HC Deb 19 February 1992 vol 204 cc316-7
4. Mr. Alan W. Williams

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the progress being made in implementing the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

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

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 has already led to significant improvements in national pollution control, waste disposal, the control of litter and the reorganisation of bodies responsible for the countryside. Progress in all areas is continuing on schedule.

Mr. Williams

Will the Minister confirm that Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution has so far achieved just six prosecutions under integrated pollution control and the 1990 Act? The Minister will remember that in Committee, he regularly boasted about how powerful a piece of legislation the Bill was—saying that it was the most far-reaching legislation in Europe, and so on. After 13 years of Conservative government, it is the only environment Act that we have. It is flimsy legislation. No money was committed to it, only six prosecutions have been brought and fines imposed to date amount to only 13,000. Is not that the true measure of the Act and of the Government's lack of commitment to the environment?

Mr. Trippier

When the hon. Gentleman sat on the Standing Committee on the Bill he did not vote on any single occasion against the precise measures to which he now refers. There is a major difference between the hon. Gentleman and myself as to whether prosecutions are an agency's proof of success. I maintain that the principal force of the 1990 Act is the deterrents that it introduced. Prosecutions are the mark of the failure of a policy, not of its success. The hon. Gentleman has a ghoulish thirst for blood—except, of course, the sight of his own.

Mr. Squire

Is not my hon. Friend a little surprised that the Opposition seek to raise that point, given that the 1990 Act and other measures demonstrate that every major environmental initiative this century has been implemented by a Conservative Government? Will my hon. Friend emphasise that Labour's only policy on air pollution is to abolish nuclear power and replace it with coal-fired power —the net consequence of which could be only a massive increase in global warming?

Mr. Trippier

My hon. Friend is right. On his last point, Labour has manifestly failed to square the circle. While it has a policy such as that to which my hon. Friend referred, it cannot convince the House or anyone else that it is serious about stabilising and reducing carbon dioxide levels. My hon. Friend's first point is valid. Conservative Governments have been responsible for all major environmental legislation. An Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), said at Labour's party conference that Labour introduced the Clean Air Act 1956. It did not. That legislation was introduced by a Conservative Government.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Will the Minister explain why, if the Environmental Protection Act 1990 is so wonderful, the Government are being dragged to the European Court for failing to comply with Community legislation on water standards and air pollution control? Is it not a fact that, for all their fine words, the Government's deeds are desperately poor and that the country is looking forward to a change of Government in a month?

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Gentleman always comes to the House badly briefed. Nothing in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 relates to the European directives to which his question refers. Every member state has either received article 169 letters or is, according to the Commission, in breach of European directives. The case being considered during the next few weeks will be the first alleged breach of an environment directive by this Government in 20 years' membership of the European Community—and I am proud of that.