HC Deb 13 May 1992 vol 207 cc613-5
11. Mr. McFall

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution will retain its present responsibilities of environmental inspection.

Mr. Maclean

We intend that Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution should become part of the proposed new environment agency. Meanwhile, Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution will continue its excellent work of protecting our environment.

Mr. McFall

In the light of the report by the Environment Select Committee—and, indeed, the forthcoming Rio summit—it is dismaying to note that the Government have ratted on their promise to propose, in the Queen's Speech, a unified agency to deal with atmospheric and aqueous pollution. That appears even more squalid when we find that it is the result of an interdepartmental fight: the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is currently taking some of the powers of the National Rivers Authority.

Does the Minister agree that he can learn something from the position in Scotland, where a unified pollution agency has been set up? An away-day ticket to Glasgow or Edinburgh would help him to realise that such an agency is worth going for.

Mr. Maclean

I find that rather pathetic. I thought that by now the Labour party would have learnt not to believe press tittle-tattle—unless, of course, it is seeking to divert attention from the genuine rows on its Front Bench. The Government have not proposed changes in DOE-MAFF responsibilities, and we shall shortly announce the structure of the new environment agency.

Mr. Adley

As part of his duties, will my hon. Friend please study the report of the Committee stage of the Environmental Protection Act 1989? Will he note particularly the plight of my constituents Mr. and Mrs. Spencer and their neighbours, who live in Fairfield, Christchurch and who for years have had to suffer the indignity of living under a Ready Mixed Concrete plant, which showers their properties with dust?

Is my hon. Friend aware that his predecessor, Mr. Trippier—to whom he rightly paid tribute—sought to allay my fears, saying that the Environmental Protection Act would deal with the problem? It has not done so. When my hon. Friend has read the report of the Committee stage, will he agree to visit my constituency, and attend a meeting with the local authority, Fairfield residents and me, so that we can see what can be done to alleviate the residents' plight?

Mr. Maclean

I shall certainly read the report of the Committee stage, and I shall certainly call for the file on the problem identified by my hon. Friend. I should have thought that our system of integrated pollution control —we are working through all the major polluters in the country, including limestone, cement and mineral works—would soon bring the problem within the scope of integrated pollution control requirements, and do a good deal to minimise it. I will study the file, however, and I look forward to a discussion with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the Minister give an undertaking that, until the arrival of the much-delayed day on which the Government legislate for an environmental protection agency, increased resources will be provided for Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution as an interim measure? Last October, in the Department's own ministerial information system—MINIS—report, Mr.John Hobson, the head of pollution control, said that unless substantially increased resources were provided within the next three years, it was inevitable that something fundamental would give.

Mr. Maclean

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should exaggerate. We have made it clear that the creation of the environment agency remains a high priority, and drafting of the Bill will proceed so that we can take advantage of the earliest possible legislative opportunity.

As for resources for HMIP, I am delighted to tell the House that the number of staff in post has doubled over the past few years. We shall continue to ensure that the inspectorate has all the staff and resources that it needs to carry on its excellent work in protecting our environment.

Mr. Nigel Evans

Is my hon. Friend aware of the concern felt by residents in my constituency, Ribble Valley, about the possibility of the burning of orimulsion and the consequent increased discharges of sulphur over the villages of Read and Simonstone? That concern is shared by me, and by the local authority, and the matter is currently being considered by HMIP.

Mr. Maclean

Yes, I am aware of those concerns. I know that HMIP is considering them at the moment. I assure my hon. Friend that all due care and consideration will be given, and, if permission is granted, there will be suitable discharge consents and detailed restrictions so that, in all circumstances, people living nearby are protected.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Can the Minister say why the commitment to an environmental protection agency was absent from the Queen's Speech? After all, it was the Prime Minister who pledged that there would be early legislation to that effect. If the reason for its absence is not that the Secretary of State cannot withstand the pressure from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, is it because the Secretary of State himself does not have a sufficient commitment to an environmental protection agency? Either way, does not that prove that environmental protection will continue to be given a low priority by this Government, who are totally complacent and do not understand the urgency and the severity of the threat to our environment?

Mr. Maclean

I think that the hon. Lady will, perhaps, have cause to regret those words. As I have said, the creation of the new environmental protection agency remains a high priority and we are pushing on with the drafting of a Bill so that we can take advantage of the earliest legislative opportunity.

One reason the Labour party was not believed and not elected was that every single one of its manifesto commitments was a top priority to be implemented apparently within two days of the election. The public have seen through that sham and they believe us. There will be an environmental protection agency, it will work and we shall get the credit for it.