We have also funded two studies by Touche Ross on the role of technology transfer in relation to climate change and in biodiversity. Within the United Kingdom we have committed £150,000 to the United Nations Environment Programme—United Kingdom national committee to assist non-governmental organisations in preparing their own contribution to UNCED.
It is vital that UNCED results in practical plans of action that can be implemented through existing institutions. We are determined to avoid the creation of any new bureaucracy. That is why we are supporting an urgent review of UNCED's management and organisation which will assist implementation.
We pride ourselves on keeping to our agreements. In the last European Community report on proceedings taken against European Community countries for infringing environmental directives, Britain's record was ahead of all its industrialised competitors and behind only Luxembourg, Portugal and Denmark, which is something that the Commission forgot to mention when it wrote to us recently—just as it forgot to mention the fact that when it wrote to us about environmental impact assessment, it wrote to 10 other countries at the same time.
We believe that our record stands up to detailed comparison and criticism. We want people to look at the figures, to ask the necessary questions, and to make their own decisions on how we can build a better environment. That is why access to information and accountability must be a central plank of what we are about. The anniversary report is a major part of that process, but it is not the only aspect.
In the summer, we produced the first report of the new drinking water inspectorate. It gives the results drawn from the 3.3 million individual tests made over the year. It is frank about where we need to do better, but it shows that 99 per cent. of those 3.3 million tests met the legislative requirements for water quality. Again, we are the only member state in the whole of Europe which publishes such a report.
A cornerstone of this Government's environmental strategy was water privatization—a bold and innovative step which has given the new water companies £28 billion over the next 10 years. It is the biggest private investment programme ever in water quality and represents £5,000 for every minute of every day, day in, day out, year in, year out, for the next decade.
That is something the nationalised water boards could never have done. Now Labour says that it would renationalise water at a cost to the public purse of £3.8 billion, with no mention whatever of what would happen to the £28 billion private investment programme. The country could not and would not trust the Labour party. Because of their economic incompetence, the last Labour Government were forced to slash investment in water quality by a third and in sewage treatment by half. The facts speak for themselves. I challenge the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) to say that the Labour party will drop its proposal to renationalise the water industry, just as I hear this morning that it has dropped its proposal to renationalise British Telecom.
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)
Before the Minister leaves the subject of the water industry, may I suggest that it would be unusual if we had a debate on the environment in which we did not have to reiterate the figures for 693 investment by the water industry under the Labour Government compared with that under the present Government. The average figures show that under Labour investment ran at £1,254 million a year whereas under the Conservative Government it was £922 million a year. Even the Minister should know those figures off by heart.
While we are on the matter of trust and the water industry, let us deal with water quality. The Minister mentioned the drinking water inspectorate. I was expecting him to give a little more detail than he did. He has had the report of the inspectorate for some considerable time. He will be aware that it shows some serious incidents of water quality breaches of standard, some serious incidents of pollution, and some problems of supply that have caused illness. Does the Minister intend to use his powers under the Water Act 1989 to prosecute any of the water companies for those breaches?
§ Mr. Trippier
The drinking water inspectorate, which has the teeth to recommend prosecution, believes that where there are infringements prosecution is necessary and should be undertaken. I shall not hesitate to support the inspectorate.
On the hon. Lady's first point, I shall send her a copy of a graph.
§ Mr. Trippier
So that all Members of Parliament can understand it. They will be able to see at a glance the disgraceful record of the last Labour Government. It is a statement of fact, and I am making it, that under the Labour Government investment in water quality was cut by a third and investment in water treatment was cut by a half. The hon. Lady cannot deny it. As the Labour party says, the principal reason for those cuts was that the Labour Government were pushed into them by the International Monetary Fund. That is its excuse. Bur who got the country in such a mess that the IMF had to move in?
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor
I wonder whether we would all be saved a great deal of trouble if the Minister did the sums on the same basis that I have done them and used the figures in the Conservative party brief on how to oppose Labour on water privatisation.
§ Mr. Trippier
I will happily exchange letters with the hon. Lady. To be consistent with our policy on the environment, which is to give public access to environmental information. I will release my letter to the press. I trust that she will release her reply to the press.
§ Mr. Sayeed
Is it not a fact that today the water inspectorates, including the drinking water inspectorate and the National Rivers Authority, are independent of the water authorities and can therefore demonstrate that they are doing their job more effectively by prosecuting those who get it wrong? Previously they were poacher and gamekeeper and hid the facts from the people.
§ Mr. Trippier
My hon. Friend is right. The principal part of the Water Act 1989 was the separation of the poacher and gamekeeper within the water authorities. Now we have set up the NRA, which is the toughest regulatory body in the whole of Europe.
The Labour party is greatly embarrassed because it opposed the Water Bill virtually clause by clause.
§ Mr. Trippier
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to press on a little? I have given way several times. I shall certainly give way to him in a few moments.
Integrated pollution control already requires the compiling of registers of emissions, open to public access. We now aim to take this a stage further by drawing up aggregate registers for processes and types of emission. These will make the figures much more readily accessible to those who wish to study them. I hope to issue a consultation paper on those proposals shortly. Next year we will produce a new statistical report, drawing on guidance from a wide-ranging consultation process. That will place a whole new range of environmental performance in the public domain.
There is no clearer demonstration of the Government's commitment to integrated pollution control than our expansion of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. In January I announced that the inspectorate had been allocated more than 80 posts to enable it to expand to 313 staff by 1 April 1992. I draw it to the attention of the spokesman for the Liberal party, the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), that after further review I shall today announce a further increase of about 50 staff to raise the inspectorate's 1992–93 complement to more than 360. We hope that that approach will produce greater awareness of the role of the individual in environmental improvement and pave the way for setting ever-higher environmental standards. I am pleased to say that, already, we have responded to the very good report of the Environment Select Committee on indoor air quality by saying in the anniversary report that we would develop indoor air standards for the first time. Similar steps are being pursued elsewhere. The NRA is preparing new statutory water quality objectives. A new expert group will help to establish new air quality standards for nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide. HMIP is beginning to introduce IPC standards for industrial plant. There are new requirements for standards of cleanliness for our streets and public places.
Accountability and high standards are the Government's watchword for the environment and the watchword of the citizens charter. I remind the House that every major piece of environmental legislation on the statute book has been put there by a Conservative Government. I have every intention of ensuring that that proud record continues.
I listened with interest to what the hon. Member for Dewsbury said to the Labour party conference. She claimed that the Clean Air Act 1956 was introduced by a Labour Government. Absolute rubbish. The Clean Air Act was introduced in 1956 by a Conservative Government. No one on the Opposition Benches seems to be paying attention. Labour Members seem to be studying invisible spots on the Benches. If the hon. Lady is prepared to mislead—I am sure not intentionally——
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. I am becoming a little worried about the Minister's vocabulary.
§ Mr. Trippier
If the hon. Lady perhaps makes a statement which is a stranger to the truth at the Labour party conference, how can we believe what she says on the 695 water figures? The exchange of correspondence that will take place might flush out some facts rather than hypotheses.
On Wednesday my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his autumn statement our public expenditure plans for the next three years. Within those totals there are significant increases for expenditure on the environment, on top of the substantial increases in the past two years. I shall announce next week full details of the amounts available for the various environmental bodies. In environmental protection there will be new resources for the pollution inspectorate; and in waste disposal the new arrangements for operating through the private sector or free-standing companies should give local authorities the scope to bring in up to £50 million of private capital to bring about improved standards in that sector.
There are also significant increases for the programmes of other Departments which affect the environment. The large increases for British Rail and London Transport will lead to major improvements in the quality of public transport and conditions on the roads. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will have new resources greatly to extend the programme of support for environmentally friendly farming.
This Government are 100 per cent. committed to the protection and improvement of our environment. We have established the standards in our legislation. We are committing the resources of the public sector and bringing in the private sector. We are making the public our partners in this enterprise and giving them the information and access to decisions which they need to play their part. I am proud of what the Government have already achieved and I commend that record to the House.
§ 10.8 am
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)
The Minister has proved again that he can get excited on occasions such as this. He was somewhat more low key than usual when he started off this morning, perhaps because of the by-election results yesterday, but, true to his form, he managed to wind himself up as the debate went on. I sometimes wish that we could have a constructive debate rather than an exchange of statistics such as we had on the water industry. However, as long as the Minister wants to conduct these arguments in that way, we shall have to co-operate. I look forward to the exchange of letters on the water issue.
I am pleased that we are having another debate on the environment—that is one thing that hon. Members on both sides of the House can agree on. I hope that this will not be the last word or the only debate during this Session, because debates on the environment are always topical, although often for the wrong reasons—because of crises that arise due to the lack of Government action and foresight.
As the Minister said, the previous debate on the environment was on 12 July. Since then there have been many interesting developments affecting environmental problems. There have also been some significant gaps in Government action, especially in recent weeks. I shall review some of those developments and try to block some 696 of the gaps, while making positive suggestions about what the Minister and the Government ought to turn their attention to in the few months left to them.
The Minister spent some considerable time talking about the first anniversary report of "This Common Inheritance"—the report of the Government's record. It would be easy for me to go through that report and point out the areas where there has been a lack of progress. Even the Secretary of State admitted when he launched the anniversary report that there had been problems, especially in many of the Departments. We could talk about water quality or hedgerows; as the Secretary of State admitted, there are many gaps. However, I intend to resist the temptation of simply going through the report and pointing out those gaps.
§ Mr. Sayeed
Does the hon. Lady welcome the fact that the report was unprecedented? There has never been an environmental audit of that type before. It was unprecedented to set out the targets and a year later set out how we matched up to them. No other Government have done that.
§ Mrs. Taylor
I was able to agree with the hon. Gentleman's first comment, as the report is, by definition, unprecedented. However, he went on to talk about targets being met and I must disagree, as I do not think that there has been a clear definition of the targets, nor the range that we would have wished and there have been many gaps even on issues that were the subject of legislation as late as the summer, such as hedgerows. We have not witnessed the progress that we had hoped for. The Government's sort of approach is good, and it is good for information to be provided, but it would be a lot better if the information showed that more progress had been made not merely in the Department of the Environment but in other Departments.
§ Mr. Trippier
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments about the report being unprecedented and I appreciate that she was trying to be fair. However I do not think that she would wish to give the impression to the House that there were a lot of gaps. Out of 350 commitments in the White Paper published last September there were only seven gaps and that is not a lot.
§ Mrs. Taylor
If the gaps that the Minister is referring to are the fact that the Department of Transport is doing nothing and that the Department of Energy has done virtually nothing, those are significant gaps.
I do not want to get into a discussion about whether some of those claimed achievements are trivial. I want to be constructive about the debate and, to a certain extent, to sympathise with the Minister. One of the largest gaps in environmental initiatives in the recent past is the lack of any mention of the environment in the Queen's Speech. Nor was there anything on the environment in the Prime Minister's speech on the Queen's Speech. In contrast, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, not for the first time, mentioned many environmental issues when he spoke during the Queen's Speech debate. I hoped that the Minister would have accepted our sympathy.
We are also disappointed that the autumn statement was not quite as rosy as the Minister was leading us to believe. When the Chancellor produced his autumn statement the figures showed that spending on environmental services is planned to decline during the next few 697 years from a total of £1,370 million in the current year to £1,290 million next year, £1,280 million the next year and £1,260 million the year after that. That is the picture as the Chancellor presented it.
I was going to sympathise with the Minister, but he was trying to turn those statistics on their head. We are especially disappointed about the absence of legislation on the environment in the Queen's Speech, because we believe that so much could be done.
As there are gaps in the legislative programme I am sure that the Minister is extremely disappointed that more has not been done, for example, legislation that would have had the co-operation of Opposition Members as well as the support of many Conservative Members—legislation on an environment protection agency or on implementing the Common Land Forum proposals. Many people outside the House are extremely disappointed about that. That was a manifesto commitment in 1987 and I was amazed to hear the Minister say on the radio recently that the reason that the Government could not introduce legislation on that issue was because they felt that they could not get it through the House of Lords. That is a remarkable admission. I wonder whether the next Conservative manifesto will be cleared with their Lordships or whether Government Ministers will make decisons for themselves.
§ Mr. Spearing
On the subject of admissions, the Minister had to admit to the Oxleas wood farrago. Has my hon. Friend noticed that no opportunity has been taken to put the tunnel under the wood, although the opportunity has been taken to change the design of the bridge? Does not that show lack of action?
Also—on a non-party point—should not all environmentalists examine the proposals in the Queen's Speech to give the final word on railway schemes to a Secretary of State of any Government and take it away from a long-stop position of the House? Perhaps that Bill should be scrutinised closely when it is introduced so that the House may at least be given some long-stop opportunity and not be left the victim of Secretaries of State, as has happened in the past.
§ Mrs. Taylor
My hon. Friend speaks from a position of expertise on both those issues. His arguments about the tunnel and the bridge show that often when Governments reconsider their policy they do so from a narrow standpoint and do not look at the full picture.
I think that the proposed changes in procedure will have to be scrutinised carefully to ensure that proper environmental considerations are safeguarded when decisions are taken on the types of programme that my hon. Friend has mentioned.
One statement that was made in the summer gave us a glimmer of hope that the Government might be coming round to the decision to take the scale of action required to offer proper environmental protection. The Minister and the House will recall that in July the Prime Minister changed Government policy and announced that they would be committed to the introduction of an environmental protection agency. He did a U-turn and that left us with a glimmer of hope that progress would be made. However, since then we have become extremely disappointed because the Minister will recall that, during the previous debate on the environment in the House, on 12 July, I asked him why it was necessary for there to be 698 a further period of consultation about the implementation of the environment protection agency when there was such widespread support both inside and outside the House for progress in that direction. Indeed, I followed that up in a letter to the Secretary of State, offering the co-operation of the Opposition to push legislation through the House quickly if that was what the Government wanted to do.
§ Mrs. Taylor
We were trying to be helpful, as my hon. friend points out. The Minister wrote back on the day that the consultation paper was issued, when the Government had already made up their minds that there would be no progress in legislation this year. That was a great disappointment. We were hoping that progress on an environmental protection agency could be made during this Session of Parliament. I understand the Minister's difficulty and the fact that one of his Cabinet coleagues. the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, had territorial ambitions, but it seems strange to Opposition Members that a policy that was endorsed and announced by the Prime Minister could not be implemented and was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech simply because one Cabinet member wanted to divert attention away from his other problems and place a territorial claim on other functions.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
My hon. Friend referred to our concern at the lack of progress in setting up an environmental protection agency. Is not one of the issues of great concern to us the fact that organisations such as the National Rivers Authority that would be incorporated into such an agency have already stated that in some of their actions they may use only persuasion and do not have powers to implement them? The longer that we allow that position to remain and do not given an organisation such as the environmental protection agency the power to deal with problems, the worse they will become and the longer it will take to solve them.
§ Mrs. Taylor
My hon. Friend, who has long been interested in the issue, is right. It is a fact that the National Rivers Authority has embarked on more prosecutions recently, but both it and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution have tried to avoid prosecutions and rely on persuasion. I am afraid that such an approach has had limited success so far.
§ Mr. Trippier
The hon. Lady will recall that she repeated again and again that we had rushed into enacting the Environmental Protection Act 1990 instead of taking it more slowly. From what she has just said, it seems that one cannot win if one is determined to enact correct legislation and so take the matter to full consultation, which I should have thought was laudable. Will she give the House a specific statement on where the Labour party stands on the Government's proposal to take the regulatory function of waste control out of the hands of local authorities and put it under the control of the agency? A clear statement on that would help us enormously.
§ Mrs. Taylor
The Minister will recall that I mentioned that matter in my previous speech on the subject on 12 July. We believe that the right way to deal with waste is for the regional tier of government—which we want to see established and which we will establish—should be 699 responsible for determining the region's strategy on waste. However, we think that it is a regulatory function of the environmental protection executive to monitor all such actions, and the agency will have a policing role. The strategy adopted in relation to waste in any district will be determined by the regional tier of government.
As for the Minister's remarks about not rushing the issue of the environmental protection agency, we did not say that the Environmental Protection Act was rushed, and were happy to see progress on it, although we wanted proper consultation throughout. The Government have been in power for 12 and a half years and were the last people to accept the need for an environmental protection agency. If they had not been the last people to do so, there would have been legislation on the issue a long time ago. I hope that in a few months' time, when roles are reversed and we are in power, we can look forward to co-operation from the then Opposition when we introduce our environmental protection executive with the strong powers that we intend to give it.
The Minister mentioned the Environmental Protection Act and, in particular, integrated pollution control, as a step forward and something on which we should build in future. When we discussed the Environmental Protection Act in Committee, on which both the Minister and I served, we had some positive debates on that aspect because there was general consensus that integrated pollution control was the way forward. Although some of us thought that the Government were not tough enough, we wanted to see progress on the implementation of integrated pollution control. We expressed much concern that there were great pressures on Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and were worried that the way in which IPC was being introduced would add to those burdens. Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution was then understaffed and overworked and IPC undoubtedly presented new pressures and burdens, even though it was welcome.
The Minister said today that staffing at HMIP would be improved. The figures that he announced today do not actually meet the targets and needs laid down in the National Audit Office report earlier this summer, which outlined the operations of HMIP and problems such as failure to inspect, reluctance to prosecute and the difficulty of meeting targets. That report and the management information system for Ministers report—MINIS 12—showed that time and again HMIP, as presently constituted and supported by the Government, was unable to meet the targets and carry out the work it should. HMIP has had to farm out the production of guidance notes on many processes simply because it was so stretched. Often, companies in the private sector had to write the guidance notes on how the new rules were to be applied in future.
Following the Minister's statement, I am still worried that HMIP will be under too much pressure to carry out all its responsibilities and deliver the level of environmental protection that is obviously required. I am also concerned about what is happening in local authorities which must monitor the processes of integrated pollution control relating to pollution in the atmosphere. When the Environmental Protection Act was introduced, local authorities were not given the resources required for pump priming and setting up the system.
700 Can the Minister confirm that local authorities are finding that for more than half of the industrial processes for which applications for authorisation should have been made, companies have not bothered to apply, which is serious? If companies have not even bothered to apply for authorisation, they are technically operating illegally. Can the Minister confirm that reports of such occurrences are correct? I should be happy to give way if he wishes to do so now, although he may wish to return to the subject later.
If such incidents have taken place, I wonder why, and what the Government who introduced the legislation intend to do about the problem. Responsibility for the matter must lie with the Government who gave insufficient instructions to industry and allowed inadequate resources to local authorities. I do not know what the Minister expects local authorities to do. Will they have to face the extra work and cost of taking out hundreds of court actions against companies that have not registered and have not applied for the authorisations which form one of the cornerstones of the Government's policies as described by the Minister? Time and again, industry in this country acts outside the law and local authorities are left to make decisions about whether to prosecute, with no support, direction or instruction from the Government. IPC has obviously got off to a shaky start, which is extremely worrying, especially for those of us who thought that it was not tough enough in the first place.
The Minister referred to river quality. We should all be alarmed about a leaked report concerning river quality. The first report of the National Rivers Authority, a survey of river quality, is to be published shortly. Not surprisingly, because of its importance and also because so many people are concerned about river quality, the report has already been leaked. The NRA report states that thousands of miles of rivers in England and Wales are poisoned and that the situation has become worse since 1985. That is causing great concern within the NRA. It is also causing great concern to water users and to all of us who are worried about the environment.
The deterioration in river quality has taken place in almost every region. Water quality has declined in 6,323 km of rivers, canals and estuaries—all this at a time when the country is in recession. The length of rivers grossly polluted has risen. The quality of drinking water supplies in 15 per cent. of all the rivers monitored has deteriorated. The NRA report states that there was a trend towards a small but steady improvement in water quality between 1958 and 1980, but that the trend has not continued since then. That is very serious. It means that this Government have presided over a deterioration in water quality. If the National Rivers Authority is concerned about it, I am surprised that it did not feature in the Minister's speech.
The environmental issue that has attracted most attention in recent weeks is the letter from the European Environment Commissioner, Carlo Ripa di Meana, about the failure of the British Government to ensure British implementation of the European Community directive on environmental impact assessments. The matters involved are significant, but I must admit that even I was taken aback by the amount of attention that the issue received. That was not due to the letter—nor, alas, because of interest in the environment. The letter received so much attention because of the way in which Ministers reacted to it.
701 I realise that the Minister of State may be in a difficult position. He attends some of the meetings in Brussels; he knows the Commissioner; he discusses these matters with him; he knows that the Commissioner is a reasonable and fair-minded man. I am sure that the Minister of State wishes to dissociate himself from some of the more outlandish remarks of some of his colleagues. At least, I hope that he does, given what he knows to be the truth of the matter.
I wonder whether the Minister can explain why his ministerial colleagues, including the Prime Minister, reacted as they did and why they said what they said. Like the whole country, the Minister of State will be aware that the Prime Minister described the Commissioner's letter as "astonishing". The Prime Minister said that the Government had had no previous notice that a problem existed. The Minister of State knows that that is not so. Therefore, I ask him to use this occasion to set the record straight. I shall gladly give way to him.
Will the Minister of State confirm, first, that the European Commissioner is not trying to dictate planning decisions? He is not telling Britain what to do about specific projects. Will he confirm that the Commissioner is trying to ensure that the European Community directive is applied and that relevant environmental impact assessments are made?
§ Mr. Trippier
Is the hon. Lady seriously asking me to reply point by point to her speech after I have sat down, or is she asking my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, to do so when he winds up the debate? My hon. Friend intends to deal with this issue in his speech. Would the hon. Lady find that satisfactory?
§ Mrs. Taylor
As the Minister of State, rather than his junior colleague, goes to Brussels, it would help if he could confirm these points. If he would like me to give way again so that he can confirm that that is the nature of the letter from the Commissioner, I shall gladly do so. He may, however, prefer me to make all the points and then to deal with them. I repeat that I shall be happy to give way now on my first point if the Minister wishes to clarify that the Commissioner is not dictating planning decisions but asking Britain about the implementation of the European Community directive.
§ Mrs. Taylor
I am grateful to the Minister. At least we agree on the first point. That being the case, will he confirm that, contrary to the Foreign Secretary's statement, the Commissioner is not "dictating" through which field a road should go?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I am pleased that the Minister of State has contradicted the Foreign Secretary. It shows that he knows more about European legislation than the Foreign Secretary does, which perhaps should not surprise us.
Thirdly, can the Minister help the House by confirming that the Prime Minister was mistaken when he said that the letter was the first time that the Government had heard anything about the problem.
§ Mr. Trippier
Actually, it is a degree question. The Prime Minister never said any such thing in the first place. The Prime Minister was quite right to react so fast and so forcefully to Commissioner Carlo Ripa di Meana's recent letter. There is a clear convention that communications between the Commission and member states should be confidential. The leaking of the article 169 letter weeks ago and of the separate personal letter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport were just the last in a succession of leaks on the subject throughout the summer. I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister received a satisfactory reply from Mr. Delors. That should have some impact on the hon. Lady—that Mr. Delors did send a letter which, by any standards, was a letter of apology to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
§ Mrs. Taylor
The Minister of State found that question harder. He did not answer it. He did not say whether the Government knew that a prosecution was pending.
§ Mr. Trippier
That is not the point as to why the Prime Minister wrote to Mr. Delors. The hon. Lady knows that very well.
§ Mrs. Taylor
The hon. Gentleman says that that was not the point of the letter. What the Prime Minister said at the time of the announcement was that the Government had not had any warning that this situation had arisen and that the Government had not known about it whatsoever. It is clear that the Government were well aware, and it ill behoves Ministers to criticise leaks, especially after the resignation today of a member of the Select Committee on Health, the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes).
§ Mrs. Taylor
Soon. My hon. Friend is anticipating events.
As the Secretary of State for Health's Parliamentary Private Secretary was also involved in the leak, Ministers cannot complain about leaks from other sources.
The Minister has not confirmed that he knew that such a letter would be sent to the Government, but it is clear that one would be, not least because in the environment debate on 12 July the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and I referred to the likelihood of prosecution.
The Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister should not be surprised by the Commissioner's action, because almost a year ago to the day a senior member of the Conservative party wrote to the Commissioner asking him to intervene and said, "I shall be delighted if he reacts positively." Perhaps some members of the Conservative party do not speak to each other, but Ministers speak of the need for accesss to information so information should be available between one senior Conservative and another.
§ Mrs. Taylor
The Minister is asking who it was, because he obviously does not know what is going on in the Conservative party. I am happy to refer him to a cutting 703 from The Times of 16 November last year, which mentioned a Conservative Member of the European Parliament, Peter Price.
§ Mr. Trippier
I am amazed that Mr. Price would suggest himself to be a senior member of the Conservative party.
§ Mrs. Taylor
Perhaps the Minister of State belongs to that wing of the Conservative party that sets no weight by Members of the European Parliament. Perhaps he is entering into that debate more than our debate today.
§ Mrs. Taylor
My hon. Friend asks an interesting question. The Minister was vice-chairman at the time of the last European elections. Therefore, perhaps he should have known where some of his colleagues stood on these issues.
I hope that today's debate will not be the last word on the environment in this Session. The Minister's comments have not reassured us that environmental issues will move further up the Government agenda. He said that it is for business to sort out our environment problems. That is not right. We require a more positive lead from the Government, but it will not come from the Conservative Government and we look forward to sitting on the Government Benches and giving a proper lead.
§ Mr. Gwilym Jones (Cardiff, North)
I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on the environment, which was so ably opened by my hon. Friend the Minister.
Most hon. Members attach the highest importance to their local environment and I wish to draw attention to two problems in my constituency that deserve resolution. The first is perhaps not the most obvious, as it involves not an industrial process but one of the four excellent hospitals in my constituency. We are well served by our four hospitals and the finest must be the University hospital of Wales, which, as its name implies, is not only a large and important national health service hospital but a teaching hospital, part of the University of Wales. As such, its medical facilities are highly valued by its neighbours and by people from further afield.
Sadly, the hospital has been a significant cause of environmental problems and pollution, especially for my constituents who live immediately alongside it. The most obvious is the consequence of traffic growth. Since it was opened about 20 years ago, health care has continued to grow and to be more successful every year, but traffic has grown even faster. As a consequence, the residential roads adjacent to the hospital have had to suffer an intolerable burden—one far worse than they might have reasonably expected.
Until the early 1980s, the only access to the hospital was by King George V drive from the east or by Rhydhelig avenue from the west. Fortunately, some 10 years ago new access to the hospital was opened via Eastern avenue, a major dual carriageway running alongside it. Although that provides access, it does not provide egress from the 704 hospital and has not contributed significantly to reducing the steadily increasing burden of traffic that continues to use the residential roads around the hospital.
In turn, we have had significant problems of overspill parking as the number of cars seeking to use the hospital has spread beyond the hospital site into surrounding roads. Some years ago, that necessitated the imposition of a residents' parking zone. Somewhat surprisingly, and for reasons that have never been well understood by residents, it was withdrawn by South Glamorgan council, which claimed that it was not justified and was under-used. I am glad to say that, because of the excellent hard work of councillor Tony John, who represents the area, there will be a new parking zone.
§ Mr. Griffiths
What is the hon. Gentleman's view on access and parking on Rhydhelig avenue, St. Augustine's avenue and St. Alban's avenue?
§ Mr. Jones
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked that question because I suspect that he has considerable sympathy for the problems that my local councillors and I are fighting to deal with. Perhaps he would join me in urging South Glamorgan council, the highway authority, to show more concern for local residents. I thank the hon. Gentleman for that.
Traffic and parking are not the only environmental problems that are consequences of the University hospital of Wales. Perhaps far more worrying is the spewing out of pollution from the chimney of its incinerator. Local residents living in the wards of Heath and Gabalfa have become increasingly apprehensive about what is coming out of the chimney and what the pollution is. They know that they have been polluted, but they do not know what the pollution is. As much as anything, it has become a fear of the unknown. Certainly there have been visible incidents of pollution, and complaints to the hospital have flowed almost as quickly as the smoke coming out of the chimney. As a result of the pollution and the problems of traffic and parking, the hospital has lost considerable good will among the people who live immediately around it. It has lost that good will not because of its medical facilities but because it has not been a good neighbour to those who live nearby. Local councillors felt forced to adopt a policy of opposing any further expansion of the use of the site of the University hospital of Wales until there were at least some positive proposals to deal with the various problems that the hospital had occasioned.
I applaud the work of local councillors, including the senior member, councillor Clive Milsom; councillor Granville Tatham, who is very experienced; and our newest colleague, Dr. Peter Donnelly, who practises at the University hospital of Wales. I must also mention councillor Watkiss, who died just before the local election in May this year. He lived in King George V drive and took a keen interest in the problems of the University hospital of Wales. He was a former lord mayor of Cardiff, acting chairman of the Association of District Councils, and the leading light of local government in Wales.
705 As my hon. Friend the Minister said, we have all become increasingly concerned about our local environment, and that concern certainly extends to such problems as the hospital incinerator at the University hospital of Wales. We recognise that we need higher standards and more openness about the operation of facilities such as hospital incinerators. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister because the Government have led the way in making the necessary' environmental protection improvements.
The new environmental protection legislation will bring hospital incinerators under the higher standards which are necessary. In addition, the pollution emitted by such chimneys will be monitored and the results recorded with, in this case, the environmental health department of Cardiff city council. That information should be held on a register that is open to public inspection. In that way, the neighbours of the University hospital of Wales would at last know exactly what was going on.
South Glamorgan health authority has responded to the new requirements, installing a new incinerator at the University hospital of Wales. The health authority tells me that it has spent almost £2 million on putting in that new incinerator and almost £5 million on the boiler house. I have some pleasure in knowing that the health authority has responded to the new higher standards set by the Government because it should mean an improved environment for those of my constituents who live in Heath and Gabalfa.
The health authority has sought to maximise its investment in the new incinerator and the boiler house. It submitted a planning application to Cardiff city council, whereby practically all the refuse from all the hospitals in South Glamorgan could be incinerated at the University hospital of Wales. I can understand that a health authority would want to make the maximum possible use of any new investment, and on that count the incinerator is no different from any other investment. However, I do not welcome the authority's choice of the University hospital of Wales to maximise the incinerator operation. I do not understand why the health authority would choose that as the site for centralised incineration.
The population around the University hospital of Wales is the most densely situated in South Glamorgan. Waste from other hospitals must be trucked in, involving several large lorries coming in every hour of every day to keep the incinerator fed. Why should the health authority choose the busiest area in Cardiff for that centralised operation? I would not want to wish this problem on any other hospital in South Glamorgan. I do not want to say, "Not in my back yard" and wish it on someone else. But I wonder whether there are other hospitals with far fewer neighbours that might have provided a much better site for this operation.
As might be expected, the proposal about increased incineration at the University hospital of Wales immediately raised great fears among my constituents and their local representatives, the councillors. They were concerned about not only the increased volume of refuse which was to be incinerated and what that would mean to the local environment but the pollution which might result from some hospital waste—for example, material with traces of radioactivity.
The health authority made a commonsense response, suggesting that no health authority would want to pollute any hospital and certainly not the University hospital of 706 Wales. The concern about the environment of the hospital extends to concern about those living around the hospital. But, by now, residents in Heath and Gabalfa are not swallowing that answer easily, in the same way as they are not swallowing easily the emissions from the chimney of the University hospital of Wales.
Local councillors have felt it necessary—I have supported them—to continue their policy of oppositon to any intensification of use of the site of the University hospital of Wales. Recently, we had the opportunity to meet representatives of South Glamorgan health authority. The health authority made a good response and immediately admitted what we have been claiming for a long time—that the hospital has not been a good neighbour to those who live alongside it.
The health authority recognised that the hospital had been a source of major traffic problems and overspill parking and promised us that, in response to those problems, it would provide new access to Eastern avenue, which would provide the egress that the existing route does not provide, and new multi-storey car parking to increase parking within the hospital site. The health authority said that it hoped that those measures would be in place within about two years.
I very much welcome those moves and the positive attitude behind them. In the meantime, my constituents are afraid that they may suffer even greater problems. While the multi-storey car park is built, existing parking might be displaced, further inconveniencing the residents of King George V drive, Rhydhelig avenue and other roads around the University hospital of Wales which are named after saints.
We persuaded the health authority to withdraw its planning application providing for the incineration of all the extra refuse from all the other hospitals at the University hospital of Wales and, before it submits another planning application, at least to consult all the residents. The health authority has written to every immediate neighbour of the hospital inviting them to a public meeting next week in the hospital at which they promise to respond to every concern and to try to answer every question that is raised by neighbours. Those are steps forward in trying to improve our local environment in Cardiff, North. The problem of increased use of the incinerator must still be resolved—that must be a matter for Cardiff city council in making a decision about the planning application and for the new, far tougher standards of environmental protection which will be monitored by the environmental health department. At last, the health authority is showing the right approach.
Any belief that we were going forward on all fronts and confidence that we were making progress was, however, rudely disrupted a week ago. South Glamorgan council suddenly revived a proposal to establish a medi-centre on the site of the University hospital of Wales. That medi-centre will not be part of the NHS but will be purely commercial in operation. It will involve a development of 20,000 sq ft. There is a certain irony. If anyone other than a Labour-controlled council had come forward with this commercial operation for the campus of a national health service hospital, the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and other Labour Members would be jumping up and down and shouting, "Privatisation". This Labour council not only is applying for planning permission but intends to determine that application. It is not the 707 planning authority—planning is usually the role of Cardiff city council. I understand that South Glamorgan county council will even be involved in the development.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
During the passing of the Planning and Compensation Bill, Labour Members tabled an amendment to stop local authorities giving themselves planning permission in the circumstances which the hon. Gentleman described, but we were not successful in getting that amendment through. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should talk to Ministers about that point.
§ Mr. Jones
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Perhaps we have common cause in the whole-hearted will that exists in Wales for a move towards single-tier authorities in order to avoid the confusion of one council giving itself planning permission that might be in contravention of another council.
South Glamorgan council will be judge and jury and, perhaps, beneficiary of the commercial operation at the University hospital of Wales. We are threatened with a fait accompli, and it is feared that there will be little or no consultation with local residents about the latest intensification of the site of that hospital. Of course, South Glamorgan council is the highway authority. The planning application for increased incineration, which has now been withdrawn, would have entailed 20 heavy lorries a day going in and out of the hospital, so South Glamorgan council recommended that that application be turned down. A commercial development of 20,000 sq ft on the hospital site must surely entail many more vehicle movements than 20 a day, so it would be hypocritical if South Glamorgan council reversed its earlier judgment merely to give itself planning permission for a commercial development with which it is involved.
I felt that we had reached a stage at which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales needed to be involved—as far as he could be—in the matter. On Monday I led a delegation of local councillors to see him. We told him of the environmental problems caused by the University hospital of Wales. Although he doubted whether he could call in the latest planning application for a medi-centre, he promised that he would consider calling it in if it involved national matters, but local matters fall solely to the two local councils. However, he recognised the problems and instructed his officials at the Welsh Office to do what they could when South Glamorgan health authority made its proposals for new car parking and for access to Eastern avenue. He advised that the medi-centre should be part of the consultation process, and we look forward to its being on the agenda at next week's public meeting so that those who live around the hospital may have their say on that issue as on the incinerator. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his concern about the problems.
My constituents have endured too much. The environment around the University hospital of Wales which they might reasonably have expected has been ravaged. I believe that the proposal for the medi-centre is the final straw. Such proposals should not over-intensify the use of sites such as the University hospital of Wales where there is precious little room and too many adverse consequences for those who live alongside. Instead, there are the exciting plans for the redevelopment of south 708 Cardiff. Such proposals should be encouraged there. I still believe that the much expanded incineration should not go ahead at the University hospital of Wales. However, I am conscious that many steps have been made in that direction and that much investment has already been made. Any increase in incineration should at least be delayed for two years when the health authority hopes that the extra multi-storey car parking and new access to Eastern avenue will be in place so that there will be the least further environmental disturbance to my constituents. Even so, my constituents want the most stringent tests carried out under environmental protection legislation. My constituents in Heath and Gabalfa deserve the best guarantee that we can look forward to a better—not worse—environment because of the new incinerator at the University hospital of Wales.
I urge the two local councils—Cardiff city and South Glamorgan councils—to have as their prime consideration a regard for my constituents who live alongside the hospital. There should be no fait accompli or hypocrisy. Similarly, I look forward to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales taking any action that he can take on these important environmental problems.
Finally, I refer, briefly, to a no less important matter that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) mentioned this morning. He said that the number of green belts in England had doubled under a Conservative Government. We have no green belts in Wales, as the same legislation does not apply there, although that is being reviewed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. He has some sympathy with many of us who have campaigned for a statutory green belt policy. I look forward to the result of his review, which I hope will come soon.
Wales needs the protection of green belts and my constituency is an obvious candidate for such protection. My constituency extends from the central part of Cardiff to the mountain rim that forms the northern boundary of the capital city of Wales. There is little room for development in my constituency and any possible developments should be encouraged to go to or should be exclusively in south Cardiff. The M4 motorway should be regarded as the absolute limit of further development. There should be no developments north of the M4 as they would despoil the mountain edge of Cardiff which should be protected by a green belt. There are open green spaces south of the motorway between Lisvane and St. Mellons, but there is now a threat of development there. I should like to see that area protected by green belt legislation.
There should be a form of planning purity. All too often I hear of cases in which a developer proposes a form of planning gain in return for obtaining planning permission. That has been mentioned with regard to interchanges with the M4 in my constituency. However, the two matters should be entirely separate. A developer may apply for planning permission to the planning authority, but that application should be judged and determined solely on its merits. If the developer wants subsequently to pay for his own interchange with the motorway, that should be an entirely separate matter which should in no way influence the giving of the planning permission.
On the matters that I have brought to the House's attention, and in general, I support the stance outlined by my hon. Friend the Minister for the need to maintain and improve our environment.
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), because he has mentioned issues to which I intend to refer, including the burning of hospital waste. I agree with all that he said—the same problems exist in my constituency and I am sure that many hon. Members will join me in supporting the action for which he has called.
This has been—and, I am sure, will continue to be—an interesting debate. It is an important one, because every aspect of the environment in which we live is of interest to us as individuals and is certainly of interest to the people whom we seek to represent. The issues involved in a healthy environment grow year by year. I represent a constituency very near Westminster and I bring to the House many groups of youngsters from schools. They are full of enthusiasm and questions, and the environment—our environment and the world environment—is top of the list of their questions. That is good for the country, as, I hope, is the legislation.
I welcome the increase in European Community legislation. I am a member of Parliament's delegation to the Council of Europe. The Minister for the Environment and Countryside is no longer here—I make no criticism of him for that—but I listened to his opening remarks, and I know that he will speak to colleagues in Brussels. I have never seen him at the Council of Europe and I serve on the social, health and family affairs committee, which he has never attended. Perhaps a colleague will convey my remarks to him. The Council of Europe and the social, health and family affairs committee comprise delegates from many countries and of various political persuasions. If the Minister attended and attempted to make the type of speech that he made here he would be laughed at.
The Council of Europe covers a much wider area with a much greater population than that covered by the European Economic Community. Many of the countries in central and eastern Europe now enjoy guest status in the Council. Sadly, under the old systems in those countries, protection of the environment did not figure highly. It is evident from the work in our committees that the environment is now of great importance to those countries. However, it is also evident that much greater co-operation is required between western European countries, which for a long time have been concerned about the environment, and the countries of eastern and central Europe. We need an exchange of ideas and those countries need help to improve and protect the environment.
The Minister of State did not touch on that. What is the Government's policy about helping emerging democracies in central and eastern Europe on this crucial issue? As my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) said, the environment knows no frontiers. The nuclear accident at Chernobyl affected this country even though we are hundreds of miles from the reactor. Pollution in rivers travels long distances. Therefore, we cannot say that the environment elsewhere does not concern us.
I am concerned about the Government's attitude to many things European, and certainly to the whole area of environmental protection. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury challenged the Minister to say where he stood on the criticism by the Environment Commissioner, Carlo Ripa di Meana. The current edition of the European 710 Parliament—EP News contains a major article headed "Environment Commissioner defends action". The article states that the Commissionercame before the House to defend his action of insisting on proper respect for EC environmental impact assessment legislation. He rejected the charge that he had acted with bias against the UK. This he described as 'offensive and unjust'.Adding that he would not allow himself to be intimidated, he pointed out"—as did my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury—that legal proceedings were pending against ten of the twelve EC countries for failure to respect EC rules on the assessment of large-scale works.The European Environment Commissioner is not singling out the British, even though the Minister and other senior Ministers seek to attack this honourable Commissioner.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
One of the proposals affected is the road through Oxleas Wood. The major constitutional issues are whether British law complies with the directive and whether the transitional arrangements are adequate. May I plead with the Commissioner to reply to letters? I have not had a reply to a series of letters that I have sent, nor has the prospective Labour candidate in my constituency. Better communication might clear up some of the problems.
§ Mr. Cox
I have a great deal of sympathy for the hon. Gentleman, because I am sure that all hon. Members are annoyed when they do not receive replies to letters. If he wishes me to try to speed up replies, I shall certainly do so. The hon. Gentleman has been a Minister and is conversant with the systems that operate here. He has a local European Member of Parliament and I am sure that he is aware of ways by which he can speed up replies.
I can cite many examples of Government attacks on EC reports of the Government's actions. Some time ago, there were reports about pollution on British beaches. The Government complained about the cost and said that it was not a matter for them or that matters were not that bad. They also complained about unfairness, but there was no willingness to look at the charges or to have proper consultation with local authorities to see how they and the Government could work together to improve the general standards of our beaches.
Lord Stanley Clinton-Davis is a former European Commissioner and for many years he was in the House. I have read his highly critical speeches in the other place about the difficulties that he repeatedly encountered when trying to pursue European legislation and the obstruction that emanated from senior Ministers. A current example, the social charter, gives a clear indication of the Government's continuing hostility to anything European. The charter covers not only salaries, a minimum wage and maternity benefit but deals with many issues. The minutes of the Council of Europe, which were published in October, refer to the fourth environmental action programme of the European Economic Community and the Council of Europe. Under the heading "Protecting the Environment, the Worker and the Public", the minutes state:The Single European Act and the Fourth Environmental Action Programme make clear that the environment is an integral part of the Community's economic, social, industrial, agricultural and other policies. The Action Programme declares the Commissioner's intention of making maximum use of contributions made by the Foundation whose work programmes have already included issues such as hazardous wastes, contaminated land, and voluntary initiatives in the environment.711 That shows that, despite what we are told by Conservatives, the social charter is not solely about salaries and general working conditions on the shop floor but also plays a major role in the environment. The document also states that the charter intends to broaden work on the urban environment, industry, local communities and general safety at work. It refers to urban decline and work on rural and coastal areas.
The social charter has an enormous role to play and we should concern ourselves with that, because it is relevant to us all, wherever we live and whatever part of the country we represent. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how much of that programme, which the EC and the Council of Europe support, is supported by the Government. We are full members of both bodies.
When I attend meetings in Paris or Strasbourg at which such issues arise, I find it frustrating to hear the continuing opposition from Conservative Members, especially in the Council of Europe. It would be interesting to hear just how much of the programme that I have outlined the Government support, those aspects of it that they do not, and why.
I represent an inner-city area of London. As we all know, not only in London but in many of our big cities, there are areas of great depression—neglected areas where there are thousands of people out of work—and those areas have existed for a long time. We have had troubles in various parts of the country in recent months, and I realise that there may be many reasons for that, but I am convinced that one of them is the depressing effect that such areas have on those who live in them. When one asks people what they think of their area and why they do not show more interest in it, their response is likely to be, "Why bother? What concern is it of ours? Who shows any interest in us?" The environment is crucial in this respect, and that is why the Council of Europe and its social, health and family affairs committee show continuing interest and involvement in these matters.
I have expressed the view held by the whole of the committee, which represents countries with Governments of various political colours and is made up of members belonging to various political parties. There is complete agreement on the commitment of the Council of Europe to dealing with the issue, and I repeat that it would be interesting to hear just where the Government stand.
I agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, North that, although we must be involved in protecting the environment nationally and internationally, in the end, it is a local issue, crucial to those whom we represent. I shall refer briefly to one of the matters touched on by the hon. Gentleman, although I shall not speak on it for as long as I had intended, because the hon. Gentleman made wide-ranging reference to it himself, I congratulate him on that. The burning of hospital waste is certainly relevant in my area because, for years St. George's hospital, Tooting has been burning enormous quantities of such waste—often for days on end. The soot deposits from its chimneys fall in the residential area in which it is sited, settling on washing, paintwork and parked cars and on the plants in people's gardens—all of which suffer. I am sure that the House can imagine the feelings of someone who hangs out the washing one sunny morning only to find, on going to collect it three or four hours later, that it is full of holes 712 caused by the soot deposits coming out of the hospital chimney. People have brought their cars to my advice surgery to show me burnt paintwork caused by soot deposits. No doubt the hon. Member for Cardiff, North shares a problem that I have, which is that, unfortunately, it is the most difficult thing imaginable to try to get any recompense in respect of property damaged in this way. An elderly constituent of mine came to me and said, "I have had my car for 12 years; it is my life. I have always looked after it because I know that I cannot afford another one." The chap in question went to his car one day and found burn marks all over the bodywork. When he came to see me, I said that I would write to the chairlady of the health authority, who replied that she was very sorry that this had happened but asked whether the gentleman could prove that the burn marks had been caused by the deposit from the hospital chimney. Most of our constituents—and possibly we ourselves—would be likely to respond, "Where else would it have come from?" Perhaps the hon. Member for Cardiff, North agrees with me that, although one knows what the problem is and the damage that it is causing, it is very difficult to get anything done about it.
I wrote to the Secretary of State for the Environment and was told that it was really a matter for the chief environmental officer of the local authority, but when I took the matter up with the local environmental officer, his response—and it is to his credit that he responded—was, "Well, it may be bad, but it is not really so bad that I must take any action." When one passes such messages back to one's constituents, they say, "Who will do something to stop this nuisance, which is causing enormous problems not only to me but to the whole area?" Sadly, in these cases, one gets nowhere. I agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, North that we must consider the question of responsibility and tighten up the legislation.
A nuisance is also caused by the siting of petrol stations in residential areas. A planning application has been made for the building of a petrol station in the midst of a residential area in my constituency. Hon. Members may say that petrol stations are to be found in residential areas everywhere in the country and I do not dispute that, but in the area in question there is no shortage of petrol stations and the local people say that they do not want another one damaging their environment and that there is no need for it. The parents of youngsters who go to play at the two local nurseries are very worried about the effects that the petrol station will have on their children. People are also worried about the general effect of the new station on their community. But what happens when one tries to get it stopped? We are told that there are procedures—and I accept the need for them—but when the matter goes to the local council's planning department, it is argued that there are strong grounds for allowing the application. When one asks what they are, one is told, "Oh, well, the petrol company wants to build it." One can only ask, "But what about the local community, which does not want it?" I know that the Minister may not be in a position to respond in detail to the comments made on this subject by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North and me, but I hope that he will take them on board and I ask him to write to us on these important local issues.
I hope that the remarks of those who speak in this debate—critical or otherwise—will be acted upon, because the environment is crucial to all those whom we seek to represent.
§ Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)
No one can possibly be against a cleaner environment and the conservation of rare and irreplaceable species such as elephants, whales and orchids. Similarly, no one can possibly be against the concept of better quality air and drinking water. Nevertheless, it is very important that, before we start legislating on the scale that the Opposition advocate, we make very sure that we are doing so on a sound factual basis.
I should like to point out to the House just how ignorant we are about many of the matters on which we legislate. We legislate because we are put under great pressure by a new group of what I call eco-terrorists, who seek to press their opinions on politicians. Many of them are ex-socialists and their green wellies have red linings. They want more rules and regulations and more Government interference. They put all environmental problems down to the wicked industrialists, notwithstanding the fact that much of the pollution comes from eastern Europe. Presumably, it is the wicked socialists who are responsible for that, but we never hear them mentioned.
The motor car is now the big demon of the left because, supposedly, it pollutes our atmosphere, but the fact is that it is the most treasured possession of many people—including working people—because it allows them to get around independently. That does not seem to enter into the reckoning, however, and the socialists want use of the motor car to be controlled. Before we start slapping all sorts of controls and restrictions on cars, we ought to find out a little more about the effect that they are really having on the environment.
I want this morning to consider the effect of some of those issues on our planet and particularly on our atmosphere, and I begin by considering the ozone layer. We have been told that it develops holes which allow radiation through and that causes all sorts of curious and devastating effects. The big villain substances are the chlorofluorocarbon gases—or CFCs, for short. Those substances are basic to many industrial processes.
People have argued that hairsprays, hamburger packaging and refrigerator gases are causing holes in the ozone layer. However, we do not compare the effect of those things with natural elements in the environment. Mount St. Augustine is one of the great volcanoes on earth. In 1976 it exploded and gave out 290 billion kg of hydrochloric acid into the upper atmosphere and into the ozone layer. That was the equivalent of 570 times the world's industrial production of CFC gases. That must have a profound effect on the ozone layer.
§ Mrs. Gorman
I will give way later.
Observations about the ozone layer are being made in MacMurdo sound in the Antarctic which is just 15 miles upwind from another great volcano called Mount Erebus. That volcano erupts constantly. For the past 100 years it has ejected more than 1,000 tonnes of chlorine into the atmosphere every day. Compared to those massive events, the quantity of CFCs produced by industrial complexes is absolutely negligible. It is potty and ridiculous to suggest that stopping people spraying their armpits with deodorants will have an effect on issues of that scale.
People who make such assertions do so not so much on a scientific basis, but because they have another axe to 714 grind. They want to condemn industrial output. I am not saying that we should allow industry to pollute, and I entirely support the Government's claim that the polluter should pay. For example, it is possible to monitor pollution from incinerator chimneys in hospitals and in that regard I sympathise with the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and the problems that he has in his constituency.
There should be codes of practice and we should prosecute people who carelessly ignore the interests of their surroundings. I am in favour of that, but that is different from setting up international agencies whose legislation and ideas may have devastating effects on industries in western countries while leaving eastern countries to carry on processes over which the rest of us have no control. We should discover the facts before we peddle such half-baked and unscientific ideas.
The greenhouse effect is something else that is supposedly happening on our planet. The theory is that carbon dioxide and other related gases accumulate in the atmosphere, raise the temperature, melt the icecaps and flood countries. We are going to boil or drown that is the basic, crude, but nevertheless simplistic theory upon which we are supposed to legislate.
We are extremely ignorant about climatology in our atmosphere. We know little about the effect of clouds on our climate. If the theory is correct, when the sun shines, the heat builds up, the water evaporates and more clouds form, what happens to those clouds? Clouds act as a blanket above the earth. They deflect the sun's heat. We never hear about that.
What about plants? When I was a 10-year-old school girl, I knew enough biology to know that plants gobble up carbon dioxide in the way that dogs gobble up bones. They love it: the more they get, the more they grow. In fact, more carbon dioxide means more forests, more grass and more green plants. I do not think that there are 50 people in this place who know enough biology to appreciate that. If the theory was correct, plants would welcome a build-up of carbon dioxide because most plants photosynthesise at less than 50 per cent. of their full capacity, and I can say that as a practising biologist for the past 25 years.
People like Sir Crispin Tickell, who, I believe, was once our ambassador in New York, join in with the eco-madness and advice us that unless we do something to control carbon emissions from motorcars the earth will heat up, the icecaps will melt and Florida and, I dare say, Parliament will be submerged. However, melting ice does not occupy very much more space that the ice floes. The only extra bit is the little bit that sticks out above the water. The effect that that would have in raising ocean levels is absolutely minute. If we melt a block of ice, it does not take up more space. I hope that all hon. Members understand that, I sometimes feel that I am talking to one of my classes for 10-year-olds when I give them lessons on very elementary and basic science.
However, that aspect of the greenhouse theory is another piece of mumbo-jumbo. Some organisations in this country now have a vested interest in frightening the wits out of us. They are worriers and meddlers. Organisations such as Friends of the Earth do some good work, but in many ways they go right over the top in trying to persuade the Government to introduce legislation. People like Mr. Porritt make a great profession out of being eco-champions of our country. He talks a load of rot as well. Then there are mega-millionaires like Sir James 715 Goldsmith. He has also become part of the eco-terrorist movement and is going to devote his great fortune to saving us from our sins. I wish that he had stuck with baked beans. Incidentally, baked beans also produce a great deal of carbon dioxide gas, as do cows. There was a theory that the increase in the number of cattle kept in civilised societies was contributing to the greenhouse effect. That was put forward as a scientific point of view. So much for the evidence on which a great deal of that theory is based.
My message to the Government is that before they pursue or are pushed or goaded into introducing yet more regulations, which would have to be draconian to have effect, they should seriously consider the matter. It is estimated that, if we did away with every car in the western hemisphere, we would prevent temperature increases by less than 1 deg C. We can all work that one out. It is alleged that there has been a 100 per cent. increase in CO2 over the past 100 years. However, many of the measurements 100 years ago were extremely susceptible to error. The actual increase has been from three parts in 1 million to four parts in 1 million. That is hardly Armageddon. Even if those predictions are correct, the amounts involved are minute, yet we are often asked to introduce regulations on cars and industry based on that kind of evidence.
§ Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)
From her biological experience, would my hon. Friend tell the House something about the effects on human physiology of having to breathe in exhaust fumes?
§ Mrs. Gorman
My hon. Friend has made a valid point. I have told him that I believe that we should apply codes of practice to pollution. I do not like the smell. I hate crossing the road at the corner of Parliament street and being deluged by very unpleasant smells. I entirely support my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson). However, that is different from the attacks that the eco-terrorists make on the car industry in wanting to restrict the number of cars. By all means let us have clean cars, but do not let us pretend that the car is responsible for the greenhouse effect and global warming. Let us get our facts and science right. Let us go to people who know some good, real science. Let us invest in the quality of science that can be produced for us by the Royal Society and by other organisations so that we legislate on the basis of good scientific information.
The people who are now pushing the idea of global warming and the greenhouse effect are the same people who, 10 years ago, were telling us that we were moving into an ice age. They are exactly the same pseudo-scientists. They are very active in America, although, thank goodness, a rearguard action is now being fought there and politicians such as President Bush are now thinking twice about pursuing some of the more extreme environmental legislation.
If we did away with every industrial process, the effects on our climate would be practically nil, because the effects on our climate are entirely due to our proximity to the sun, the movement of our planet in its orbit and the fact that it wobbles about a bit, which causes other periodic changes in our climate. Gigantic outbursts of energy from the sun—sun spots—affect what happens here on the earth. They 716 create holes in our atmosphere from time to time, and that in turn affects the transmission of electronic signals. All those things are facts. Bearing in mind the little bit of the earth which is actually occupied by people—less than 10 per cent. of the earth's surface—the mega effects in which the eco-terrorists believe are a contradiction of any kind of common sense.
I ask the Government not to be stampeded or terrified into legislating in an atmosphere of ignorance. Most of the people who try to push those fashionable theories are about as accurate as a horoscope or "Old Moore's Almanack" in predicting what our planet will be like. I will join any of my colleagues who want to make our streets more pleasant and clean and who want to stop dirty old chimneys or dirty old industries dumping their rubbish in the environment without a proper costing of what they are doing to the rest of us. All hon. Members would support that. However, we must not be driven into draconian legislation that would have a devastating effect on our industries, because, at the end of the day, every time we push a factory out of existence because it has been polluting the atmosphere we destroy people's jobs.
We must not let this matter develop into a campaign against the motor car. The motor car provides the greatest pleasure that many people have. Even the hon. Member for Tooting would find that his constituent did not want to do away with his motor car. We must do as the Government say—make the polluter pay and keep an eye on things. Best of all, we must have good scientific information on which to work. We must not allow the Porritts and the Goldsmiths of this world to dictate the rest of the legislation that we design on this subject.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) I understand that she was a biology teacher. I suggest that she sticks to biology and does not mention chemistry or physics or talk about the ozone layer and chlorofluorocarbons, because there were profound scientific errors in what she said, but then that is the standard of science after 10 years of Conservative Government.
I am pleased that we have this debate on the environment so soon after the previous one on 12 July. I was pleased then that it was our first full-scale environment debate during this Parliament. It is a pity that we could not wait another couple of weeks before holding this debate, because, before the end of this month, the National Rivers Authority will publish the results of the water quality survey which it carried out during 1990. That will be a significant report because it is a cumulative index of water pollution. It gives an idea of what has been achieved in river quality in the past five to 10 years.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) pointed out in her excellent speech, that report, which has been leaked, will show that 6,323 km of our rivers have deteriorated since the previous survey in 1985 and that 4,631 km have improved—11 per cent. have improved and 15 per cent. have become worse. The balance is negative—a 4 per cent. net deterioration in the quality of our rivers.
From 1958 to 1980, successive surveys showed that we were improving the quality of our rivers. However, the new survey will demonstrate that there has been a net deterioration of 6 per cent. during the past decade. That 717 shows the measure of care of the environment under this Government. That is the real measure, not the Minister's windy rhetoric. Our rivers are not getting better. They improved for more than 20 years, but they are now getting worse.
The report blames intensive agriculture, slurry, effluent, droughts—there have been two years of drought, especially in eastern Britain—acid rain, run-off from contaminated land and, the biggest culprit, reduced Government expenditure on sewage treatment in the run-up to water privatisation. The Government call water privatisation the solution to our problems, but it is the cause of our problems. Privatisation and cuts in expenditure on sewage treatment have led to the deterioration of our rivers. I hope that that report will get the publicity that it deserves. I challenge the Government to offer a three-hour debate on that report.
The National Rivers Authority is our independent watchdog. We supported its creation and we are very glad of its relative success. It is doing very good work. I am delighted to note that the number of prosecutions last year increased from 334 to 908. Every privatised water authority was prosecuted, but the fines were quite trivial. The fines that were imposed on the 10 water companies total £49,000. Quite honestly, last year's pay rise for Elfed Jones, the chairman of Welsh Water, would have paid all the fines that were inflicted on the water authorities. In 1988, the last year for which we have figures, there were 26,926 incidents of water pollution. We must ask ourselves and the NRA why only one in 30 of those incidents led to prosecution. Why does it not enforce the law much more regularly?
In the past few months, Greenpeace has successfully prosecuted Albright and Wilson for pollution in Whitehaven. It intends to take legal action against the NRA for default of its legal responsibilities and to call for a judicial review, particularly of why there were so few prosecutions when there are so many incidents of pollution, and why British consents to industrial companies are so lax compared with those in the United States and Germany. Why do we not adopt the same high environmental standards as those countries?
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) referred earlier to the problems in and around the Coalite plant in Bolsover where dioxin contamination has been found in the river, in farm animals and in cows' milk. We now hear that there is cluster of breast cancers around Bolsover. At environment questions on Wednesday my hon. Friend was told that HMIP is now investigating that matter and taking some action. I am glad that the Coalite plant, which is undoubtedly the prime suspect, if not the cause of the problems, will be closed down at the end of this month and overhauled. However, why has HMIP taken so long to identify that problem? Dioxins are now so abundant in that environment that it is too late to solve the problem.
Let us consider HMIP's record over the years. Last year I worked on the report produced by the Select Committee on the Environment on the ReChem plant in Pontypool, where polychlorinated biphenyls are incinerated, especially imported PCBs which are much more profitable. The monitoring of that plant by HMIP has been pathetic and feeble. Hardly any samples have been taken. It has simply been a case of drawing up a code of practice and entering 718 into discussions, negotiations, encouragement and exhortation as a means of trying to encourage the plant to adopt good practice.
§ Mrs. Gorman
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell us how he suggests that we deal with industrial waste. All societies produce it, so we must have sensible plans for dealing with it. What are his plans if we are not to incinerate such waste safely?
§ Mr. Williams
There must generally be far greater emphasis on waste minimisation, which does not happen at all at the moment in British industry. Because it is cheap to throw things away and to pump waste into the air or water, that is what industry does and that is exactly what would continue to happen in the undisciplined, anything goes, free market society that the hon. Lady advocated earlier.
Waste minimisation is proving highly successful in Germany, on the continent generally, and in the United States. Between three quarters and 90 per cent. of industrial waste is unnecessary. Incineration is not the right way to treat PCBs or other highly toxic organic solvents which produce dioxins. There are other methods of dealing with PCBs and contaminated organic solvents, such as by hydrogenation or heating them with lime. I should prefer PCBs to be stored above ground until the alternative methods of dealing with them prove economic and viable.
The low level of air pollution monitoring in this country is a scandal. Water pollution is monitored by the National Rivers Authority. Solid waste dumping is subject to some regulations; perhaps they are not strong enough, but there is reasonable enforcement of them. However, there is hardly any legislation on air pollution and virtually no enforcement. The total number of air pollution prosecutions by HMIP since 1987 is nine—that is two a year. That can be contrasted with the 900 prosecutions brought last year by the NRA. When it comes to air pollution, it is open house for the polluter.
§ Mrs. Gorman
It is kind of the hon. Gentleman to give way again. One of the nice things about Friday mornings is that hon. Members are so good about letting their colleagues get in on the act. What about the clean air legislation? When I was a little girl, we went to school in winter in thick smog—in choking ghastliness. The air in this country has been improved enormously, so why do people keep saying that things are getting worse? They are getting better.
§ Mr. Williams
There is no question about the success of the Clean Air Act 1956 and I pay tribute to the Conservative Government for introducing it. The problem now is not one of soot and carbon monoxide, which the Clean Air Act was designed to solve, but of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, the Clean Air Act does nothing to solve the problem of acid rain. Sulphur is present in all coal, oil and gas which, on burning, produce sulphur dioxide and acid rain. We have known for a century that all fossil fuels produce acidic fumes, but in the past 20 years we have come to realise that acid rain is a serious problem. The British Government, however, were the last Government in Europe to realise that. It was only in 1987 that the former Prime Minister suddenly woke up to acid rain on a flight to Norway where she was due to meet Mrs. 719 Brundtland. Although I am glad of that late realisation, the sad fact is that when the Government leave office some time next year, not one of our power stations will have been cleaned up. Let us compare the position here with what happens in Germany, Holland and many other European countries. Virtually every fossil fuel power station in Germany has flue gas desulphurisation, but not a single power station in this country is fitted with such equipment.
I represent Carmarthen in west Wales. The neighbouring constituency to the west is Pembroke, which contains a 2,000 MW oil power station. Unfortunately, because of the price of oil, since it was built 20 years ago that power station has operated at only one third of its capacity. There is currently a proposal to convert it to burning orimulsion, which is a new fuel that is derived from Venezuelan tar sands. That is a type of surface bitumen which is cheap to extract and which can be transported from Venezuela to Britain and be used as a cheap fuel. I should be delighted if it were possible to burn orimulsion cleanly, because the Venezuelan deposit contains as much oil as the middle east reserves.
However, the problem is that orimulsion contains about 2.7 per cent. sulphur, which is a high proportion—twice that of British coal and much higher than the sulphur content of fuel oils. National Power has submitted a planning application to use orimulsion in that power station which it would then run at full capacity—at either 1,000 or 1,500 MW. That would churn out a massive amount of sulphur dioxide.
It is a sign of the climate created by the Government that that planning application has been submitted without any thought being given to the installation of flue gas desulphurisation. There is no question but that if that plant was located in Germany, Holland or any other western European country, the owner—the power generator—would fit flue gas desulphurisation. If that application goes ahead, the Pembroke power station will become the largest sulphur dioxide emitter in Britain, emitting 200,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide per year in its fumes. As I have said, the power station is located in Pembroke which has prevailing south-westerly winds. My constituency neighbours it and, in turn, is abutted by mid-Wales. Then we have the rest of Britain. That must be the worst possible location for any high acid rain polluter.
Earlier this year scientists at the Department of the Environment produced a report that was critical of the Government's acid rain record.
It said that in the privatisation programmethe Government should have insisted on power stations in the west being fitted to cut acid rain which sweeps across Britain with the prevailing wind.That is the feeling within the Department of the Environment.
I ask the Minister to contact her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution to make it clear that when it considers the planning application it must insist that the project has flue gas desulphurisation. I should be happy if that were the case. In my constituency we have problems of acid rain in the Towy valley and the head waters of the Towy. Sinbrianyw Llyn Brianne reservoir at the head of the valley has to be limed regularly to counter the problems of acid rain. Will the Minister comment on the view of the 720 Department of the Environment on the oil emulsion project? Does he agree that the power station should have flue gas desulphurisation cleaning equipment?
I have talked about rivers and air pollution and I now wish to deal with solid waste. I welcomed many of the measures in the Environmental Protection Bill introduced two years ago. I welcomed the measures on the disposal of domestic waste, and to some extent, industrial waste. However, the importation of toxic waste presents serious problems. We now import 10 times as much toxic waste as we did in 1980. One such waste is incinerator fly ash. We accept that incinerators produce dioxins, heavy metals and several other pollutants. In many countries fly ash is classified as a special or toxic waste. In Britain it is not. There is a trade in its import. The waste is dumped in landfill sites in Britain. That is not good enough. That trade should be stopped. All toxic wastes should be disposed of in their countries of origin. It is for Germany, Switzerland and other countries to develop their own facilities for the disposal of wastes.
Back in July the Opposition welcomed the Government's apparent decision to set up an environmental protection agency. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury explained, we had hoped to co-operate with the Government in this Session of Parliament to establish such an agency. But the measure is not in the Queen's Speech because of squabbling between the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It is important that when the agency is set up it takes over the whole of the National Rivers Authority. The NRA must not be dismembered. It is a good, impressive environmental watchdog and we need it to have sharper and sharper teeth. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should not take over any of the NRA's responsibilities, especially given the record of MAFF and its lack of concern on any environmental issue.
We want an environmental protection agency based on the NRA and incorporating HM IP. There should be much stronger measures on air pollution monitoring and control. The agency should also have responsibility for waste disposal and the type of work done by the countryside councils. All those matters should come under one powerful umbrella organisation which is independent of the Government. Clearly the Government do not have sufficient commitment to go ahead with that. We await a general election next year after which we shall have a Government who are properly committed to the environment and that environmental protection agency—so much so that we shall have our own Minister for environmental protection.
§ 12.3 pm
§ Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams). He speaks with great knowledge and expertise on environmental matters, so it is all the more pity that he does not always get things right. He spoke about the National Rivers Authority's report. I have here a copy of the Water Bulletin of 1 November. It is the journal of the water industry. Under the heading "Rivers report is leaked", it says:The long-awaited five-yearly river quality report due to be published by the NRA later in November has been leaked in an incomplete form to Friends of the Earth… This week, however, water companies had only seen incomplete copies of the draft report.…This is the second occasion in a week when important and confidential information related to the water 721 industry has been leaked. A few days before, a letter from EC Commissioner Carlo Ripa di Meana about drinking water was leaked to the Labour Party".I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that he quoted from an incomplete draft of the report.
Another article in the magazine is entitled:WSA attacks Labour leak 'travesty"'.It says:Claims by Labour's environment spokeswoman Ann Taylor that an EC letter showed the Government had given water companies 'licences to pollute' were described as a 'travesty' by the Water Services Association last week.WSA Secretary Mike Carney said of Ann Taylor's statement, issued under the headline 'New initiative by Ripa di Meana (EC Commissioner) adds to embarrassment for John Major'…'These so-called "pollution licences" are statutory undertakings given to Government by each of the companies. They commit the companies to investment in work to be completed by specified dates to correct the few remaining exceedences of EC requirements.It is clear that Mrs. Taylor does not understand the statutory arrangements for water companies and is grossly ignorant of the facts about water quality in her own country'.
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify his position? Does he believe that the Government have the power to grant a domestic derogation which was, after all, the subject of the letter from the Commissioner? He will not find the answer in the article to which he referred. However, the Commissioner has written on the basis that the British Government have once again failed to abide by EC regulations and have tried to grant domestic derogations on more than 4,000 cases. That is the point. Will he comment on that technicality?
§ Mr. Summerson
I can best reply to that point by quoting the WSA which goes on to say in that article:'Britain is in breach of the pesticide parameter in a few cases,… But there is no health risk and work is being undertaken to comply. Until then what does the Commissioner want us to do—turn off the supply to all the people affected? The directive does not say what we should do."'Does the hon. Lady also advocate turning off the water supply to people before the work is done? It is clear that there is no risk to health.
§ Mrs. Taylor
I want to make a constructive suggestion which I hope will receive the hon. Gentleman's support. One of our problems when we are discussing water quality is that many people in Britain do not know whether their supply of water reaches EC standards. Would the hon. Gentleman join me in calling on the Government, perhaps in the Competition and Service (Utilities) Bill, published today as part of the citizens charter, to introduce amendments to legislation so that when individual consumers receive their water bill they also receive information at the bottom about whether the water supply reaches EC standards?
§ Mr. Summerson
It is clear that already no water is supplied to customers which is not of the required quality. I have also told the hon. Lady that work is being carried out to ensure that water satisfies the various requirements. I do not see that there is any difficulty.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) is not in the Chamber to hear my remarks, because I want to mention some more examples of Euro nonsense. Of course I shall relate them to the subject under debate.
722 Standardisation is a theme that has become the bureaucrat's hobby horse—Commissioners can talk of little else. For instance, Mr. Antonio Cardoso, the EC Energy Commissioner, claimed at a recent conference in Copenhagen:Citizens of Europe cannot accept rail gauges which are not uniform… Citizens of Europe cannot accept that even simple actions like the use of an electric razor can become impossible by lack of use of normalization of domestic power sockets… Citizens of Europe cannot accept different dialling codes, different speed limits, different currency units, even different external policy, security and defence concepts.I should like the House to ponder briefly the effects that attempting to impose standard rail gauges would have on the environment of this country.
A lot has been said about water in the debate. Last year, I introduced the Water Requirements (Planning) Bill under which all those who sought to put up new buildings would have to give notice of the building and its water requirements to the local water supply company.
The use of water has become excessive. The National Rivers Authority has developed extensive safeguards to ensure that new water abstractions cause minimal impact on river ecology, but the problem arises with existing abstractions.
With the passing of the Water Act 1989, provision was made for all existing abstractions for domestic and most agricultural purposes to be granted a licence of entitlement. That has had and will continue to have devastating effects on ground water abstraction. The great advantage of taking ground water is that it tends to be pure and needs minimum treatment. However, as people install more washing machines and dishwashing machines, and as they get more cars and want to wash them more frequently, they use more water.
Most people have no idea where water comes from and simply do not realise that rivers are drying up in this country because of excessive ground water abstraction. Most people do not realise that one third of domestic water consumption is used for flushing lavatories. We will have to introduce metering in people's homes, and I believe that in times of drought when water is short there should be a higher tariff to make people aware that it is in short supply. At the moment there is no mechanism for bringing home to people that water is in short supply, that rivers, streams, springs and wells are drying up and levels of ground water in many areas are falling unacceptably.
The answer lies in building more reservoirs to store high winter flows. There would probably be a public outcry at that until people realised that less than one quarter of 1 per cent. of the surface area of England is covered by still water, and that percentage is even lower in the south east where there is the worst problem.
Many of our rivers are sick and no one knows why. Famous rivers such as the Test and the Avon are suffering. The number of fish caught in those rivers falls year by year. What is going on? The answer lies in agricultural practice. Much sediment goes into rivers which did not go into them before. Pesticides, fertilisers, silage liquor—which gets spilt from time to time—and slurry are being put on the land and they all have an effect on rivers, especially when one bears in mind until recently the Test flowed through water meadows, reed beds and wet woodlands. Intensive arable agriculture has only recently taken place in the Test valley.
I advocate riparian buffer—zones strips of woodland, a minimum of 10 m and perhaps up to 100 m wide, running 723 back from the banks of the river. They would absorb much of the detritus of agricultural practice—the pesticides, slurry, fertilisers and all the effects of ploughing and cultivation. Perhaps they could be set up as environmentally sensitive areas or even as water protection zones under section 3 of the Water Act 1989.
With the advent of set-aside, there is great potential for riparian buffer zones. After all, we are told that apparently more than 6 million acres of farmland will be surplus to requirements by the turn of the century, so there must be huge potential for such schemes. A strip 50 m wide on each side of a river would take about 40 acres per mile. So 1 per cent. of 6 million acres would protect about 1,500 miles of stream. I recommend that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench consider that idea.
As regards my constituency, I must mention the channel tunnel link which is to come through Stratford to King's Cross. I welcome the fact that the link will come through Stratford, which is quite close to my constituency. It will help to rejuvenate an area which is badly in need of investment. However, I give this warning. Those people who may cast a greedy eye over Walthamstow marshes, to build new railway lines to take some of the traffic through north-east London to the midlands, the north and Scotland, had better think again. The people of Walthamstow value Walthamstow marshes highly. They are a site of special scientific interest; they are extremely ancient and are full of the most interesting species of plant and bird life, including owls and foxes. I have seen a tern fishing in one of the little streams that runs through there. The marshes are an open lung in an otherwise heavily built-up area and must remain undisturbed.
While on the subject of railways, may I draw to my hon. Friend's attention the Barking to Gospel Oak line, which is a byword for inefficiency and uselessness. We all know that railways are environmentally sound and friendly. If that line could be made to work efficiently, it would help the environment greatly by taking a lot of traffic off the roads.
The day will come when future generations will look back with incredulity on our willingness to share our cities with the internal combustion engine. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay that the car is a great asset, but surely there must be different ways to propel it. I look forward to the day when in our towns and cities there will be electrically powered cars which are quiet, pollution-free and efficient. The generation of power for the motor car will be moved back to power stations and so the pollution generated when generating that power can be dealt with in one place, at the power station. The Environmental Protection Act 1990—a fine Act—contains two aspects relating to noise and litter pollution. Many of my constituents and those of other Members suffer from noise generated by selfish people and their activities. The Act contains strong measures to enable local authorities and local people to stop noise. I urge people to take note of those provisions and to use them wherever possible. If they were to do so, their own quality of life would be greatly enhanced.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I hope that Environment Ministers will listen to three of the issues mentioned by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson). I agree with his comments on water, and our abuse and excessive use of it.
I also share the hon. Gentleman's view that we have become a nation, and a world, increasingly in hock to the motor vehicle in a way that substantially undermines our quality of life. And we are increasingly blighted by noise. As I do not want to make a great contribution on that subject, I shall ask Ministers to consider merely one noise issue, that from vehicles. I understand that the Environmental Protection Act does not cover noise emission from moving vehicles. It deals with noise from moving vessels and from buildings, but not noise from vehicles, which is the cause of much complaint.
The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) made a new sort of green contribution today; she was dressed in a new sort of green outfit, which should have warned us about what was coming. I think that her attack on eco-terrorists and pseudo-scientists will be answered line by line and verse by verse in due course by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. The hon. Lady has a capacity for speaking in lay people's language, but she does not always understand the implications of some of the ideas that she propounds. Although volcanoes may contribute enormously to the destruction of our atmosphere, it seems that there is not much that we can do about preventing that, whereas we can do a little to protect the atmosphere from destruction by industry and transport. Although there is a native logic in some of what the hon. Lady says, we should not be beguiled by the first-year secondary school biology lesson she sought to give us this morning.
Today is the first day after the week's debate on the Queen's Speech. The subject of the environment was not thought sufficiently important to be debated—
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry)
That is a matter for the Opposition.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am just about to deal with the Minister's sedentary intervention, which is correct.
The environment was not thought sufficiently important to be included in the debate on the Queen's Speech. That was the Labour party's fault because it chooses the subjects for debate, and it chose to exclude the environment.
§ Mr. Hughes
It is not enough to say that the subject was not contained in the Queen's Speech. I have already criticised the Government on the matter; the Queen's Speech contained just one sentence referring to next year's Brazil conference. There was nothing on the subject in the Prime Minister's speech and not a word from the Chancellor in the autumn statement or in the speech that he gave in the last day's debate on the Queen's Speech yesterday. The Secretary of State for the Environment chose not to speak about the environment at all.
We must ensure that the record is straight. We have had one week's debate on the priorities for this new political 725 year; the Government chose not to put the environment as a priority in the Queen's Speech and the Labour party chose not to put it as a priority in the subsequent debate.
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, although I am not desperate to make the defence. The hon. Gentleman is merely saying, "A plague on both your houses"—the normal Liberal line. I was expecting slightly more constructive comments about the environment. The hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that the fact that the environment did not feature in the Queen's Speech except for one reference to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development which we spent considerable time debating on 12 July—must be a reasonable reason for the subject being squeezed out of the debates. In addition, we knew that today's debate was taking place.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Lady's case will rest on its merits. The Labour party could have chosen to debate the environment. The fact that it is being debated today was a matter for negotiation between the Tory and Labour spokesmen through the usual channels. There was a carve-up and neither of the two largest parties thought fit to put environment in the first week's programme of the Session. People may draw their own conclusions about that.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) seeks to make light of the subject. However, everybody protests all the time about how important the issue is and the hon. Gentleman knows prefectly well that the Labour party could have chosen to make it a priority.
§ Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)
I am not making a party political point, but we should note the number of Members in the Chamber today. On an issue of such dramatic importance, it is disgraceful that the attendance should be so light.
§ Mr. Morgan
There is a higher proportion of Liberals than of other parties here, even though there is only one of them.
§ Mr. Hughes
So unfair is the system that by being here myself I am ensuring that my party has a high percentage attendance. When the revolution comes, and we have a decent system, there will be many more of us.
The obvious omission from the Queen's Speech was the environmental protection agency which was derailed by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. There were lesser omissions such as the legislation on hedgerows—a cause to which the Parliamentary Under-Secretary is personally committed, but which was not included in the Queen's Speech—and legislation on common land, which has sadly slipped down the Government's agenda from its position three years ago, for no very obvious reason. Another obvious failure in the political rather than legislative programme was the failure to commit any significant new resources to environmental matters—that point was conceded by the Secretary of State for the 726 Environment in his press release, the announcements and the simple figures. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary is nodding negatively——
§ Mr. Hughes
The Minister says that he will deal with it, but if we look at Government expenditure Department by Department, we can break down the Department of the Environment element into the environment sector as opposed to the housing or local government sectors, we see a reduction from the estimated outturn this year—£750 million—to £610 million next year, £600 million for the following year and £580 million for the year after that. It is a matter of fact that, according to the Government's projections, the amount of money that has been committed is less. That may be defended, but it is incompatible with their argument that priority is being given to environmental matters.
Also shunted off into a convenient siding was the Government's commitment to do what they said was necessary about raising fuel prices. On Monday of this week the Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment expressly recommended that fuel prices should be increased. The Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Trade and Industry said that they could not comment on that; it was up to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But the Chancellor said nothing about raising revenue from that source. I appreciate that that is principally a matter for the Budget. Nevertheless, the Government could have said something about taxing the use of environmental resources. When the Chancellor referred to the success of the economy he could have talked about evaluating growth in environmental terms rather than in traditional gross domestic product terms, but all that was ignored.
We welcome the fact that the Government published their checklist of action a year after publication of the White Paper. In it they were honest enough to admit some failures. We also welcome the fact—although it has been commented on with cynicism, because many argue that this should have been Government policy for many years—that there has been a substantial increase in the Government's commitment to improve public transport. That may have something to do with the impending general election and public perception of the importance of the issue.
I want to deal, as did the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), with the European Community's environmental impact assessment directive. When the directive came before the House, in regulation form, the Government commended it through the mouth of the then Minister of State, now the Secretary of State for Health. It was a debate in which the Labour spokesperson, for whatever reason—I have never discovered why—did not show up. The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) had to hold the fort. In January of this year the Commission gave an early warning to the Government. In March the Commission sent a draft letter to the Government. Subsequently there was a continuing dialogue between Brussels and Westminster. The Environment Commissioner says that in the summer he had a long telephone conversation with the Secretary of State for Transport regarding his concern about non-implementation of the directive. There was a last-ditch meeting the night before the letter was made 727 public. it is not true to say—it is no good the Minister of State trying to duck out of it—as the Prime Minister said in Harare:we had no previous notice of it.Not only had the Government had notice of the letter; they had had conversations about it and they had seen a draft copy of the letter. The Government must not pretend that this was a belated attack by Brussels. The matter had been under discussion for nine months. They—the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Transport and the Secretary of State for the Environment—knew it.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
Will not the hon. Gentleman admit that for a Prime Minister who thought that the poll tax had been abolished this was one of his lesser slips?
§ Mr. Hughes
Nobody is perfect, but there is a difference between making a slip and saying that one did not know about something when one did—unless the members of the Cabinet do not talk to each other and do not talk to the Prime Minister. I suppose it is possible that the Secretary of State for Transport had never talked about it. In that case, somebody should have briefed the Prime Minister to say nothing instead of what he did say. There is an inconsistency. In another place Lord Brabazon was asked questions yesterday about it. It appears that the Government's answers are all over the place too. On Wednesday the Under-Secretary of State did not answer my question; he answered another question instead. We must, therefore, take it as admitted that the Government knew what was coming.
The solution now is easy: to give in, to say, "Okay, if you don't think the regulations are perfect or satisfactory, let's negotiate, get some satisfactory ones, bring them to Parliament and apply the test." That does not mean that all the projects suddenly stop; it means that we shall have the proper methodology for judging them. The same methodology should be applied throughout Europe. As a postscript, I do not believe that the people of Twyford Down in Hampshire, or the people who live in the London borough of Greenwich in south-east London regard Twyford Down and Oxleas Wood as "nooks and crannies"—a description from some who suggest that the European Community is prying and probing into our affairs. These places are important environmental assets in Britain. I hope that we regard them as such.
I agree with the hon. Member for Walthamstow that we must consider how the public's natural demand for the accessibility and mobility which the car offers can be rendered compatible with a decent quality of life, particularly in urban areas. It is not only, as the hon. Member for Billericay hinted, an air pollution problem, but a resource depletion problem. According to some good estimates, we have only 45 years of oil left. Therefore, cars may not be able to be powered by oil-based fuels 45 years from now.
Although those estimates may be wrong, we must consider the best options. There are problems with the electric car because it is still necessary to generate electricity. There are also problems with a car driven by water because, again, it must be powered by electricity.
There is an urgent need to give the public information on the best form of motorised transport. It is best to walk and the next best option is to cycle, but if neither of those 728 is possible and it is not possible to use public transport, which is the most economic use of resources and causes less pollution per number of users, we must give people advice about the best alternative.
The Government have been honest to admit that petrol prices will increase. We must therefore protect those who will be particularly disadvantaged. My colleagues and I will shortly explain our policy on that, because people must know how they will be affected. We are right to address that as a key part of the environment debate.
For those who represent and live in urban areas, excessive congestion and the disadvantage of additional people and cars are bad news. In other parts of the world, the problem is becoming considerably worse. That is our legacy to people who are far less able to cope than we are.
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor
The issue with which the hon. Gentleman is dealing is supremely important. I have followed with interest his comments about the need to price fuel appropriately. He now acknowledges the essential dilemma in his proposal—that to be effective, energy taxes must be raised enormously. The problem is how to raise them without penalising the people who are least able to afford increases, such as those to whom the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) referred yesterday—car drivers in rural areas—but it applies equally to people who would face higher fuel bills and can least afford to meet them and who do not have the flexibility of changing from one fuel system to another. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that in supporting energy taxes he is creating such dilemmas.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Lady makes a perfectly proper point. I have spent much time with my colleagues working out how to deal with that dilemma. She rightly alluded to two aspects of the problem. First, we must ensure that we do not penalise people who have no alternative because they have no public transport. I was brought up in rural Britain and know that such people cannot fairly be clobbered by huge increases when there is no alternative. Pensioners and people on basic incomes should also not be penalised by increases in the price of domestic and other fuels. They must be protected. I assure the hon. Lady and those who are concerned about the problem that it would be irresponsible of me as spokesperson of my party not to address it properly. I hope that she will respond positively when we make our announcement of our conclusions, which may be within days, although the final timing is not entirely in my hands.
One of the other great issues that are tests of our environmental progress is what we do with water. I entirely endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Walthamstow. We must reduce consumption. We must stop wasting water. Because of defective pipes, 25 per cent. of water does not get around the system and move from reservoir to tap. We must make people value water properly. My mother lives in a house which still has a well. When we go home, we are used to not having water sometimes but also to looking after it carefully. Those of us who have been brought up without immediate access to mains water know how valuable water is, just as most people in the third and fourth world do.
We must also be much tougher about extraction, particularly in areas around London. People are extracting water from urban rivers and there is a serious problem 729 with the drying up of river beds. We must provide the facility to get water to where we need it and we must consider whether that should be done through a national grid or some other means.
Drinking water quality is generally good, although not as good as the Government would argue. But I urge the Minister to pass on to his colleagues the need urgently to improve bathing water quality. If we had not had this environment debate today, I would have been in Swansea bay in a wet suit, surfing with many people from all around Britain as a protest against the toxins in Swansea bay.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman would have been there as well. I do not know whether he would have been in a wet suit as well, but if so, the pair of us might have been a sight for sore eyes.
Air pollution is bad enough in Baglan bay and Port Talbot, but the sea is equally polluted. During the Langbaurgh by-election, I went to the coast at Saltburn and Marske. A pipe that is about 25 in across discharges sewage into the sea 24 hours a day. One can see all the stuff that comes out and which is thrown around straight into the sea. At high water, an escape hatch on a pipe also opens and the sewage is then also pumped straight on to the beach—there is no pretence that it goes further out. The same happens in many places around the coast—in the south-west, the east and in places such as Southend-on-Sea.
Not just rural dwellers worry about bathing water quality. Urban dwellers who go to the coast for their holidays also worry. They want to take their children to the beaches. There are also all the people who swim, sail, surf or windsurf.
If I could achieve only one thing as a result of today's debate, I should like the Government to take more seriously the need to clean up our act around our shores. It is clear that they are backsliding. The first-year report makes that clear. The original commitment in "This Common Inheritance" refers to£13.7 billion to improve sewage works which includes £2.9 billion to bring all bathing waters up to EC standards by the mid-1990s through building long sea outfalls and treating the sewage discharged through them".That commitment has one year later been modified to read:agreed an accelerated programme of investment for the improvement of bathing waters to bring virtually all bathing waters up to EC standards by 1995".There must be much better monitoring, not just in the summer but all year round. There must be more frequent monitoring of bacteria and viruses, not just of one. It is not good enough to say that we have cleaned up our environmental act, when around Britain's coastline the beaches are often foul.
§ Mr. Hughes
I shall attribute that one-liner to the hon. Gentleman—it is just going through the motions. The hon. Gentleman is good at those one-liners.
Pollution was a big issue in Langbaurgh and our good candidate, Peter Allen, rightly joined those campaigning for improvements.
I hope that we will be tougher on toxic wastes and will not just allow this country to become a trading post for them. I hope that we will be much more committed to renewables than the Minister announced this week we 730 would be. The Government's belated conversion is welcome, but a real conversion would be much more welcome. I hope that we will be much more committed to energy efficiency. The commitment has been pathetic, starting from nothing and moving on only slightly.
This is an important issue and it is good that we have held a debate on it so early in a Parliament.
§ Mr. Hughes
Yes, it should have been in the Queen's Speech, but at least we have debated it sooner rather than later.
The psephologists tell us that if the results of yesterday's three by-elections are followed by similar results, there will be no one party in control after the next general election. Therefore, if there are general election results like yesterday's, my colleagues will be in the House in increasing numbers to fight for these issues. Our pledge is that the environment will remain a very high priority for us, higher I believe than it has been for Labour or for the Tories during the past decade and more.
§ Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)
The debate has covered a wide range of global issues, but I wish to bring a tighter focus to the environment in our towns and cities—the urban environment—because care for one's locality can influence the quality of life of those who live there perhaps in an even more dramatic way than by dealing with the broad global issues.
Where we live and how we look after it has in recent years become an issue of greater concern to those who are interested in the environment. The growth in the number of amenity societies is reassuring. The Southwark Environment Trust in my constituency and borough plays a full part in ensuring that aspects of urban life which should be preserved and conserved are cherished. The Dulwich Society plays an important role in ensuring that the aspects of rural life which remain in an urban area are retained. The Camberwell Society and the Peckham Society have in the past few years been active in trying to preserve the benefits and good points of their areas which have been under threat from the channel tunnel rail link proposals.
Dulwich village, in my constituency, is one of the most attractive urban environments to be found in the United Kingdom or—dare I say it—in the world. It is a highly desirable area in which to live and it is appreciated and treasured by those who live in it.
The area around Warwick gardens—also in my constituency—has over the years been neglected. Only in the past 10 years has there been an appreciation of the inherent and intrinsic quality to be found in its architectural heritage, in its layout and in the opportunities for regeneration. It has not been a matter of local authority planning or large-scale capital investment; the area has regenerated itself. Its architectural heritage has been brought back to its former glory by those who live there and often by those who have little money but who appreciate the opportunities of the locality and have developed them.
That work was at risk when British Rail decided with great insensitivity to drive the channel tunnel rail link through south-east London and through the Warwick 731 gardens area. The effect was that during the past three years there has been a loss of confidence in that area. A blight settled on it and will remain for some time. It is important to appreciate the need to preserve and conserve and to recognise that it is an environmentally sensitive area—like so many in London—which can be built slowly and painstakingly, but which can so easily be damaged by an insensitive decision, which is what happened. I plead today for our urban environment and for the quality of life that should be retained there. When we consider how the blight can be relieved, we should do so in a way that reassures and which re-establishes confidence in the area.
British Rail purchased some houses that were within its corridor of intended operations. It also purchased some houses that were not in that corridor, because once such a route is threatened the adjacent housing market collapses and there is no opportunity for those who wish or need to move to sell their properties. In one instance firms of estate agents refused to take any flats in one block on their books on any terms. I think that that is the first time that that has happened, and it was due to the negative housing market in that area. With great wisdom, the Secretary of State for Transport has turned down British Rail's proposed route and has chosen another which is far more environmentally sensible.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the sensitivity of rail routes through urban areas. Does he agree that in choosing the alternative route the Secretary of State for Transport was second guessing and ignoring the possibility that an environmental assessment would conclude that the general route that he has selected was as inappropriate as the one from which the hon. Gentleman thinks his constituents would suffer?
§ Mr. Bowden
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. I hope that I can approach the issue as a fighter for my constituents' interests while at the same time recognising the broader issues. I shall later develop that point.
The alternative route was chosen on three criteria: that it should be environmentally acceptable, operationally effective and financially viable. The British Rail route failed on all three. The alternative route proposed by Ove Arup, which the Secretary of State has sensibly accepted, was acknowledged in all its aspects to be environmentally acceptable. Of course in one or two places difficulties will arise, but the route will pass through areas which will benefit environmentally. For example, industrial wasteland which needs an uplift will benefit from a freight and passenger route passing through it.
British Rail is now a large residential landowner in Warwick gardens and will wish to offload on the market the expensively obtained properties that it has acquired. That will have a disastrous effect upon the locality equal to that which arose from the threat of the route. A glut of properties could cause a slump in the housing market. It will take time and sensitive marketing to ensure that the housing market recovers progressively rather than being artificially injected with activity. In order to ensure confidence in the Warwick gardens area, British Rail should be told to ensure that the properties are offered for sale in a positive and constructive way that will benefit the community and the quality of life in the area.
732 We must also consider the question of compensation. To some extent, the environment must be planned and allowed to grow organically. However, when planning we need to make sure that people are compensated for disruption in a way that does not put them at a disadvantage. It is a matter of planning, management and marketing to ensure that what is good in the locality is preserved and conserved. It is also a matter of money, but I would argue that money plays a lesser part than the necessary will and the understanding of those other factors.
The channel tunnel rail link has been at the centre of my thoughts about my own urban concerns. It offers an opportunity to improve the environment of the United Kingdom generally, by taking traffic off the roads and by diverting some of the airline traffic which causes such congestion because the link will probably provide an equally fast alternative route to the continent. What causes me some disquiet, however, is that British Rail's thoughts seem to be entirely devoted to the passenger opportunities that the link affords. I agree that they are important, but I am concerned that so little is made of freight. The current culture at British Rail seems to be—and I have heard this said by the chief executive—that freight is not time-sensitive. The chief executive and British Rail generally reportedly say that they do not see themselves as being in the business of transporting goods that need to be moved fast. They are looking only at aggregates and pig iron and other goods which can be trundled around the railways for many weeks and do not need to reach their destination at any particular time.
That attitude will create a knock-on problem. If British Rail feels that the first stage of the channel tunnel rail link to Stratford and King's Cross does not offer immediate opportunities for a freight route, there is something seriously amiss in its thinking. The implication of such a decision is that freight will continue to be carried, as at present, on existing lines, with the intensified use of those lines possibly throughout the night. By and large, we are talking about commuter lines designed to bring people from the south-east to central London in the morning and to take them home in the evening. There is little traffic on them during the dark hours at present, but if the lines are to be used by freight trains—some of them a mile long—trundling through the night and causing heavy vibration and noise, there will be a dramatic effect on the environment and quality of life of those who live in proximity to them.
That brings me back to my earlier point about the importance of considering giving compensation in such circumstances and perhaps introducing a new code of compensation. If one buys a house near a railway line, one expects some disturbance from it, and that is a factor which will no doubt be reflected in the price. I would argue, however, that there is a difference between what one might consider to be reasonable use by passenger traffic during the day, and the disturbances that might arise from that, and the use of the line at night by heavy goods traffic. That represents not merely an intensification of the use of the line but a change in its character. To my mind, it represents a change of use so significant that compensation should be given to those who suffer injury as a result.
If we are to ensure that we preserve and protect the quality of life in the urban environment, we must recognise the need for a change in the code of compensation and the circumstances and amount in which it is given. It should be 733 more generously calculated than at present and should not merely be the bare minimum market value, as seems to be the case at present. When the bare minimum market value is offered to compensate for disturbance or injury, disputes inevitably ensue, with professional advisers saying, "This is too little" and the proposer saying, "It is about right" with the inevitable delay that results.
By increasing compensation in those circumstances to a more generous level of 10 or 15 per cent.—and in some countries it is 25 per cent. above market value—we would not only right an injustice or injury, but speed up the process. People would believe that it was unnecessary to dispute the matter and that they had received an additional benefit for the injury that had been forced upon them. In the long run, that would be a cheaper and more effective way of dealing with the issue. As a lawyer and a chartered surveyor, I recognise that the professional opportunities in the area of compensation would be limited if people did not dispute the compensation that they were offered.
Elsewhere in Europe, freight is being taken off the roads. There are refrigerated freight vans and trucks travelling on the railways throughout Europe. Why are there no plans in this country to ensure that we have a fully compatible freight arrangement that could take refrigerated herrings from Aberdeen to Milan on refrigerated rail trucks instead of having traffic trundling along our motorways and on channel ferries? We have an opportunity to improve the environment of our towns and cities by ensuring that freight is taken off our roads.
The decision on the channel tunnel rail link was environmentally sound. It has provided an opportunity to develop many aspects. I beg that those who are responsible for making it work will now take full advantage of the opportunities. I trust that the issue will be considered not simply as a transport or environmental matter, but as a trade and industry matter as well.
§ 1.1 pm
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a few points about the environment. Initially, I want to consider environmental impact assessments from a slightly different perspective from that which has been referred to so far. There have been disputes between hon. Members over whether Carlo Ripa di Meana, the European Community Environment Commissioner" was within his rights or was interfering in every nook and cranny of British daily life—as our Foreign Secretary put it in rather colourful language—when he commanded that work on construction projects in this country should cease because environmental impact assessments had not been prepared although they should have been. I do not want to enter that dispute. I want to consider whether the way in which environmental impact assessments are drawn up at the moment is satisfactory. Are they objective? If they are not, can we introduce improvements to the current environmental impact statement—EIS—procedure to make them objective?
It is timely to consider that, because since the beginning of this Session it has become compulsory for us to comply with European EIS legislation. We have modernised the procedures of this place to make it compulsory for all private and hybrid Bills to incorporate environmental impact assessment statements.
The Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill, which affects my constituency and is returning to the House for the third 734 time, now has an EIS which has been published and is freely available to the hon. Members in the Vote Office. It is a large document which is one inch thick. There is also the compulsory brief, non-technical summary which, although it tends to fall apart when one tries to read it, due to unsatisfactory stapling, is nevertheless an easy, quick 10-minute read.
The wider question is not whether the summary falls apart because the staples are not strong enough, but whether it falls apart because it is not sufficiently objective simply because it has been commissioned, paid for and its contents finally determined by the promoter of the original Bill, now working in co-operation with the Government. That aspect is the essentially corrupt relationship between promoters of private legislation or Government Departments, when using the hybrid Bill procedure, and the consultants who are asked to draw up environmental impact assessments.
For a further improvement in our environmental legislation, in future, when consultants are hired—there are some very good environmental consultants—to produce environmental impact assessments to comply with European directives and with our new private and hybrid Bill procedures, the last word on exactly what is contained within the environmental impact assessment should not be left exclusively with the Bill's promoters. Some further strengthening of the environmental obligation that we and the European Commission's directives are now laying on the promoters of private Bills should be introduced by not giving a promoter the last word.
I hope that other hon. Members on green Benches—we can see mostly green Benches today—will join me in trying to find out how we can avoid the consultant-promoter corrupt relationship. Perhaps "corrupt" is too strong, because we do not know who has actually taken out key words or added sections at the last minute because they are worried about the public impact of certain phrases. We do not know what the consultants originally said when they first produced a draft for the promoter, and what they were then asked to add afterwards to make it a little more toothsome for the promoters, to make it a safer version of the environmental impact assessment.
When compulsory environmental impact statements are produced for Parliament for a private or hybrid Bill, the promoter obviously has to pay for the environmental impact assessment. There can be no question about that. It is not an obligation on the taxpayer, because the promoter wants to build a harbour, bridge or whatever it might be that requires parliamentary procedures. The trouble is that the promoter can then bowdlerise or doctor the final version that appears before the House, and it is presented as though it is objective, but is it really objective?
Once a Bill or a proposed measure requiring parliamentary approval enters the lists and it is realised that an environmental impact assessment must be produced, and once it is decided to commission an environmental impact assessment it becomes public property. My idea—I admit that I came up with it only this morning—is that the entire transaction involving the definition of the terms of reference for the study for the consultants should then become public property and not an enclosed relationship with the promoters.
Reference should then be made to the Environment Select Committee, and its staff, jointly with the promoters of the Bill, could settle the terms of reference and observe 735 the final version of the EIS. The report that hon. Members receive and that the public pick up outside would have been looked at from the point of view of the client, the promoter and the public interest. The Environment Committee and its staff would ensure that the promoters could not interfere with the consultants' conclusions and that the consultants, during the preparation of the report, had consulted local authorities and environmental agencies such as HMIP or the NRA, or other agencies.
I am concerned about the contents of, lack of objectivity of and lack of thoroughness in the study that was carried out by the Environmental Advisory Unit of Liverpool University Ltd. for the Government and the promoters of the Bill, Cardiff Bay development corporation, when there was still a private Bill, in preparation for the Government's hybrid Bill, which was laid before the House on Tuesday.
I should like to give some examples of my concern about the report's thoroughness and/or objectivity. I say "or" simply because I am not aware—and at the moment there is no way of finding out—whether the consultants who wished to involve the NRA or Cardiff city council's environmental health department were told not to do so by the Cardiff Bay development corporation or whether, off their own bat, they simply chose not to do so, in which case, if there is a design fault, it lies with them. At the moment, we have no way of knowing and, although the report is now public property, its contents during preparation and its final contents are determined entirely by those paying the bill—and they are the promoters who have every interest in avoiding drawing attention to anything that could be used against them when the Bill is debated publicly or scrutinised in the House on Second Reading, Report or in the Special Select Committee or the Standing Committee.
At those stages, people from outside the House who oppose the legislation as petitioners or hon. Members who might also be opposed to it can seek to improve the Bill and can point out the problems that the proposal might cause. Although the promoters are faced with an environmental impact statement compulsion, at the moment there is no way of ensuring that the work is carried out objectively.
One of the issues covered in the non-technical summary and then, in detail, in the full-length version of the statement, is flooding. The statement tries to come to a view on whether the proposed barrage would be good, bad or indifferent in terms of the flooding problem in the low-lying areas of Cardiff. The problem is that flood control is the responsibility of the National Rivers Authority. The statement says that the barrage will improve the position as regards flooding, but we are not sure how that statement was arrived at. Was the NRA consulted? It has the statutory obligation. Are the promoters giving their view after consulting the NRA, or are they giving the NRA's view?
I spoke to the NRA this morning and asked what consultations it had with the Environmental Advisory Unit of Liverpool University Ltd. before the unit produced its chapter of the full-length study on the Cardiff bay barrage proposal. The message that I received from the NRA was:The answer to your question is no. Liverpool University has not approached us regarding flood defence assessment.736 Why not? Was that the consultants' own decision or were they prevented from consulting the NRA by the Cardiff Bay development corporation which originally proposed the Bill in close co-operation with the Welsh Office? Can we rely on the document? Can people who read it believe it to be objective and thorough when those who prepared it did not consult the agency that has the statutory responsibility for preparing flood prevention plans and for carrying out works to prevent flooding?
After the expenditure of a large sum—about £150 million or so—on improving the environment and creating an impounded lake behind the barrage, one of the attractions is supposed to be the facility for water sports. Paragraph 4.15 of the non-technical summary rightly states:there will be restrictions on the type of watersports that can be carried out in the Bay. Whereas angling, pleasure cruising, canoe touring, rowing and bankside activities will be possible, water sports which inevitably lead to immersion, such as bathing, diving, rafting and waterskiing, will not be permitted.There is some dispute as to whether dinghy sailing and windsurfing are classified as immersion sports and whether or not they will be permitted. Regular monitoring will be taking place to see whether the water is of suitable quality for immersion sports.I ask myself whether that is a fair summary which is based on the views of the body that will have the job of monitoring water sports and the safety of the water in which the water sports will take place. That body is the environmental health department of Cardiff city council.
I spoke to the environmental health department this morning. I asked whether the Liverpool university environmental advisory unit consulted it on whether certain water sports might be, would be or would not be permitted. It said that the unit had not done so in the past three or four years. I find that breathtaking. In the case of flooding and water sports the unit did not consult before giving to Parliament the final version of the environmental impact assessment. If that is true of flooding and water sports, on how many other matters did the unit not consult? The assessment purports to be an objective statement to be given to the House and, via the House, to all the people outside who will be directly affected by the proposal. The unit did not consult the statutory body with the job, again given to it by our legislation, of taking care of flooding or water sports.
Furthermore, the environmental health department of Cardiff city council told me that one of the statements that I have just read out was plain wrong. What is one to do about that?
We have been given the printed version. We will not receive another version. The department told me that windsurfing is definitely out and that it was true that:There is some dispute as to whether dinghy sailing and windsurfing are classified as immersion sports and whether or not they will be permitted.That statement left the matter open and as yet undetermined. But that is not the case according to the body that is responsible for deciding whether certain sports will be permitted. That body has already made up its mind. Windsurfing is out, not "still to be determined".
This is supposed to be the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Its legislation is supposed to be followed once laws are passed. We have just introduced a great improvement to the existing legislation by making environmental impact assessments compulsory. However, we have no way of controlling the quality, objectivity or 737 thoroughness of the assessments or interference in the final version by the promoters of a private Bill, who have every interest in fixing the assessments so that they do not say anything which could later be used against them during the proceedings of the House and when people make their minds up.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is our rule that in an Adjournment debate we do not discuss legislation. If the hon. Gentleman confined himself to discussing the merits or otherwise of the scheme, he would be on good ground. I may have to reproach him if he impinges too much on the debates that we are likely to have when the legislation comes before the House.
§ Mr. Morgan
I appreciate your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not intend to raise questions about the merits of the scheme. I simply wish to deal with whether we can rely on the objectivity of environmental impact assessments when we have no procedure for ensuring that promoters do not interfere with them during their preparation, to avoid the inclusion of material that may be critical of the scheme. Such material may give rise to problems for the promoters when seeking to secure the passage of the Bill through Parliament.
My point relates to the structure of our legislation and whether we should be satisfied with it. It became law only this week. I wonder whether we need to go a step further and take out further insurance so that we can be certain that environmental impact assessments are reliable documents. The Environment Select Committee should be involved to ensure that there is joint commissioning and setting of the terms of reference, even though the promoters obviously have to pay. At present it is a simple case of he who pays the piper calls the tune. That is thoroughly unsatisfactory.
The Government are trying to pretend to the country at large that they are far greener than in the so-called bad old days and that the Secretary of State takes full account of environmental matters when preparing legislation. However, in the past week something has cast severe doubt on whether that is a sustainable proposition. I refer to the decision last Friday to exclude the area within the Cardiff bay barrage site of special scientific interest from the special protection area to be registered in Brussels under article 2 of the European Community's wild bird directive. It is probably fair to say that many of us deeply suspect anything that the Government announce late on Friday afternoon. It is probably almost entirely done to secure the minimum amount of press discussion.
Last week the Government submitted a four-page document to the press and to the successor to the Nature Conservancy Council—the Countryside Council for Wales—and to English Heritage. The document stated that they had to take the Cardiff bay area out of the proposed special protection area that they intended to register with Brussels because otherwise they would be in severe legal trouble due to their proposal to build a barrage across the mouths of the Rivers Taff and Ely.
What does that say about our procedures? Obviously, when one is about to register a special protection area—I think that we have about 41 such areas now—one receives documentation about it from what was the Nature Conservancy Council. It was subsequently split up into three bodies to cover Wales, Scotland and England, but 738 their part in the process remains the same, as they classify sites according to their significance for nature conservation and they inform local landowners, local authorities and do all the donkey work and the accounts. They also inform local wildlife organisations and then give the documentation to the relevant Minister. In the case of Cardiff bay, it had to be given to two Ministers, the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for the Environment because it involves both sides of the Bristol channel. They check that it is in order and finally make their decision.
After the Nature Conservancy Council had submitted the lower Severn estuary special protection area proposal to the Secretaries of State for Wales and for the Environment, a court case took place in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg—we call it the Leybucht bay case—which involved a German Government-assisted fishing harbour on the German-Dutch border. The case resulted in a victory for the German Government, not for the European Commission.
As an interesting obiter dictum, a signed letter from the European Court of Justice last year, affirmed the principle that in areas designated as special protection areas, the first priority was to be given to developments offering an improvement to human health or life, such as protection from flooding, the second priority to ecology and nature conservation and the third priority to leisure or economic development.
At that time the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill was live in the House and opponents of the Bill, such as myself, pointed out that the judgment could deal a blow to the proposal as it was already a proposed special protection area—it was merely awaiting a decision on the Minister's desk. That idea was pooh-poohed and we were told that there was no comparison between Leybucht bay and Cardiff bay and that the judgment was irrelevant. The fact that the Government sent a posse of lawyers from the Welsh Office, Cardiff Bay development corporation, the Treasury Solicitor's department and a local firm of solicitors in Luxembourg to observe the case was merely because they wanted them to have some alpine air or because they just happened to be passing through Luxembourg. The case was of no interest and immaterial to Cardiff bay.
Now we know the truth—it was a killer blow to the Cardiff bay barrage proposal because SPA status for Cardiff bay would have meant that only those forms of construction development that contributed to the avoidance of flooding and endangering life or health could take priority over the nature conservation designation: not economic development, marinas, leisure developments, dredging to deepen the water for fishing harbours or creating large walls of concrete for a barrage that would completely inundate the inter-tidal mud flats—the reason for the SPA designation proposed by the Nature Conservancy Council. Last Friday the exclusion device employed by those in favour of the barrage was to admit that the principle of the Leybucht bay judgment in the European Court of Justice last February would apply to Cardiff bay, but to say that the way round that was to exclude the bay from SPA.
The argument used was that although we might agree that an SPA designation would imply that a barrage could not legally be built across Cardiff bay, we could go to the European Court of Justice—although it lacks injunction procedures—and ask that court to declare the barrage proposal to be contrary to the directive relating to the 739 special protection of wild birds. We could then say that we would put a ring fence round the district, which we would not submit for SPA status, even though the Nature Conservancy Council proposed to do so. That leaves us with the question: why bark and keep a dog? Why do the Government collect taxes to pay the salaries of those in the Countryside Council for Wales but not take its advice? The Nature Conservancy Council has assessed the district as being of higher nature conservation interest than the other parts of the Severn estuary mud flats that are being submitted for SPA protection. Therefore, the district with the higher nature conservation importance is being excluded from SPA protection, while districts with lower nature conservation importance are included.
The Secretary of State has taken upon himself the power to override his own nature conservation experts, who are up in arms. As from last Friday they feel that they have been stabbed in the back, betrayed and made to look foolish because the Government have used the blatant and perverse device of excluding the most important district on the Welsh side from nature conservation.
Where does that leave the Government's proud desire to register more sites at Brussels for SPA purposes? It leaves the Government's reputation in tatters because it simply means that the Government are interested in nature conservation only when it is in their interest and when they feel like it. That is not the spirit in which the European directive on wild birds should be interpreted. Nature conservation sites are supposed to be designated according to their importance to nature conservation, not according to how convenient they are in relation to man-made proposals for economic or leisure development. The criteria should not be whether the Government feel like having the protection sites, but whether those sites are important for nature conservation.
The Government's decision to exclude the site has blown to smithereens any reputation that they may have had for being interested in green issues. It was an embarrassing decision for the Government to make. During the Prime Minister's recent visit to Cardiff he was told—as Conservative party managers are always told—that it would be a great moral boost if he visited the people running the Cardiff Bay development corporation and looked at the proposed site of the lake that was being impounded behind the barrage. The Prime Minister went to visit the Cardiff bay district, and was taken for a walk down by the pier head along the newly constructed boardwalk intended to attract visitors to the district. He was surrounded by a large number of security men. Those who were there, including reporters from the South Wales Echo, said that there was a peculiar, foul smell due to the fact that during construction of the boardwalk two years ago, the Cardiff Bay development corporation fractured Bute Town's main foul sewer which runs directly underneath the boardwalk. When they were sinking the boardwalk piles they did not know exactly where the old sewer was and went right through the middle of it. That has resulted in a steady trickle, which I shall not describe, running out from underneath the boardwalk to the mudlfats. There was the Prime Minister, surrounded by security men, journalists and television crews, trying to avoid breathing in the smell. Two opponents of the Cardiff bay barrage, Stan Perkins and Les Baxter from the docks 740 area of Cardiff, managed, in their baseball caps and anoraks, to get through the security cordon surrounding the Prime Minister and went up to him, at which point Stan Perkins uttered the immortal words, "Get a whiff of that."
Earlier this week I asked the Prime Minister what consultations he had had concerning the Bute Town main sewer and the foul odours emanating from it underneath the boardwalk at the pier head in Cardiff. In classic Majorese, he replied that he would write to me shortly. Such an embarrassment would not occur if the Government adopted a comprehensive, integrated and committed approach to improving the environment. Instead they regard the issue as a convenience, to be used only when they feel like it, and regard it as an inconvenience when it conflicts with other Government objectives.
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
I am delighted to be able to participate in the debate. I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) said about his constituency, in particular about nature conservation. I have many happy memories of south Wales. Some of my relations live in the Porthcawl area. I have spent many happy holidays in that part of the country. I can well understand his constituents' annoyance at the fracture of the sewer pipe. The Government are, however, listening. What the hon. Gentleman said will not fall on stony ground. The Government are firmly committed to improving the environment. Many issues that have been a source of considerable annoyance to me and others in recent years are coming to the top of the agenda and will, I hope, be taken seriously.
I hope, too, that the general public will recognise their importance and will want considerable improvements to be made so that infringements of what we all consider to be our right to enjoy the environment to the full are dealt with properly. We do not want the environment to be desecrated by thoughtless and mindless individuals and corporations. That is at the root of the problem.
People are thoughtless on many occasions and cause environmental pollution for others. We must educate people. I refer to parents as well as to children. Parents have an important role to play. They must teach their children to look after the environment and not throw tin cans and litter about. People must be taught that it is not environmentally acceptable to wind down the windows of their cars and throw out used cigarette packets. It causes much annoyance and offence to others. We must educate the population to clean up the environment.
Some people will begin to understand its importance only if they are fined severely. We must ensure that the law is implemented. I realise that the police have many other duties to perform. When laws are passed they say that they will do their best to implement them within the resources available. I accept that murder, rape and other extremely important issues are right at the top of their agenda. Nevertheless, the standard of our lives depends considerably on the way in which other people abuse the system by scattering litter, which is extremely expensive to clear up.
741 The Scandinavian countries recently conducted an experiment whereby each housewife tried to divide the household refuse so that it could be collected and recycled. That is a major step forward.
Wastepaper is not readily marketable. For many years, I had the pleasure of saving all my newspapers for the scouts, who collected it, sold it and used the proceeds for their own purposes. It is not worth their while doing so any more because there is too much paper. People do not appreciate that many soft-wood trees grow much faster than they can be used, so there is little pressure for recycling.
It is more expensive to recycle paper than to start from scratch with wood pulp. We therefore pay a premium for wastepaper to be recycled. We must seriously consider whether it is not worth having wastepaper recycled and suffering the premium to ensure that we do not have so much litter on our streets and general environment.
Glass recycling is now well established and I know of many points in my constituency where it is collected in brown, green and white canisters. That makes a valuable contribution to reducing the amount of glass that is thrown around. When people visit supermarkets, they are careful to take along their used glass.
Cans and plastic, which is so difficult to break down through natural processes, need to be collected separately. The Scandinavians divide waste into metal cans, glass, paper and plastic. That is a good idea and I hope that it catches on throughout the western world so that those items can be reused.
The situation is quite different in the Indian sub-continent. When I go trekking, I find that everything is collected. Porters take home plastic bottles because they are valuable in villages. They are pleased to be able to reuse them.
We certainly have become a throw-away society and we must become more disciplined than in the past. When I was a boy, the majority of bottles had to be reused. I remember that immediately after the war if one did not have a bottle one could not buy a new bottle of whisky. One had to take an empty bottle to the off-licence to buy another one. In some respects, the container was more important than its contents. The situation has changed considerably, but we must train ourselves to be much more conscious of the environment.
There is a good argument for introducing a tax on packaging. Sometimes, the packaging is disgraceful. It is important to have packaging that presents goods to the best possible advantage, but there can be no excuse for having three or four different layers around a product. That aspect must be considered. If people have that much money to waste on packaging, perhaps they are not paying enough tax.
As I said, the way in which people behave in the environment needs to be considered. In recent experiments in the United States, the authorities tried to make the punishment fit the crime. I should very much like to see that in operation in parts of this country. People who paint graffiti should be made to spend a certain number of hours cleaning up the mess. I can think of no better way of ensuring that they stop committing that offence against society. Sometimes for example, people paint graffiti on the supports of the elevated sections of motorways. There is no earthly reason why that should be allowed to continue.
742 I wish to mention a local issue. The north circular road includes a section which now passes through my constituency known as the South Woodford to Barking relief road. That road was opened three or four years ago and trees were planted, but I am sad to see that a number of them have died. I hope that the Department of Transport will take an early opportunity to replant. As we now have a replanting system, I hope that, as the Department's contribution to improving the environment, it will replace the trees that have died. I hope also that strenuous efforts will be made to clean up the horrible rubbish which was thrown out of cars and has collected on the roadside. Both measures would bring a considerable environmental improvement locally.
As I said, we should pay much more attention to education. That responsibility lies not only with schools but with parents. Parents have a major role to play in showing their children how to behave, in telling them to collect rubbish in the countryside and not to throw rubbish out of the car window. Parents have a responsibility to show by good example how responsible citizens behave. There is no reason why the rest of us should pay enormous sums of money to have other people's litter picked up. If that approach does not work on a voluntary basis, we must introduce an effective system of fining and persuade the police to take this aspect of the environment seriously.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
This has been an important debate. The two Front-Bench spokesmen talked about the environment in terms of this country and abroad. One morning recently, I listened to "Farming Today", as I do quite frequently. I am waiting for a general election to be called and I expect the announcement to be made on "Farming Today". The election was called off last time and not everyone was told.
While I was listening to "Farming Today", I heard some startling news about the environment and the ozone layer which should make us all feel startled about what is happening. Sheep in Patagonia in Chile, rabbits and fish had gone blind because of the enormous hole in the ozone layer. That aspect of the chain of life should concern us all. It makes us stop and think about what is happening and about what we in this country can do.
People tell me that socialism is off the agenda. When I think about the need to save the environment, I know that it cannot be saved by market forces, as I had to tell the former Prime Minister before she left office. I said, "You will not patch up that hole in the ozone layer with a man, a bike, a ladder and an enterprise allowance." The only way to save the planet is not through nation states but through states getting together.
I want to put on record a few problems on the micro level in my constituency because it is important that the Minister who replies to the debate should be fully aware of the problems emanating from north Derbyshire. Dioxin has contaminated milk on three farms. That is alarming, not merely because there is dioxin in the milk, which is bad enough, but because it is only in the past few days that any Department has even acknowledged that there was a problem.
There was an admission the other day with regard to Bolsover Coalite which claims not to have much to do with the dioxin, although most people do not believe that. Bolsover Coalite has to install a new incinerator at the end 743 of November which I hope will clear up the issue, but there is still a long way to go. The River Doe Lea, which is little more than a stream where it runs past that plant, several other chemical plants and industrial firms, has, according to a recent statement by Friends of the Earth, pollution levels more than 1,000 times the accepted safety level. Even if that figure has been embellished, it is still bad news.
There are also problems for the farmers. Since June, two of the farmers have lost their livelihood, which was to produce milk, but the Government refuse to pay compensation. If someone has a roof missing from his flat or house, the local authority can have the repairs done if the landlord will not do them and can then charge the landlord. However, when I question the Government, they say that the polluter must pay. It will take a long time to discover who the polluter is, although we all have ideas which are not a million miles away from Bolsover Coalite in Buttermill lane.
If a civil action to claim compensation is necessary, it could take years and in the meantime the farmers are losing their livelihood. In view of the Government's talk about "greenery" and citizens charters and everything else, they should adopt the system that operates in Holland whereby, if dioxin is found while the case is being contested to discovered who is the polluter and to force him to pay, the Government will ensure that payments are made and will then secure the money from the polluter. That means that in the meantime the people affected do not lose out.
In October, pollution was discovered in a third farm in Bolsover. It is apparently one of the worst recorded instances of dioxin, which is one of the most deadly toxins known to man, or to woman. The pollution is so bad that the farmer has had to stop operating his suckle herd, and he is clearly losing money as a result. Thousands of people in my area are very concerned.
The other day I heard it said on television that a cluster of breast cancers had been discovered in an area adjacent to the plant and close to the farms. The occurrence is 50 per cent. higher than in other parts of north Derbyshire. The programme made comparisons not with leafy Surrey, but with parts of north Derbyshire where there have long been industrial firms and pits. We need more action.
The other day the Secretary of State for the Environment went trotting off to the Confederation of British Industry. I am told that he made a better speech than the bloke whose name no one remembers—I think that he is from the Department of Trade and Industry. I do not remember his name, but apparently he went and was followed by the Secretary of State for the Environment, who made a great speech. He said that there was a correlation between the environment and British industry. Those of us who live in mining areas know that there has always been a need to strike a balance between producing coal—in this case producing coke from coal—and causing minimum damage to the environment and to the people who work and live in the vicinity. Coalite must be told to find that balance. I hope that the Government will press for that and will pay the compensation that is so badly needed in the area.
When the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food found that the milk in the area was contaminated, he decided to send it to the west midlands to be incinerated. 744 It is typical of the Government that they sent it to a firm that did not have the equipment to burn it. Dioxin must be burnt at no less than 1,200 deg. C. It could not be properly burnt at the incinerator to which it was sent and as a result goodness knows how many square miles of the west midlands were polluted with dioxin. Some of us found out about that and said to the Government, "Do you know what you are doing?" Apparently they have now sent it somewhere else to be incinerated.
Throughout this episode I have demanded compensation for the farmers and a public inquiry. That is not asking a great deal. Three farms have dioxin-contaminated milk and a river in the area is polluted 1,000 times more than it should be. There are other pieces of evidence, such as an incinerator that is not working properly and cases of breast cancer.
In the run-up to the general election, when the Government are scouring for votes anywhere, one would think that they would announce a public inquiry to enable the people of Bolsover to say exactly what they want and have it placed on record. It would also enable the people who work in the industrial plants, including Coalite, to present statements that are not influenced by people being victimised or witch-hunted. A public inquiry would allay many fears.
The Minister should discuss the matter with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and with anyone else in Departments that are affected. They should discuss paying compensation and announce a public inquiry so that we can get to the truth of the matter about how dioxin has found its way into the milk, who is responsible, and who should pay. That should be done quickly.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
I hope that the House will forgive me for referring first to the speech and the impassioned plea by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). He has tried to raise this issue many times in the past few months. If the Government have not acted by the time of the general election, a Labour Government will definitely hold a public inquiry, because my hon. Friend has made a most convincing case for one.
The debate has been wide-ranging and of a high standard. It has covered global issues, such as the depletion of the ozone layer, and has ranged down to the most micro of micro issues, street parking in one of my old haunts in Cardiff. We are debating extremely important issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) joined the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) in speaking about the issue of the dangers of hospital incineration. A short time ago the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs investigated hospital incineration in Wales and found that the old standards, let alone the new far higher standards, were invariably not being met. There is no doubt that we need higher and more stringent standards, and inspections not only of hospital incinerators but of all incinerators.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting referred to the need to help the emerging democracies and developing countries with the implementation of clean technologies. They definitely need our help, and I hope that the United Nations conference to be held in the not-too-distant future 745 will reach some positive agreement on such matters. I, too, should be interested to hear the Government's views on the EC's fourth action programme on the environment, backed by the Council of Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting told us from his own experience that that programme was being heavily criticised by Conservative members of the Council of Europe, and it would be interesting to know whether the Government uphold that criticism or whether they are wholehearted partners in the action programme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) spoke widely and with much knowledge about the deterioration of water quality, the dangers of incineration, the difficulties under which Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution operates and the fact that, although we have known for many years about the problems of acid rain, not one power station has yet been fitted with flue-gas desulphurisation equipment while other countries are moving further and further ahead of us
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) and a number of other hon. Members referred to environmental impact assessments and the way in which the Government seem to be trying to traduce the whole legal process and divert it into an attack on the Commissioner for the Environment, for political purposes connected with the Maastricht summit. The fears about our failure to implement the directive properly are well founded, but we should not lay our criticisms entirely at the Government's feet, because we are talking about a new procedure with which other countries are also having difficulties. We ask that the operation of the directive should be properly reviewed. The Commission is obviously very unhappy about the matter and—as the Minister knows, because he and I both spoke at the conference organised by the Institute of Environmental Assessment—the expertise is now available to improve our environmental assessment procedures. In particular, we need to open those procedures to the public gaze.
The Minister sought to impress us with the Government's commitment to the environment. Unfortunately., however, as we cast around and seek the opinions of those who work in the field, we find a quite different hue of green from the bright green that the Government would wish us to believe they wear. The Government's green credentials are like the autumn leaves—yellowing at the edges. Let us take an example. The Council for the Protection of Rural England looked at "This Common Inheritance" and at the Government's record and drew up a list of credits and debits. It examined thoroughly a number of matters, including planning for the environment, environmental assessment, agriculture, transport, mineral extraction and coal, energy policy, water resources, protecting the countryside, forestry and institutions, and came up with 28 credits, some with caveats attached, and 48 debits. That sums up the way in which the Government operate. After all., the Conservatives are the party of free enterprise and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover said, free enterprise is not naturally concerned with protecting and enhancing the environment. Its natural concern is to make profits. Only if the Government regulate the environment in which businesses operate will we provide a framework in which business rises to the challenge.
The Government's green credentials are hesitant, half-hearted and, at the end oF the day, unconvincing. The 746 Government's brief sets a target of stabilising Britain's carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2005. However, they include the caveat that they will do that only if other countries play their part. We should not say that. The issue is so important that we should play our part and try to convince other countries to come in as well. To stand on the sidelines because other countries will not play ball demeans the fight to protect and enhance our environment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover said that the Secretary of State for the Environment was at the CBI conference this week exhorting business and industry to accept the challenge of clean technologies and greenery. The Secretary of State said that a British Institute of Management survey showed that half the member companies did not have an environment policy statement: one third did not have someone responsible for environmental issues and fewer than one quarter carried out environmental audits. No wonder companies are not responding. The Government had an opportunity in the Companies Act 1989 to accept an Opposition amendment to introduce environmental audits, but they turned it down. The Government's failure to give a lead is critical in that area.
Let us consider what has happened in the United States. In 1986, a law was passed, overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, under which companies had to publish the annual output of 307 hazardous chemicals. Monsanto decided to accept that challenge. It considered the legal requirement and decided that it would achieve a 90 per cent. reduction of its release of harmful chemical emissions into the atmosphere by 1992 and work for a goal of zero. It is on track to achieve that goal, but it has operated within a legal framework and it has been successful.
Early in December B and Q will be launching a green initiative in this country. It has stopped buying peat from sites of special scientific interest. It no longer buys tropical hardwoods where it can establish that they have been harvested in an unsustainable fashion. The company is asking its suppliers to tell it what they do in terms of environmental audit and I hope that B and Q succeeds. However, it could do much better if it were to operate within a legal framework.
§ Mr. Summerson
Earlier, the hon. Gentleman said that private enterprise was incompatible with environmental friendliness, but he is now giving examples of private enterprise being very environmentally sound.
§ Mr. Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman either misunderstood or misheard me. I said that private enterprise, left to its own devices, does not by and large place a premium on the protection of the environment. Only if a legal framework is provided will it respond well to the challenge. The challenge must be placed before private enterprise; exhortation is not enough.
I am glad that GATT has revived its working group on the environment. I hope that, as a result of that, further pressures will build up to force the Government to act. The story of this Government is that they have been reluctant to act. They have often ignored problems until the weight of evidence has been so overwhelming that they have had to act at last.
To see the way in which business can fail in that respect, we have only to look at the huge profits that the Tory party's treasurer, Lord Beaverbrook, made out of the 747 tropical rain forests of Guyana. One cannot say for certain, but it appears that there will be a profit of about £10 million a year for five years for no actual investment. It is quite likely that there will be unsustainable harvesting of tropical forests.
The Government are proud that they introduced integrated pollution control. They have made progress, but they are not prepared to accept the logic of their own position and provide real resources to enable it to work effectively. At the conference, the CBI environment committee chairman, Chris Hampson, said that companies still lacked important details about the Government's plans to introduce integrated pollution control covering more than 8,000 processes in the next five years. An environmental protection agency is wanted. The Government have promised one, but it would require a volte face to provide one. A year ago they totally opposed it.
§ Mr. Trippier
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman really means what he has just said. If he looks a little more carefully at the White Paper that was published last September, he will see that we made it clear that we have not ruled it out and that, in fact, we would look positively at it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his remark.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Unfortunately, I cannot withdraw my remark, because the Government had the opportunity to vote for the creation of an environmental protection agency, but they refused. The fact that they have now accepted it shows a complete change of attitude from that of a year ago. Despite an environmental protection agency being promised in "This Common Inheritance", they still voted against it. They voted against our amendment to fulfil a promise that was made in "This Common Inheritance".
Many companies ignore green laws and are failing to register under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 processes which should be registered. Why is that? The director of pollution control has pointed out that more resources are desperately needed to monitor pollution. A National Audit Office report has pointed out that the pollution inspectorate is probably more than 100 inspectors understaffed. In 1990–91, the number of inspections fell from almost 8,000 to just under 4,000. A report published yesterday by the National Audit Office on chemical and oil pollution stated that inspections in the North sea and in the seas off this island are so infrequent that it is virtually impossible to catch the polluters.
Against that background of failure, we must say that the Government are simply not doing enough. We know the dangers that global warming presents, but still the Government are hesitant. At one time, they even reduced the amount of money available to the Energy Efficiency Office, although I am pleased to see that in the public spending round there will be a 40 per cent. increase in the coming year. The amount of money that the Government are providing—£59 million next year—is peanuts. The Dutch spend about 13 times as much as we do on energy efficiency and conservation.
Let us consider the profits. We do not need to talk about the need for carbon taxes. All we need to do is to look at the profits of companies such as British Gas. It 748 made £65 profit per customer this year—nearly £1 billion in profits. If we creamed off the super-profit aspect, which is far above the amounts that were set aside in the Bill before privatisation, and used it in respect of all the power producers, we would have four or five times the amount currently readily available for conservation measures to be introduced.
Our private utilities could follow American examples. The Americans provide low-cost or no-cost energy efficient bulbs and even pay customers $50 if they install an environmentally friendly fridge in their home. They do that to reduce energy consumption and because that, in turn, means that there is less need for new power stations and thus costs generally can be cut.
By reducing energy consumption, we can significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The Government's year-on statement does not refer to any measures against transport polluters. I am, however, glad that the Secretary of State for Transport has suggested that the Government will introduce regulations governing the amount of pollution that cars are allowed to cause. That is all to the good.
However, the Government's record is one of hesitancy and halfheartedness and reveals their lack of commitment to the concept of planning or to regulations that would allow industry to get on with its job and to respond. Whenever the election is called next year and Labour comes to power, we will provide that lead and that framework. Many industrialists will breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that they will get a proper lead from a Labour Government.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry)
This has been a wide-ranging and interesting debate. We welcome the opportunity of a full day's debate on our environmental stewardship. It has provided us with the opportunity of trumpeting to the world all that we have achieved and of promoting the first-year report on our White Paper "This Common Inheritance".
The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) was charitable enough to say that the first-year report and its approach are unprecedented—as they are. The report is thorough, open and accountable and demonstrates that of the 350 commitments that we made in last year's White Paper, 200 have already been fulfilled. Not only does the report list the measures that we have already taken, but it identifies those that we intend to take. It sets targets. We do not need great chunks in the Queen's Speech to demonstrate our commitment to environmental stewardship because it is clear to anyone who cares to look. Not only have we set out what we intend to do, but we have set out the date by which we intend to do it. We have continuing priorities for action and intend that our environmental stewardship should be accountable and open. That is why we have put green issues at the heart of the machinery of government, with ministerial committees that are chaired by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment.
We are seeking an environmental dialogue with the whole community—with businesses, local authorities and the voluntary sector. There is now a general recognition that everyone has an interest in enhancing the 749 environment. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment said in his excellent speech to the Confederation of British Industry conference,the market is demanding. The market set by our own advanced environmental legislation; the market set by European Community legislation; above all, the market set by the consumer—increasingly the green consumer. The single market will be a green market.I have absolutely no doubt that that will be the case and that is why we are determined to have higher environmental standards. I am therefore pleased that the United Kingdom is one of the top four European Community countries in complying with environmental directives.
It is our intention always to promote accountability and access to environmental information. The White Paper and the first-year report are part of that exercise, as is the report of the drinking water inspectorate. I am glad that it has shown that in 99 per cent. of the tests, our water is meeting European Community standards——
§ Mr. Baldry
The hon. Lady is keen to have prosecutions—[Interruption.] Part of establishing high environmental standards is ensuring that those who do not meet the standards are prosecuted. She will be interested to know that in its second year—after September 1991—the NRA trebled its original number of successful prosecutions.
We wish to see not only high environmental standards but an increase in investment. We wish to see not only investment such as has been made possible by water privatization—£28 billion has been invested in enhancing water standards. That is some £5,000 for each and every minute between now and the end of the century. We also want to see increasing investment in the staff of HMIP for example. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside announced an increase in its staff today. We also wish to see organisations such as the NRA enhance their standards with water quality objectives.
There may have been a misunderstanding about what the National Audit Office said about HMIP. It said:it is not feasible to double a specialist professional organisation at a step.… the pool of people with the qualifications and experience to become pollution inspectors is relatively small and thus constrains the achievable pace of recruitment.Thus HMIP is seeking to proceed by continuous expansion. My hon. Friend's announcement earlier today is the proof of that continuous expansion. Indeed, HMIP intends to continue to recruit more inspectors over the next four years to maintain higher standards.
The determination to maintain high standards is reinforced by clear public spending commitments, as was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the autumn statement earlier this week. He announced investment in the environment, and more investment in public transport and environmentally friendly farming.
There was a misunderstanding on the part of the hon. Members for Dewsbury and for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) about the other environmental services line from the autumn statement. It included several headings which are not green in the accepted sense. I am not sure that the hon. Members appreciated that it 750 included such matters as property holdings. So when my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside next week announces the detailed breakdown of those figures and the figures are published, it will be seen that when one concentrates on what we would all perceive as the green environmental issues, that investment has done well. We are determined that there should be higher standards, more investment and a partnership between the Government and the people to ensure the highest possible environmental standards.
One or two themes have run through the debate. There has been much to-ing and fro-ing about the environmental agency. I make it clear that our aim is to create a powerful, independent agency which will provide consistent and coherent controls on discharges to air, Iand and water. It will be a fully integrated, multi-media approach to pollution control. If one intends to take that step, it is essential to have full consultation.
It was somewhat disingenuous of the hon. Member for Dewsbury to suggest that legislation for an environmental agency could have been passed during this parliamentary Session. She was challenged by my hon. Friend the Minister to comment on her party's attitude to the waste disposal regulatory functions. He response was that that would be a matter for a regional tier of local government. We do not have a regional tier of local government. A condition of creating an agency would be to legislate to introduce a regional tier of local government. It is disingenuous to say that we could have introduced a Bill to set up an environmental agency during the lifetime of this Parliament.
We want to ensure that there is a full opportunity for consultation on the proposal to set up an environmental protection agency. That consultation will continue until 31 January next year. We want to work with the NRA and local government in paving the way for the agency. Our timing is to reach final decisions early next year and introduce a Bill early in the new Parliament once we have won.
Of course, part of our achievement in enhancing standards is the concept of integrated pollution control. Chris Hampson, the chairman of the Confederation of British Industry's environment committee at the CBI conference last week, said:when it is fully up and running, Integrated Pollution Control will give Britain the highest standards in Europe.Anxieties were expressed that some processes and factories had not yet applied for IPC under air quality regulations. Of course, that is a serious matter, but it must be a matter for the judgment of local authorities about individual firms. Local authorities have a wide range of options, including the opportunity to prosecute if companies do not comply. They have the statutory duty and the initiative for action must lie firmly with them and with the firms involved.
We heard a fair amount from the hon. Members for Dewsbury and for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) and others about river quality. It is well to remind the House that river quality is high in the United Kingdom in comparison with the quality in the European Community. In the 1985 survey figures 95 per cent. of United Kingdom rivers were of good or fair quality, compared with an average of 75 per cent. of river length in Europe.
To link leaked or reported changes in water quality in 1990 to privatisation is daft. Everyone knows that it can take years for changes in water industry investment to feed 751 through to river quality. What happened in the year before and after privatisation would have had no impact. What is certain is that privatisation has opened the door to an unprecedented scale of investment in improvements by the water industry. The industry is spending £28 billion in the 10 years to the turn of the century to meet higher standards and it plans to spend £3 billion in 1991–92—a 20 per cent. increase on last year, which was a 40 per cent. increase on the previous year.
The performance of sewage treatment works is steadily improving and information provided by the NRA shows that non-compliance with long-term conditions is substantially down. So, we are witnessing a substantial and continuing improvement in the water industry.
May I try to make clear, once and for all, the position with regard to a letter sent by Mr. Ripa di Meana. Despite the best efforts of my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside to put everyone straight, the Opposition are determined to misunderstand. Our quarrel is not with the Commission's right to ask questions about the implementation of the directive. There is no argument about that. We are used to complaints being made and for the most part, on proper consideration, they are not found to be worth pursuing. We are among the top four European Community nations when it comes to compliance with Community directives and I am confident that that will be the case with this issue. A genuine disagreement about the interpretation of the directive lies at the heart of the matter, especially in regard to the transitional arrangements to cover the period when the directive is coming into force. That is the legal issue.
Our dispute with the Commission is not concerned with the legal issue, which I am sure can be resolved. Our dispute is simply a straightforward matter of good manners. Having sent what was purportedly a personal letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, the Commissioner leaked it to the press and to various environmental groups before the Secretary of State knew that it was coming. It is as if I wrote a letter to the hon. Member for Dewsbury and, before telling her to expect it, sent a copy to her local newspaper. I think that she would feel that that was simply bad manners. Our complaint is a simple one about bad manners.
There is an accepted convention that communications between the Commission and member states are confidential. The Commissioner breached that convention by issuing a press notice when he sent the letter, and by making public the contents of a private letter to the Secretary of State for Transport. That is what the row is about.
The Prime Minister was right to take the action that he did and the Government were right to be aggrieved at the manner in which Mr. Ripa di Meana handled the matter. I am glad to say that the Government have received a satisfactory reply from Mr. Delors.
As to the substance of the technical dispute on transitional arrangements to cover the directive, I have no doubt that it will be possible to come to a satisfactory arrangement and agreement with the Commission in due course.
A number of hon. Members mentioned detailed matters during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), who is an assiduous champion 752 of his constituents' interests, mentioned a number of environmental concerns in his area and he made it clear to the House that he had drawn them directly to the attention of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will take such action as he considers appropriate.
One of the worries of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North was similar to that of the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and involved hospital incinerators. Tougher air quality controls must be a matter for local authorities to enforce. Under part III of the Environmental Protection Act, local authorities are under a duty to investigate complaints about statutory nuisance, and under part I of the Act hospital incinerator operators were required to apply for authorisation by 30 September or be liable to prosecution. Tougher standards should lead to cleaner emissions. If the hon. Member for Tooting wishes to pursue a specific point he should write to me and I shall be happy to look into it.
The hon. Member for Tooting rightly said that many people were worried about the quality of their local environment. That is why, under the Environmental Protection Act, we have taken action on litter, dogs and noise. The hon. Gentleman's concerns were echoed by my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) and for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne). Due to those fears we have substantially increased the penalties for actions such as littering—enhancing the quality of the local environment is important.
The issue of eastern Europe was also raised and many environmental concerns cross boundaries. That is why we have made available money for eastern Europe over a three-year period to encourage the transfer of all types of expertise. In addition to the money that central Government are making available, many British companies, including water companies, are seeking to make their expertise available to eastern Europe to help them with the challenge of cleaning up their environment after 40 years of state socialism.
Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) is no longer here. It is a great pity that she did not hear the speech by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and that he did not hear hers. We must get those two Members together because they make interesting speeches.
We shall always promote best science. The United Kingdom hosted the second meeting of the parties to the Montreal protocol. I am glad that in March this year the European Community agreed to phase out supplies of CFCs within the European Community by July 1997—two and a half years earlier than required by the Montreal protocol. That is all good news and demonstrates our commitment to enhancing standards, and tackling global and environmental problems.
The hon. Members for Carmarthen and for Bolsover expressed concern about dioxins—the hon. Member for Carmarthen in a general way, the hon. Member for Bolsover more specifically. The Government have been taking tougher action to control potential sources of dioxins, including higher controls on the contamination of chemicals and waste, chemical incineration and the phasing out of leaded petrol. They are prompting the highest practical standards for incineration through integrated pollution control.
The hon. Member for Bolsover knows—because I made it clear to him on Wednesday—that a host of 753 agencies are carrying out expensive studies into the problem that he raised, which calls for a public inquiry. Those organisations include the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the National Rivers Authority and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. It will be some time before the full results of those investigations are available, but they will be published. Once they are made available, they will assist the farmers in any action that they may wish to pursue.
The BBC "Close Up North" programme yesterday suggested that there had been an increase in the incidence of breast cancer locally. I understand that the advice from the North Derbyshire health authority isthere is currently no reason to suppose that cancer in Bolsover is a bigger problem than cancer elsewhere".I am not sure of the basis on which the BBC allegation was made, but medical advisers in the Department of Health will be looking into this further. The BBC said that it was difficult to draw any significant conclusions from the cancer incidence data. Therefore, it would be sensible to consider the nature of that evidence before seeking to extrapolate too much from it. The hon. Member for Carmarthen referred to acid rain. However, it is worth reminding the House that United Kingdom SO2 emissions have fallen by approximately 40 per cent. since 1970.
In a debate such as this I am always conscious that it is never possible within the time available to the Front Bench spokesmen who wind up to do justice to all the points that have been made. I am afraid that that is the position today. However, what we have demonstrated both in the debate and in the first year report is that the Government have made substantial progress. We believe, however, that the protection of the environment is a management task on a huge scale, comparable in long-term importance with the management of the economy and the defence of the realm. The Government's stewardship of the environment—
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.