HC Deb 03 June 1992 vol 208 cc848-919

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Andrew MacKay.]

4.39 pm
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Howard)

Just over two and a half hours ago, the United Nations conference on the environment and development, the Earth summit, began in Rio de Janeiro. It is a unique event. Representatives from more than 160 nations are expected to attend. More than 100 of those delegations will be led by Heads of State or Government. It is the largest ever gathering of world leaders.

One of the first of those leaders to make the commitment to attend personally was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. His personal commitment reflects the leading role that the Government played in all phases of the complex preparations for the conference over the past three years.

In a moment, I shall set out in detail the goals towards which we have been working, the contribution that the United Kingdom has made to achieving those goals, and the ways in which we plan to take forward the process after the conference is over. I will first say a word about the context in which the conference takes place.

Almost exactly 20 years ago today, 113 nations met in Stockholm for the United Nations conference on the human environment. That was the first global discussion on the fate of our planet. Only one Prime Minister attended that meeting. The House will not underestimate the significance of the large number of Heads of Government attending the Earth summit. Their presence at a gathering of that kind concentrates minds. It focuses attention on the issues. It lifts their place on the agenda.

The Stockholm conference took place at the height of the cold war. The Soviet Union and the eastern bloc countries refused to attend. At that time the international agenda was dominated by the need to avert the threat of a global nuclear holocaust. Few then could see an end to that threat. Today it is much reduced, and we live in a saner and safer world.

The problems that we are addressing at the Earth summit are hardly less important for the future of mankind—and they are no less difficult. Winning the cold war took great vision to see that, despite the difficulties, peace was possible. It required a clear sense of the scale of the endeavour, so as not to have unrealistic expectations about the pace of progress. It called for hard realism about achievable goals so as not to be tempted into fallacious and potentially fatal policies by the allure of easy-sounding solutions.

Putting the planet on a course towards sustainable development will require those same qualities of vision, sense of scale, and realism. Those are the qualities that the Government are determined to bring to the task, which is why I do not share the pessimism and faint-heartedness of those who so glibly dismiss the Earth summit as a failure before it has even begun.

Our overriding objective at Rio is to begin a process. It will be an evolutionary process that will lead to action to deal with the problems of the environment and development that we must and shall overcome. We must begin that process in each of the areas that we are addressing at the summit.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I thank the Secretary of State for his words so far, and do not dissent from them. I am also grateful to the Government for giving the House the opportunity to debate this subject today. Given that only three paragraphs of the Queen's Speech dealt with this topic, why have the Government waited until the very last moment before allowing a debate for which there has been great demand, but which the Government have resisted until now?

Mr. Howard

I am not sure that matter is for me. The normal procedure is to make a statement and, where appropriate, to allow a debate, after such a conference has taken place, so that progress can be reviewed and the Government can report. That is the course that the Government intended to follow. I am delighted that this opportunity has arisen in the course of a crowded calendar, because it enables us to discuss those matters at an early stage in the conference.

The first of the policy areas that we shall address at Rio will be the creation of new international legal institutions to deal with immediately urgent problems. The most important and difficult of those agreements is the framework convention on climate change. We have also been working towards a convention to protect the planet's great diversity of plant and animal species, and to adopt a declaration on the protection of forests—to provide the foundation for a future convention on that increasingly important issue.

Secondly, we shall set out to agree Agenda 21—a comprehensive framework of action by Governments, international and regional organisations, and other bodies. Thirdly, we seek an agreement on a statement of principles on environment and development—the Rio declaration. It will update and reinforce the 26 principles agreed at the Stockholm conference. Those principles have provided a firm foundation for the development of international law over the past 20 years. We are looking to the Rio declaration to provide an equally durable basis for the next two decades.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

As the Minister for Overseas Development knows, I have entered into long correspondence on the biodiversity treaty or convention. Will the Secretary of State, at some convenient point in his speech, set out the reasons for the Government's hesitations and reluctance in signing that treaty? The right hon. and learned Gentleman has heard the Malaysians and others say, "If you can't implement the biodiversity treaty, why should we do what you want in relation to our forests?" That is a crucial matter.

Mr. Howard

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall come to that important point. I am sure that he is the first to realise that concern for biodiversity does not necessarily equate with signing a particular document or agreement.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

Will the conference be discussing the policy advanced by third-world countries, that the rich countries of the north should cut their consumption to ensure that the earth's resources are rationed so that our children and grandchildren can benefit from them?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman puts that point in his particular way, but it does not actually correspond with the way in which the matter is dealt with in any of the documents, agreements, or declarations that are before the Earth summit. The summit will discuss matters of that kind, and ways in which development can take place in harmony with the environment. I hope that the summit will be able to reach agreement on those matters.

Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham)

The Secretary of State says that concern for biodiversity does not necessarily equate with a willingness to sign the convention. Has not the right hon. and learned Gentleman claimed that he and the Government played a part in the preparatory work on that convention? If he is not prepared to give an undertaking to sign it—I hope that he will, right now—what other instrument is available to him as a means of proving the concern that he expresses in general terms?

Mr. Howard

I shall deal in some detail with the biodiversity convention. I was making the point to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that one should not equate concern for biodiversity, which we clearly share, with a particular convention or agreement. The reason relates to the particular terms of the convention, with which I shall deal later in my speech.

I was talking about the principles and aims contained in the Rio declaration, which we hope will take forward and update, in an effective and constructive way, the principles that were agreed at Stockholm some 20 years ago. To support those aims, we also set out to develop more effective ways in which to help developing countries to finance their part in meeting global environmental challenges.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind the fact that, during the past 20 years, there has been an acceleration of the transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest on the planet? There has also been an acceleration in environmental destruction in third-world countries, largely because of the economic policies that have been imposed on those countries by the International Monetary Fund and the World bank.

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to recognise that the world economic structure is fundamentally wrong, and that, until there is some justice in it, the destruction of the environment—especially in third-world countries—will not only continue, but worsen?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman will not be astonished to learn that I do not agree with his analysis of what has happened in the past 20 years, or with the reasons that he has given for what has happened. The Governments of most of the countries to which he referred do not agree with his analysis either.

I do not know whether it is now the Labour party's view that the policies of the International Monetary Fund are not sensible or appropriate. Of course, we understand Labour's sensitivity in relation to the IMF, but I was under the impression that its policies enjoyed widespread support.

We intend to improve the flow of environmentally beneficial technologies to developing countries, and to strengthen the international institutional arrangements to support sustainable development. The Government have played a leading role in the efforts of the international community to achieve those goals, and I believe that we have every reason to take pride in that role.

As the House will know, on 9 May the United Nations intergovernmental negotiating committee adopted a convention on climate change. That followed 16 months of difficult and delicate negotiations. The convention will now be opened for signature during the United Nations Conference on environment and development, and the United Kingdom Government will sign it at Rio.

Those who have attacked the agreement on the ground that it is empty of content or lacking in specific commitment cannot have taken the trouble to read it with any care. It commits all the signatories to devising and reporting on the measures that they propose to take to combat climate change. It also specifically commits all the developed countries to giving a lead by taking measures aimed at returning emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the year 2000.

Through the global environmental facility, it will provide a mechanism for financial support to meet the agreed incremental costs of projects in developing countries. We have undertaken to provide the GEF with new and additional resources for that purpose if others do likewise.

I believe that the outcome of the negotiations represents a significant first step in the global response to climate change, but it is only a first step; others will follow. It is a sensible precautionary response, delivered while we improve our scientific understanding of climate change. As our knowledge develops, it may become necessary to make further commitments to limit emissions: that is why one of the most important aspects of the convention is the strong process that it has established for review of the action being taken by parties to the convention, and of the need for further action.

The draft biodiversity convention contains many useful elements. It would pave the way for individual countries to set up a network of protected areas to safeguard habitats. It would assist countries—particularly those'in the tropics, where most important sites of biodiversity are located—to devise plans that meet their national circumstances. It would contribute to the global benefits of conserving as much biodiversity as possible. It would facilitate the sharing of benefits, in the form of potentially valuable biological resources, between the countries providing them and those that develop them.

But—yes, there is a but—the financial provisions of the draft convention have caused us a good deal of concern. They are drawn broadly, and, on the face of it—given an appropriate interpretation of them—it is possible that they would allow the conference of parties to the convention to determine the amount of contributions that would have to be made by other countries, including the United Kingdom. That is not yet settled. We continue to examine the text very closely, and we are exploring urgently ways in which we can safeguard our position and which would enable us to sign the convention without finding ourselves signing a blank cheque. I very much hope that we shall be able to sign, and we are making considerable efforts to achieve that objective.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the agrement on funding mechanisms for a consensus on payment within the biodiversity treaty is similar to agreements contained in other treaties—for instance, the Montreal protocol, to which we have already agreed? Were not the steps taken in the biodiversity agreement intended to answer the points raised by the North countries? Is that not a totally spurious reason for rejecting the treaty, which has been advanced now purely to protect the interests of America, rather than honouring the principles contained in the treaty?

Mr. Howard

I assure the hon. Lady that our position on that question has nothing to do with America's position. The Americans have expressed a number of concerns about the biodiversity treaty which we do not share. They object to a number of clauses which we consider perfectly acceptable. Our position in relation to the treaty is far from identical to that of the United States.

I listened with great interest to the first part of the hon. Lady's question. That may indeed be a possible interpretation of the arrangements that the convention seeks to establish, and if, on examination, it turns out that it really is the better interpretation, we shall sign. We are looking very urgently for a way in which we can do so.

Mr. Dalyell

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), the Secretary of State is an able lawyer. I am not a lawyer, and I realise that intellectual property rights are a legal minefield. Let us take, however, two examples: the Madagascar periwinkle, and the liana plant from Cameroon. It is claimed—and there is some evidence to support the claim—that the liana is a possible antedote for AIDS, while the periwinkle is valued for its fruit.

What intellectual property rights, in the form of money, would accrue to native peoples? They produce the knowledge that has put western scientists on to the possibility that the examples that I have given may have important medicinal properties—knowledge that can be reproduced in the Amazon. Those who have been to Belem and the Goeldi institute, and have seen the work of Elaine Elizabetsky, know of the enormous potential for native peoples to obtain some of the benefits of medicinal plants which are of great benefit to western pharmaceutical companies.

Mr. Howard

I hope that I can allay the hon. Gentleman's anxieties. We are content with the provisions in the convention for dealing with intellectual property rights. That is not our concern; it is the concern of the Americans. Our concerns are different. I have sought to explain them. I very much hope that we can overcome them.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

When we are dealing with the American point, is it not correct to point out that American Congressional opinion, which was made evident when the Earth summit was debated at a meeting of the North Atlantic Assembly, does not run in parallel with that of the Administration? Congress has been pressing the Administration to go much further and to sign the agreements arranged for the Earth summit, which at this moment it would appear the Administration are unwilling to do.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend knows full well that it is usually the case that Congressional opinion does not run in parallel with that of the Administration. I am not sure that I would follow my hon. Friend's speculation as to where the balance of Congressional opinion lies. I do not think that there is unanimity in Congress on these matters, but it is clear that there is a difference of view between Congress and the Administration.

Mr. Gould

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way to me again. We on this side of the House have been listening with great care to what he has been saying about the difficulties, as he sees them, in signing the biodiversity convention, but let me press him on that matter, so as to be sure of his position. Does he say that it is only and solely his concern about the cost commitment that causes the Government difficulty, and that if that were to be resolved to his satisfaction he could sign the agreement? Since the Secretary of State has presumably been very much involved in the drafting of the convention, and since he is well equipped to take a view of its legal meaning, what is his opinion on the matter?

Mr. Howard

I must disclaim any responsibility for the drafting of this document. It emerged during the negotiations in Nairobi. The discussions took place at official level. They were not decided on a vote. They were the outcome of a very protracted series of negotiations. Our officials, who were present at the negotiations, at every stage made clear our reservations in relation lo these particular clauses. As I suggested to the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo), we are looking very carefully at the text to see whether we can sign.

I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's question directly. That is the primary obstacle to our signing. It is not the only one; there are one or two others. However, I very much hope that we shall be able to overcome all these obstacles and that we shall sign the convention.

The text of the statement of principles, the Rio declaration, is agreed. It contains useful principles for future action. It includes the precautionary principle. It stresses the need to avoid use of the environment as a disguised restriction on trade. It endorses the "polluter pays" principle and the importance of environmental information. We have made much progress in achieving a final form also for Agenda 21, covering some 40 different areas for action. Agreement is in sight on the institutional arrangements to take the Rio process forward after UNCED. I very much hope that we shall be able to reach agreement on that.

In addition to our part in the negotiations—which, as I have indicated, was a very prominent one—the United Kingdom has made a number of other significant contributions to the overall success of UNCED. We have brought forward our own target for reducing our emissions of carbon dioxide. We were the first country to make a specific commitment to make available new and additional resources, provided that others did likewise. We have assisted a number of developing countries with the costs of preparing their contributions to Rio. We have financed the organisation of a vigorous preparatory process for non-governmental bodies within the United Kingdom, and we made available $1 million to lead an international effort to prevent the collapse of the global forum of non-governmental organisations in Rio—and much else besides.

I have set out our contributions to the success of Rio in some detail so as to put into perspective the allegations that are frequently made about this Government's efforts on the environment, but there is another area where our approach has frequently been misunderstood, or consciously misrepresented. That is the area of our financial contribution to sustainable development.

There will undoubtedly be a great deal of debate in Rio on financial issues. The measures needed to protect the environment and to achieve more appropriate patterns of development throughout the world will undoubtedly have substantial costs as well as benefits. The developing countries will need help in achieving the new patterns of sustainable development. The single most important assistance that they need is an improvement in the world trading system.

The recent breakthrough in the common agricultural policy reform opens the door to the possibility of completing the Uruguay round of the general agreement on tariffs and trade reform and of giving real meaning, real hope to the development of the economies of the south. In subsequent rounds there, increasing attention will need to be paid to the linkages between trade policy and the protection of the environment. I have no doubt that the discussions in Rio will emphasise that important message.

When the Indonesian Environment Minister came to see me a couple of weeks ago, he readily acknowledged the fact that trade was far more important than aid, not only in terms of the development needs of his country but in terms of the extent to which they were going to be able to improve their environment. For some of the poorest countries, their burden of debt drastically restricts their capacity to make the necessary economic reforms and to tackle environmental and developmental problems.

Britain has consistently taken a lead in action on debt. Since 1979, we have relieved developing countries of over £1 billion of old aid loans, and all new aid to the poorest countries is given on grant terms. In September 1990, when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he proposed to the Paris Club a new set of Trinidad terms for the poorest countries, to relieve some or all of their outstanding debt. The international community must do more. We must build on that excellent start and offer further improvement to the Trinidad terms.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

I am sure that the Secretary of State is right to identify the crippling burden of debt as one of the major problems that faces undeveloped nations. Would he care to give figures to illustrate what the burden of that debt now is throughout the world and how countries are likely to be paying back very much more this year both to this country and to other developed nations than they are receiving in aid, such is the scale of the debt burden?

Mr. Howard

I suggested that the initiative that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer was a very important first step and that more needs to be done. I believe that more will be done and that we shall be in the forefront of those efforts. As for the specific point raised by the hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State who is to wind up the debate will seek to provide him with the figures for which he has asked. However, I am sure that both he and I are at one in recognising that this is a continuing process. I hope that he welcomes the leading role that the United Kingdom Government have taken.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen)

I understand what has been said about the Trinidad terms, but according to a recent parliamentary answer that I received, the projected official debt payments from the poorest countries to the United Kingdom, far from falling in the coming financial year, are expected to increase. Does not the Secretary of State agree that that is a disappointing position in which to be nearly two years after the Prime Minister launched the Trinidad terms?

Mr. Howard

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's point is much the same as that which I gave to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will deal with the details when he winds up the debate.

We have also increasingly emphasised environmental concerns in the aid that we give to developing countries. Assistance with population programmes, the protection of forests and reforestation, energy-saving programmes and other environmentally friendly developments feature increasingly strongly.

In the last two years, we have played a leading part in helping the World bank, the United Nations Environment Programme and the United Nations Development Programme to fashion a new instrument, the global environmental facility, for assisting developing countries with the additional costs of environmental measures taken in those countries to protect the global environment. We have already committed significant resources to this facility and have made it clear that we shall be ready to commit new and additional resources to this fund at the appropriate stage to replenish it. This will enable it to provide resources to support the developing countries in undertaking their commitments under the climate change convention and for biodiversity projects.

In all these ways, we are making a positive and significant contribution to the financial discussions involved in the Rio summit.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

One of the hypocrisies of the Rio summit is that it has taken the destruction of one major rain forest to print all the bumf that has been circulated.

Mr. Howard

There is no doubt that there is an awful lot of bumf—anyone who has had anything to do with the preparations for the conference can hardly fail to agree with my hon. and learned Friend.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in the House yesterday, Rio is the start of a continuing process."—[Official Report, 2 June 1992; Vol. 208, c. 704.] The process set in train by the Earth summit will not end on 14 June. It will evolve and lead to further and yet more effective action to deal with the important global problems that we all face. No one should underestimate the importance of evolutionary processes of this sort or minimise their potential for good.

We have experience of the effects that can be achieved. Our White Paper on the environment, "This Common Inheritance", has at its core the argument that environmental management is a continuing process. That White Paper established the mechanisms of green Ministers in every Department, integration of environmental policies across Government, collective target setting and progress chasing. We pursued that process in our first anniversary report and I shall ensure that the second anniversary report builds on and develops the strengths of its predecessors.

This process has taken the United Kingdom to the forefront of the implementation of environmental management of national policies. Rio offers us the chance to begin the same incremental process on a world scale. It is essential that we succeed and I believe that that will be the real achievement of the Earth summit. The right instruments must be forged to ensure effective progress long after all the delegates have left and the conference halls are empty.

The key elements are good and timely science, constant monitoring of the state of the environment, realistic commitments to improvement, practical measures for tracking targets and relentless progress chasing. The Government have the political will to adopt that approach and to pursue it with vigour. We shall be using our substantial international influence to involve other countries in the same process. I intend to do my utmost to ensure that our children look back on the Earth summit in Rio as a critical turning point for the future well-being of our planet.

5.12 pm
Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham)

The Danish referendum on Maastricht has opened up for us a new debate on a future European agenda, for which we might all have good reason to be grateful. It has also provided us with a more immediate opportunity to debate an even more important topic. That topic is nothing short of the very future of our planet—its future as an ecosystem for all species and as a home for our own species and its future generations. Questions of war and peace, poverty and plenty and equity and survival are involved in the issues that will be discussed at the Earth summit in Rio.

The tragedy is that the summit, for which such high hopes were held, now seems destined to be a disappointing failure. It will be all the more disappointing because the early signs, even from the Government, were relatively encouraging. As the Secretary of State has pointed out, the Prime Minister was one of the first to pledge his attendance at the Earth summit. He followed that up with a welcome speech at a conference organised by The Sunday Times on 8 July last year. It was a speech full of fine phrases and apparent commitments to an environmental agenda. The reality has turned out to be somewhat different. That early ardour has cooled. The air has been thick with warnings about not expecting too much, about how difficult it will all be and, above all, how much it will cost.

Like his immediate predecessor, our Prime Minister has hastened to show that he is aware of the environmental agenda. He has even made speeches that have put items on to that agenda. However, having done that, he has shown that he does not have the slightest idea what to do about environmental issues. The reason for that is not very difficult to find. One does not need to be a great political philosopher or environmental expert to detect that, like his predecessor, the Prime Minister is fine with the high-sounding phrase, but when he is confronted with the politics of intervening in the free market—that is what we are faced with—he backs off rapidly. There is nothing that equips those on the right in politics to intervene to protect the wider and longer-term interest that we call the environment.

Mr. Corbyn

Does my hon. Friend recall that only a few years ago the Government introduced the Antarctic Minerals Bill—the paramount example of putting free enterprise ahead of the interests of the world environment —and that they were finally forced, unwillingly, to sign a moratorium on minerals exploration in the Antarctic? Should they not now announce, at least as a gesture of goodwill towards the summit, that they will introduce a Bill to cancel what is now the Antarctic Minerals Act 1989?

Mr. Gould

My hon. Friend has pointed to yet another instance. We are seeing an unfortunate repetition of it writ large with the Rio summit. The Government simply do not accept that anything other than market forces will resolve these issues. That was Mrs. Thatcher's view. I am encouraged by the Secretary of State's apparent open disagreement with his former leader on this issue. He is shaking his head and 1 regard that as at least some progress.

Mr. Howard

I had hoped that we could approach this issue on a relatively objective and non-partisan basis. Only yesterday I accused the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), in an entirely different context, of living in a fantasy world. He has confirmed that description far sooner than I had expected. Of course we accept that there are occasions when it is appropriate to intervene in the workings of the market to achieve environmental and other objectives. We accept that regulation has a part to play. We have always accepted that. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's predecessor accepted that. The hon. Gentleman will recall that I was responsible for putting through this place the Water Act 1989, which contains numerous regulatory provisions. It set up the National Rivers Authority, which is the most effective environmental watchdog we have. The hon. Gentleman is tilting at windmills.

Mr. Gould

The Secretary of State hardly chose the happiest instance of his willingness to frustrate the workings of the market when he pointed to the privatisation of the water industry. I do not mean to patronise him, because I know that he is relatively new to this brief. Therefore, he may not recall the former Prime Minister's widely reported speech to the United Nations in which she shocked her audience, and certainly a wider audience, by insisting that market forces were the means by which the environment would be protected. She went further by saying, memorably, that the multinational corporations were the great instruments of environmental protection.

If I understand the Secretary of State correctly, [think that this is a remarkable instance, perhaps the first on record, of his disagreeing with his former leader. We have to say now that the language, if we are to believe it, is welcome, but we want to put him, his Department and the Government to the practical test. We want to see precisely what he will sign when he goes to Rio at the end of the week.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that. Of course market forces contribute a tremendous amount to improving the environment, but there are occasions when one needs to intervene. I suppose that there is no better example than using market forces to encourage greater use of lead-free petrol—one intervenes but one does so by working with the grain and by using market forces. It is a measure of how much the Labour party has to learn that it still does not understand such basic lessons.

Mr. Gould

I have no doubt that, given time, the Secretary of State will think of even more instances, but the truth is that what he says is not borne out by the Government's inability over a long period to translate rhetoric into action. The reason is that they fight shy of and stop short of the politics of intervention which come naturally to our side of the political argument— [Interruption.] Yes, and I say it proudly. We are in politics because we know that the community must intervene in the short-term, narrow, selfish and fragmented working of the marketplace if we are to protect the wider and longer-term interests which we have become accustomed to describing as the environment.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)


Mr. Gould

I must make a little progress and then I shall certainly give way to the hon. Lady.

The changed tone or the shift in the debate from the high expectations created by the Prime Minister in July last year is well caught by the opening words of a recent article by the Secretary of State in The House Magazine. It began with the assertion: Sustainable development is a fashionable new phrase. I wonder whether he understands what a dismissive flavour there is in the words "fashionable", "new" and "phrase". They contain no recognition of the fact that the Rio summit itself is the direct consequence of the Brundtland report which established sustainable development, which was already common currency among environmentalists, as a fundamental principle for expressing concern about our environment.

Mr. Howard

If the hon. Gentleman cared to read on, he would know that I explained what was meant by the phrase and how important it is.

Mr. Gould

I have no doubt that the Secretary of State wrote a substantial article thereafter, but I am entitled to point out that the opening sentence shows that he does not understand that sustainable development is not "fashionable", "new" or merely a "phrase", but that it is at the heart of environmental concern and of the great international efforts now being mounted to make protection real and sustainable.

The new atmosphere was intensified by the fact that in advance of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, the junior Minister—the Minister for the Environment and Countryside—was sent to Rio as a sort of advance party. His function was clearly to damp down expectations. At the same time, behind the scenes, a major diplomatic effort had been made to use United States recalcitrance to scale down the aims of the Rio conference and to enable us to shelter behind its very much diminished objectives.

The new Secretary of State has concentrated not on persuading the Americans to recognise their responsibility but on making common cause with them in frustrating the world's environmental agenda. It has been a disreputable collusion which does this country no credit. It has involved us in a complex game plan to wreck the conference and to ensure that it achieves nothing other than hot air—the last thing that the planet now needs.

The first element was to shift Rio's agenda. It began as the summit that might help to change the direction of policies that now threaten the future quality of life for millions of people across the globe, but instead the Government and the Americans managed to shift the key question to merely whether George Bush would go. That suited the Government, who had become increasingly concerned about the determination of most of our European partners to do something about the looming environmental crisis.

Rio presented big problems. The Government would either have to change their policies wholesale or break ranks spectacularly with our European partners on an issue of great importance and interest to millions of voters. I believe that that is why the Secretary of State was so happy to seize on the United States position. He presented himself as the honest broker, telling the Europeans that they would have to tone down their expectations and policies if they were to expect the Americans to attend at all, without even having to mention in passing that he would like policies weakened in exactly that way.

Mrs. Gorman

Does not the hon. Gentleman think it possible that President Bush was revising his view of the issue on the basis of scientific information being produced by agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in his own country, which has thrown grave doubts on the concept of global warming? On that basis, perhaps President Bush is taking a second look.

Mr. Gould

The hon. Lady will understand if I say that I have heard her express that view before. She claims scientific expertise in order to judge these matters, but I am entitled to say that she is in a tiny minority and she has ranged against her the world's leading experts and the United Nations panel on climatic change.

Mrs. Gorman


Mr. Gould

The hon. Lady has been able to express her views on a number of occasions. She defies the huge preponderance of scientific evidence.

Mrs. Gorman

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that a document has been issued at the Rio summit—signed by more than 200 of the world's leading scientists, including 54 Nobel prizewinners—which expresses exactly the view that I have attempted to express in the House?

Mr. Gould

The hon. Lady must accept that the United Nations intergovernmental panel on climatic change, which brought together the world's leading experts, reached the considered view that global warming is a problem which poses a real threat to the world environment. Furthermore, it acted on what I believe to be the only proper principle—the precautionary principle, with which I shall deal in a moment.

We should not have been surprised by the shift of emphasis by the Government. Our reactionary collusion with the United States is exactly matched by the Government's existing environmental policies at home. Why should we be surprised at what will happen in Rio when the Government have ridden roughshod over their commitment to environmental impact assessments in cases such as Twyford down and Oxleas wood and when the promise to legislate for an environmental protection agency made no appearance in the Queen's Speech?

Our role in ensuring that the climatic change convention contains no binding commitments on targets is prefigured by the sorry saga of our role in the European Community's position on that issue. For years, the Secretary of State's predecessors dragged their feet, refusing to join our European partners in agreeing to freeze emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. Belatedly, the Secretary of State's immediate predecessor dropped that refusal—which was very welcome—thereby conceding, incidentally, that the target was not impossible or impracticable on technical or financial grounds.

Typically, we demonstrated that what was missing from the equation was the political will to act. We made it clear that we would not act unless others did so. We then ensured that the United States and others would veto any agreement that contained binding commitments and targets. Notwithstanding the hon. Lady's testimony, the result was a tragedy for the world environment and a denial of the basic tenet of environmental concern—the precautionary principle—which dictates that it is the environment which must be given the benefit of any doubt.

I sometimes think that we do not understand the nature of environmental damage and degradation. It can kick forward as though on a ratchet: once it has happened it cannot easily be turned back. That is why the precautionary principle is essential and why it is such a tragedy that it looks like being ignored in Rio.

The picture is drawn even starker in terms of the biodiversity convention. In the speech on 8 July last year to which I referred, the Prime Minister said: We may be destroying plants that could help us to adapt to environmental change. We are losing species faster than we can catalogue them. It is as if the owner of a great gallery of pictures were to slash or destroy a Renoir or a Rembrandt every day. Such destruction betrays our future. Those were fine words; it was a good speech. Now we know that once again those words mean nothing. The United States is jibbing at the cost and, true to form, we now hear the same message from British Ministers—that we, too, will have difficulty, on cost grounds, in signing the convention that we did so much to shape and draft.

I was interested to hear the Secretary of State concede that, although cost grounds were our primary problem, they were not the only one—that there were other difficulties as well. We face the prospect that, whatever happens in Rio, the Secretary of State has prepared a position from which he will be able to say that an objection remains to prevent us from signing.

Those are massive disappointments, but what will really count as the failure of Rio is the refusal of the developed world to change its pattern of consumption, and the consequent condemnation of billions of the world's poor to poverty, disease and death. Again, the only message that we get from Rio is about the refusal of the rich developed world to pay the Bill for change, with the excuse that the recession makes it impossible to afford that bill.

If we rely on the recession as an excuse, how are we to persuade desperately poor countries that the environment must be taken seriously? Their excuses carry rather more urgency, conviction and weight than does our recession. They suffer the crippling burden of debt, the adverse movements in the terms of trade and the pressing problems of poverty, malnutrition and disease.

Sir Peter Emery

Does the hon. Gentleman, in all honesty, suggest that he, or any Government, should give control over the amount of money to be raised to a majority of the nations which will contribute very little? I should like a direct answer to that question, because it embodies the main difficulty that many people have to solve.

Mr. Gould

It is wrong to assume that the people who suffer the consequences of the unequal pattern of consumption in the world economy are making no contribution. That is their contribution—and they look to us to make a commensurate contribution, which we are too mean to make. That is why we are unable to offer a moral lead, which we should be able to give. Furthermore, we are unable to offer the material help that we should contribute. If we say that the recession makes it impossible to tackle the problems affecting the environment, we must not be surprised if others follow that lead.

Again, the Government have set a sorry example.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman has conspicuously failed to answer the specific question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery). If the convention required developed countries to make whatever contribution developing countries decided to be appropriate, would the hon. Gentleman sign it?

Mr. Gould

I began by referring to the Maastricht referendum, and I have not noticed any reluctance among Conservative Members to sign up for internationally agreed arrangements under which we must make huge payments, beyond our control, to some of the world's richest countries in the European Community. I am not saying that that is wrong, but one cannot justify it while jibbing at the much smaller contribution demanded of us by some of the poorest countries in the world.

On the question of being prepared to devote resources to help the poorer and developing world, the Government again set a poor example. The Prime Minister may say —as, astonishingly, he did—that on aid we are leading in terms of quality and quantity, but the facts are against him, and those facts are shameful.

Not only have we consistently failed to meet the United Nations target for aid of 0.7 per cent. of GNP, but the share has fallen from 0.51 per cent. in 1979 to 0.27 per cent. last year, which puts us shamefully near the bottom of the international league table. In 1990, the first time, we reached the point of taking more from the developing world in debt repayments than we returned in aid. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, lichen (Mr. Denham) said in an intervention, those debt repayments are set to rise, not to fall. The Government have failed the third world and, as a result, they have failed the environment.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

If my hon. Friend is about to leave the subjects of aid and poverty, may I ask him first to comment on the fact that poverty affects women disproportionately and that it has been clearly shown that resources put into women's hands are used better both for people and for the environment? Will my hon. Friend ask the Government what they intend to do to ensure that aid is used to increase the power and control of women, to the advantage of the environment?

Mr. Gould

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which should be enshrined in the work of the Earth summit in Rio. Many people agree that what has often gone wrong with our limited aid effort is that it has often been designed more for the benefit of construction companies in the developed world than to put economic power and opportunity into the hands of those whom we are trying to help.

As a consequence of that failure, we have failed the environment. We cannot expect poor countries to concern themselves with the longer-term future of their natural resources—their forests, rivers and soil—if we force them to exploit those resources commercially in the short term to meet their debt repayments. We must tackle the problem of the debt difficulty.

We need a proper aid programme; altruism is not enough. We need a sustained and comprehensive aid programme from the Government. The impulse to personal generosity, although always welcome, cannot do the job. We need new arrangements through the GATT, which could, as the Secretary of State rightly said, take advantage of the reform of the common agricultural policy. That would be small enough in itself, but it would be a welcome step. The test will be what happens in the GATT talks, which do not even address the problems of third-world trade. We must act to restore some semblance of fairness in world trade.

The Rio conference was planned with sober purpose, but with high hopes. Those hopes are now in the course of being dashed. W. H. Auden said: We must love one another or die. Love is in short supply at Rio. Sadly, it is death which is now on the agenda.

5.37 pm
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

We are witnessing one of the most extraordinary events in modern history—a vast jamboree of people going down to Rio, apparently with no less an objective than to save the planet. I cannot think of a more exalted objective for a conference. Enormous numbers of people are going, as in some vast mediaeval crusade. We are all going to Rio apparently riddled with guilt because the industrialised west is consuming more than its fair share of the world's assets, or so we are told. Presumably we are to go through some form of absolution, which will consist mainly of us forking out more money for what is now called the south, but which used to be called the third world, or the poorer nations.

However, the conference is not really about conservation and science at all, but about politics and economics —that is the basis of what will be debated in Rio. More than once in this House I have taken the opportunity to point out that much of the muddled mish-mash of subjects to be dealt with during the conference is rooted in the most bogus and inaccurate kind of science. Today I am gratified to see that a group of more than 200 of the world's leading scientists—including, as I said earlier, 54 Nobel prize winners—have come out with a statement pouring scorn, if not doubt, on much of the science which is apparently undermining the demands being made at the conference.

Of course we are all against pollution. Of course we all want to clean up our act and to see that industry pays, as my right hon. and learned Friend has said so often, for the toxic or unpleasant material that it produces. Of course the question of population troubles all of us. However, I am more concerned today with the ridiculous business of global warming. I assure he-House that it is poppycock. That is not my unscientific view; it is the view of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which observes the Earth's climate from outside Earth. It has monitored the climate for more than two decades, and it insists that there is no significant or appreciable increase in the temperature of the globe over that period.

It also points out that there is no evidence that holes in the ozone layer—which do not exist in any case, because there are merely thin and thick patches—are caused by any chemicals produced on Earth. It asserts that they are probably due to the reaction between the Earth's magnetic force and the activity of the sun, especially the irregular activity of sun spots, which are, of course, vast forces outside the control of us mere mortals and therefore largely ignored by those who seek controls on the industrial activities of man.

I want to put that argument into context. More than 75 per cent. of the globe's surface is water. Of the land mass, less than 15 per cent. is habitable. The rest is polar ice caps, deserts and mountain ranges. We have reduced the area occupied by humanity to a tiny part of the surface of the Earth. Of that area, less than 5 per cent. has industrial activity taking place on it which produces toxic or noxious substances. We must get the issue into proportion. Greenhouse gases consist largely—

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mr. Dalyell

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Gorman

Not at the moment.

Greenhouse gases consist almost entirely of water vapour, which is a product of the evaporation of the vast surfaces of water. Again, we can do nothing about that. We do not talk about water vapour as a greenhouse gas. We talk only about carbon dioxide, which represents less than 300 parts in I million of the Earth's atmosphere.

Ms. Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Gorman

I will not give way.

That tiny amount of gas is greatly welcomed by the plants of the Earth, for which it is a vital raw material in photosynthesis—the more they get of it, the better. Even if we are producing more—some scientists agree that we are —it will do nothing more than stimulate much of the vegetation which we all favour preserving. Although it is unpleasant to live next to a factory—

Ms. Jackson

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Gorman

I will not give way at this point.

Although it is unpleasant to live near a factory that gives out unpleasant gases, and although we should all like to see that cleaned up, there is no scientific basis for attacking the car industry and our industrial activities if one is condemning them because they give out carbon dioxide.

Dr. Bray

As the hon. Lady knows, I have given her credit in the past for some reading of the background material, which I have also tried to follow. However, she has got somewhat confused on a number of the details. Will she oblige the House by placing in the Library the references to the scientific literature from which she draws her facts? By that I mean the original literature and not just the journalistic write-ups of that literature.

Mrs. Gorman

I shall be pleased to do so, and I will also give the hon. Gentleman the names of a number of scientific journals and of a number of leading scientists in this country who agree with much of what I am saying, but who are not given a hearing because they do not say what the promoters of these ideas want to hear. I will do my best to oblige the hon. Gentleman.

I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to be extremely cautious about signing something that will involve the west in vast expense to do with alleged global warming which is probably complete nonsense. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will eventually come round to acknowledging that. I do not want to dwell too long on the details, because I have explained them in the House before.

Biodiversity is another issue. Although the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) likes to pour scorn on my association with the subject, I point out that I have been involved in biology for the whole of my working life. I am a qualified scientific biologist and I have spent a great deal of my professional time involved in it.

I appreciate the need to do something to protect species that are endangered. I put it to my right hon. and learned Friend and to Opposition Members that, far from requiring the kind of regulation which my right hon. and learned Friend envisages as necessary to save the attractive features of life on Earth, the opposite is true.

Almost all the countries in which livestock, precious animals and plants are threatened and in which pollution is rife have a large measure of Government intervention. The pollution about which we complain largely comes from eastern Europe, where there was massive intervention. It is a product of state intervention; state intervention is not the solution.

Ethiopia, which faces serious problems, has had its economy and ecology destroyed by interventionist Governments such as Opposition Members would recommend. Ethiopia was once a net exporter of food to other parts of Africa and it had vast forests. When the land in Ethiopia was in the hands of private individuals and was private property, it was protected, preserved, looked after and sensibly used. It was not exploited and destroyed as it has been in recent years.

I urge my right hon. and learned Friend in his trip down to Rio to consider biodiversity from the point of view of the marketplace. I suggest that, if one wants to protect something and if one wants it to be preserved and developed, one makes it private property. I support the countries in Africa such as Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, all of which are pleading with the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species people to make a market in the by-products of endangered species such as elephants. Those countries believe that they can preserve those stocks if they have the money and if there is an incentive for their people to farm those stocks in the same way as they would cattle.

The principle of private ownership can be applied to the world's rain forests and to other desirable areas. Instead of flinging money at Governments with almost no constraint, we should target our aid on the development of private forests on the lines of our national parks—on places where people who have a vested interest can look at the plant material and find ways to turn it to the use of mankind, in which case it will be preserved. It is almost always Governments who allow people to ravage the land and to slash down forests.

Ms. Glenda Jackson

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way on the issue of vested interests and rain forests. The vested interests that operate at present in the Brazilian rain forests are so concerned about those forests that they do nothing but cut them down. What is the hon. Lady's response to that? Private industries, which in many instances have private armies, are involved. Some 18 million hectares of Brazil are owned by 1,000 families. The Government cannot exercise any restraint over the activities of those people. They are destroying not only the rain forests but the indigenous species which live in the rain forests. At the same time, they are destroying our climatic balance.

Mrs. Gorman

The hon. Lady asks me specifically what we can do to stop these tragedies happening. The Governments of the countries in question have sold pieces of land to private exploiters. I suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State that, if we wish to be involved in preserving those areas, we should ensure that our money goes to buy them and turn them into protected private property. We could then ensure the benign management that we see in national parks all over the world. That is the way to do it.

Ms. Jackson

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Gorman

No, I am not allowing the hon. Lady to intervene again; she will have to sit down.

That brings me to the green movement. The greens are an extremely odd lot. They appear to hate mankind more than anything else. They seem to be agin humanity They seem to want to make human nature neater and tidier and less greedy than it actually is. They are involved in a zealous crusade of the kind that has cropped up over the centuries among different groups—usually among religious people.

I put it to the House that those people are harmful to the very organisms and systems that they wish to preserve. They seem to have the curious idea that man is big and strong and nature is weak, and that we must intervene to preserve nature. I wish to refute that view entirely. The mechanisms exist already and we in Britain have embraced those mechanisms—market forces—as a means of developing the precious assets that we wish to keep. That is the line that we should follow.

I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, as he goes down to Rio, to bear in mind the object lessons that Britain has learnt: if a country wants to improve people's standard of living, to make life better and to preserve the good things that it has, it should not go in for socialist ideals, with people in green wellies with red linings telling it what to do. Instead, it should apply the capitalist principles that have contributed to the high standard of living that we in Britain enjoy. We should not give in to the idea that we in the west are guilty of creating difficulties for other parts of the world. Those countries have difficulties because they still have the remnants of the kind of socialist regime that the Opposition would claim as the solution to the problems.

5.51 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I am not going to be tempted to reply to all the details of the speech made by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman). To say the least, hers is not the majority view on the subject. When she gets up on that high horse of hers, as she often does, she can perhaps best be described as a few trees short of a rain forest.

On the specific issue of climate change, of course there are always dissenting voices in a scientific community and of course there is no single cause of climate change. But as the Rio conference has made clear, the 300 members of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change take a view different from that expressed by the hon. Lady. Of course people will dissent from the panel's view and argue against it, but the world's experts have been brought together to pronounce on the matter and, as the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) said, many of us in any event believe that the precautionary principle should govern our policies. I hope, therefore, that it will be not the hon. Lady's view but the much more substantial and considered view of those other experts that prevails when our Government and others debate the issues in Rio.

At last, the Government have been tripped into having a debate on the Rio Earth summit almost by accident and literally at the last moment—indeed, some moments after the opening of the Rio conference. Since the beginning of this Parliament— and, indeed, during the last Parliament —the Government have resisted this debate. The Secretary of State mentioned the subject in his speech on the Loyal Address. The Gracious Speech contained four lines on the environment and Hansard's report of the Secretary of State's speech contained three paragraphs on the subject.

My party has regularly pressed the Leader of the House for a debate on this subject at business questions and senior members of the three largest parties in the House have signed an early-day motion calling for a debate. Eventually, yesterday, my hon. Friends and I were forced to table a motion of no confidence in the Government when still we got no change. At the eleventh hour, today's debate has come by accident. I am glad that we have been given a debate but the Government's previous position was not acceptable and I gather that they are unusual among participating democratic Governments in deeming it sufficient to report back and debate the conference after the event. It is a bit late then. As the Secretary of State knows, the other place debated the matter a few days ago, and it would have been both politic and, I hope, beneficial had the Government taken the attitude that we, too, should have had a debate before the conference.

Having said that, I want to be as constructive as I hope others will be on the subject of what we should do. I share the view of the Secretary of State, expressed by Mr. Maurice Strong, that one could be pessimistic about such a conference but that one should not be. There was great pessimism before the 1972 Stockholm conference, but in the event it was a good conference, resulting in many recommendations. One of the clear consequences was the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme and many Governments round the world who set up environment departments—although, to be fair, our own predates the conference—and started taking the issues more seriously. Sustainable development became part of the language of debate thereafter. We should not write the conference off. We must assume but hope that people will work to attain the best possible results.

In our no confidence motion, we have already highlighted what appear to be the three principal issues that the Secretary of State and his team and the Prime Minister will take to Rio for debate and on which the House, and certainly the Liberal Democrats, look for positive developments and conclusions. The first is finance: everything comes down to finance in the end. The Brandt Commission set the 0.7 per cent. of GNP as the development budget target some 22 years ago. Not only have we not reached that target; arguably the prospect of our doing so is receding. I shall not become involved in technicalities. The figure for Britain has been about 0.35 per cent. and now it has slipped a bit. In recent months, we may have been getting marginally nearer to it or further away—and I read what Baroness Chalker said, answering for the Government, in the other place—but that is a detail. The fact is that, many years after the target was set, we are way short of it and, when Baroness Chalker was asked yesterday what our target timetable was, she said —as the Government have said since 1979—that there is no timetable for achieving the 0.7 per cent. Unless we—one of the wealthiest countries in the world—are willing to make a commitment to reach, and reach soon, the target of contributing that relatively small proportion of our national wealth towards the redistribution of wealth in the world, we are not making a proper contribution to the Rio summit, to addressing the issues or to our partnership with countries far less well off than us.

The second issue is that, although we will sign the climate convention, that convention has been watered down and carries neither the degree of obligation nor the bite that it was originally intended to have and that it could have had. By removing both the commitment to specific targets—targets that the Government have now accepted for their national policy—and by saying that certain things will happen only when other people do the same, we are losing our ability to lead on the issue. Unfortunately, it is too late to do anything fundamental about it because, like the other convention, this convention is a take-it-or-leaveit document. That is to be regretted and the Government are to be criticised—indeed, condemned—for it.

The third issue, to which I shall return, is the wavering and havering about the biodiversity convention, which has already been the subject of exchanges.

We could all cite many examples to illustrate the nature of the global environmental crisis, and the House has debated some of the specifics quite often. I shall cite only two, which were most recently effectively presented on the front page of today's edition of The Independent. There are of course many examples and there is little dispute about some of the statistics. I should add that it is good that the press, radio and television are taking the issue seriously and covering it fully; I certainly do not criticise them for that. There is always a danger with a so-called jamboree, but it is better that the subject is covered and gets into people's living rooms than that it is not covered at all.

The first example relates to the increasing number of people in a world with limited resources. The world's population has increased in 20 years from 3.84 billion to 5.47 billion. So long as the population increases by that dimension, the duty on us to look after our resources grows equally proportionately. Our natural resources cannot increase. Our space is the same and the amount of water, forests and land for plantation on which we depend does not increase.

Secondly, we are, at the same time, losing many of the co-habitants upon which we depend for our lives and livelihood as a human species. We often talk about rain forests. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) regularly reminds us, we all depend on them, and on all the contributors to our biodiversity, not simply in relation to our ethical position as their stewards, but also for the scientific advance of humanity. In 20 years we have increased the amount of rain forest which we lose per year from 100,000 sq kms to 170,000 sq kms—nearly doubling the amount that we lose per year. We are also fishing some of our fish stocks almost to extinction. We are therefore removing many of the components on which a mutually interdependent world depends.

The fundamental issue at Rio is perhaps more one of democracy than of anything else. In this country we argue about democracy, mandates and the entitlements of majorities. We forget that the rich west is a small minority. The world's majority comprises the third and fourth worlds of the poor east and south. The obligation on us is to transfer democratically that which, by good fortune, we have been given unequally and to share it more equitably and democratically around the world.

I accept the propositions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and of the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) to the Prime Minister yesterday. The test of our policies is whether we leave the world with more people in poverty or fewer. Although it is a matter of plants, creatures, forests, oceans, climate and atmosphere, we must also consider whether we can sustain the people who are on this planet.

If we increasingly drive more and more people into poverty and death through malnutrition, if people are driven to extend the deserts because of their need to find food to survive and if people chop down rain forests in order to grow something else, we are also damaging our common environment. The unequal distribution in the world means that the poor are driven to act in that way to survive. The Secretary of State understands that argument. That is the essence of the debate. A rich advanced country like Britain must therefore show leadership. We must show that we understand the problems and that we are willing to transfer resources so that the environment of us all is not diminished.

In this context, I repeat a point put to the Prime Minister yesterday by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). Although it may be a side issue for the conference at Rio, how we treat human beings in countries like Brazil is no less important than how we consider what grows in Brazil and countries like it.

I hope that the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and his colleagues will raise with the authorities in Brazil the need to ensure that the disgrace of abduction and killing of children, who are regarded as vermin in that society by certain people in positions of authority and responsibility, is dealt with. Those who are incapable of defending themselves must be treated justly. I hope that there will be a formal representation that justice should be done to ensure that the guilty people and the perpetrators of that behaviour are dealt with. That should be a by-product of the fact that the heads of so many Governments are going to Rio in the next few days.

With regard to the financial discussions, I understand and welcome the Secretary of State's support for the global environmental facility. However, it has not been made expressly clear whether the Government intend that there should be a commitment as well to increase the amount of aid. Aid can be better targeted but it should also be increased absolutely to the 0.7 per cent. by a targeted deadline. We should also provide funds for the global environmental facility.

The Secretary of State is aware of the figures. As I understand it, the United Nations official estimate is that the developing countries require about $125 billion per year to achieve Agenda 21—

Sir Peter Emery

That is new money.

Mr. Hughes

Yes, indeed, new money. Current Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development aid is about $55 billion a year. That means that there needs to be $70 billion of new money. The hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) is quite right. Unless that money comes not just from us, but from the west as a whole—the affluent parts of the world—it will not be possible to implement the commitments to which I believe that we are asked to agree in principle in Agenda 21 and in other documents at Rio.

There is no excuse for the sticking point about the implementation of Agenda 21 being the unwillingness to provide a proper contribution to that funding operation. That is a matter not of drafting but of understanding that if we are to achieve things there must be an additional commitment of an adequate sum. I hope that, when the Secretary of State returns, he will report a satisfactory conclusion.

I understand that aid moneys may need to be tied and that we should not simply hand out money wastefully. There must be monitoring of expenditure. However, there must first be a commitment to give the money. I do not believe that the British people would object to the principle that this country should contribute more and as a result of the conference.

With regard to the biodiversity convention, there is one point that I do not understand. I believe that there are two potential difficulties about that convention as perceived by the Government. The first relates to the administration of funding. The Government are worried that, if that is left to individual countries, it could be open to abuse. If that is so, we must try to deal with the problem but not resile from signing the convention. That is a practical matter in terms of implementation. It should not prevent the principle of support for the idea of biodiversity being sustained by an international and legal binding agreement.

The second difficulty is more technical and, again, I understand that it is troubling Ministers and is a reason for Ministers wavering. There is a clause in the convention which, if it is interpreted in one way, would probably force western biotechnology companies to pay more for third-world natural resources such as rare plants.

Perhaps the Secretary of State will say that that is not a problem. However, if it is a problem, I believe that the market force argument might work. If a country has a rare species of plant, for example, it is absolutely right that a company should pay the proper market price for it. I do not understand how we can be wavering about this. We played a key part in the drafting—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State has not yet said that he is going to sign the convention. I would willingly give way for clarification. The convention has been in its final form since 9 May.

Mr. Howard

indicated dissent.

Mr. Hughes

If I am wrong, I should be happy if the Secretary of State would correct me. I cannot understand how we were so instrumental in the drafting in which our civil servants did a good job—even the non-governmental organisations acknowledge that in general they did a good job—and yet we have delivered a document which Ministers now anticipate that they may have difficulty in signing.

Mr. Howard

I fear that it may take a considerable time to correct all the hon. Gentleman's misapprehensions, if he will forgive my saying so.

The negotiations for the treaty on the climate change convention were completed on 9 May and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is right in saying that we played a prominent role in the preparations for that treaty. I discussed the text of the document in Washington, and said this afternoon that we should sign it in Rio.

There are difficulties with the biodiversity convention. Although it is true that we played a prominent role in the preparation of that document, the ultimate text emerged during discussions in Nairobi, and the officials who represented the United Kingdom at that gathering made plain throughout what were our reservations to that text. However, those reservations do not include the matter which is currently exercising the hon. Gentleman. I understand his argument about what should be paid for rare plants which are taken from the developing countries. That troubles other countries, including the United States, but we are content with the provisions affecting those matters in the convention.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful. That is helpful and must mean that the only thing left to trouble the Government is—

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)


Mr. Hughes

I heard what the Secretary of State said in his speech. I hope that I am not tripping up the Government by quoting one Minister in the same Department against another, but the Minister of State who is in Rio said that the matter of "fundamental concern" was that arrangements on funding negotiated in Nairobi on biodiversity appeared to have departed from the formula agreed for funding the convention on climate change. He then said: We must assume that the meaning and the intention has changed. The principal issue is whether we are willing to put in the funding. The Secretary of State has to bite that bullet and to say that we are.

Mr. Howard

indicated assent.

Mr. Hughes

In that case, there is a practical way to deal with how one secures and processes the funding. If the document passes all drafting procedures and ends up practically on all fours with the other convention, which is apparently the case—that is the advice of those non-governmental organisations and others I have talked to who have studied the documentation carefully—there is no good reason of principle why the Government should not sign it in Rio.

I suggest to the Secretary of State that there is also a political dimension. I am vice-chairman of an NGO, Wildlife Link, which represents 46 wildlife bodies in this country with a membership of between 4 and 5 million people, and have talked to its representatives today. They are clear that, if the Government do not sign the convention, they are unnecessarily setting the most appalling example.

Will the Secretary of State consider the worldwide political aspects of signing, as well as studying the fine print as a lawyer? I hope that he will understand the significance of the important issues of principle at stake and of the Government's position.

Mr. Howard

I agree. We want to sign, as I made clear in my speech, and I hope that we shall be able to do so. I recognise the arguments that the hon. Gentleman has advanced. Hopefully, we shall be able to sign. However, he must recognise that, when it comes to taking a final decision on whether to sign such a convention, one cannot do so as a matter of principle. One cannot sign conventions in principle; one has to put one's signature to a text. That is why it is part of the Government's responsibility to examine the text closely and to ensure that it does not lead to difficulties. I hope that we can overcome those difficulties, and we are striving to do so.

Mr. Hughes

I think that the Secretary of State and the Government may be playing a clever game, trying to look as if they are not going to sign and then doing so—like producing a rabbit out of a hat and saying, "Look what we have here; aren't we good girls and boys." I hope that that is not the case. The document got through the drafting of their expert civil servants, who thought that it was satisfactory, as I understand it.

Mr. Howard

indicated dissent.

Mr. Hughes

The briefings seem to have changed slightly. The Secretary of State understands the significance. It is a take-it-or-leave-it document, presumably subject to the qualification of some derogation in statements. It is important that the document comes back signed, and I hope that it will do so.

The Government have clearly also said that the follow-up structure is also important. It is no good having a vague commitment to a mechanism for a review. As the Secretary of State knows, one of the possibilities is a sustainable development commission—a body charged with a permanent function, accountable to the Secretary General, the Security Council or the UN General Assembly. That will put a new brick in the UN structure. We should support it.

The Security Council deals with global military security. We need a similar body to deal with global environmental security. Let that be monitored worldwide. Let us support that proposed body and ensure that there is some sort of ombuds-bureau where people can make complaints if things are not being done properly so that there can be a proper follow up.

The Government have played a fairly skilful diplomatic role in the run-up to the summit, despite the fact that they have rightly been criticised for watering down some of the commitments and conventions. When the Prime Minister goes to Camp David and on to Rio, and when the Secretary of State goes to Rio during the next few days, I hope that they will realise that we do not want a Government whose diplomatic skills are directed solely to agreeing to the lowest common denominator. We do not want a Government of the unprincipled consensus; we want one of principled leadership. It is time for the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State to claim that mantle and opportunity, to get away from any fudging and to stand firm. If they stand firm on some sound environmental principles, the citizens of the globe and the globe will benefit. If they fudge it, it is not merely the Government who will live to regret it.

6.16 pm
Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) emphasised the importance of principles, and I certainly do not dissent from that view, but I am afraid that he betrays his party's lack of experience of the realities of government. It is essential for Governments to study the practicalities before putting their signature and this nation's signature to any piece of paper.

I strongly welcome the Rio summit and congratulate the Government on the constructive part that they have played in the preparatory work for it. Clearly, it is necessary for the international community to work together to monitor the development of the world's ecology, to improve it where necessary, to maintain it and also, when necessary, to take remedial action. To that degree, surely no one could challenge or disagree with the idea of a summit.

Inescapable dangers are inevitable with such institutions—I am trying to avoid using the word "jamborees" —and with such events. There is a danger that expectations will be raised far too high. The obverse is that the failure to meet those expectations will result in disappointment and disillusion setting in, and that reaction will be unwelcome and unjustified.

There is a danger that some people will view the summit as a one-off event and that, once Rio is finished, they will think that all is done and nothing else need be set in train. As my right hon. Friend emphasised, Rio can only be the beginning of what will always be continual and steady work to ensure that our ecology is maintained in the way in which we, and future generations, would wish.

The Rio summit contains two other dangers. I do not point them out to be negative, but against a background of my support for the general thrust of the venture. The first is the danger of what is coming to be known as eco-terrorism—the deliberate hyping of global warming and all the other dangers, which is often done on the basis of little or no scientific knowledge. I certainly do not claim any special scientific knowledge, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman).

The second danger is that the political correctiveness that we have learnt to suspect and to challenge on the Conservative Benches is being accepted too glibly. That tendency is too often manifested by Opposition Members of all parties. That is one of the dangers.

The other danger is that posed by the attempt now being made to divert the Rio exchanges from the necessary and valid exercise of seeking to monitor the ecological situation in the world, to a re-run of the perennial debate between the developed world and the underdeveloped and developing world. The entirely understandable and persistent attempts of the south, or whatever we choose to call it, to extract more and more resources from the north may be a legitimate objective from its point of view, but no good will come to the Rio effort if we allow one debate to be confused with the other.

On the ecological situation, we are wrong to fall for all the glib, doom-laden forebodings that have filled the media for many years. Such predictions are made by politicians from the Green party, who are, happily not in the House, and by many Opposition Members. The facts are not clear and they are debatable. We have had exchanges in the House about whether the Earth is warming. I shall not exchange the names of authorities across the Floor, because none of us is in a position to make a judgment on which authorities are right and which are wrong. The verdict is not proven.

That is also the case with fossil fuels. We are all anxious about the impact of fossil fuel use, but I believe that the fastest growth in the use of such fuels occurred in the generation from 1940 to 1970, when world temperatures fell. We have heard a great deal about how sulphur dioxide is an Earth-warming, greenhouse gas, but the latest research suggests that it acts as a smog mirror that reflects the Sun's rays away, thereby cooling the Earth.

Many examples cannot be accepted at their simple face value, but that is the great danger to which the Rio enterprise is vulnerable—a simple-minded, wholesale acceptance of the predictions of the doomsters, or the Jonathon Porritt syndrome, if I may call it that. One way to reduce pollution would be to give such doomsters less air time than they seem to get at present.

The Secretary of State referred to the interesting intervention at the Rio summit by 200 scientists, which includes 54 Nobel prize-winners. Those scientists said: We are worried, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, by the emergence of an irrational ideology which is opposed to scientific and industrial progress and impedes economic and social development". That statement, coming from such a source, should be treated with extreme seriousness by all Governments and all of us who take an interest in such matters.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I am afraid that I have not heard all of my hon. Friend's speech, but I have great respect for his experience in these matters. If he had watched "News at Ten" last night, he would have seen that a special part of the programme was devoted to Kiribati. According to the story and the commentator in Kiribati, the sea level is rising because of global warming, and that coral archipelago and its most delightful people are likely to be flooded as it sinks beneath the sea in two or three decades. Is my hon. Friend concerned about that? Does he believe that that change is being caused by global warming?

Mr. Whitney

I did not see that programme, and I do not think, with all respect to my hon. Friend and the programmes he watches, that we can receive the basic scientific information that we need from such television programmes. Generally speaking, the rise in the sea level is accepted as being nothing like that threatened.

However, my hon. Friend has highlighted the need for a scientific audit of the Earth and its changes. It is surprising that such an audit does not exist in any acceptable form. Of course, a number of studies of all types have been conducted but none of them can be accepted incontrovertibly. One of the summit's aims should be the establishment of funds to set up earth stations and other scientific facilities which are necessary to conduct such a scientific audit. We will then be able to conduct our discussions on a more adequate basis than last night's television programme.

I return to my anxiety that the thrust of the debate in Rio is shifting, from a sensible concern for ecology and the environment to a re-run of the debate about the north's responsibility for and its relationship with the south as a result of international aid. For 10 years of my life, I held various jobs with direct responsibility for and involvement in the operation of Britain's overseas aid programme. That experience strongly reinforced my political instinct that, although the transfer of Government aid can be effective —Britain's programme is one of the most effective in the world—it is far less significant than is usually accepted or believed by most politicians. As the Secretary of State said, trade and good trading conditions are far more important to any developing country than any amount of aid.

The other conclusion to which my experience led, quite unchallengably, was that, unless the political and social conditions are right in the developing countries, no amount of external aid, however well intentioned, will achieve the results that we wish. One can consider example after example, but I shall cite just two.

There is no earthly reason why Taiwan and Hong Kong should be anything like as economically successful as they are, given the natural resources that they enjoy. Although it is true that Taiwan benefited from an American aid programme in the 1950s and 1960s, its success has been based on the success of its people in achieving their own economic miracle. The same is true of Hong Kong.

In contrast, we should consider countries such as Ethiopia, which has been mentioned, and Tanzania. Tanzania has probably received more aid, per capita, than almost any other country on the planet, but, sadly, because of the political mistakes of successive regimes and its long flirtation with socialism, those massive aid resources have not brought anything like prosperity, to put it mildly, to its people. We must watch extremely carefully any suggestion that that can be achieved.

More credit should be given to what Britain achieves in our aid programme in terms of total flows. We always hear about the 0.7 per cent. of GDP, a target never remotely achieved by the Labour Government, incidentally. That is conveniently forgotten—

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)


Mr. Whitney

What we have achieved is more than 1 per cent. of total flows. That shows an effective transfer of resources.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)

May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that this Government's aid programme is exactly half the level left by the Labour Government in 1979? If he is proud of that, I am not. The recent proposal by the Dutch in Strasbourg—that countries should agree to try to reach the United Nations target by the year 2000 —was also opposed by the British Government.

Mr. Whitney

It is interesting that the hon. Lady did not challenge what I said: neither this Government nor the Labour Government ever came remotely near attaining the 0.7 per cent. target.

Mr. Watson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Whitney


It is important to remember the facts when we talk about the transfer of resources, and we must always bear in mind the terrifying examples of Ethiopia and Tanzania. There are many more.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) suggested that a further 570 billion be transfered, with no apparent checks attached. That would be ludicrous. Meanwhile, the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), when pressed time and again by Conservative Members to say under what conditions a Labour Government, heaven forfend, would sign the agreement in question, characteristically refused to answer. He left us with the impression that a Labour Government would have signed a blank cheque.

That would not be sensible for this country or for the north in general; nor would it be sensible for countries which have yet to develop. Their development, as 50 years of experience have shown, can be achieved only when the political and social conditions in their countries are right.

There is general agreement about the need for progress on GATT. The transfer of resources issue must be disentangled from environmental issues, and in that disentanglement the achievement of an agreement on the Uruguay round is crucial.

Conservative Members and those on the right of politics have nothing to be ashamed of in this area. We bring clear thinking to it, in stark contrast to the thinking of the hon. Member for Dagenham, who sought to inject a note of party politics into what should not be a fiercely partisan debate. He suggested that right wingers have no regard for ecology, and implied that left wingers have. We, however, will never forget the impact of the socialist regimes of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe and the environmental monstrosities and horrors that they created.

This has been a fortuitous chance to debate Rio. I am confident that the Government will go there with their mind clear about the dangers to which I have referred. I only hope that the British public and media will clear their minds and not fall for cheap eco-terrorism or the attempt to confuse two singularly important but distinct issues—the problems of ecology and the problems of international development.

6.34 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) plays an active and valuable role in the House in relation to Latin American affairs, so I was a little surprised to hear him use the word jamboree. He knows as well as I do that the Brazilians and others have gone to enormous trouble to arrange this conference, which has been difficult to organise.

Mr. Whitney

When the hon. Gentleman reads the record he will find that I apologised in advance for using the word. I am happy to withdraw it; I applaud the summit.

Mr. Dalyell

I do not think it is a jamboree; it is an extremely important conference.

I wish to say a quiet and gentle word to the Secretary of State. As this is an all-party issue, would it not have been sensible to invite representatives of the Opposition to join the delegation—I am glad that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are going—along with representatives from the Liberal party and the nationalist parties? The British House of Commons should have been represented jointly on this issue. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) will, I think, confirm that the Liberals, like the Opposition, were not invited to join the delegation.

Mr. Simon Hughes

indicated assent.

Mr. Dalyell

It is not satisfactory that this should be seen as a partisan issue. I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that a Labour Government would have included in the delegation to Rio a Conservative shadow Minister or two.

I should like to ask certain specific questions. Yesterday, prompted by a good question by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo), the Prime Minister said: We are working hard to make sure that we shall be in a position to sign the convention. As the hon. Lady knows, this country leads the world in scientific expertise on biodiversity, not least at Kew, and we play an important international role in attempts to achieve a convention that can be signed generally. A number of countries have financial concerns about the convention, and the particular concern, which I hope we shall be able to overcome, is that the financial articles imply an open-ended commitment to provide developing countries with additional finance, without the necessary corresponding commitments to conserving biodiversity. That is not of any interest to us or to them."—[Official Report, 2 June 1992; Vol. 208, c. 702.] This contrasts with a letter that I have received from Lady Chalker, dated 22 May, whom the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) represents in this place. I had written about the biodiversity convention on the first rumours that it might be in difficulty—particularly about the global environment facility. Lady Chalker replied: Britain has been a strong supporter of the Global Environment Facility from its outset. We are one of the largest contributors to the pilot phase, providing £40.3 million". Incidentally, I have given the Minister's civil servants a copy of the letter to aid greater understanding of what I am getting at. We see the GEF as having a key role as the multilateral funding mechanism to finance the incremental costs (i.e., those not justified by the benefits to the country in which the activity takes place) of actions developing countries carry out to implement their obligations under the climate change and biological diversity conventions. We have accepted that the GEF will need to evolve to fulfil this role. We were pleased that the participants in the GEF agreed at the April meeting to create a new Participants Assembly which will oversee the GEF implementing agencies (the World Bank, the UN Environment Programme and the UN Development Programme). The Participants Assembly should ensure that there is a voice in the GEF for all the developing countries which are party to either the climate change or the biological diversity conventions, as well as giving due weight to the funding efforts made by developed countries. That is not the language of a Government who would hesitate to sign the biological diversity treaty. What has happened in the meantime? The letter goes on: The assembly will approve work programmes containing the projects under consideration for funding by the GEF. The letter goes on to deal with the April meeting, but I shall spare the House that detail. It concludes: Britain is ready, subject to other developed countries joining us, to replenish the GEF with new and additional financial resources to help developing countries implement their obligations under the climate change and biodiversity conventions. This is an issue which I expect to discuss further at the Earth Summit in Rio next month. Why are the Government reluctant? My colleagues must have heard the Malaysians and others on the radio. What does one say to developing countries which say, "You want us to do something about protecting our rain forests for global reasons but you cannot even sign the biodiversity treaty that was conceived in the first place by Sir Crispin Tickell and other distinguished British civil servants and others"?

Secondly, I should like to return to the question that I asked earlier about intellectual property rights. The Secretary of State is a distinguished lawyer and he knows that patent law is difficult. I agree with him that trade is more important than aid and that his Indonesian colleague was surely right. The Madagascan rosy periwinkle has both vinblastine and vincristine. Those drugs cope with, if anything can, childhood leukaemia and they also cope with Hodgkin's disease. The Madagascans are desperately short of currency and surely they are entitled to some of the benefits that accrue to the great pharmaceutical companies in the west which have used their knowledge. The same reasoning applies in the tackling of AIDS with liana from Cameroon, another desperately poor country.

Only 1 per cent., if that, of plants have been examined for medicinal properties and the other 99 per cent. must have potential. Yet so many species are destroyed, unexamined. I do not get that information only from written scripts because Professor John Dale of the university of Edinburgh, the dean of the faculty of science, put me on to his biological sciences advisory committee and I was able to check with some of Britain's most distinguished botanists.

Thirdly, we are endangering the planet's capacity to sustain life and depleting our ecological capital. The term "possible ecocide" is not too much of an exaggeration. I understand that in 17 of the 42 low-income developing countries the daily calorie intake per capita was lower in 1986 than in 1965. The warnings in the Brandt and Brundtland reports have changed from amber to a red alert. What are my colleagues and 1 to say to people such as George Medley of the World Wide Fund for Nature who yesterday organised a petition on the green outside the House for the tree of life? Many of my colleagues signed it, but I did not because it contained certain matters relating to sustainable timber and sustainable supplies that I could not accept. We must not underestimate the force of public opinion that is represented by the WWF and others. We often talk about the will of the British people. The hon. Member for Wycombe ran down television programmes such as "Fragile Earth" and the programmes transmitted by BBC2 on Sunday evenings. Those programmes are quite perceptibly changing public attitudes.

The Secretary of State spoke about improving the flow of environmental technologies. What did he mean? I would be a little more convinced if I could see examples. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is taking notes. Perhaps in his winding-up speech he will give us some examples.

I was fortunate enough to have an Adjournment debate on the ozone layer on 4 March. The report of the debate starts in column 413 and it was answered by the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry). When I raised the issue of crop protection and UVB, I was told that a good deal of research was being carried out in the agriculture departments of our universities. Only yesterday morning, Brian Jordan emphasised the importance of this work for crop protection. What will we be able to say to people in Rio about our work against UVB?

The Secretary of State spoke about the network of protected areas. What does that mean? An eco-system must be a certain size in order to be classed as such a system. At what point does destruction cause the cessation of that system? We forsake opportunities for economic growth so that problems caused largely by imprudence and profligacy in rich countries can somehow be ameliorated. I am sure that in Rio the Secretary of State will not try to lecture rain forest countries, as some Americans such as Senator Gore and others do.

The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) spoke about global warming and said that there was not much in it. The hon. Member is at odds with the former right hon. Member for Finchley, Mrs. Thatcher. One of the things on which I agreed so strongly with the former Prime Minister was her concern for the Maldive islands. Do the Government accept that there will be a 2 to 5 deg C increase over 100 years and a sea level rise of 30 to 100 cm by 2090? What are the Government figures?

The Secretary of State spoke about sustainable development. The air that we breathe is not ours alone and the seas that wash our shores wash other shores as well. Many seas and oceans have become dirty communal ponds. The atmosphere has become a polluted universal sky. What action is to be taken? These are the terrible things that are happening. What is to be the attitude in Rio towards sustainable development? This is linked to the debt burden.

There was a moving broadcast on "The World This Weekend" by Jose Carlos Santana, a Brazilian representing a Sao Paulo newspaper, who said that Brazil had paid its original debt many times over. This attitude to debt is not easy. When I was in Brazil for the Altimeira rally of the Amerindians—for clarification, I should point out that I went of my own initiative, was beholden to nobody and can therefore make my own judgments—it was at the same time as Kit McMahon from the Midland bank.

One problem is the difficulty of one bank, or perhaps two, writing off debt, and others not doing so; this must be done on a western basis as a whole. What is the Secretary of State going to be able to say in Rio about the relinquishment of debt?

I return to a question that I raised earlier today about Mauritius, and to which I shall return tomorrow and bore the House infinitely until I get full answers about it. I had the good fortune to be asked by The Sunday Times to review a remarkable book by Sonny Ramphal and I make no apology for reading his description of the mangrove problem. Overfishing is not the only culprit. Fish stocks are being endangered by other human encroachment. A particularly pernicious trend is the destruction of mangroves, coral reefs, and seagrass, among the world's most endangered ecosystems. These all shield the coasts and provide vital breeding grounds and habitats for fish. Nearly two-thirds of all fish caught in the world are hatched in mangrove and tidal areas. In my own part of the world, the Caribbean, some 90 per cent. of all commercial species of fish and shellfish depend on mangroves, coral reefs, and seagrass at critical stages in their life cycle. Yet everywhere, mangroves are in retreat, coral reefs are being degraded, and sea-grasses are threatened. Mangroves are cut for firewood or to make way for fish ponds, poisoned by pesticides from agricultural fields, or simply smothered by sediment from riverine and coastal development. As mangroves fail, coral reefs become more vulnerable to silt. Reefs are also victims of the construction of hotels or even of tourists themselves. From all this devastation they recover very slowly. Awareness of the serious damage being done to ocean habitats is growing. UNEP has an Oceans and Coastal Areas Program Activity Center in Nairobi whose work demonstrates in an outstanding way what can be done, but resources are scarce and other priorities overwhelm the fate of these often overlooked habitats. How can we help these overlooked habitats?

I wish the Secretary of State well and I hope that he has a productive conference in Rio. However, I hope that he will keep at the top of his mind the fact that, while habitats are important, to preserve them one has to have the goodwill of the people who live in the rain forests. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms. Jackson) referred to the Brazilians. I recall, when I went for an interview with the then Brazilian Minister for the north, Caesar Fernando Mesquita, he said, "In your constituency, Mr. Dalyell, when anybody builds an airfield or an airstrip, you will know about it. I do not, so huge is this area. The sheer difficulty of implementing environmental policies in a country such as Brazil is an enormous task for me." Brazilians do not appreciate being lectured to by whomsoever comes from Europe or the United States. We must do this in tandem with the people and Governments of those countries. I, for one, look forward to the report that either the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State will give to the House, I hope orally, on returning from Rio.

6.54 pm
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), whose questions are always penetrating and whose careful, thoughtful approach to this issue is recognised in the House.

I warmly welcome the fact that we are having a debate on this issue, although I am sorry that the reason for having it is that the Maastricht treaty has been put in question. I pressed my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for this debate, and I am surprised to get it so quickly and at such short notice. However, we must take advantage of the debate and make the best use of our parliamentary time.

I welcome UNCED, the Rio summit. It is a major step forward in world thinking that we can bring together in one place such a large group of experts, leaders, non-governmental organisations and affected and interested people to create what I hope is a new atmosphere in our debates on the future of the planet.

We have talked about raising and lowering expectations. I deplore the attitude of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), who opened the debate for the Opposition. He suggested that the conference was a failure before it had begun and that orchestrated comment in some newspapers had written off the concept. I find that difficult to believe. Of course the negotiations will be hard —we are taking a new step. We should be seeking the support of the widest number of people, not just in our country or in Europe, but, as the hon. Member for Linlithgow said, in the many affected countries. We can bring about the necessary changes only if we have the support of the local communities in the domestic populations as well as the international concept.

I have spent much of my parliamentary time preaching the gospel of an interdependent world. Whether we want one or not, we have a world that is interdependent in terms of its economy and environment. As we see the world contract—we often talk glibly about the global village— we realise that our neighbours are not just the people who live down the road or in the next village or in the immediate vicinity. Today, our neighbours live anywhere in the world because we know about everybody's problems and see them hour by hour and day by day. We cannot turn our backs on our neighbours in need.

We tried, through the "One World" programme in 1988, to foster the concept of an interdependent world. We had a major programme in this country and across Europe which just scratched the surface. In 1990, we followed it with the "One World" broadcasting programme, which I thought was extremely good but which lost out because it did not link with the other organisations that have an interest in carrying through such programmes to the grass roots.

Many have commented on the "One World" programmes this year on television and in other forums, which led up to the Rio summit and which tried to educate and inform many people. The project has involved schoolchildren and many others in local communities. Last Saturday, 30 May, people across Europe took part in activities on "One World" day. I am happy to say that my local authority had a programme in the square of Beeston. If people wanted a sense of what it was all about, they should have seen the way that the young children responded quite spontaneously. They did not know that there would be a show in the centre of the town square. It was organised through the United Nations, and a talented group of young people put on a show about the Earth summit and the consequences of the issues that we are discussing tonight. Before it was possible to say "Jack Robinson", a group of young people were holding up banners and participating in various activities. It was extremely impressive. I was glad that many older people were similarly involved. There is a linkage between what individuals can do in their local communities and what others can be pressed to do in a much wider context.

Much credit is due to those who will work long and hard in the pre-conference deliberations. Apart from the experts from the Overseas Development Administration, the Foreign Office and the Department of the Environment, there are many others from nongovernmental organisations and the World Wide Fund for Nature, for example, with expertise. I find it hard to accept that we should condemn the summit before it has even started, bearing in mind the massive amount of work that has gone into the pre-conference deliberations.

There are 27 chapters in Agenda 21 and they cover virtually every aspect of the environment. There is a chapter on combating poverty, which relates to one of the principal problems of improving the environment. I have already discussed education, training and public awareness. There is also the science of sustainable development. An issue that is close to my heart—I have seen much evidence of the problem—is combating desertification and drought and the role of regional organisations. Many other issues raised in the debate concern the sky, the seas and all the other problems of the environment. A considerable amount of work has been done and there are blueprints within Agenda 21 that, I hope, will help us to introduce the necessary developments in future.

It would seem from the comments that have been made that there has not been top-down organisation. The approach has been to ascertain how we can help local communities and others to pursue solutions to meet their own needs and to protect their own local environments. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) is especially concerned about population, and I have no doubt that he will speak on that subject if he has the opportunity to do so.

The approach of Agenda 21 to population growth is to take up the education of women and the development of women within their communities. It has not confined itself to family planning, which has often been tried and which often has not worked.

I feel optimistic about the Rio summit. I give special credit to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who was the first leader to say that he wanted to go to the summit. He spent much time in Harare, at the Commonwealth conference, persuading others to go. Commonwealth leaders and others have told me that my right hon. Friend's approach was one reason why they thought seriously about attending the summit and decided to go.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has had an influence on President Bush. I understand the difficulties that America faces, although I do not necessarily agree with its approach to them. However, we are all politicians and I think that everybody recognises that President Bush is in a difficult electoral year. We have heard his opponents saying on television that not a cent should leave American shores in the form of aid and that all available funds should be put back into American society. It is clear that President Bush has a difficulty, and that should be appreciated. It is significant that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has ensured that the Americans will attend because the conference would have been much weaker without their presence. That must go to my right hon. Friend's credit. I am delighted that he is going to Camp David, and I hope that something even more positive will emerge from the discussions that will take place there.

In spite of everything that occupies the mind of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—my gosh, he has enough on his plate at the moment—I hope that he will go to Rio on the basis that the general election is over and that there is a long period during which we can plan. He is in a position to raise the sights and, with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, give a lead to the concept of the Earth summit. It should not be allowed to descend into a haggle between north and south. There should not be an argument about whatever percentage of gross national product we are setting aside for aid at current levels. I would qualify that, however, by saying that I have always argued for a larger aid programme; but that is not what the Rio summit is about. As others have said, it is the beginning of an essential process.

I find it hard to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) when he talks about eco-terrorism. It is a difficult concept. Anyone who has travelled widely in the third world will have been appalled by the changes that have taken place in the countries within it. In west Africa, in the Gambia, society has begun to die during the time that 1 have been a Member of this place. The trees are beginning to die because they cannot reach the water levels. During my political life it was possible to drive from Banjul to Dakar in Senegal and to be under trees throughout. Anyone who undertakes that journey now will be lucky to find a tree. The land has become scrub, and in five years' time it will be desert. The same is true of Mauritania. There has been significant physical change.

That will be appreciated by those who have had the good fortune—at the same time, shocking experience—to see the picture of Africa from space over the past decade. If it is presented quickly quarter by quarter on a screen, it is clear that as each year passes the green areas contract. That is a significant example. We know that desertification is linked with drought, water and weather and weather patterns. I do not accept the concept of eco-terrorism. Instead, there should be eco-practicality and understanding.

The Rio summit presents us with a welcome change of attitude. The World bank is often criticised, but its operational directive on poverty reduction, which was published only this month, is an example of changing attitudes. Many of us have taken part in writing a letter to the new president of the World bank, Lewis Preston. I think that more than half the Members of this place signed the letter, along with about 1,000 parliamentarians from about 30 countries throughout the world. We state in the letter that we want the World bank to change its attitudes, to recognise that there is poverty, and to accept the need for the alleviation of poverty. We want the World bank to consider relevant loan technologies. Members of all parties here and parliamentarians throughout the world can play a part in influencing positive changes of attitude.

There must be a sense of urgency at Rio and an understanding of a realistic time scale within which practical and workable measures can be introduced and implemented. That might present something of a conundrum, but there must be a sense of urgency. These matters cannot be left to future generations. We must not say, "Let us measure the problems for a little longer to see whether they become worse before we take any action." There is enough scientific evidence to show that the problems exist and are serious.

As I have said, the time scale must be realistic. It is no good saying, "If we do not increase our aid programme this year or next year, there will be disaster." We must transfer resources within a realistic time scale so that the measures that will stem from Agenda 21 and from the various conventions can be implemented and given time to work. If we are to have an intelligent pattern for the future, we cannot rely on the international conventions alone. I very much hope, of course, that we shall find it possible to sign the convention on biodiversity on which we have done so much work.

At the same time, we must take a critical view of United Nations operations. It is interesting that even on defence the United States is suggesting that the United Nations should have a greater role in terms of world policing and world peace. There is a tremendous new role for the United Nations in many areas. Those of us who are involved in Angola, Cambodia, or Namibia know of the important role that the United Nations plays in those countries. However, while everyone is prepared to say that the United Nations is the only organisation that can play that role, they are reluctant to provide the funds to meet the cost. That is probably the subject of another debate. A system is needed that will provide the United Nations with resources to undertake the functions that we ask it to perform.

I mentioned the change in attitude among institutions such as the World bank and the International Monetary Fund. We must also examine critically regional policies. I agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow that it is not a question of the north and south and of the developed countries dictating and even financing some of the changes necessary in other parts of the world. We should be encouraging less-developed countries to devise the kind of regional structure that we have in the European Community. Africa desperately needs a regional infrastructure and a way of developing its economy and environmental measures. That applies equally to Latin America and South-East Asia.

We need to consider also our bilateral aid programmes and the way in which we work with non-governmental organisations. Environmental NGOs have a much better public relations system, so they tend to enjoy more public support. The Earth summit is about the environment and development—the two go hand in hand. We need to ensure that the work of the NGOs is more closely integrated.

We must review also our domestic attitudes, in our own homes. A recent weekly television series showed six families in different countries—including London, Norway, America and Japan—trying to lead an environmentally friendly life. It was fascinating to see families suddenly having to think about matters that they had not considered before, in making an environmental contribution without implementing any significant change in their lifestyles.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Linlithgow felt unable to sign a certain pledge. He obviously took it very seriously. I am not sure of the wording of the pledge or what put him off. Perhaps he will explain. About nine months ago, I signed a pledge that I hope is hanging on that tree in the global forum in Rio, along with many others. It not only pledged me and my family to do something about improving the environment but asked Governments and others to take action.

Mr. Dalyell

I would not sign the pledge because it said, "I will never buy anything made of tropical hardwoods." If we say that in Brazil, the Brazilians will argue that they must repay their debts to the west many times over, and that it is a question of selectivity. I am a trustee of the Scottish hardwood charter that was devised by David Bellamy, David Norman, and Jeremy Bristoe, among others. They are pioneering a way of ensuring genuinely sustainable hardwood imports.

Mr. Lester

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that explanation. If such a pledge had been put before me, I would not have signed it either. The pledge that I signed was rather more straitghtforward in terms of the commitment that I made and its request to other Governments to take action.

There lies ahead a massive task of communication at all levels. The most important of all, which Rio needs to reflect, is the task of communicating with the individual. Governments may sign conventions and make statements, but without public commitment they will not necessarily be honoured. I hope that as a result of this debate people in this country and elsewhere will be aware of the concern for, and commitment to, environmental issues that affect us all—which will be advanced at the Rio summit.

7.14 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), whose contribution, as ever, was most thoughtful. It is refreshing and reassuring to hear views such as those he espoused coming from the Conservative Benches. The hon. Gentleman's views contrast starkly with the cynicism of the speech by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), and the banality of the speech by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman).

The hon. Member for Broxtowe made a good point about the photosequence of Africa. It is not, as the hon. Member for Wycombe suggested, a question of eco-terrorism or of television companies confusing witless morons who watch nature programmes; the evidence of our own eyes tells us that something is badly wrong.

When the hon. Member for Wycombe sneered at the green movement, that was unworthy even of him and his normal standards. I would listen more attentively to the green movement and those who are sympathetic to environmental problems than to the burblings of a cynical old politician.

Many issues could be raised in the context of the Rio summit, and several have already been mentioned. In addressing one point, I should not want anyone to conclude that I am not seized of all the other areas of concern.

In any report on biodiversity, the fate of the great whales and of the small cetaceans—dolphins and porpoises—must be a matter of enormous significance. I draw the attention of the House to two early-day motions signed by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House. Since 1986, when the worldwide ban on commercial whaling was put in place, Japan alone has slaughtered 7,000 whales and more than 100,000 dolphins and porpoises. The Japanese Government's record is abysmal. Their attitude to animal resources is venal. Japan stands condemned as a nation before all civilised people for the way that it treats animal resources—and it does not stop at whales. There is a saying that if it has wings and is other than an aircraft, the Japanese will eat it; and that if it has legs and is other than a chair, they will eat it. That is not a racist comment against the Japanese, but indicates that they have no respect for the welfare of other living creatures that share our planet and no concern for those of us who urge that the Japanese show more regard for the opinions of others.

The Japanese managed to get round the International Whaling Commission's moratorium on commercial whaling by claiming that they were indulging in scientific whaling. That consisted of sending whaling vessels to the Antarctic to slaughter minke whales—after experimenting to see how many were there. I put it to the Japanese that there were always fewer minke whales after they had started killing them. The meat from those whales ended up on plates in Tokyo restaurants.

That was abysmal because the good name of science was being perverted by the Japanese to get round the IWC ban. Minke whales now account for the largest stock of the big whales left in our seas. They number about 750,000. No one knows the correct figure, because whales do not stand around in neat groups waiting for scientists—Japanese or otherwise—to count them. However, we know that there are many fewer whales now than after the mass slaughtering that went on for many decades. The Japanese do not husband the whale. The hon. Member for Billericay spoke of husbanding resources. No one husbands the whales. They are not framed, in the sense of breeding followed by controlled slaughter. Whales, however, belong to every one of us: they belong to every hon. Member, indeed everyone in the country, just as much as they belong to people in Japan, Iceland and Greenland, although we do not do any whaling.

This strikes me as a suitable occasion on which to draw Ministers' attention to the meeting of the International Whaling Commission that is due to take place in Glasgow towards the end of this month. The British Government have taken a good stand so far, and while they continue to do so they will have the wholehearted support of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) made a good point: when issues unite hon. Members on both sides of the House, we should be able to attend international conventions and speak as a united Parliament, so that no one misunderstands the breadth and depth of feeling—indeed, in some instances, the unanimity of feeling—on some of these great issues. I am sorry that the Government did not seek such an opportunity earlier, but the Glasgow meeting will provide another chance.

At that meeting, a report will be presented to delegates including British delegates—that will undoubtedly lead to a demand for the return of quotas. A revised management procedure will be discussed. I put it to the Government that in no circumstances must that revised procedure be used by countries such as Japan, Iceland and Norway as an excuse to resume any form of commercial whaling.

Human beings have killed far too many of these magnificent, gentle and intelligent mammals. There are only 14,000 blue whales left in our seas. The blue whale is the largest mammal that has ever lived on the planet: it is far larger than the largest dinosaur. The sperm whale has a larger brain than any other mammal on earth. The humpback whale creates music of beauty and mystery. All that should make us want to study the mystery of these creatures in great depth, rather than to kill them and stick them on a plate with the Japanese equivalent of chips. That, surely, is a disrespectful and obscene way in which to treat such wonderful creatures.

Whether we are discussing large whales or small ones, the issue is not management but cruelty. Large whales are killed with a weapon called a Penthrite harpoon—an explosive harpoon whose head has two or four barbs and to which is screwed an explosive grenade. As the harpoon enters the whale's body, the grenade explodes as a result of the delayed-action fuse. Can anyone imagine a humane way of killing any creature with an explosive grenade?

In 1986, a Norwegian whaling inspector provided a detailed account of a whaling trip. On that trip, the 16 whales that were killed took a recorded average of 10 minutes to die. One whale was hit by an explosive Penthrite harpoon, followed by a non-explosive harpoon whose use was banned by the IWC in 1982. Eventually, the whale was killed after the use of a further eight bullets.

That whale took 30 minutes to die. Although seven of the others died in less than a minute, the rest took between 11 and 30 minutes to do so. Eight received multiple injuries, and 14 of the 16 that were killed were pregnant at the time. I do not consider that to be husbanding the world's whale resources; I consider it to be utter barbarism —behaviour which should have no place in our so-called civilised world.

This is not a question of a revised management procedure. The issue is not whether enough whales are left for us to go out and kill a few more; it is all about cruelty to a wonderful, magnificent creature. I believe that anyone who wants to kill whales is a barbarian and a savage—and that applies to the Japanese, the Icelanders and, indeed, the Norwegians. I implore the Government to ensure that there is no retreat from a ban on commercial whaling and to stand firm in resisting any demands for such a retreat from any of the countries concerned. In so doing, they will carry with them the full support of the House.

7.24 pm
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

It is always difficult to follow the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), but I share his concern for animals of all kinds and his views about their deaths at the hands of man. That, unfortunately, is an experience that all species frequently undergo, for purposes such as the feeding of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West.

The subject that we are debating contains a conundrum and, in a sense, a hypocrisy. Essentially, we are suggesting that the wealth, as it is called, of the developed world, as it is called, should be transferred to the 80 per cent. of the world that is called underdeveloped, so that that 80 per cent. can develop in the same way and remove poverty. I understand, however, that we are also complaining about the depletion of the world's resources.

It strikes me as a strange and illogical equation to say that we should enable 80 per cent. of the world to do exactly the same as is being done by the 20 per cent. that is the subject of complaint. If we are concerned about the depletion of the world's resources, what contribution can we make by enabling another 80 per cent. of the population to deplete those resources? That conundrum, surely, is at the heart of the argument that forms the basis of the Rio summit.

As I said earlier, the removal of an entire rain forest was required to prepare the bumf for an exotic and magnificent fantasy—jamboree, even—in Rio de Janeiro, a city that I have often visited. I have visited the poorest parts of Rio and Sao Paulo, and other Brazilian cities, and I am not ignorant about the position there.

At 6.30 am the other day, it did not occur to me that we would be given an opportunity to debate this important subject. During the Maastricht debate that was taking place then, my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones)—the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs—said to me, "One of the difficulties is this: if you once crack a joke and make people think that you are witty, they will never take you seriously." Let me make it clear that I have never had a more serious message to deliver to the House, the country, Rio and the world.

Amazingly, not a word has been said in the debate so far—or, if it has been said, it has featured in a fleeting sentence—about the human population explosion. I declare an interest; indeed, I declare two interests. First, let me say that I will not add to that explosion. Secondly, let me tell the House that, in the face of terrible opposition, I set up the Brook advisory centre in Edinburgh, with the aim of preventing unintended pregnancies in Scotland. I did so on the day that Malcolm Muggeridge gave his sermon on "pot and pill", and the entire medical profession—let alone the Calvinist population—was seriously and vindictively opposed to the move.

Let me give the House, so that they may be on the record, some of the figures—the gunpowder of the human population explosion. If we consider those figures, the chances for the whales are nil. It is said in the Rio documents that 95 per cent. of child deaths are preventable, but what is being done to prevent them? It is said that 80 per cent. of all diseases can be cured, but what is being done to cure them? It is said that drought in sub-Saharan Africa led to 30 million deaths in the past five years, but what did the population of sub-Saharan Africa do in the past five years? It rose by 300 million.

On 11 June 1987, the population of the earth passed 5,000 million. It increases by 1 million people every three days. Every 24 hours, there are I million conceptions on earth, of which a third are aborted. Every year, 80 million people are added to our planet. The Queen was in China for 10 days, during which time the population of China increased by twice the population of Scotland—10 million people. I am informed by those who know that every time we increase a population of any sophistication by one fifth we have to double its infrastructure: schools, roads, universities, water, housing, medical services.

Let us consider the concept. If the present increase in the population of the world had occurred since the birth of Jesus Christ, there would now be 900 people for every square yard of habitable earth. In 1839, we first achieved 1,000 million people on earth. One hundred years later, there were 2,000 million, 30 years later 3,000 million, 15 years later 4,000 million and 11 years later—in 1986—5,000 million. In 25 years' time, there will be 10,000 million people on earth.

It is no good talking in Rio about whales, ecosystems, rain forests and all the other matters. Even at this moment, the food requirement for populations at subsistence level throughout the world has to be doubled every five years. In 10 years' time, it will be every two years. In 20 years' time, it will be every six months. Those are the matters that we should really be discussing in Rio—not how to save the blue insect or the rain forests but how to restrict what is causing, and will increasingly cause, their inevitable destruction.

I am astonished, having read the papers on Rio, that the subject of the population increase of the human species —homo sapiens, so he is called, though I do not see much sapiens about him—is not considered to be the cause of all our problems. We are fiddling with the effects of the human population increase without for one moment attempting to address it.

I have been a member of World Population Crisis for a long time. I do not know whether people realise that, despite the abominable casualties of the first world war and the second world war and the genocides of Stalinist Russia, the populations of Europe and Russia never ceased to rise during those times. I do not know whether people realise that in Ethiopia, which is suffering from famine and civil war, the population has not ceased to rise. Mozambique—seven times the size of France, one of the most prosperous countries in the world and with one of the best climates in the world—says that the fact that 60,000 people are going to die every month will only halve the increase in its population. All the nations of the world must address the issue of population control. That has to be done by education and information. It has to be done sensibly and sensitively.

Let me turn to some of the myths. If a developing country is poor, it is said that people breed in order to provide for the family. That does not explain Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, or Kenya. Kenya is the most developed country of sub-Saharan Africa north of South Africa, yet its population is totally out of control. It enjoys prosperity from its tourist industry. It is self-sufficient in hydro-electricity. Kenya has considerable wealth, compared with the rest of Africa, but its population is flying out of control.

I went to Brazil 10 years ago, when the population was 162 million, of whom 68 million were under nine years old. I wonder what the population is now? I do not know whether the Minister can tell us. When it comes to aid —as though one can sort of buy off poverty—what has happened to the aid that we gave to Brazil? It was spent on a railway line which the then president built from the capital to his constituency in the north of Brazil. That is what has happened to the aid.

Let us consider the idea that development is the best form of population control and contraception. It is not. It demonstrably is not so anywhere on earth.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I have been following the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument closely. How does he explain what is happening in the state of Kerala in southern India? Does that not prove that what the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying is incorrect?

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

No. That is achieved by a simple bribe programme—people are given a radio set. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have been through India. It is simply a holding operation—a finger in the dam that lets the water come over the top. It simply is not working. One has only to look at Delhi, Calcutta, Punjab and Kashmir, where the populations are exploding exponentially.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

I have to confess that I am not sure what is happening in Kerala, but Indonesia had to have a crash family planning programme before achieving economic success. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that development is not the best contraceptive: it is the other way round.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

I am obliged to my hon. Friend.

I do not wish to shock the House, but it is important for hon. Members to know the facts. If, before the end of the cold war, every nuclear weapon had been fired by both sides, after five years more people would have survived than were alive 20 years ago. There are more people alive now, and have been since 1890, than have ever died.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

I can add to my hon. and learned Friend's statistics. Is he aware that all the people who died tragically in the Ethiopian famine were replaced by new births within six months?

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

I can give my hon. Friend an even better figure. The people who died in the earthquake at Mexico City were replaced in 16 minutes.

Mr. Tony Banks

If we are all swapping statistics, I can add one. All 5 billion people now living on earth could stand up on the Isle of Wight. It would be like a crowded cocktail party and no doubt they would consume vast quantities of peanuts and crisps. That is the size of it. It is a question of where people are living and under what circumstances, rather than sheer numbers.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is miles out of date. The world's population was able to stand on the Isle of Wight provided that they were shoulder to shoulder, breast to breast and bottom to bottom in 1940, but that is not the case any more. I do not think that 5,000 million people from Newham, North-West standing back to back and bottom to bottom on the Isle of Wight would be an attractive sight, except that we could not feed them, they would all drop dead and that would be a great advantage.

I can give another terrible example. If the population of Egypt increases at the present rate until the year 2000, it will require four more Aswan dams to keep it in water.

It is no good just talking about the protection of the greater green-eyed dragonfly, which I adore, or the whales and all the birds, bees, animals and periwinkles that I love around my home, and it is no good talking about the poor in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo, when what is causing the problems is not world banks or western Governments but the fact that we are frightened to address the question of births.

I guarantee that the majority of items on the news tonight will be about somebody dying. Last Sunday, we heard that 26 people fell off moving trains and died. One tends to die if one falls off a moving train. How many thousand million passenger miles are travelled each year in this country? In fact, how many people are conceived on trains in this country?

It is all about death. Until the media point out to us—"as in my chapel I see"—that death is something natural and should not be unexpected, postponed or wrong but that births can be postponed and prevented, there is no purpose in cutting down a rain forest so that 1 million bureaucrats can descend on Rio and eat themselves stupid on the world's resources.

7.47 pm
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak. It is worthy of comment that a debate on UNCED has replaced a debate on Maastricht. There is no doubt that the issues involved in the Maastricht debate are of the heaviest consequence, but the issues involved in the debate on UNCED are vastly more important. What can be more important than the environment—the natural systems and resources that sustain life? I must emphasise the importance of human life so as to scotch the myth that green people are more concerned about creatures and animals than about people. It is the environment that sustains human life and that environment is now seriously at risk.

The summit and the Rio declaration, watered down as it is, are telling us that we have to learn that the present pattern of production and consumption—the economic system that we have in the world today, particularly the northern world—is unsustainable. I accept the importance of the population issue and it is regrettable that it is not being considered satisfactorily in Rio. Nevertheless, at Rio we must address ourselves to the unsustainability of our economic system and our patten of production and consumption.

Maurice Strong recently said: Earth Incorporated is literally in liquidation. Much of the income we are producing isn't really income at all: it's running down our capital. Some would call him an eco-terrorist, but he puts his view as strongly as this: we have an unsustainable ecosystem, certainly in the northern world. It will continue only at terrible cost to future generations who are not too distant and possibly at terrible cost to millions of our fellow human beings now.

The other day I read an article tucked away at the back of The Guardian. It was an analysis of the changes in weather patterns in the Indian ocean and linked them to climate change. It stated starkly: The next time you see pictures of starving Africans on your TV screens, it may be directly the result of the profligate use of fossil fuels in the rich world. That was an informed article and it was talking about now, not a remote future.

The fact that the environment is the most important issue of all is increasingly being recognised by the public at large. That point has already been raised and I wish to emphasise it. Until last summer I was a school teacher and I know that there is intense awareness of environmental questions among young people and children. There is deep anxiety among them and, to be honest, stark fear. Some conceal it with cynicism. I was recently at a function organised by Friends of the Earth in Aberystwyth in my constituency. I was getting copies of the earth pledge signed. Some young people said that there was no point in signing because it was too late to save the planet anyway. Such cynicism exists alongside fear and deep anxiety.

I hope that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and hon. Members will forgive me if I draw attention to the remarkable election result that led to my taking my seat in the House. I do not wish to labour the point, but the vote of the party that I represent and my own vote doubled. There was a swing of more than 13 per cent. and we moved from fourth and fifth places to first. I take no credit for that—please do not misunderstand me. The remarkable result was an expression of a number of factors including an upsurge in Welsh national consciousness and support for the idea of a Welsh Parliament, but what really made the difference and caused such a dramatic result was the fact that I was standing on an explicitly green programme, had the word "green" on my ballot paper, made environmental sustainability a fundamental theme in the election campaign and made the Earth summit a central issue in our election literature. It was not a central issue in the election campaign in general, but it was in my constituency. People who took part in that campaign can bear witness to the enormous enthusiasm generated among people by the fact that we made that theme central and linked it to the question of Welsh democracy and to a more decentralised system of government and a more decentralised pattern of economic activity.

We must remember that the public at large—I should say "people at large" because I do not like the word "public"—want the environmental crisis to be tackled. I would go as far as to say that they are now eager for radical policies to be implemented in order to tackle it. They want such policies introduced soon enough to minimise the dislocation and changes—many painful—that may be involved in altering the nature of our economic activity and social patterns.

I am convinced that people at large want results from UNCED. Politicians who fail to deliver adequate responses to and policies on this crisis will pay a price. When the time comes, they will pay a high price in terms of electoral support and an even higher price in terms of widespread condemnation. Bearing in mind the grave urgency of the situation, the need for and the people's wish for radical action, I find the events and utterances of the past few days depressing in the extreme. That has already been said, but I say it again.

To his credit, the Prime Minister led the way with his announcement that he would attend the Rio Earth summit. He raised expectations that there would be a radical agenda at Rio, but, having done that, he now warns that some people may be expecting too much and that some expectations are higher than can realistically be achieved. That has been the type of language used in the past few days. One cannot avoid the impression that it is a deliberate attempt to damp down expectations to such an extent that even the slightest step forward will be seen as significant progress. That will not do.

Why the change of tone? Is it because the Prime Minister has not grasped the monumental importance of radical change being initiated at Rio? Several Conservative Members—but not all, I am glad to say—pooh-poohed the idea of an environmental crisis. It is important that the Government distance themselves from that point of view. They must make it clear that they do not accept a minimisation of the seriousness of the problem. I hope that it is not true that the Prime Minister has not grasped the monumental importance of the situation.

We have heard about eco-terrorists. I wonder whether hon. Members would regard Sir Crispin Tickell or Sonny Ramphal as eco-terrorists. Sonny Ramphal wrote about Rio: the Earth Summit must represent a point of departure in the direction of sustainable living and it must be the beginning of a more resolute stage in the process of retrieving our heritage of life on earth. Because that effort has been delayed so long, we may not be able to succeed if we let the present opportunity slip. He is a responsible man and far from being an eco-terrorist.

Does not the Prime Minister realise the monumental importance of the problem or is he prepared to sacrifice that agenda in a desperate attempt to maintain the special relationship with the United States of America? That has been denied tonight and I hope that the denials are true, but the suspicion must remain that the influence of the United States on British policy is too strong.

I challenge the Prime Minister's use of the words "realism" and "realistic" in his statements. We have heard about practicalities and the fact that we are all politicians so we understand that one can achieve only what is practicable. It is time to ask whether it is more realistic to allow disastrous climate changes, the submergence of large areas and the desertification of others. Is it more realistic to allow those things to happen than drastically to reduce CO2 emissions? We need to reconsider that kind of definition of realism, and that kind of idea of practicality. We may now be at a stage where the usual compromises of diplomacy are no longer enough. We may now have to tackle the situation thoroughly enough to meet the need.

Britain's position on the biodiversity convention has been discussed in detail, and that discussion has made it clear that the influence of the United States has been a consideration. We are told that there is concern about possible misuse of funds by irresponsible third world Governments. There is no doubt that such misuse can take place, but if that was a reason for doubt, why was that issue not addressed during the exhaustive drafting process?

On the orders of the short-term self-interest of powerful business we stand to lose for ever priceless riches in the diversity of plant and animal life. To compare those with paintings by Rembrandt minimises their importance.

The compromise that has emerged on climate change is even more disturbing than that. There is now an intention to sign the convention, but that involves only stabilisation of carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. Let us accept that the Americans seriously intend to stabilise emissions—they are, of course, the chief culprits, producing 21 per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions from 5 per cent. of the world's population. Yet the appalling and frightening fact is that stabilisation is hopelessly inadequate. Stabilisation is already a compromise, and the possibility of having a further compromise on that is disturbing.

Stabilisation is not adequate. Present levels of carbon dioxide emissions have caused the problem perceived by the great majority of responsible scientists to be critical. That is widely recognised by scientific opinion. If there is cause for debate about the details, we have only to call to mind the precautionary principle set out in the Rio declaration itself—unless that has been watered down even further since I last saw a draft. It is present levels of emissions which are causing the crisis.

We all know that the United Nations intergovernmental panel on climate change said that it was necessary to bring about a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. That necessity exists alongside the need to allow an increase in emissions from some poorer countries to enable them to effect minimal development in their economies.

Greenpeace has presented to the Government proposals for a 25 per cent. reduction of emissions in Britain by the year 2000. Those proposals are practicable and feasible, involving a reduction in energy demands, measures for energy efficiency, the increased use of renewables, and so on. There is no doubt that renewables have great potential, but it is striking that the funds available for research into renewables are hopelessly inadequate.

We need a radical plan of action on a global level. That is what Agenda 21 is supposed to give us. Such a plan must be pursued with the same urgency as is brought to bear at times of military threat and war. Sonny Ramphal made an interesting comparison between the need for a strong response at a time of war and the need for a strong response now. He said that the war against environmental degradation is the only war that we can now afford. That kind of urgency must be brought to bear.

It is clear that we now need to redefine what we mean by security and threat. We need not only a radical plan of action on a global level, but a lead at EC level, and from the British Government. I commend to the Government the excellent list called "Agenda 21 for Scotland" produced by the Scottish National party. It provides a good basis for the kind of radical agenda necessary. I would add only one one factor, because the list omits the need for drastic reductions in armaments spending. The Brandt report, the Brundtland report and, more recently, the Club of Rome report made it clear that they regarded radical reductions in spending on armaments as necessary to tackle the environmental crisis. The Club of Rome report described the conversion of the world economy from a military to a civil basis as a necessary prerequisite.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's argument, but there is a real danger that as the east and the west reduce their vast armouries, there is a temptation to send the surplus and the obsolete to the third world, thus increasing third world debt. Does the hon. Gentleman therefore accept that if the armouries of the advanced nations are to be reduced, that reduction should not lead to an additional burden on the underdeveloped world?

Mr. Dafis

I could not agree more. The hon. Gentleman has made a useful addition to an understanding of the dangers of the situation. Certainly we need an adequate facility for the decommissioning of weaponry. That has implications for my constituency in west Wales, but I shall not pursue that matter now.

I conclude by repeating a call that I made in a letter to the Prime Minister and to the Leader of the House, for a whole day's debate on UNCED following the conference. It will be vital to assess the outcome and examine it according to a number of criteria. Whether the conference is a success will have all kinds of implications affecting the need for unilateral policies for Britain and the EC.

I shall suggest what such an assessment of the outcome should involve. It is important to assess UNCED not by comparison with expectations about what it could achieve—either the initial expectations or the more recent, much lower expectations—but by comparison with what is required by the state of the planet and the people. Just making a start is not sufficient now. Making a start is what we should have done in 1972 at Stockholm. Not to make sufficient progress now, and not to do so quickly, must be regarded as a failure.

8.7 pm

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

I can certainly agree with the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) when he says that the environment is one of the greatest problems for the future. I congratulate the Secretary of State on taking the opportunity of slipping today's debate into an open slot, so that we can deal with some of the problems of Rio. The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North will not be surprised, however, if I do not pursue all his arguments, as I want to advance some of my own.

The Secretary of State stated with considerable force the Government's position on Rio but I was disappointed with the speech of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), who tried to suggest that Rio was already a disappointing failure—although the conference is starting only today. That was jumping to conclusions and attempting to make a failure. I would have hoped that the debate was an attempt to encourage success, not to run down what might be achieved. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Prime Minister is backing off from taking positive action. If we obtain successes at Rio—there is no assurance of that—they will be very much due to the positive action of the Prime Minister as much as to the actions of any other leading politicians and Heads of State.

The House of Commons should consider one factor most fully. During the debate, we have heard more variations in scientific evidence than we have heard for a long time. From one speech, I almost thought that an argument might be made for the Earth being flat. If there is such variation in scientific evidence, there is surely an obvious need to have a Select Committee on science and technology which could consider the problems fully. I have argued that for many years, and I know that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) supports me fully. We should consider that need yet again.

In Rio, we are just starting with representations from more than 160 nations which are participating in UNCED—the United Nations Conference on environment and development—the conference dubbed the Earth summit. Of all the international conferences since the formation of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1946, this could be the most important. The conference is the culmination of more than two years of effort which has produced a series of conventions, agreements and statements of principle which are intended to address the environmental challenges the world faces today.

The road to Rio has not been smooth. Disagreements have arisen not only in the House, but generally on the scientific basis for action in some areas. Divisions have also occurred as a result of major differences of perception between the developed and the developing nations. I only hope that efforts will be made in Rio to iron out some of the differences, because the Earth summit is supposed to be the meeting at which the international community will set out its strategy for dealing with the world's most pressing environmental problems. All of us are concerned that that may not be the case. The purpose of my speech is to try to explain precisely what is at stake in one area and to analyse the issues concerning biodiversity and the difficulties that will arise if we do not obtain signatures to the convention.

There are two conventions to be signed: the climatic change convention and the biodiversity convention. There was originally a third convention on forest management, but the negotiations proved so difficult that, at best, a declaration of intent is all that is likely to be signed. It may outline general goals and the timetable for future conventions. I hope that the Government will do all that they can to support the advance of those negotiations because they are essential.

Three resolutions are to be negotiated. One will set out the institutional framework for monitoring the environment and holding nations accountable for their actions. It is most important that we should know what is being done and how after Rio, so I hope that the resolution is carried through. A second resolution involves measures to build the necessary scientific and technological capabilities, especially in developing nations, to deal with many of the environmental problems. We all know that such facilities exist infrequently.

The third resolution is concerned with the financial process and mechanisms to facilitate the transfer of clean technology to the poorer countries to enable them to develop economically while minimising harm to the environment. We have not discussed that much in the debate, but it is probably as important as any other aspect. We in the west should be able to ensure that the undeveloped world has the know-how and technology to enable it to meet some of the demands that we are trying to make of it.

The convention on biodiversity is intended to produce a plan of action to preserve the Earth's biological diversity. I do not know how many people understand that man's activities are driving thousands of plant and animal species to extinction each year. The convention will seek to arrest that trend by preserving natural ecosystems and, where necessary, protecting species in managed environments.

It is amazing, but true, that about 1,400,000 species of plants, animals and micro-organisms have been scientifically identified and named, although that represents only a small proportion of the total now believed to exist. In the 1960s, estimates of the total number of species ranged from about 3 million to about 4 million. Today, scientific advances allow that estimate to rise to between 10 million and 100 million. The main reason for the higher figures is the discovery that tropical regions harbour far more species than had been thought. Tropical forests cover only 7 per cent. of the Earth's land surface, but they contain more that half the world's species. Surveys of tropical rain forests suggest that the number of insect species alone could be as high as 30 million and discoveries elsewhere add to that total.

The very deep regions of the ocean were once thought to be almost barren. Having been to Lake Baykal in Russia, I have noticed that surveys now suggest that there could be as many as 1 million uncatalogued species there and one can see some of them in the museum at Lake Baykal. A recent survey in waters 4 km deep off Brittany revealed almost 800 species living in an area only the size of a large living room. Of those, 460 were new to science.

It is terribly important to bring the figures to the House. The scientific consensus is that, even though the number of species known to science increases all the time, the number of species on the planet is declining. The United Nations puts the number of species lost at between 15,000 and 50,000 a year, which is equivalent to between 40 and 100 a day. The number could be as high as 100,000. The majority are insects and plants, most of which have never been named, let alone studied, so it is not possible to say how their loss affects humanity in purely practical terms.

Another reason for concern for the species lost is that the natural ecosystem plays a crucial role in maintaining and regenerating the soil. The complex interactions between plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms, help to break up the rocks and contribute to the nutrients of our soil. Insect populations have natural ecosystems and they are needed to pollinate some of our crops. They can also provide predators which help to control our pests and parasites.

The broad goals of the biodiversity treaty are to establish a common international perspective on the problems that I have tried to enumerate and to agree on the priorities for dealing with them; to analyse the need for national and international national policy reform; to specify how the conservation of biological resources can be better integrated with development and how biodiversity is linked to related issues; and the promotion and further development of regional, national and thematic action plans for the conservation of biodiversity.

According to the United Nations, the convention should not infringe the sovereignty of national states over their national resources, and that has been one of the difficulties in the negotiations. Moreover, the convention must protect the interests of the states in which the resources are located. It must also provide incentives for conservation without inhibiting growth or sustainable development.

It is to be hoped that the convention will set out measures for conserving and using biological diversity itself, for the promotion of research, training, education and public awareness and for the conduct of environmental impact assessments. It should deal with methods of providing access to biological diversity, the transfer of technology for the conservation and utilisation of biolgical diversity, technical and financial co-operation with developing countries, to allow them to participate fully in the conservation of biological diversity and the formulation of appropriate national and international institutional arrangements. If those aims can be achieved, we shall have made major steps forward in the preservation of biodiversity on our planet.

There are so many things to which I could refer. I have been concerned with the subject for many months as the rapporteur of the North Atlantic Assembly responsible for dealing with the Earth summit. That is why I want to drive home today—as I tried to say to the Secretary of State—the fact that, in Congress, both Republicans and Democrats supported absolutely a major resolution, passed in Banff only 10 days ago, pressing the 16 nations of NATO to sign both conventions, thus going very much further than the Republican Administration, at that moment, were willing to admit.

One of the greatest difficulties is finance. The United Nations was asked to put costs to the admittedly vague items listed in the draft Agenda 21. The best estimate was that to build environmental concerns into sustainable development programmes would require a doubling of aid and that to finance environmental recovery would require a tripling of aid. The most recent figures produced by the United Nations Environment Programme suggest—as the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said—that the developing world would need as much as $175 billion per year to develop without adding to the damage already done to the environment. Aid to the developing world currently stands at $50 billion, so $125 billion of new money would be needed every year. Without the assistance of the Soviet Union's contributions to the United Nations, that figure will be very difficult to attain.

Nations can, and no doubt will, haggle over the amount of new money that should be made available to assist the developing world in implementing whatever goals are agreed at the Earth summit. Clearly, some new money will have to be found, but it is unrealistic for the developing world to expect that money to be made available without specific conditions being attached. Donor nations are already attaching new strings to aid to ensure that it is used effectively. They are rightly increasingly reluctant to provide aid to nations that flout human rights, that have relatively large military budgets, and where there is major mismanagement of economies.

I hope that donor nations will be similarly reluctant to provide aid unless they can be assured that it will be used properly to address the problems that it is intended to address rather than being used elsewhere.

The general consensus would appear to be that, unless some billions of dollars of new aid are offered, the developing world will be unlikely to co-operate in formulating measures to address global environmental problems. That is one of the key issues that will have to be thrashed out in the agreement. We must realise that the underdeveloped world expects some of that new money—not all—to be found, and will not co-operate unless it is, but I think it realistic of the Government to make it absolutely clear that we cannot sign treaties whereby the recipients supply the amount of money that they think they should receive with no veto being exercisable by the nations that have to provide the funds. The commitment cannot be open ended. 1 do not believe that any Government of any political colour could possibly agree to such an arrangement.

Considerations of time preclude me from outlining further the problems of deforestation, the way in which barriers to trade influence the environment, the demands by the have-nots for greater technological transfer or the sovereignty rights of each nation to set out its own environmental priorities. The Prime Minister has made it clear above all else that he is massively concerned that Rio 92 should produce agreements—agreements that will not only be welcomed but will set out to save many aspects of the Earth for generations still unborn.

8.27 pm
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen)

We are all in favour of saving the environment in general. The problem is whether we are in favour of saving the environment in specific cases and of making specific decisions. The fate of the world depends not on the general statements that we make but on specific actions that we take in specific cases.

Last Sunday my family and I walked up the River Itchen valley in Hampshire. It was a gloriously hot and sunny day, a perfect day on which to walk through the water meadows—many acres of land designated as a site of special scientific interest—by one of Hampshire's chalk streams. I walked up on to the downland, and looked back over the River Itchen valley, a heat haze rising above it. In the far distance, I could see the most prominent buildings in my constituency. It was absolutely beautiful.

Why was I standing on the top of Twyford down that day? If the Government have their way, there will soon be a six-lane motorway in a huge chalk cutting 100 ft below where I stood and the excavated chalk will be dumped across the SSSI. The waterway will be ruined and my family and I will never have the chance to go there again. That road is to be built in defiance of European law to which the Government have signed up. General statements about the environment are fine but, if that is the way in which the Government treat laws that they have already signed, one can only worry about the seriousness with which they will treat any treaties that they sign in Rio. I hope that I am wrong, but the signs are not good.

A number of hon. Members have mentioned the importance of trade to developing countries. In his opening speech, the Secretary of State said that trade would be much discussed in Rio. I want to know what the Government will be saying in those discussions about global trade. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are right to say that, in terms of its scale, of the resources involved and of the money that it can bring to most developing countries, trade is more important than aid.

Over the past 10 years many countries have been forced or encouraged by the International Monetary Fund and the World bank to develop more open, more market-oriented and more liberal trading policies and to divert their own domestic resources from domestic production to export production. If we place such emphasis on trade for the developing world, we must ask whether that trade is being carried out in a way that is contributing to sustainable development or whether it is actually undermining sustainable development.

I do not believe that that question has been properly addressed in the UNCED process or in the current GATT talks. The trading system that is evolving is not promoting sustainable development. Instead, it threatens to undermine it in several key ways. One of the most fundamental underpinnings of sustainable development is that the full costs of producing goods and trading them, including the environmental costs and the so-called externalities, is taken fully into account in the price of those goods. The current philosophy in GATT, which is sadly reflected in the UNCED principles which have been published, rules that out.

The GATT philosophy states explicitly that the environmental conditions under which a product is produced must not influence how it is traded in the world market. Put simply, if country A is a rich country with clean environmental laws and country B is a poor country with weak environmental laws, a product produced at a much lower cost in country B must be freely traded in country A. That will lead to a shift in production from countries with high ecological standards of production to countries with weak ecological standards of production. That position will be exploited within the trading system.

Very often it will not be a matter of separate companies operating in different countries. Instead there will be subsidiaries of the same trans-national companies, or companies controlled by licensing arrangements with trans-national companies, exploiting the fact that they can move production to the areas where it is cheapest to pollute and where there are the lowest safety standards.

If hon. Members doubt that prediction, they need only consider the ecological devastation in the border zone of Mexico where many American trans-national companies have located over the past 15 years to exploit the low environmental standards there. Those low environmental standards are now inevitably poisoning people in the United States. We should learn a lesson from that.

Under the new trading system there will be pressure to lower our own environmental standards. Our communities and trade unions will be told by managements that other countries are producing to lower standards and we should not put pressure on for such high pollution and health and safety standards in this country if we want to compete in the global market.

In case hon. Members think that this is scaremongering, a recent document on trade and the environment produced by GATT states: It is possible that trade liberalisation could worsen particular environmental problems in the absence of appropriate domestic environmental policies. Conceivably, an expansion of trade could produce negative environmental effects so large that they outweigh the conventional benefits from open markets.… resulting in an overall decline in national welfare. That point is made by GATT, not by one of the environmental non-governmental organisations. GATT recognises the dangers. The GATT report continues: This is only possible if a country lacks a domestic environmental policy that reflects its environmental values and priorities. The problem is that there is no institution in the world trading system or in the multilateral system, like the Bretton Woods system, which is charged with the responsibility for enabling developing countries to develop appropriate environmental values and policies. Nor is there an institution charged specifically with the responsibility of ensuring that developing countries have sufficient resources to put those domestic policies into practice. So long as no global institution exists with that role, the trading system will operate in the way that I have predicted.

The international trading system also represents a danger to the environment in respect of current international pressures to harmonise standards. Companies and countries are beginning to argue that northern countries which want eco-labelling of products so that consumers know what they are buying and how it was produced are providing an unfair technical barrier to trade for developing countries that would like to sell in our markets. Consumers may not be able to have full knowledge about what they are buying because GATT holds that up as a technical barrier to trade.

Trans-national companies are arguing that a high standard in respect of the level of pesticide residues in our food is another barrier to trade. They argue that we should harmonise downwards to the standards of the Codex Alimentaire. Those practices are not in place yet, but that is the way in which the trading system is evolving. They are real dangers.

None of us yet knows whether international treaties like CITES—the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species—which include trade provisions, will still be held to be legal under the terms of the Uruguay round—if that is completed. There has yet to be an explicit statement about that.

I recognise that the issue is complex. I do not side with those who want to take advantage of eco-protectionism. There is a grave danger of countries like the United States of America using environmental arguments simply to exclude competitive exports from third-world countries. I have no illusions that we will change the policies of third-world countries by refusing to import their goods. We need a balance. We must construct a trading system which is not obsessively free market but which is none the less open, equitable and committed to sustainable development.

In the debates on trade that must take place in Rio, I hope that the Government will press for the following. There should be an unequivocal statement that environmental protection and sustainable development are superior objectives to the promotion of trade itself. Let us have increased trade, but only where it promotes sustainable development. Let us not make it an objective in its own right. That is the role that GATT has played for the past 40 years: it has considered it an end and not a means.

There must be an unambiguous statement from Rio, from UNCED, that international treaties which include a trade element like CITES, the Basle convention and the Montreal protocol will be superior to the Uruguay round provisions on trade where there is a conflict.

There should be a call to entrench the precautionary principle and the "polluter pays" principle in the GATT discussions. We must also ensure that international standards, for example, on pesticide residues in foods become a floor and not a ceiling for the standards that we want. We must try to evolve a system under which a country with low environmental standards can be accused of using that as an unfair subsidy just as the other unfair subsidies in trade are identified and tackled. We must recognise that it will be more difficult for developing countries to meet those standards. We must therefore ensure that they receive technical and financial assistance.

In particular, I would like to see an institutional arrangement developed that could assist developing countries, and identify their needs and arbitrate where trade policies conflict with environmental policies. There is currently a choice between a new institution and incorporating that concept clearly within the proposed Multilateral Trading Organisation. However, that function must exist somewhere in the international system because it does not exist at the moment.

The Government should press for the adoption of a clear code of conduct for trans-national companies which would prevent them from shifting production to the dirtiest countries in the world and selling their products back to the richest.

Finally, we should ensure that our policies in the north do not push developing countries into unsustainable production, for example, through quite unnecessary levels of protectionism on industrialised goods or by dumping our food surpluses on them and forcing them into other forms of production and activities which are less ecologically sustainable.

I hope that trade is a central issue in Rio. However, I hope that the Government do not go there simply with ideological free-market objectives. Instead, they should have a balance of measures to maintain an open trading system and one which genuinely contributes to sustainable development.

8.39 pm
Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

I am pleased to follow that constructive speech by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). His remarks on GATT could well have come from the Conservative Benches rather than from the Opposition, although I confess that I am not sure whether I follow the logic of the argument that moving corporate locations to poor areas is a bad idea, as it would help development in such areas.

The hon. Member for Itchen mentioned Twyford down, which I know for personal reasons. One of the great mysteries to me is why the present dual carriageway around Winchester has not been upgraded, rather than taking away half the hillside.

One reason for having this debate before the Earth summit began is that it would have allowed us to say what was missing from the agenda at Rio. A debate after the conference would allow us to say what had been left out. I am not sure which way we are going by having a debate during the conference. However, it is constructive for us to speak on the subject.

I welcome the Government's approach to the Rio summit and agree with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir. P. Emery), who said that it was important for us to get a result out of the conference, rather than leave matters inconclusive or unsettled.

The great forgotten issue at Rio is the impact of world population growth on the environment. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) made his point well when he said that the tremendous population growth—currently estimated at 97 million a year—was having a significant impact on the environment. Population growth has doubled since the war, and it is projected to double again by the middle of the 21st century unless something is done about it now.

We have to ask ourselves whether that is a problem—does population growth affect the environment? I have no doubt that it is a cause of environmental decline. We see the evidence all over the place. Population growth leads to deforestation in the third world, as people look for fuel simply to heat their houses and cook their food. Logging has been mentioned several times.

Mr. Jimmy Dunnachie (Glasgow, Pollok)

It is big business.

Mr. Ottaway

I am sorry, but I did not hear the hon. Gentleman's remark.

Logging is carried out in the third world for commercial exploitation and to earn hard currency for third world countries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) pointed out, desertification is a consequence of deforestation. All over Africa, crops are failing and species are becoming extinct.

All those issues are on Agenda 21 at the summit, yet their root cause—population growth—has not been considered, and I regret that. It affects not merely the local environment but the ozone layer. China, which has the fastest growing and largest population in the world, is estimated to be pumping 17 million tonnes of sulphur a year into the environment and the ozone layer from its coal-fired power stations.

Much of the damage is caused by world poverty, because there is no alternative fuel for the domestic purposes to which I referred. Population growth is causing poverty because it is a vicious circle. If the population grows by 3 per cent., the infrastructure must also grow by 3 per cent. and 3 per cent. more schools and jobs must be provided. That would even be a challenge to a developed nation, let alone one in the undeveloped world.

If population is a problem, do we care? Should we concern ourselves about the fact that the population explosion is having so much impact? There is no doubt that there is widespread concern. That view has been expressed by both Prince Charles and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who pointed out that population growth is a cause of world poverty and of environmental decline.

I distance myself from the Archbishop of Canterbury's criticism of the Roman Catholic Church. To be fair, that Church supports family planning. The method that it advocates is outdated, and is perhaps not effective, but it supports the principle.

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

Even though it does not work.

Mr. Ottaway

Whether it works or not, it is a purely subjective matter—it is a matter of individual conscience.

If the Roman Catholic Church were to support modern methods—I am not saying that it should do so—think of the impact that that would have on public opinion.

Economists may say that we should not be concerned about world population growth and that there is no problem. They may say that the Earth can sustain unlimited population growth, that it can feed unlimited numbers. They may ask why we should he concerned about literacy rates if they are rising. They may say that deaths caused by poverty are falling. One cannot quarrel with those arguments. However, are they right? That is not a reason to ignore population growth, as it is a problem. It devalues human life, affects the quality of life and has an impact on the environment. The sooner that population size is stabilised, the better it will be for the quality of life and for the world's environment.

In an earlier intervention, I mentioned that Indonesia is one of the great economic successes of the far east, and that the economic growth which started there in the 1960s was preceded by a crash family planning programme. Indonesia was not able to have sustained economic development until it was able to stabilise population growth.

If population growth is a problem, the question remains, what are we going to do about it? That is where I feel that the Rio summit is failing. It should be tackling that fundamental issue. It is estimated that about 300 million people are denied access to family planning. To put it mundanely, we want user-friendly family planning services for the third world to enable us to reduce fertility in those areas.

We need not become obsessed with the single issue of family planning. It has been shown that better educated women have smaller numbers of children, which means stable population levels. It all comes down to the need for more cash. I welcome the Overseas Development Administration's increase in funding for family planning programmes. I believe that it has increased by about 28 per cent. However, the amount of money being spent on population policies amounts to only 2 per cent. of the ODA budget. If it is such a fundamental issue, why are we holding back funding for something which could be so effective? The funding contributed is peanuts in terms of overall public expenditure.

Family planning and the education of women are not intellectually challenging issues, but they do more for the environment than almost anything else being debated at Rio.

8.48 pm
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

I welcome the opportunity to make some comments while the Rio summit is under way and to encourage the Government to press for some much-needed policies in an important international event of this kind. However, the Government must recognise that every member state at the conference must put its own house in order and they must ensure that each of us has a responsibility for dealing with environmental issues in our own country, rather than simply pointing the finger at the more spectacular cases of environmental destruction—especially those in the developing countries, such as the destruction of the rain forests in Latin America.

We have some serious problems in our own country, as has been mentioned, because of the damage and proposed damage to sites of special scientific interest. Every year, many of the sites, which are designated under a Government order, are destroyed and sometimes obliterated. The great weakness in the designation system needs to be examined very closely.

There is also a weakness in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which was supposed to introduce management systems for resources and habitats similar to those being discussed at the Rio conference. Many millions of pounds are channelled into management agreements and some of that money is compensation for decisions such as not to plant trees. Some of that money is not being used in the most effective manner. When we consider the cost of environmental protection—there is undoubtedly a cost—some of the resources used in this country could be spent in far better ways than simply paying wealthy landowners large sums of money for not destroying SSSIs.

There has been much talk of the biodiversity treaty and there is no doubt that it is vital. I was sorry to hear some negative comments from some hon. Members about the nature of the scientific evidence of the real risks that are posed by problems such as global warming and biodiversity. Wildlife Link, which represents all the major conservation bodies in this country, worked very closely with the Department of the Environment in preparation for the conference and it supported the Department's intention to sign the treaty. It is of great concern that the Government are apparently back-tracking on that intention because of the United States reluctance to sign because it believes that that may involve the commitment of money or affect organisations such as the drug companies.

The wealthy northern states have a responsibility to channel resources to the developing world. The drug companies will be affected by some of the clauses in the treaty that cover discoveries from plants, mosses and other organisms found in the rain forest which can be used to develop important drugs. The countries in which those species are found are, not unreasonably, asking for a share of the development to help them to protect the forests. Why should not they have a share? Of course, there must be a proper, hammered-out agreement to determine how much money will be spent, where it will go and who will pay. I agree that those matters must be resolved. However, as a general principle, if multinational companies are making profits from developments that originated in developing countries, and particularly in their forests, there is nothing unreasonable in the companies paying a levy on the drugs that are produced. The multinational drug companies are not exactly short of resources or profits, and it is perfectly legitimate to argue that the money is returned to the country from which it derived. That will also help in the protection of the rain forests.

At the moment, when there is pressure on forests, either through a need for farmland or if the people living there think that quick profits can be made by chopping down the wood for logging, the forests will disappear and that process will be encouraged. If it can be shown that forests can be managed in a sustainable way to produce items such as wood, rubber and drugs of the kind to which I referred much more emphasis will be placed on protecting them.

Population control has also been mentioned in the debate. It is an important issue which will have to be discussed at the Rio conference. Population, poverty and environmental destruction are connected. We do not want to approach the problem in a patronising manner and insist that developing countries control the growth in population, and we should not pretend that this issue does not affect the developed north. That is not the way to approach the problem. Some of the reasons for over-population are poverty, infant mortality and the fact that many families have many children because the children are needed to ensure that the parents are provided for in old age in countries where there is no social security system and because many of the children will die during their upbringing.

We need to tackle those issues, but it is fair to say that much more could be done towards population control. Mention has been made of the Catholic Church's attitude, and I think that Dr. Carey was right in his criticims of that attitude. However, the Catholic Church has played an important and progressive role in combating poverty and in the work that it does in developing countries. I admire the Catholic Church for what it has done, but it could do so much more if it could shake off the shackles of outdated theological dogma. In fact, that dogma is on shaky theological grounds. Although it is not for me to argue the Catholic Church's position, there are progressive elements within the church who feel that the time has come to review its position on population control. Because of its proud record in combating poverty and promoting overseas development, the church could set a tremendous example and be a force for good in many ways.

We need to play our role. Hon. Members have referred to the talks on the general agreement on tariffs and trade and to CITES, and those agreements must be enforced. One of the problems for the developing world is that much of the environmental destruction has taken place with the encouragement and the collusion of northern-based multinational companies. We, as individual consumers, are also to blame. For example, our taste for large tropical prawns has led to the destruction of much of the coastal forest and mangrove swamps in many Asian countries in order to satisfy wealthy northern consumers. Individuals, as well as Governments, have a responsibility, because we demand goods which are produced in an environmentally destructive way.

Many people are not aware of the way in which food is produced and in which timber is produced and harvested. Ecological labelling on products would be a great help. The banning of the importation of hardwoods which are felled in an unsustainable fashion at the behest of all European countries would also be a great help. Enforcement of the CITES regulations would also have an effect.

One of the current problems which is being widely debated in the European Community is the importation of wild birds. That is an example of what can go wrong when there is uncontrolled exploitation of a natural resource. Importing birds caught in the wild is not only cruel but involves the destruction of forests in order to collect such rare species as wild parrots from their nests. The easiest way to collect them as nestlings is to chop down a tree and remove them from their nest in the trunk. That is being done to satisfy demand in the wealthy northern countries of Europe.

We need to bring this trade under control by means of a total ban on the importing of these species. We should then allow a controlled, sustainable trade in species which have been brought in by our aviarists to improve breeding stock. This is a good example of how the Government, through the European Community, can take action to deal with a trade that is both uncontrolled and damaging.

Following criticism, the World bank has reformed itself to a large degree—but it could do a great deal more. It has been responsible for funding a large number of development projects that have damaged the environment and been of doubtful economic value to the countries concerned.

I hope that the Ministers who attend Rio will not be too influenced by the United States. The attitude that the United States has adopted to controlling carbon emissions and to the biodiversity treaty has been very depressing—as has the fact that it has been influenced by American drug companies and multinationals. The attitude that President Bush has adopted seems tailored more to short-term political gain for himself than to the long-term interests of his country, our country and the whole world.

The symbol of the earth conference is a hand holding the globe. The summit is certainly one of the most important milestones in the history of the world, designed as it is not to stop immediately—the situation is far too grim for that—but to start to tackle the continual destruction of much of our planet and many of our rain forests. It will tackle the problems of pollution and of pressure on our natural resources and the way in which they have been squandered for far too long for far too little gain. I hope that the logo of the summit will not come to symbolise an opportunity slipping through the fingers of the conference because delegates to it were motivated not by the interests of the future generations of young people who will inherit the consequences of these decisions but by self-interest.

We must not lose this chance; we must ensure that the treaties are signed and that we begin a process of sustainable development, of harmony and of mutual support between the rich north and the poor south.

9 pm

Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester)

As the clock strikes nine, I come to the House with a message from the city of Chester. It is a message that I had not expected to be able to bring, because I did not receive it until about two and a half hours ago, when I found myself on the telephone speaking to one of my constituents. She was surprised to find that I could speak on the telephone, because yesterday I had assured her that I would not be able to because I had packed my pyjamas, sponge bag and toothbrush in preparation for a long night in Maastricht.

Instead, I find myself having a short evening in Rio. My constituent was delighted when I told her that, finding the fact that the House had turned from the issue of Europe to that of the future of the world encouraging. She said, "You have got your priorities right. Instead of continuing to contemplate your Euro-navel, you are actually coming face to face with the life-or-death issue of the future of the planet."

This was a reminder to me of how passionately people feel about the environment, and of how important they see the summit. I refer particularly to the 20 per cent. of my constituents who, like 20 per cent. of the population in general, are under the age of 18 and do not vote. In conversation with them, the issue that emerges first and foremost is that of the future of our planet.

It heartens me that, in Chester, at least 11 groups are actively involved in the cause of the environment. One of them is a group called RESULTS, and it was a member of that group to whom I spoke on the phone. Its members have urged me to bring a message to the House—that we must welcome the Rio declaration and sign up to the two key conventions, on climate change and on biodiversity.

This country has taken the lead and shown the way in these matters, and environmental groups such as those in my constituency urge us not to lose our nerve. Of course it is unrealistic to sign a blank cheque; we must not allow the issue to exacerbate the so-called north-south divide. None the less, we must go the extra mile: we must give the environment the benefit of the doubt. These conventions, whether modified or allowed to stand, are important markers on the way to a more careful, more caring and more sharing planet.

My constituents urge us not to let our excellent Secretary of State for the Environment or our admirable Prime Minister merely go to Rio to say the right things. They ask us to get them to do the right things and urge them to sign even a weakened convention, because it could lead to a stronger one.

The Rio summit is an enormous enterprise on a quite colossal and ambitious scale. Some 12,000 delegates have made their way there and it is alarming to think of the amount of fuel that has been consumed. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) spoke about paperwork. He called it bumf—a Scottish expression with which I am not familiar. However, we know what he means. Whole forests have been used to produce paper for what the hon. and learned Gentleman called "this jamboree". But the summit must be more than that. It is a world gathering to discuss critical issues, and my constituents know that even if some hon. Members do not.

One of my constituents told me that he witnessed the number of hon. Members in the Chamber for the Prime Minister's statement on Europe and asked me to report on how many would be present for this important debate on the future of our planet. I shall not report the figure in full, because it might slightly dishearten my constituents. They wish the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Prime Minister well in Rio but urge us not to leave it just to them. They want hon. Members to play a part as well.

Hon. Members spoke about the World Wide Fund for Nature and its pledge for the tree of life. Some hon. Members have signed that pledge and we hope that our pledges will hang on a tree in Rio not as an empty gesture but because we want to contribute. Some people have said that they will attempt to use 10 per cent. less oil, gas or electricity and some assured me yesterday that they were pledging to use 10 per cent. less petrol by curtailing the use of their cars. That will be a challenge for some hon. Members, because with our mileage allowance it will be possible to compare last year's consumption with this year's. Perhaps it will be a real sacrifice.

The concept of Rio is not remote. It is not a warm feeling or an opportunity to make the right kind of noises about the environment. It is an opportunity to make a difference and my constituents have challenged us to play our part by conserving energy, by recycling and by remembering that small actions count and can make a difference. In William Blake's famous dictum, he who would do good must do it by minute particulars. We urge those in Rio to take major steps and I hope that the rest of us will make minute but important contributions.

9.7 pm

Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)

I am glad that at last we are having a debate on the Earth summit, even though it was unplanned. We have heard many interesting speeches but unfortunately three or four Conservative Members have shown the Government in a poor light. I refer especially to the hon. Members for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) and for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) and the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn). There is a strong consensus that the Government should go to Rio with a positive attitude and should try to bring about some improvement in the global environment.

It has taken a long time to prepare for the Rio summit. I have followed these affairs for the past 20 years from the time of the Stockholm summit. In the 1970s after the OPEC oil price rise there was much talk about a new economic order. There were many meetings of UNCTAD, the UN conference on trade and development, and we had the Brandt report and later the Brundtland report. The only major agreement that has been signed in those 20 years was the Montreal protocol on the protection of the ozone layer. That was a tremendous step and led to international agreement on phasing out CFCs. That has not been done as quickly as perhaps it should have been, given the 20 per cent diminution in the winter concentrations of ozone. The problem is so serious that perhaps we should have a much more rapid phase-out of CFCs.

An enormous amount of groundwork has been done in preparation for the summit, starting with the global warming convention. Some Conservative Members, particularly the hon. Member for Billericay, questioned the scientific evidence on this, but there is an overwhelming consensus that we are faced with a serious, long-term threat of global warming and climatic change resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels and the burning of the rain forests. Carbon dioxide concentrations are increasing and the consensus view of the world's leading scientists is that global temperatures will increase by between 0.5 and 3 deg C by 2030 and perhaps by as much as 5 deg C over the next 100 years. We must take steps to prevent that happening, and that means that we must first stabilise and then reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The target of stabilising carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2000 looks ambitious, but the ways in which we can achieve that make good sense. It could be achieved mainly through energy efficiency and proper insulating of houses, factories and places of work, and by district heating schemes to use waste from power stations and new sources of energy. All those energy efficiency measures make excellent economic sense as well, because they enable us to produce more efficiently and therefore cheaply. It disappoints me that successive Governments in the past 15 or 20 years have not taken the importance of insulation seriously enough.

It is sad, in these latter days of preparation for the convention on global warming, to see Britain dragging its feet because the United States is reluctant to accept it. We have fallen out of line with the rest of the European Community. Germany, Denmark, Holland, France and Italy have been in the forefront of putting the environment on the global political agenda. If Britain were working constructively with them, the European Community would be the leading force for change. We would pull Japan and Canada with us and isolate the United States, shaming it into action on these fronts.

It is a symbol of that problem that the European environment Commissioner, Ripa di Meana, has decided, largely because of Britain's attitude and the lack of consensus in the Community, not to go to Rio. The one person in Europe, perhaps in the world, who has done most to improve the global environment will not be at the Rio summit.

Many hon. Members have spoken about the convention on biodiversity. Tropical rain forests are a precious resource which is being destroyed at the prolific rate of an area the size of Britain every year. Many species are under threat of extinction. About one half of the world's species could be destroyed in the next 50 years if this carries on unchecked. Global warming is an important factor, but so, too, are the precious resources that will be lost. They provide drugs and medicines that we shall desperately need in the future.

I accept that the financial implications of the convention on biodiversity cannot be implemented. We cannot sign huge blank cheques to reach agreement. However, I hope that the noises that we have heard over the past week or 10 days are aimed simply at lowering our expectations and that, by the end of the two weeks of the summit, agreement will be reached. We must not allow further destruction of the rain forests.

A likely and important step forward at Rio will be the setting up of the commission for sustainable development. The House will be aware that part of the Brundtland report is devoted to sustainable development. Every country will be required to produce a full national plan.

Britain's population is static and our land use and food production seem to present no problems. Indeed, we are producing too much rather than too little. There are serious problems, however, with pollution, use of resources and carbon dioxide emissions, and these must be tackled. The framing of national plans will pose major challenges.

Agenda 21 refers to ways of relieving the problems of the third world, such as poverty, ill-health, inadequate water supply and malnutrition. I am disappointed that it contains nothing about population. Two Conservative Members have made major contributions to the major problems that are associated with population growth. We do not, however, tackle the problems simply by providing family planning or contraception on a large scale. The solution is much more complicated than that. We must tackle the problems of infant mortality, poverty, inadequate water supply and primary health care, and that requires finance.

The United Nations estimate of the financial commitment that will stem from the Rio summit is $125 billion. That sounds an enormous figure until we consider the world's gross domestic product. In that context, $125 Nihon is about 0.3 or 0.4 per cent. of the GDP of the advanced countries. In other words, there needs to be a commitment of about one third of 1 per cent., and that fits quite neatly into the aid budget. We have bee asked for decades to aim for the target of 0.7 per cent. of our wealth for overseas development, but Britain's contribution has fallen from 0.5 per cent. to 0.27 per cent. That is a sad commentary on the past 12 years of Conservative government.

The changes that have taken place in Russia and eastern Europe generally mean that the cold war is at an end. For the next five, 10 or 20 years we can look forward to deep cuts in defence expenditure. That is the peace dividend. I have no doubt that the primary call on resources that are now being set free following the changes in east-west relations will be the tackling of the north-south problem. The resources should be used to improving and developing the global environment.

9.19 pm
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

We have had a good debate in which several hon. Members on both sides of the House have made extremely significant contributions which the Government would do well to heed. Over the past few weeks many people have written to me asking if and when we shall have a debate on issues of major importance that are to be discussed at UNCED. It is ironic that, at the eleventh hour and after considerable Opposition pressure, only because the Government found themselves with nothing to debate today did they rush through, as a stop gap, a debate on the Earth summit.

Whatever the outcome of the summit, the issues that it will consider have been widely explored in the press and on television, and that has raised the level of consciousness in Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) emphasised the importance of television in bringing home to the public the challenges that confront us in tackling the global environment.

Today, the Secretary of State for the Environment reiterated the Prime Minister's remark that UNCED is the start of the process. We have news for the Government. The process began decades ago. Others understood it well before the Stockholm conference of 20 years ago, when Norway's Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, said: The environment is where we live, and development is what we do in that abode. The two are inseparable. We are in the third decade of a series of environmental and development conferences.

Today, we were lobbied by the University of London Union, whose letter to me is typical of many that I received over the past few weeks: We are particularly disappointed at the way in which development issues have not been given priority on the UNCED agenda. We believe that unless the root causes of underdevelopment and poverty are tackled, development in many countries will never be possible, and the desperate struggle for people simply to survive will override only long-term or environmental population considerations. We feel especially strongly about the fact that millions of innocent young children die every year simply through lack of the very basic necessities of life, which in a world of plenty must be the deepest tragedy of all. I am sure that we all share that sentiment. The letter adds: We had been hoping that UNCED would result in real changes to put an end to such injustice—and in our optimism, we hope that can still happen. We believe that Britain is in a particularly unique position to take the lead in putting forward such proposals and to influence other nations to do likewise …We feel that such an important event as UNCED should be more fully discussed and debated in Parliament. We have felt that for a long time, and we are grateful that the Government, even at the eleventh hour, have chosen to debate the subject.

Last year, an interesting report was published by the Global Environment Research Centre in conjunction with the United Nations Association. "Institutions and Sustainable Development: Meeting the Challenge" examines what was done by various Government Departments to prepare for the Rio summit. It concluded: Analysis of developments in Whitehall shows lack of effective overall co-ordination. Environmental considerations are still largely peripheral rather than central to policy making in most Departments of State—not least in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, whose failure to take seriously the long-term threat to national security from global environmental degradation has far broader implications. The report considered all Government Departments in detail, to establish the extent of their preparations for the Earth summit, and concluded that they amounted to a hotch-potch, and that the task had not been tackled in a systematic or comprehensive way.

Mr. Whitney

Will the hon. Lady expand a little on what she considers to be a long-term threat to what she has described as global environmental degradation?

Mrs. Clwyd

I shall be pleased to do so later in my speech.

Let us look at the Government's record. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister whether he agreed that widespread poverty in the third world was a major cause of damage to the world's environment, and what new action he proposed in Rio to combat that poverty more effectively. The Prime Minister replied: We …have dramatically increased in real terms the amount of aid".—[Official Report, 2 June 1992; Vol. 208, c. 703.] That simply is not true. In 1990, Britain spent a mere 0.27 per cent. of gross national product on aid—the lowest figure on record, as the Minister for Overseas Development admitted in the House last year.

On that occasion, the Minister was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours): Is it not true that last year, as a proportion of GDP, Britain spent less than it has ever done since the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development began keeping records? The Minister replied: The answer is yes. I do not like it any more than anybody else does".—[Official Report, 14 October 1991; Vol. 196, c. 18.] The truth is that the Government have cut by half the amount and value of official development aid to the third world since they came to power in 1979. When we left office in that year, aid stood at 0.51 per cent. of GNP and was rising. That cut in aid has deprived the poor of Africa, Asia and Latin America of more than £10 billion.

I believe that those figures are the best indicator of the importance that a political party or country attaches to overseas development. Given the current claimed rate of growth in aid, it could take the British Government more than 95 years to reach the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. of GNP. Are we prepared to stand back and let another 1,387 billion children die in the meantime?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Lady is addressing the point at great length and in highly emotive terms, as she always does. Of course this is a serious point, but such observations would come much better from the hon. Lady and her right hon. and hon. Friends if only two months ago, at the time of the general election, they had been prepared to include a commitment to increasing aid in one of the two categories of spending to which they were prepared to commit themselves immediately. I hope that the hon. Lady will now confirm that Labour was prepared to increase aid spending only as and when resources allowed it—and we all know that resources would never have allowed it.

Mrs. Clwyd

There is a major difference between the attitudes of Conservative and Labour Members. We said that our aim was to reach the target of 0.7 per cent.of GNP within five years. Only two weeks ago, in the European Community, the British Government refused to reach that target by the year 2000, and blocked other EC countries that wanted to make that commitment. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has any right to challenge our commitment when his party clearly has no commitment of any kind to reach that 0.7 per cent. target.

The Government have cut not only the overall aid budget but the percentage of assistance that they give to various United Nations organisations. It is shameful that, when the whole world is talking about the Earth summit and the gap between the rich and the poor on our planet, the British Prime Minister should go to the Dispatch Box and get his figures wrong. Is he trying to dupe people into believing that the British Government really care about the needs of the third world? If the agreements reached at UNCED are to be fully implemented, the United Nations has a critical role to play.

While the Government have continued to pay lip service to the role of the United Nations, they have savaged Britain's support to some of the key United Nations agencies since 1979. They have cut their support for the United Nations children's fund by 44 per cent. in real terms. No one can doubt the effectiveness of an organisation such as UNICEF in the third world. The British Government have cut their support for the United Nations Fund for Population Activities by 65 per cent. It is a bit rich when I hear Conservative Members talk about the importance of population activities in the third world if at the same time they are prepared to sit back and allow the Government to cut their support for that very important fund. The Government have also cut their support for the United Nations Development Fund by 57 per cent.

In the three years that I have been speaking on this brief I have seen for myself the effects on people in Asia, Africa and South America of living in the hopelessness and the grind of daily poverty. In Cambodia, still one of the poorest countries in the world, one finds, more than a decade after Pol Pot, that it is still denied the kind of development aid that it should be receiving from Britain and the United States. When I saw Cambodia's health Minister just two weeks ago and he thanked me for the pressure that I was putting on the Government to increase aid to Cambodia, I thought about what might have happened had we been in government. We should have ensured that one of the poorest countries in the world got the aid to which it was entitled.

I have seen for myself in Ethiopia queues of women waiting to get contraceptive advice through the United Nations Development Programme and through the United Nations Fund for Population Activities. I know that in Ethiopia the UNDP and the UNFPA simply do not have the money to do the job. In Iraq I have heard the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees bewail the fact that there are things that they would like to do in northern Iraq to alleviate the plight of the still suffering Kurds. I know that the UNHCR has been told again that money is not available and that in desperation the UNHCR has said, "Give us the money and we can do the job." If Conservative Members are serious about wanting to help the third world, they must give money so that the organisations working there are able to do the job.

Another myth that the Government have sought to spread concerns their record on debt reduction. In 1990 Britain took more money in dept repayments from third world countries than it gave in aid, a fact to which my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) referred. In more than 40 nations termed by the World bank as severely indebted, debt payments have swallowed up over a third of all their trade earnings in recent years. The Government have made a lot of noise about their proposals for debt reduction—the Trinidad terms. However, it is worth bearing in mind that, even if the initiative had been implemented fully in line with the original proposal, it would have resulted only in 1 per cent. of the total third world debt being written off. Even that very limited proposal has not been fully implemented. What about the other 99 per cent.? Perhaps the Minister can tell the House which countries have benefited from the Trinidad terms and the corresponding amounts of debt which have been written off.

The Government have refused to take any steps to encourage the cancellation of debts owed by poor countries to the commercial banks. They have blocked proposals for reducing debt owed to the European Community. They have refused to take action to reduce debt owed by the poorest countries to other multilateral agencies. And what of trade? My hon. Friend the Member for Itchen asked many questions about trade. One might have expected that a Government who are concerned, as they profess, about the environment and development, in a country which has many historic and continuing links with the Commonwealth, would have been more vigorous in examining the impact of the Single European Act and the current general agreement on tariffs and trade negotiations on the poorer countries. It is also worth bearing in mind the issue of aid tied to the purchase of British goods. Why is it that, again, the United Kingdom has the highest percentage of tied aid among members of the development assistance committee of the OECD?

The political tensions at UNCED are not difficult to understand. The poor countries are telling the rich countries that they want action on their pressing environmental priorities. For the Brazilians living in the shanty towns around Rio and for the African peasant farmer, the top environmental issues are dirty drinking water and poor sanitation which kill their children by the thousand. Three million children are said to die every year from diarrhoea caused by drinking dirty water. Another important issue is the daily search for the shrinking supplies of fuel wood that they use to cook their daily food. The World Health Organisation reported recently that 2.5 billion people suffer illnesses resulting from insufficient or contaminated water. Those are the life and death environmental issues that threaten poor countries today. Poverty is a cause of environmental degradation. Meanwhile, the Governments of richer countries, including our own—

Mr. Whitney


Mrs. Clwyd

I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman and time is short.

Governments have tried to shift attention to the issues of climate change, population, forestry and, until recently, biodiversity. The original climate change convention has been considerably weakened because of the role of the United States and the United Kingdom. Over the past 130 years or more the impacts of industrial development have accelerated and accumulated to the point where the climatic stability of the biosphere is being affected, raising serious questions about the future well-being of our planet. The sources of that pollution have overwhelmed the sink capacity of the planet.

The United States has singlehandedly provided 33 per cent. of accumulated industrial carbon dioxide pollution. To salvage its conscience, it is now prepared to spend a large sum of money on forestry projects in poorer countries, which will act as a further sink for its carbon dioxide emissions. Thanks to the United States and United Kingdom Governments, the climate convention to be discussed at Rio makes no commitment to reducing emissions of global warming gases. The United Kingdom Government have, in effect, been instrumental in facilitating what amounts to polluter sovereignty on behalf of richer countries. In other words, it is business as usual; carry on polluting.

The Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) talked about the importance of ever-increasing population levels, particulary in the south. We accept that it is important to look at population growth, but it needs to be looked at in conjunction with other key issues affecting the environment and development, including consumption levels.

According to a report on development and environment prepared for Rio by the World bank, women hold the key to prosperity because they control their fertility and the fertility of the soil. According to a multi-country study a secondary education reduces from seven to three the number of children a woman has. It concluded that educating women was the biggest solution to poverty and environmental destruction. That point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr Morley).

The Earth summit has been greeted with deep pessimism by the contemptuous words of President Bush —the President who boasted during his election campaign that he would he the "environment president". We now have the grudging words of our own Prime Minister. He is warning us that expectations must not be set too high. For President Bush to pull out of the biodiversity convention, after it had been broadly agreed, on the eve of the Rio summit, and for the United Kingdom, which had apparently taken the lead in urging the convention and been admired for doing so, to wax hot and then cold, yet again apeing the President of the United States, is unbelievable but not unexpected. After all, President Bush has provided a veil for those who want to dodge their own responsibilities.

We must face the fact that the summit cannot merely tackle the symptoms of environmental damage but must deal with the causes. Delegates are grappling not merely with plans to clean up the world but with reaching agreement on a pattern of economic development that will avoid fresh damage in the future. The Earth summit must start us on the road to curing the disease of unsustainable development and global poverty and not indulge in attempts to administer sticking plasters to the world's festering environmental wounds. Forced to live hand to mouth, the poor have no choice but to chop down their trees or to overfarm soils merely to survive. It should now be absolutely clear that we must deal with the economic root causes—and the gulf between the rich and poor nations is one such cause.

I am reminded of our priorities by an interesting supplement. For example, in the United Kingdom the Government spent £55.2 million on military bands in one year. In the developing world, that could pay for 500 trucks and spares to be bought and shipped to Africa, survival kits for 1.1 million Cambodian families with pots, pans, sheeting, mats and food. There is a long list of other priorities which have been chosen by the Government. priorities that I suggest we reconsider.

I shall go to Rio on Friday on behalf of my party and I shall follow the issues with great interest. I shall follow especially the way in which in the global forum the Prime Minister decides his and his Government's priorities. Unless we act, and act conclusively, at Rio, the outcome in the long term will be disaster for us all. The reality is that, whether we live in the poor south or in the rich north, we all share the same planet. Whether it is global warming or the destruction of the rain forests, whether it is disasters such as AIDS which know no boundaries, or whether it is terrorism or religious fanaticism, the truth is that we are all linked together and there is no way we can or should escape those challenges.

9.42 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)

We have had a most interesting and fairly full debate, and I am glad to have the opportunity to wind up. There is a delicious irony in the fact that the hon. Members for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) and for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) who opened and closed the debate for the Opposition respectively are bitterly opposed to their party's policy on the European Community. It is a delicious irony that the Danish decision has given rise to this debate.

I am glad that we have been able to listen to interesting contributions on this important subject from hon. Members of all parties. The issue is of the gravest importance to us all. It is of the greatest concern to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as it was to his predecessor, who played such an important part in the late 1980s, and to the Government, who supported the formation of United Nations conference on environment and development. It is my responsibility to comment on the contributions that have been made today. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, who opened the debate, gave way many times, but I hope that hon. Members will understand that I will probably not be able to do so, although I have always done so in the past.

UNCED is part of a continuing process. It is in no sense the end of a process or a race. It is probably the most important conference on the environment so far. It follows the Stockholm conference of 20 years ago. In December 1989 the United Nations General Assembly decided to hold this conference to review progress since the Stockholm gathering, but the Earth summit is not merely a follow on—it is part of a process that will continue after the meeting in Rio.

That observation makes me very depressed about the contributions from the hon. Members for Dagenham and for Cynon Valley, because they have prejudged the outcome of UNCED before it has properly started. It has been going for only one day. The hon. Member for Dagenham told us about the "failure" of Rio, and the hon. Member for Cynon Valley gave us a disparaging description of President Bush's remarks. The hon. Member for Dagenham quoted W. H. Auden and told us that death was on the agenda.

I find it depressing, too, that neither of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen showed any recognition of the need for co-ordinated action. They talked about some sort of reactionary collusion between the United States and the United Kingdom, but they did not recognise that for progress to be made there has to be co-ordinated action, and compromises, which do not please all the purists, have to be made. Compromises are an essential part of progress, as we know from all the other matters in life.

My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), in a well-placed intervention, asked the hon. Member for Dagenham whether he would have handed over control of funding to the recipient countries. He failed to obtain a proper answer to that question. Instead, the hon. Gentleman comforted himself with some notion that the contribution that we should have to pay under the convention—which we have not yet signed, but which, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said, we hope that we shall be able to sign after further discussion and negotiation—would be smaller than what I presume he meant would be the contribution to the cohesion fund under the Maastricht agreement. The hon. Gentleman should read the text. He is a lawyer, and he should see what the maximalist interpretation of the text in article 21 could amount to. I do not imagine that he has read the text, and that is why he can say such things.

The hon. Member for Dagenham spoke with some pride of his belief in the politics of intervention. He completely overlooked a fact to which I am glad that attention was drawn by some of my hon. Friends—how disastrous intervention has been for the environment in some parts of the world, such as the Soviet Union. The Aral sea and the Caspian sea have been polluted by Governments whose misguided intervention has failed to protect the environment.

I shall now deal with an aspect that was mentioned by the hon. Members for Dagenham and Cynon Valley, by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), and by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), who made it clear that the conference is not, as the debate should not be, about aid and debt. We recognise that aid and debt have an important part to play, but they are not the central issues of the conference.

Mrs. Clwyd

They are.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Let me make my point. I was talking about debt. The Overseas Development Administration has relieved the poorest countries of £1 billion in old aid debt—hon. Members should note that figure. Twenty countries have benefited from the Toronto terms, which resulted from a United Kingdom initiative to reduce the official debts of the poorest countries. In 1990 the Prime Minister, who was then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, launched the Trinidad terms, involving a proposal to write off two thirds of the oldest stock of bilaterial debt of the poorest, most heavily indebted countries. In 1991 the Paris club began to implement those terms. [Interruption] I was asked a question about this, and I shall answer it. Five countries—Benin, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea—have benefited so far. More are in the pipeline. More important is the fact that the United Kingdom continues to press for full implementation of the Trinidad terms.

The latest OECD figures, for 1990, show that the net flow of all forms of resources towards developing countries amounts to £26 billion—[Interruption.] I am coming to the other figure. The United Nations debt figures appear to show that developing countries are paying more than they receive. I am sure that hon. Members have heard this before, but it has to be repeated every time because they will not accept it. The reason is an accounting convention which shows that debt foregiveness is to be incorporated as a payment. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh and we can all laugh at accounting terms. We all know that accounting terms are sometimes laughable. The fact is that when one writes off debt, it is considered to be a debt payment. That is how accountants do it and that is why the figures look as they do. The important point is that, in reality, developing countries are net recipients of resources from the United Kingdom and the allegations made on the point betray a failure to understand the figures. [HoN. MEMBERS: "They do not want to understand."] They do not want to understand.

Mr. Denham

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I will not give way, because I have only 11 minutes in which to comment on 11 different speeches. I cannot help that. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley went over her time.

I remind the hon. Member for Dagenham that every major piece of environmental legislation—I include the Control of Pollution Act 1974, the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990—have been introduced by a Conservative Government. Let us get away from all the nonsense that the hon. Member for Dagenham has spouted.

We have had many contributions from hon. Members of all parties. I did not agree with very much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) said, but I did agree with some of it. I agree entirely that misguided intervention has destroyed the environment in many parts of the world. On occasions, many people speak of certainties on the subject when science is not so clear. I thoroughly accept her message that the wholesale acceptance of the messages of doom is utterly wrong. That point was endorsed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney).

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) mentioned the convention. The text for the climate change convention was produced by the chairman of the negotiations, not by the United Kingdom or by the United States. The commitment to policies and measures aimed at returning greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the year 2000 is a significant movement by the United States. It was, of course, brought about by argument and persuasion, and by hard work by the United Kingdom and the European Community because the United States had previously refused to subscribe to any references to timetables and targets. That is a substantial move forward.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I cannot give way because I must deal with another 10 contributions. If I make any comment, it will inevitably lead to further comment by hon. Members. I cannot do justice to the debate unless I am given time to do so.

A sustainable development commission needs to be considered carefully. It is a very interesting concept which might work and we are prepared to consider it. However, we must avoid more cumbersome bureaucracy which eats money.

The general aid point is always a subject in aid debates. It seems that it will also be a subject in this debate on the environment and development. Britain maintains a substantial and growing aid programme. It has the sixth largest aid programme in the world. In 1991–92, we spent £1,789 million—3 per cent. more in real terms than in the previous year. It is planned for that figure to grow in real terms to £1,975 million by 1994–95. The important point is that the quality of United Kingdom aid is high, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe commented. It is praised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development assistance committee. It is heavily focused on the poorest countries, which is an important matter.

The hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor), who is not in her place, and the hon. Member for Cynon Valley also touched on the subject of aid. It is not true that the size of the United Kingdom aid programme has halved. If anything, their view shows more clearly the bad use of lies and damn statistics. I will give the House the figures. In 1978–79, the net aid programme was £727 million In 1991–92, it is estimated at £1,787 million.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Are those the figures?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The Opposition's arithmetic is not quite the same as mine.

I am afraid that, in the time available, I cannot answer all the questions asked by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), but I want to say something about the global environmental fund. The important point here is that, in the global environmental fund, the participants' assembly will not determine the total amount of the replenishment by the donors, but, when we come to consider the biodiversity convention, the problem is that, on the most extreme interpretation of the text, the donors may not have the final say over what they contribute—unless there is clarification.

Let me make a further comment about biodiversity, which is important in the context of what we have been doing in the Overseas Development Administration programme. The Government supported the conservation of biodiversity in developing countries while the biodiversity convention was being negotiated. They have done that under the aid programme. More than 33 projects with the main aim of biodiversity conservation have been funded, at a cost of £7 million, with developing country Governments and non-governmental organisations. We are committed to do more. In addition, we are committed to providing £40 million to the global environment facility, which has the conservation of biodiversity as one of its for priority areas. I had some other interesting things that I should have liked to say to the hon. Member for Linlithgow, but I fear that I do not have the time.

We heard an interesting speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe. I very much agree with him about the importance of the role of the non-governmental organisations and UNCED. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has said that the Government will fully support their role at the summit and the Overseas Development Administration greatly values its collaboration with the NGOs in its aid projects.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred to whales. He and I have exchanged plumes on the subject on previous occasions. I am sorry that I did not hear his speech, but I am grateful to him for commenting that the Government have a good stance. I reiterate that the Government will take a very tough position at the International Whaling Commission meeting in Glasgow at the end of June.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottoway) made very interesting comments about the problem of population. We were regaled with some terrible examples by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross, who has faced questions that many people dare not face. Population control is most important—my hon. and learned Friend argues that it is more important than aid. I would point out, however, that population control can be, and is, part of our aid programme, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon. South commented. The ODA launched a new population strategy in 1991, and its aim is substantially to increase the population programme to ensure that all parents have children by choice and not by chance.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) and the hon. Members for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) and for Ceredigion and Pembroke. North (Mr. Dafis) also made contributions. It was a very full debate.

As I have already said, much media attention has been concentrated on the development side rather than the environmental side of UNCED. It is most regrettable that UNCED is being portrayed in some quarters as a north-south issue and all about aid. There is no question that the Government are going to Rio with anything other than a very positive part to play.

The approach that we take is that the protection of the global environment is now a shared problem—a problem for rich and poor countries alike. That was recognised by all concerned in the negotiations for the convention on climate change which have been brought to a conclusion. As I said, the resulting document is not as strong as some purists would wish, but it is none the less a very important step forward.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirmed this afternoon, we are working hard to ensure that we will be able to sign the biodiversity convention. Some of the financial provisions, as currently drafted, would mean that the United Kingdom and other countries would not have the final say over how much they would be required to contribute to funding the convention. The Government are giving that problem very urgent consideration, but we want to find a solution.

Much has been said about the relationship between aid and the environment—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.