HC Deb 26 May 1993 vol 225 cc919-23
13. Mr. Kirkwood

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what further steps Her Majesty's Government proposes to take to combat the depletion of the ozone layer; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Maclean

These Scots get everywhere.

The Government are committed to phasing out ozone-depleting substances as quickly as possible. I will be arguing strongly for tighter controls of hydrochlorofluorocarbons and methyl bromide within the European Community than those in the Montreal protocol.

Mr. Kirkwood

What the Government have done today is, of course, welcome. Is the Minister aware, however, that, despite the diplomatic and political moves that have been made, the scientific community is still extremely concerned about whether we are moving far and fast enough to deal with the degradation of the ozone layer? Will he consider working with his opposite numbers at the Department of Trade and Industry in trying to take practical steps, such as encouraging the manufacture of propane refrigerators in this country? Many such refrigerators are manufactured in Germany, and they will be imported in great numbers if we do not wake up to the opportunities available in this country.

Mr. Maclean

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks about our diplomatic and ministerial progress in negotiations. The Copenhagen agreement, which we reached last November, had a phase-out date of 2030 for HCFCs; I shall be arguing for an ultimate phase-out date of 2015, at the latest.

The hon. Gentleman is right: we should urge manufacturers to look at the size of the green market. The DTI and the Department of the Environment have jointly set up JEMU—the joint environmental markets unit. The unit, which is staffed by civil servants from the two Departments, is looking for market opportunities for a new green technology, both overseas and in this country.

I am well aware of the existence of German propane refrigerators and, in speeches, I have taken every opportunity to urge our manufacturers to beware of the threat of such technology and to beat our competitors.

Sir Giles Shaw

Will my hon. Friend note that in many other countries—for example, the United States and Japan—legislation is passed to create markets that industrialists can then follow, such as catalytic converters for cars, in which Johnson Matthey had a world lead? Britain has nothing so persuasive as the legislation in the United States or Japan; if it did, that would help to increase our domestic technology.

Mr. Maclean

I accept that in certain circumstances creating a high target or objective, or even introducing regulation, can lead the market in a particular direction. However, I am much more concerned to point out to British industry that we expect the size of the global market in environmental goods and technology to rise to $300 billion by the turn of the century. That is larger than the world's global aerospace market.

The opportunities are immense and I should prefer British industry to get there through persuasion. From the conferences I have attended and the discussions that I have had with representatives of British industry, I believe that they recognise the size of that market. It is better to liberate industry to capture that market than to smother it in regulation.

Ms Short

Will the Minister confirm that depletion of the ozone layer led to a 40 per cent. increase in skin cancer in Britain between 1979 and 1991? Are not there now 28,000 cases a year, with the numbers rising? As well as supporting the most stringent conditions in the forthcoming EC directive, will the hon. Gentleman institute a programme of public education so that the public are aware of the need to protect themselves and their children from the growing risk of skin cancer caused by depletion of the ozone layer?

Mr. Maclean

I am glad that someone has raised the shibboleth of skin cancer in the northern hemisphere as a consequence of depletion of the ozone layer. The fact is that depletion of the ozone layer in the northern hemisphere occurs only in winter and spring—February, March and into April. Because at that time of the year the angle of the sun is so low on the horizon, there is very little extra ultraviolet radiation coming through. The danger arises for those who take holidays in very sunny climates.

I have researched a statistic which I think the House will appreciate and which we can all understand. To get the same dose of radiation and sunburn, a person would need to spend only one hour around the pool on the Costa Brava, while in Britain in February that person would need to spend 10 hours nude sunbathing in Birmingham.