HC Deb 22 January 1992 vol 202 cc306-7
10. Mr. Alton

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to require the annual publication of details of chemical emissions into the environment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry)

As I explained in my answer to the hon. Member on 20 December, monitoring information about releases to the environment must be placed in public registers as soon as it is received or obtained, which in some cases will be at more frequent intervals than annually. In addition, for 1992 and future years, Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution will be required to publish aggregate totals of releases from the data that it receives in respect of processes subject to integrated pollution control. My Department will issue a consultation paper on this proposal soon.

Mr. Alton

May I welcome the news that the Minister has just given? On Merseyside, there is considerable concern that following a recent chemical leak, 28 people had to receive hospital attention and treatment. Does the Minister agree that the American model, in which disclosures are forced by law and in which companies—some operating in this country—with plants there have to have far more stringent control means that the populations living in areas in which there are chemical factories are better protected? We should introduce such a model into our legislation.

Mr. Baldry

In this, as in every other area, we are making far more information widely available to the public. Information about chemical emissions is being made available by placing monitoring data in public registers. The public registers can be examined free of charge at all reasonable times, and copies of entries can be obtained on payment of reasonable charges. Dangerous occurrences involving the uncontrolled or accidental release of chemicals must be notified to the Health and Safety Commission. As the hon. Gentleman knows, in reference to the instance to which he referred, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment, gave a detailed reply about the actions taken by the Health and Safety Executive on 20 December 1991.

Mr. Michael Brown

Does my hon. Friend accept that there need be no concern for the Government about the requirements to publish more detail about chemical emissions? Will he take it from me that in my constituency, where we have two oil refineries, two titanium dioxide manufacturers and, shortly, two electricity generating companies, the amount of emissions by those companies is being reduced all the time? The combined cycle gas power stations which will be built by National Power and PowerGen in my constituency will cut sulphur dioxide emissions and carbon dioxide emissions to the benefit of the environment in the whole country, as well as in my constituency.

Mr. Baldry

I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend. He makes the point very well.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Does the Minister agree that under the American model, there have been substantial reductions—90 per cent. in the case of one chemical company, Monsanto—in emissions, as a result of proposals such as those that Labour will introduce after this year's election? Does he agree that the publication of all the information available in the world is not of much use if a Government like his cannot implement legislation such as that relating to nitrates in drinking water?

Mr. Baldry

Let us get that into context. The case to which the hon. Gentleman refers is the first case brought against the United Kingdom on an environmental issue in the 20 years in which we have been a member of the Community. Many cases have been brought against other states, including cases against almost all other member states in relation to the drinking water directive. In three of the five counts in the court case, compliance has now been achieved. A fourth count relates to legislation in Northern Ireland and it has not delayed the action being taken there to achieve compliance with the directive's standards. On the fifth count, relating to nitrate levels in some parts of England, the United Kingdom is already doing everything practicable to achieve compliance at the earliest practicable date.

There is nothing wrong with the quality of drinking water in the United Kingdom. In the first annual report of the drinking water inspectorate, which was published last year, the chief inspector confirmed that in the 3.3 million tests made in 1990, 99 per cent. complied with the requirements of our national regulations which are more stringent than the European Community directive. That is a record of which we can all be proud.