HC Deb 11 May 1994 vol 243 cc332-79
Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.4 pm

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I beg to move,

That this House recognises that the environment cannot be properly protected by national endeavour alone; acknowledges the importance of Europe-wide action to prevent pollution and improve environmental standards; applauds the work of the European Union and especially of the European Parliament in helping to safeguard the environment here in Britain; notes the lamentable record of Her Majesty's Government in failing to ensure that agreed standards for drinking water, bathing water, and air quality are achieved; deplores the Government's consequent attempts to diminish those standards; deprecates the inadequate implementation of provisions for access to environmental information, and of protection for wildlife habitats; recognises the need for further radical improvement in Europe's environmental work, especially in relation to the Common Agricultural Policy; and believes that Britain should be in the forefront of environmental progress in Europe, rather than lagging constantly behind its European partners. The motion and the Government amendment at the very least appear to establish some common ground between the Government and the Labour party. We agree that the environment in Britain cannot be properly and fully protected "by national endeavour alone"; we agree that pollution knows no national boundaries and that, therefore, "Europe-wide action" to combat pollution is necessary and worth while; and we appear to agree that the single market must not be allowed to lead to the down-bidding of environmental standards between member countries. We also appear to agree—although I must confess I was rather surprised to read this in the Government amendment—that we should applaud the work of the European Union". I pause at this point to consider whether, in the current circumstances, all Conservative Members would endorse such a phrase. However, we appear to agree that we should applaud the work of the European Union and especially of the European Parliament in helping to safeguard the environment here in Britain". But what are we agreeing on? What do the Government appear to be applauding?

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

Before the hon. Gentleman presses on with what I am sure will be an excellent speech, will he tell the House whether all Labour Members will applaud the work of the European Union?

Mr. Smith

I am absolutely confident that they will and I have not the slightest doubt that my party's vote will be solid.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), will be as enthusiastic about the work of the European Union as I am? And will the hon. Gentleman receive the same enthusiastic support from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)?

Mr. Smith

I am sure that I shall have their wholehearted support, and I shall be interested to see whether the Secretary of State has the wholehearted support of the hon. Members for Stafford (Mr. Cash) and for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor).

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Just to put the record straight, I agree that many things in the world need to be done to improve the environment, especially in Bolsover. Some time ago, on at least 20 occasions, I called for a public inquiry into the dioxin-contaminated area around the Coalite works near Bolsover. The current Secretary of State for the Environment, then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, refused to hold such an inquiry and he still refuses to do so. If the dioxin-contaminated soil were around Chequers or Buckingham palace, an inquiry would have been held.

Notwithstanding my opposition to the Common Market, which I believe has been an unmitigated disaster, if my hon. Friend can ensure that someone from one of the 12 member states comes to Bolsover, holds a public inquiry and forces the polluter to pay, he will have my support.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend makes his point strongly. He may be interested to see the proposals on contaminated land currently before the European Union, as they will be of considerable help in relation to the problems of dioxin pollution that he has so assiduously raised in the House.

The Government's amendment endorses some of the work of the EU, but exactly what aspects of that work do they mean? Europe has demanded that we make mandatory the fitting of catalytic converters on new vehicles bought and sold right across the Community. That is absolutely right, so why was it the British Government who delayed the implementation of the directive? Why did they seek a derogation for a year to lessen its impact?

It is right that Europe should be laying down standards for drinking water and bathing water across the whole continent. Yet it is the British Government who are busy saying that the standards are far too stringent, and that it is all a matter for subsidiarity—that is, in their terms, a matter for national decision alone. Yet that is one of the items on which they appear to want to tell us that Europe should be applauded.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

While the hon. Gentleman is talking about drinking water and bathing water, does he accept that the Government have agreed the standards? He has said that he wants us to comply with those standards within a much shorter period. Can he tell the House precisely what period? By what date should the standards be achieved? What would it cost consumers and the Government, precisely, in millions of pounds? In the hypothetical case of a Labour Government being elected, has the hon. Gentleman the permission of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) to make that commitment?

Mr. Smith

I shall come to some of those detailed points in a minute, but first I shall deal in some detail with the bathing water directive and the urban waste water directive. The Government that the hon. Gentleman supports are querying not just the pace at which standards are achieved in Europe, but the standards themselves, so he should get his own facts right first.

Do the Government applaud the European Union's wish for an environmental impact assessment of the policy making process to be carried out? They are currently blocking that proposal within the EU. Is part of what the Government want to see carried out at European level the decision of the Basle convention, made only last month, to prohibit the export of toxic waste to developing countries? In their European manifesto five years ago the Government said that they wanted to implement that, but only now, reluctantly, have they implemented it, joining Denmark and other countries in doing so one month ago. Is that European action part of what they want to applaud?

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

I am sure that my hon. Friend will applaud the European Union's move to ban the movement of toxic waste within EC countries. Does he support the call by many of us that the transfrontier movement of spent nuclear fuel between EC countries should also be banned? I do not see how Europe can ban toxic waste yet at the same time refuse to ban spent nuclear fuel, which is a much more dangerous substance.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend makes a trenchant point. He will know that the arrangements for waste substitution arising from the reprocessing of other countries' spent nuclear fuel in the United Kingdom are as yet totally unclear. The Government have not yet agreed them. I have consistently argued that the Government were foolish to press ahead with the opening of new reprocessing facilities at a time when they have not decided what is to happen to the waste arising from that processing.

Are the Government in the business of applauding the European habitats directive? They have proposed no primary legislation to implement it. We have no statutory protection of hedgerows in this country. The Government are making no provision for the protection of the wider countryside beyond special sites. It seems that the habitats directive will be implemented poorly, if at all, in this country.

Is the Government's applauding of action in Europe taken as far as the amendments considered in the European Parliament last Wednesday to improve the packaging directive? One of those amendments would have set target bands for recycling of between 25 per cent. and 50 per cent. It was supported not only by the socialist group in the European Parliament, but by the European People's party, to which Conservative Members of the European Parliament are supposed to adhere. Yet the votes of Conservative Members against that amendment ensured that the amendment fell. I must ask the Government whether the Conservative Members of the European Parliament were operating in accordance with Government policy at that stage.

The Government may say that they believe in European action to tackle pollution and to protect our environment, but on one issue after another they delay or object to or block the work of Europe in that sector.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

On packaging, one of the key parts of the Government's amendment is the point about cost-effectiveness. Will the hon. Gentleman admit that the type of proposal that the Labour party would support on packaging would add £2,500 million to the bill of industry in this country?

Mr. Smith

The short answer to that is no, I do not accept that for one moment.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Tell us the figure, then.

Mr. Smith

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not paying full attention to what I was saying. The amendment to which I was referring was an amendment which set target bands for recycling of between 25 per cent. and 50 per cent. The Government's own target is 25 per cent. Yet Conservative Members of the European Parliament—the hon. Gentleman's Conservative colleagues—were the people who ensured, by their votes last Wednesday in the European Parliament, that that amendment fell. So they were not voting against my policy; they were voting against their own Government's policy. That, supposedly, is the progress that the Government wish to be made in Europe.

The Conservative party naturally tries to claim to be a fully green party, especially in Europe.

Mr. Tracey

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Smith

No, I have dealt with the hon. Gentleman's point.

As recently as a few weeks ago, the Conservative party issued a handsome but thoroughly bogus document entitled, "Europe's Environment—Conserving our Future." Let us consider some of the myths and untruths that are peddled in that document. On page 2—

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Will the hon. Gentleman give way before reading that?

Mr. Smith

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have already given way to him once. I have taken a substantial number of interventions and I wish to make progress. [Interruption.] I have told the hon. Gentleman that he will receive an answer to the points that he raised in due course when I discuss that subject.

The first point made in the document, "Conserving our Future," is that John Major has been at the forefront of the international campaign to protect our environment. The idea of John Major at the forefront of anything at the moment is a little difficult to grasp. How does the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) explain that Britain is the only country in the European Union to have refused to set carbon dioxide reduction targets beyond the year 2000? How does he square his claim with the fact that the Government's programme, even to reach the target that they have set for the year 2000, is already in tatters? One third of it relies on the work of the Energy Saving Trust, which currently has no programme and no funding. The Government's repeated grand claims about how much progress they are making towards achieving their own carbon dioxide target are therefore completely bogus.

Mr. Gummer

So that the House may not be misled, I should point out that two countries—Germany and Denmark—have fixed their targets beyond the year 2000. The hon. Gentleman suggests that we are the only one not to have done so, but according to my mathematics the United Kingdom is one of 10 such countries.

Mr. Smith

I think the Secretary of State will find that other countries have done so. He is certainly aware of the fact that we have not. If he looks at the commitments made by other countries in Europe, such as Holland and Denmark, he will find that there are targets in place.

On page 4 of the document to which I referred is the following astonishing statement: the private ownership of industry tends to raise environmental standards. I wonder if the Government would like to put that claim to the customers of the privatised water companies. Were the customers of Severn Trent well served by the fact that its filtration systems were inadequate to the task of picking up a level of pollution which 150,000 people in Worcester and elsewhere were able to detect by looking at and smelling the water coming out of their taps? Are the customers of Severn Trent aware that in 1990 there were 780 km of poor or bad river and canal water in their area–12 per cent. of the total for which the company is responsible? Do Conservative Members know that Severn Trent customers faced 1,222 supply disconnections in 1992–93? I do not regard that as a raising of environmental standards.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Smith

Conservative Members should reflect on the fact that, in 1992–93, the chief executive of Severn Trent had a salary of £195,000 an increase of 37 per cent. on the previous year—and that, in addition, he has made £238,000 on his share options. Before claiming that private ownership of industry tends to raise environmental standards, Conservative Members ought to reflect on the fact that it tends to raise the salaries and perks of the people working for the privatised companies but does not necessarily raise the environmental standards of the work that they do.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Hon. Members must not persist. The hon. Gentleman is obviously not prepared to give way at present.

Mr. Smith

On page 5, the document says: Open access to information on the state of the environment is imperative. That is absolutely true if we are to have proper environmental protection, so why are the environmental information regulations that the Government tabled and took through the House in December 1992 so tightly and restrictively drawn? Why are there wide exemptions, especially in relation to supposed commercial confidentiality? Why is there no definition of what constitutes a public authority for the purposes of the regulations?

For instance, are the privatised water companies excluded from the provisions of the regulations as a result? Why is there no appeal system if an authority decides not to release information? Why, unbelievably, is information presented to a local or national public inquiry excluded from the freedom of information provisions in the environmental sector? When the Government say that access to information is imperative, they are not implementing what they say they believe in.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

If the Government are seriously concerned about environmental matters, does my hon. Friend agree that they would not have allowed consideration of the Coal Industry Bill to reach an advanced stage while those in the coalfield areas still have grave anxieties about the consequences of mine drainage and abandoned mines?

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the Government were seriously concerned about the impact of coal and coal mining on the environment they would have done two simple things: first, they would have accepted a Labour amendment which was tabled in Committee to ensure that pumping of flood water continued even after a mine was abandoned so that the flood water did not leach out and pollute surrounding water courses and rivers; secondly, they would have included far tougher provisions than they have yet set out in their draft planning guidance for opencast coal mining to insist on a presumption against new opencast applications being agreed. Opencast operations are enormously detrimental to the environment and they help to finish off the deep-mined coal industry, which the Government have been so anxious to see put in its grave.

On page 7 of "Europe's Environment—Conserving our Future" we are told: We need to get right the relationship between international trade and environmental protection. Why was there no mention in the GATT negotiations of the needs of the environment? Why are the Government, through the European Community, not adopting our proposals for reform of the world trading organisation to ensure that the environment becomes a fundamental part of its remit?

When we reach page 9 of "Conserving our Future" the Government compeletely lose touch with reality. They claim, first, that Labour has at some stage in the past proposed the imposition of value added tax on domestic fuel when we have not. At no stage have we done that. I will come to the question of a carbon tax in a moment. For the Conservatives to say that the Labour party has at any stage advocated the imposition of VAT on domestic fuel is an untruth, and they know it. Secondly, the Government state that we favour a Europe-wide carbon tax. We do not. For the Conservative party to say so is to perpetuate a further untruth.

Thirdly, the Government say that we wish in some sense to abandon the national veto. Again, we do not. We welcomed the provisions in the Maastricht treaty relating to environmental matters—at least to the majority of such matters—and qualified majority voting. Indeed, the Government supported qualified majority voting on most environmental matters. However, the Labour party does not wish to abandon the national veto on matters of taxation, for example, and the Government should know that that is our position.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (Surrey, East)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I understand that he was quoted about a year ago in Green Magazine to the effect that the Labour party would consider imposing VAT on environmentally unfriendly products. The hon. Gentleman must accept, and I urge him to do so today, that fuel consumption conflicts with environmental objectives. Will he please clarify his party's policy on that in the light of statements that he has made about increasing VAT?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman is reading his Conservative party briefing rather than the article or the document on which the article was based. If he had read those, and if he had also listened to the reply that I gave to an identical point several months ago in the House, he would know that what we proposed in the past was a raising of VAT on some small items, such as heavy metal batteries and items containing chlorofluorocarbons, and a corresponding reduction in VAT on items such as insulation materials. If the hon. Gentleman cannot tell the difference between a heavy metal battery and someone's quarterly gas bill, he is somewhat dimmer than I took him to be.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Smith

I will give way for the last time, but then I must make progress.

Mr. Hughes

I intervene only because it is important and because the Government are under pressure—and no doubt will continue to be under pressure. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us the Labour party's current policy on energy taxation and environmental taxation?

Mr. Smith

As I said a moment ago, we do not accept the proposal from the European Commission for a carbon energy tax, for two reasons. First, it has a potentially severe social impact in exactly the same way as VAT on domestic fuel has had. Secondly, even if it is a 50:50 proposal between carbon and energy content, the carbon element discriminates unfairly in favour of some sources of power, such as nuclear, as opposed to other sources of power. We therefore do not accept the proposal currently coming out of Europe.

I wish to deal with two particular issues. The first relates to the bathing water directive and the point in which the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) may be interested. At present, one in five of all beaches in this country fails to meet the mandatory quality standards for water quality and two out of three of all our beaches fail to meet the guideline standards for water quality. Evidence from recent surveys, including the Reader's Digest survey, shows that we are getting worse rather than better in Britain.

The Government's response is to try to get the standards lowered. They have circulated a memorandum throughout the Community saying that, with the French Government, they want to see the bathing water directive withdrawn, amended or repealed. The Prime Minister came back from the December Council of Ministers meeting saying that our restrictive water quality requirements were to be eased as a result of a deal that he had done. When it transpired that, in fact, water and the water directive were not even mentioned at the December Council meeting, and that the rest of Europe were absolutely firm in saying that standards should not be in any way reduced, the Government none the less seemed to be persisting in saying that water quality standards in the bathing water directive—the standard of water at our seaside resorts—ought to be diminished rather than strengthened.

Labour Members insist that standards must be maintained. We want to meet the mandatory standards for bathing water quality and to see the investment in place to ensure that that happens. If the water companies were sensible about it—if they were looking not to their own profits and their directors' salaries, but to the way in which they spread their borrowing, where it comes from, to what they devote it and what their investment programme is —they would be able to meet the standards, and to do so a jolly sight sooner than they are currently doing, without imposing additional costs on the water customer.

However, the Government appear to think that it is perfectly all right for our children to go to the seaside and paddle or swim in sewage-contaminated water. We do not believe that that is right, and we want our bathing waters to be cleaned up. If the Government were sensible about environmental protection, instead of trying to diminish standards they would be trying to ensure that that protection was put in place.

The other point that I promised the hon. Member for Gravesham that I would consider is the urban waste water treatment directive. That directive relates to the treatment of sewage from our urban areas. The fact that the city of Hull discharges all its sewage untreated into the Humber estuary is of obvious concern to many people. However, the Government—and the Conservative party echoes this point in its document—say, "Ah, but we didn't realise how much all this was going to cost." The Conservative party document states: The cost of implementing the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive … is far higher than was first thought.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Smith

No, I will not give way as I have already given way many times. Other hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate and I want to make progress.

By saying that the figures are far higher than they first thought, the Government are ignoring the fact that they were told very clearly when the urban waste water treatment directive was under discussion, and before the Government signed up to it, what the cost implications were going to be.

In clear evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee in 1991—

Mr. Jacques Arnold

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

I hope that it is a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Arnold

It is a point of order for the Chair, I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is no good hoping. That is not good enough.

Mr. Smith

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I—

Mr. Devlin

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would you consider, with Madam Speaker, whether it is satisfactory for a debate to be held on a motion in the name of six right hon. and hon. Members, of whom only two are present in the Chamber, when the average attendance on the Opposition Benches has been 13? Would it not be better if we introduced a rule stating that 50 right hon. and hon. Members had to call for a motion to be tabled on the Order Paper—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It would be much better if the hon. Gentleman knew the procedures of the House. That is a matter for the Procedure Committee. It is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Smith

The hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) may be confusing the procedures of this House with the procedures for leadership elections in the Conservative party.

Before the Government signed up to the urban waste water treatment directive, they were told what the likely cost would be. The Water Services Association and the Fellowship of Engineering gave evidence to that effect to the House of Lords Select Committee, which determined that the estimates indicated expenditure of more than £8 billion. For the Government to say, "Oh, but no one told us at the time," means either that they do not read Select Committee reports as they should or that they are displaying even greater incompetence than I expected. On all the issues—bathing water, drinking water, sewage treatment, access to environmental information, protection of habitats and air quality monitoring—Europe is far ahead of us. The progress that we have made in this country has been led by the European Community and the European Parliament. I commend especially the work of the Environment Committee of the European Parliament and its chairman, Ken Collins. The lead has certainly not come from either Marsham street or Downing street.

Of course, there are things that Europe could, and should, be doing better. Agriculture is an obvious case. There is a need to move away from highly intensive methods of agriculture towards less intensive agricultural methods. The new procedures of set-aside may in some cases compound the problem and encourage even more intensive use of land that is not set aside. No serious thought appears to have been given to how set-aside land could be used ecologically.

Improvement in the use of the structural funds may also be worth while. Regulations now refer to sustainable development and the need for environmental safeguards in the use of structural funds. I wish at times that the same principles could be applied to the trans-European road network.

In Britain, as always, we lag behind. Britain has made some bids for structural funds without separate environmental assessments. English Nature and the Countryside Commission in England have not been formally involved in drawing up plans for submissions for structural funds although, interestingly, Scottish Natural Heritage has been involved in that process. When will the Government start to ensure that the environmental aspects of applications for structural funding from Europe are included as Europe expects them to be?

The case is clear. Europe has a good record on the environment—much of it proposed, nurtured and campaigned for by Labour Members of the European Parliament. Of course there is room for improvement in what Europe does, but the present British Government have an outstandingly poor record on the environment. From the complacency of the post-Rio documents to the paucity of the "Third Update on Common Inheritance" which was published yesterday, and the content and tone of the Government's amendment today, there is precious little prospect of any improvement forthcoming in what the Government do in relation to our environment or in their contribution to the positive progress that Europe is, and should be, making in preserving and protecting our environment in Britain.

4.42 pm
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

'recognises that the environment cannot be properly protected by national endeavour alone; acknowledges the importance of Europe-wide action to prevent pollution and improve environmental standards; applauds the work of the European Union and especially of the European Parliament in helping to safeguard the environment here in Britain; welcomes the lead taken by Her Majesty's Government in ensuring that the European Union plays an effective part in global environmental matters and implements the principle of sustainable development in all its activities; insists that Britain should continue to press for sensible and cost-effective environmental decisions on those matters which are properly the concern of the European Union; welcomes the progressive policies of the United Kingdom in all those other areas where national measures are appropriate; is saddened by the failure of Her Majesty's Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Party to support the necessary fiscal measures to reduce energy consumption; highlights their failure to evolve effective policy towards the environment and their desire to remove the United Kingdom's influence in the European Union by their insistence on majority voting and the abolition of the veto; and regrets the way in which they fail to support the Government's insistence that in internal matters it is for the United Kingdom Parliament to decide upon the most appropriate ways of reaching sustainable development goals.'. The House may have been rather surprised by the speech that we have just heard. At the end of it, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) said that much of what was good in Europe had been proposed, nurtured and campaigned for by the Labour party. Yet it is extremely difficult to understand what the Labour party stands for on any of the issues that he raised.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)—with whom I do not always agree and have sometimes been sharp—asked what the Labour party's policy was. He received a clear answer: it was what the Labour party's policy was not. It is not Labour party policy to support a carbon tax, although 11 out of 12 countries do support it.

I have a picture—to which I will not refer, Mr. Deputy Speaker—of the leader of the Labour party signing a statement in the manifesto of the European socialists for the European elections. He has signed up to the principle that majority voting will be the rule in the Council.When this fact was put to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)—he used to be the Opposition spokesman for transport, but I am not sure what he speaks on now—he said that we were quoting from the French edition of the document. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman could have known that in any case, but we were actually quoting from the English edition which was signed by the Labour party.

How will the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury square this fact? He says that we have to support all that comes from the European Community. Indeed, the burden of his speech was that on every occasion when the British Government had even questioned something that had been agreed in Europe, we were wrong and they were right. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that although 11 countries want the carbon tax, he and the Labour party do not want it. But he did not explain how the Labour party would deliver the reductions in carbon levels which can be delivered only by the sort of taxation system which we have put forward and to which he is substantially opposed.

We could not meet our targets without that taxation system. The hon. Gentleman would not go along with the alternative of a carbon tax, which he rightly said was disadvantageous to the United Kingdom; that is why I have opposed it continually. If the hon. Gentleman cannot accept either proposal, he is admitting that, far from having a policy of reducing carbon levels after 2000, he does not even have a policy for reducing them before 2000.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury had his facts wrong all along. He was challenged about his general statement that we are the only country in Europe which has not signed a policy for the reduction in carbon levels after the year 2000. But we are in the majority. We are one of 10 countries which have not signed a policy; only two countries have such a policy. Even if we were not in the majority, this country believes in the European Union and therefore we believe that countries should set those targets together. That is the only way of ensuring that the whole of Europe signs policies which matter to the whole of Europe.

The real problem with the motion before us is that, although it pays lip service to the Opposition's support for Europe, it betrays the Opposition's history with regard to Europe. The Labour party has had six changes of mind about Europe. It has been against Europe for far longer than it has been in favour of Europe. The only distinguished former Labour Secretary of State for the Environment hates the European Union and everything to do with it. He opposes it on every ground and if he votes for the motion this evening it will be with his eyes closed to the first half of the motion.

The speech by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury was sad not just because it was inaccurate or unacceptably vague about Labour party policy, but because it did not seek to establish a consensus with regard to the environment. Consensus is essential if we in this country and other nations in the European Union and beyond are to create the sustainable development on which the future of the globe depends.

Mr. Brazier

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gummer

I will give way in a moment.

We should establish consensus in this area, but, sadly, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury has seen fit only to trot out a few inaccurate, party political statements.

Mr. Brazier

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. In supporting his broad vision of the total absence of Opposition policies, I suggest to my right hon. Friend that even at the lowlier, purely factual, level there are further great holes in the argument of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. He referred to sewage and bathing water directives and so on, but it was his party which cut spending on sewerage by half and left many of my constituents in areas of population growth with sewage problems in their gardens. However, we have had the largest capital programme ever in this area.

Mr. Gummer

I promise my hon. Friend that I will return to that and I will do so accurately, unlike the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, who tried to push off a direct question from my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) about the cost of his proposal on water. The hon. Gentleman revealed that he had no idea what that cost was. I will tell the House that it would cost £10,000 million. It would take a large number of directors' salary reductions to make up £10,000 million pounds.

The hon. Gentleman does not have a policy. When he was pressed on a carbon tax, he had no answer. When he was pressed on the figures relating to the way in which we are meeting the requirements of the urban waste water directive with the extra speed that he demands, he did not know them. The answer that he gave was clearly trumpery and rubbish because he did not want to give the real answer, which is that if we speed up the application of the directives, the cost falls upon the consumer. It can fall nowhere else.

The hon. Gentleman also had the gall to mention Hull's infrastructure. Who does he think was responsible, until relatively recently, for the investment in that? The people responsible were his friends in the Labour party, and we have difficulties today because of the constant failure of the public sector to invest. When the Conservative party says that private sector investment provides the answer, it is right, and the answer is £3,000 million a year in investment.

That investment makes up in large measure for what happened particularly at the time of Denis Healey, when the Labour Government cut investment because they would not stop paying inflationary wage increases to their friends in the Labour-supporting trade unions, such as the Transport and General Workers Union and General and Municipal Workers Union.

Mr. Devlin

Will my right hon. Friend remain seated for a moment while the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury intervenes to tell him what the Labour party's policy is?

Mr. Gummer

I should be happy to do so, but the hon. Gentleman had three quarters of an hour and the position as far as the House is concerned is as befogging as it was when he began.

Mr. Tracey

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gummer

Will my hon. Friend let me move on? I will come back to him in a moment, and I am sure that we will come back to this point.

I want to get back to the issue of the environment. The Labour party is in no position to criticise the failings of others on the environment. It has never done anything memorable for the environment, either in or out of government, and today shows that it has no hope of doing so in the future.

All the key environmental legislation in the past 25 years has been introduced by Conservative Governments. A Conservative Government created the Department of the Environment. All Labour has ever done is what it is doing today—carp, criticise and whinge from the sidelines. It has not even done that effectively.

Mr. Chris Smith

Will the Secretary of State tell the House which Governments introduced the Town and Country Planning Acts, the national parks and the country parks? Would he like to tell the House that those were Labour Governments and that the Labour party in government has a proud record on the environment?

Mr. Gummer

It is sad that the hon. Gentleman has to go back to the 1945–1950 Government to produce two of his three very miserable suggestions. That was an amazing statement. "We have not had a policy since 1950, and we do not have a policy," says the Labour party; that is what we hear from the so-called environmentalists on the Opposition Benches.

I have some sympathy for the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey: it looks as if he will be the only representative of the Opposition parties who will need some direct criticism. That is a sad situation and I think a question of ignorance.

Let me cite a few examples. On climate change, we were the first country in the Union to ratify the climate convention. We were the first in the Union to produce the detailed programme for fulfilling our commitments to return carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. We were the first to suggest how to it could be done: we did not just vaguely sign up.

On sulphur dioxide, we have already reduced our emissions by 30 per cent. since 1980 and 40 per cent since 1970. In doing so, unlike some of our most vociferous critics and despite the fact that we were attacked by Opposition Members, we achieved the targets set by the so-called 30 per cent. club under the first United Nations Economic Commission for Europe SO2 agreement.

We did not sign up when we did not know whether we could meet those requirements. We sought to meet them, and we have done so. Where we sign up, we deliver and where we do not sign up, we seek to deliver. That is the difference between the Government and the Opposition, who have only generalities without a policy to back them.

We are on course to meet our target of reducing nitrous oxide emissions to 1987 levels by the end of the year. We have one of most sophisticated networks for monitoring air quality anywhere in Europe, and an equally sophisticated network—the radioactive incident monitoring network—for monitoring radiation.

About 95 per cent. of our rivers are of good or fair quality, compared with an average of only 75 per cent. in the rest of the Union. Why did not the hon. Gentleman say that the Union is good with 75 per cent., but we are better with 95 per cent.? Can he never praise Britain? Must he only praise other people? Is there not a place in the House for supporting the United Kingdom, or is the Labour party committed to pulling the nation down whenever possible?

Mr. Tracey

My right hon. Friend will have noted that the motion talks about applauding the work of the European Union and especially of the European Parliament in helping to safeguard the environment here in Britain. Coming much closer to home, has my right hon. Friend noted the difference in certain London boroughs where local councils deal with the environment? The hon. Gentleman represents a part of Islington. If one moves from Islington to Hackney to Lambeth and then to Wandsworth, one will notice a considerable difference in the environment. The point is that Wandsworth is controlled by the Conservative party.

Hon. Members

It gets more grant.

Mr. Gummer

The highest support per head is in Hackney, as a matter of fact, and those who live in Hackney will know which council out of Hackney and Wandsworth picks up rubbish.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury goes wrong in other areas. Some 98.7 per cent. of nearly 3 million drinking water tests in this country met the standards last year. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could say the same about Spain, Portugal, France, Greece or even Germany. I do not believe that many countries even test their water on that kind of scale, let alone meet those figures.

Mr. Llew Smith

The Minister criticises Labour's environmental policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "What policy?"] If Conservative Members shut up for a minute, I will tell them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I make a plea that hon. Members should use normal English language, and not the language of the street.

Mr. Smith

If Conservative Members keep their lips closed for a few moments, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will tell them Labour's environmental policy.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Not on an intervention.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

It would be a short intervention.

Mr. Smith

The right hon. Gentleman has criticised Labour's environmental policy, part of which is to end the commercial trade in toxic waste between countries. Do the Government support that policy? If so, would they use their powers to ban toxic waste from being dumped from other countries in parts of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Gummer

I have not criticised Labour's environmental policy. I have complained that there is not a policy to criticise. I am sorry that the rules of the House —which I entirely accept—did not give an opportunity for those on the Back Benches to achieve something which those on the Front Bench did not manage, which is to explain what the Labour party's policy is. It certainly would not take long to describe Labour's policy in full.

There is no dumping of toxic waste in this country, so the question does not arise. My aim is to ensure that toxic waste is dealt with in the most environmentally friendly way possible, so as to protect the people of this country and the rest of the European Union. The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) will find me steadfast in that. I will not allow dumping, wherever it may be done.

Moving on to our bathing waters, 80 per cent. of them meet EU standards already. I always like to look at what is happening elsewhere. I do not know how recently the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury has been abroad, but if he was to travel the length and breadth of the Union he would probably learn that not every country even approached that percentage—I put it no more definitely than that. Why does the hon. Gentleman not point to the fact that we have already achieved 80 per cent. of the target, despite the virulent public spending cuts under the Labour Government? The hon. Gentleman should urge us on to achieving the other 20 per cent. instead of claiming that Britain is wicked because that 20 per cent. has not been achieved.

We are committed to spending £30 billion over 10 years to improve the quality of our water. If that is not good enough, how much more is the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury asking for? Who will pay for it? How much will the money buy? Will it be cost-effective? What will the hon. Gentleman do about the things that he will not be able to pay for because he is spending the money on water? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] These are questions that the hon. Gentleman cannot and will not answer. That is why it is not reasonable to accept his credentials as a spokesman for the green sector.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I guessed that the Minister had reached the end of the section—hence my intervention now. In the Tory party manifesto for the European elections of five years ago, the Government stated, under the title "Cleaning up the sea and the rivers": We want to do still better. We will ensure that all our bathing waters meet relevant European community standards. By what date was the promise of five years ago intended to be achieved? Surely it was implied that all the standards would be imposed 100 per cent. of the time.

Mr. Gummer

I am happy to say that in five years we have achieved 80 per cent.—not a bad start. I do not intend to derogate in any way from European standards of bathing water cleanliness. My arguments, in so far as I have any, are simple: for instance, how much longer should we attempt to implement methods of delivery that have been superseded by better methods? Should we not be less prescriptive, and examine the time limits that have been set in certain areas to see whether they are cost-effective? Should we not hold the sort of discussions that sensible people would hold if they were doing anything besides hurling comments at each other across the Chamber? Would it not be better to compare the £30 billion being spent over 10 years with the pathetic sums achieved when water was in the public sector?

Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and the National Rivers Authority are two of the toughest, most respected and most admired environmental regulatory agencies anywhere in the Union. Can the Opposition spokesman name me any two agencies in the whole Union with such a good worldwide reputation for efficacy? In English Nature and the Countryside Commission, and in their Scottish and Welsh equivalents, we have some of the most effective bodies in Europe for protecting our national heritage—bodies which other countries copy when they come to set up similar agencies.

Our planning system is more effective at balancing economic and environmental considerations than are systems found in many other countries in the EU. We can use it to deliver sustainable development, and it is widely envied elsewhere.

Today, Labour has clearly shown that it has no policy on the environment. Moreover, Labour is wrong to claim that the Government have not taken the lead in Europe in delivering policies that are the envy of other countries. It is we who are forcing the pace, not a few members of the Labour party in the European Parliament who appear not to have caught up with the fact that, here in Westminster, there is no policy for them to support or nurture.

The fact is that there is no greater obstacle to sustainable development than the common agricultural policy—and who has done most to reform it and to bring the environment to its centre? The answer is: the United Kingdom. In four years, we have changed the whole EU attitude to the CAP; the environment has become not an add-on extra but a central issue.

The mechanisms used in the common agricultural policy were pioneered by this country—environmentally sensitive areas, protected landscapes and the like. These were British inventions, now accepted throughout the European Union.

Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Would the right hon. Gentleman care to tell the House how much of the extra £6 billion—the Commission's figure —that the CAP will cost between 1991–92 and 1995–96 will be devoted to environmental improvement?

Mr. Gummer

Far too little; we have sought all the time to make that a much larger part of the policy. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury tried to attack me, saying that we had not played a leading role in this campaign of bringing the environment to the centre. I should add that we have had precious little support in our effort from socialist Governments in the rest of Europe. The hon. Gentleman, if he wants to attack anyone, should attack socialist Spain, from which I received no support on environmentally friendly farming. He should attack the then socialist France. The French prevented my every effort to improve environmentally friendly farming while I was fighting for Britain's cause and the environment at Agriculture Councils.

The hon. Gentleman might have a word or two with socialists throughout Europe, who put fine words in documents and nice pictures of roses from "The Plantsman's Catalogue" but who say not a word when it comes to voting in meetings of the Council of Ministers [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) seems to have a lot to say, but I advise him to say it elsewhere to his friends in the Labour party.

It is Britain which pushed and prodded—I had written down "a sometimes reluctant", but "an almost entirely unhelpful" is more to the point—Commission into getting its eco-labelling scheme up and running. From socialist France there came not a word. The French spent their whole time trying to stop it. Now, thank goodness, the Conservative Government in France are supporting us.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

How many eco-labellings have been awarded in this country?

Mr. Gummer

We have just got the system through, and the first has just been awarded—

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

None, then.

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman should not shout out the first thing that comes into his head. We have fought hard and have only just got the first lot through—not because we failed but because the socialists in Europe did not support us. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to laugh, but he was infinitely out: he said none, whereas the answer was one. The hon. Gentleman would have received a better answer if his friends in Europe had supported the British Government.

Our system of integrated pollution control is the most advanced in the world. Britain promoted the idea within the European Union, and it provided the foundation for the draft directive on integrated pollution prevention and control. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have not been here for the whole debate; had you been here, you would not have heard a word from the Opposition about integrated pollution control—the most important pollution control system in the world. Perhaps the Opposition spokesman's advisers did not tell him that the rest of the world is now copying it. As usual, we have led the way. It is Britain that pushed for the European Environment Agency when its establishment was being obstructed by the pettiness of others. We led the charge to put in place the eco-audit regulations.

I shall remind the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury of what happened with the Basle convention on hazardous waste. The developing countries said that they were not happy with a framework in which we told even those countries with a method of dealing with hazardous waste that they could not have it. Some of them said that that would be an imperialistic way of dealing with the matter. We therefore said that we would not export hazardous waste to any country that either could not deal with it properly or did not want to have it. We thought that a perfectly reasonable argument.

Then, the group representing the developing countries changed its mind and said that it wanted there to be no export of hazardous waste, so the United Kingdom wrote the necessary keynote document and persuaded every other EU member to support that. We led the way and brought on board a number of countries that did not want to come on board. Why not praise the UK? Do not praise me or the Conservative Government, but for goodness' sake praise our nation rather than always trying to undermine it from Islington.

Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

In view of the Minister's comments on hazardous waste, will he here and now reject the document on hazardous waste published by his business-led deregulation task force, which asks the Department of the Environment to examine the EC directive on hazardous waste…with a view to pressing for appropriate deregulatory change"?

Mr. Gummer

I find the hon. Lady's attitude rather odd. In her professional life, would she honourably say that she would never discuss or investigate any matter with a view to taking appropriate decisions? I certainly would not say such a thing. On first reading, I think that the appropriate decision is to keep matters as they are or to do a number of things of which she might well approve. I am sure that no academic or anyone with a rational approach would say that he would not even consider any matters. I will consider anything that the hon. Lady proposes, and so far she has no reason to complain about my response.

Time and again, we have argued that the EU's trade and environment policies should support each other. I am sad that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury cannot find it in his heart to acknowledge that Britain led the campaign to ensure that the World Trade Organisation would have an environmental input. We brought together the French, Spanish and Germans so that we could have a common view and we led the argument in the European Council to ensure that we achieved that. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that that is something that Britain has done that we could both support. Why cannot we both say that? We should argue about the matters on which we disagree rather than the hon. Gentleman's inventing criticism and throwing it not at the Government but at this nation, working within the EU.

Unlike some, we have nothing to fear from more rigorous enforcement of EU legislation. The hon. Gentleman managed to go through the whole of his speech not only not revealing Labour party policy, but not even mentioning enforcement. It does not matter what the EU decides if it does not enforce those decisions. Enforcement is the only thing that makes decision anything more than the outcome of a debating society meeting. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman's attitude to politics is that of a debating society, he does not mind if decisions are not enforced provided that he can attack Britain and the way that we deal with these matters.

Subsidiarity means nothing more than allowing the Commission to concentrate its legislative and enforcement resources on those areas where Europe-wide legislation is essential. It must ensure that that legislation is complied with. We are able to take the leading role in Europe because we do what we say we will do—unlike those who agree to ambitious, headline-grabbing targets one day only to revise them when the spotlight of publicity has moved on. Few other EU Governments set out specific policy objectives year onyear and then report on both the successes and the failures.

The hon. Gentleman lauded certain countries in the EU—countries of which Britain can be proud to be a partner in the European Union that I so enthusiastically support. However, I also have some criticisms of them. How many of them have an annual update report on what they are doing on environmental issues and tell the public what they have failed to do as well as what they have done? None, as far as I know, but I hope that in the end all of them will do so because they tend to follow Britain.

We have delivered on the commitments that we made in Rio. Our national strategies on climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development were published in January, which is when we said they would be published. What other countries have done that with such directness and completeness?

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

When does the Minister intend to deliver on the Government's commitment on hedgerow protection?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the House turned down the Hedgerows Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth), with Government support. The hon. Gentleman knows that now we must find some form of protection that the House will support.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth

My right hon. Friend may wish to confirm that my Bill received the full support of the Department of the Environment.

Mr. Gummer

The Bill also received the full support of MAFF, where I was a Minister at the time.

We have put in place the machinery of government, the networks of green-oriented Ministers, a permanent Cabinet Committee, annual reports, a high-level advisory panel appointed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and a round table of all the interests to maintain progress on delivering sustainable development.

I have listed all the things that the Government have done to meet our commitments in Rio, in the conferences on sustainable development and in our documents—yet not one of them was mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. Why is he afraid of saying how well we have done? Is it because he does not know or because it would again show us how little the Labour party has to offer to those who care about the environment?

Mr. Chris Smith

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's last comment, it is because I know that those things do not add up to very much. For the completeness of record about hedgerow protection, the right hon. Gentleman might like to inform the House that it was Conservative Back Benchers who ditched the Hedgerows Bill. The Labour party offered the Government full co-operation and support in bringing forward a Government Bill to protect our hedgerows, but the Government have failed to introduce such a Bill.

Mr. Gummer

No one could accuse me of being anything other than very supportive both of the Hedgerows Bill and of the principle of protecting hedgerows. I hope that it will not be misunderstood when I say that I find it difficult to understand how the hon. Gentleman can come to this House without policies on energy, on water or on any other subject on which he has been tackled. Yet his final fling is to complain that some individual Conservatives happened to hold a different view from him on hedgerows.

That the official Opposition descend to that level of argument seems to me to be extremely worrying. I can promise that we will continue to look at the whole of the environment and not be led astray, as the hon. Gentleman would like us to be. I would have been much more receptive to criticism about any failure to support the Commission's fifth action programme on the environment, which was one of things that the hon. Gentleman flung at me, were it to come from those, including the Commission, who had done as much as we have to put powerful institutional momentum behind their promises. We have done more than those who are criticising us.

It is because we do what we say that we have such a good record on implementation within the Union. Because we have such a large number of environmental organisations with a strong commitment to Europe, some 22 per cent. of all the complaints about infractions come from Britain. Yet they result in only 2 per cent. of the European Court of Justice environmental judgments being held against Britain. We have a better record than Germany, Holland, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece. Why did the hon. Gentleman not mention that?

We have heard much today about the difficulties and dangers of misleading the House, and I am very conscious of the need never to mislead the House. But is it not possible that one can mislead the House by failing to say something? Is it not misleading the House to say that Britain has a worse record than its neighbours when one fails to mention that it has a better record than Germany, Holland, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece? Is not that in a sense not giving the whole story as it is?

It is because we have such a good track record, because we are forcing the pace on the environment within the Union, because we do what we say and because we are prepared to make the difficult choices that we are in such a good position to protect all our interests.

I shall now deal with the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey. The House will hear a large number of wonderfully flowery phrases about the Liberal party's commitment to the environment. The fact that they will fall on no other Liberal ears, for he is the only one here to tell us about it—

Mr. Simon Hughes

Out there they will.

Mr. Gummer

Perhaps they will come back in to hear what they are supposed to say. The hon. Gentleman is incredible, because he has failed to support any measure that helps the environment and is tough. He will support any wet measure, any woolly measure, any proposal that his constituents do not have to pay for, anything that he can claim is rather nice on his manifesto. But when it comes to having to take the measures to reduce the waste of energy, when it comes to having to increase the cost of motoring because of the very issues that he raises, does he vote for them? Oh, no; he has a different way of doing it. It is not quite the same, and, of course, it would not pain anybody. It does not cost anything—

Mr. Simon Hughes

We never say that.

Mr. Gummer

Ah. If they do not say it, perhaps he will own up to the fact that the Liberal party policy on the carbon tax plus their statements on VAT would mean that the effect on the price of fuel would, if anything, be greater than the VAT that we have introduced. I have not heard that said in any of the by-elections. I notice that he suggests that, if we cut out VAT on fuel, there would somehow or other be no other tax. The carbon bit and the basic VAT bit is kept for another day. I expect today to hear about it.

I expect also to hear whether the hon. Gentleman has joined the environmental club, because the price of joining it is to agree to pay the admission charge, not expect other people to pay it—the other countries of Europe, the countries of the European Union, which he claims to support—but not pay it himself. But, of course, he will not pay it. He will do what he always does. He will say to the people outside, "If you vote for me, you will not pay the bill. Someone else will." If it is in the south-west, it will be the water consumers in Northumbria. Then his right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) says, "Hang on a moment." If it is not Northumbria, it will be the water consumers of Severn Trent.

The hon. Gentleman is the ideal Liberal. Not only does he have a policy for every election, constituency, ward and street, but a policy for every house. And if there are two people in the house there are two policies. We know why, because his canvassing booklet has been leaked. It says you bang on—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Does it say very much about the environmental policies?

Mr. Gummer

I refer specifically to the section on the environment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On the environment and everything else, it says very simply, "You ask the person on the doorstep what they are worried about and what they think, then tell them that that is what you are worried about and that that is what you think." Carrying the environmental message next door, they then ask what those next door think and, although they have always hated the people living on the other side because they think the opposite, that same candidate discovers—surprise, surprise —that he is absolutely in harmony with what those people think and want. House by house, and not very silently, the Liberal vote increases. But once they are in power in Tower Hamlets, what happens? They are rumbled. If one looks at the elections in Richmond, and I must say that I was pleased—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The local elections are now over.

Mr. Gummer

I am hoping to defend our policies on the environment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because no doubt that will be a central part.

We see the single market as an increasingly green market in which we have every intention of competing vigorously and successfully. This is an issue that should rise above partisanship. We will not solve the problems of the environment in this Parliament or the next, or for many thereafter. The issues are complex and difficult and affect all of us. They require difficult trade-offs to be made. If one spends non-cost-effectively in this area, one does not have the money to spend properly in another area needing environmental help. If one does something that one has not thought out properly in one area, it very often has a non-environmental effect somewhere else. Above all, if one promises to deliver the goods without spelling out the cost, one misleads the people of Britain and does not deserve to enter in the debate. We serve no one's interest by allowing them to become mixed up in another bit of the daily round of debate.

We cannot solve the issues in isolation. Britain has a great deal to contribute to the common effort, as we clearly demonstrated when John Major became the first world leader to go to Rio and lead the campaign to make it a world summit. We have carried that on through. We cannot do it on our own. We must do it as part of the European Union. It is in the European Union that we have been leading the way. It is with the European Union that we have forged the relationships with India and many other southern nations. It is with the European Union that we are able honourably to say not only that Britain one of the best environmental records in the world but that this Government have put Britain at the top of the environmental tree. It is the Labour party that has consistently failed to present any kind of policy or any good reason why anyone should take them seriously.

Mr. Devlin

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The attendance of Opposition Members dropped to eight during the last part of that speech. If it goes below six—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is nothing to do with the Chair.

5.29 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

It was disappointing that the Secretary of State devoted almost all his allotted time to yah-boo politics; he would have done better to use some of it to discuss some of the problems with which the Government must deal. Three examples are eco-labelling, the Energy Saving Trust and legislation on hedgerows. It is extremely disappointing that the Government are making so little progress on all three.

Let me deal first with eco-labelling, or green labelling. For at least five years a substantial number of people in this country—at least 30 per cent. of the population—have clearly been prepared to buy environmentally friendly products in preference to others, but most have found it difficult to identify the more environmentally friendly. They need a labelling system—the kind that the Germans had nearly 10 years ago and other European countries have subsequently adopted.

The Government have said that it would be illogical to develop an eco-labelling system for this country alone, and that such a system should be EEC-wide, or rather European Union-wide. I accept that, if we are to have environmentally friendly products, it is far better to have them throughout Europe. It is sad, however, that because of bureaucracy in Europe, a lack of drive and the Government's inability to persuade other European Union countries, five years on only one product has been awarded an eco-label.

That product is a relatively expensive washing machine produced by Hoover. The eco-labelling board is clearly reluctant to advertise it, not wishing to be associated with Hoover because of its problems. A cynic might say that Hoover had produced not only an environmentally friendly washing machine but environmentally friendly free trips, given that those trips do not actually happen.

Because of all the difficulties, eco-labelling has been given no publicity. The one product to which it has been applied is too expensive for many people to buy: they might buy eco-friendly soap powder or tissues, but they cannot afford to make the choice when it comes to washing machines. But, instead of telling us that the Government are trying to breathe new life into the eco-labelling system, the Secretary of State simply argued with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) about whether having no labels or having one label was more important.

Mr. Morley

The Government and the British eco-labelling board have consistently refused to consider animal welfare as one of the criteria for the eco-labelling scheme, although the subject has a direct bearing on cosmetics, shampoos and a range of other unrelated products. Other member states are interested in the matter, and we could set the pace.

Mr. Bennett

I intend to refer to early-day motion 1208, which concerns eco-labelling and makes that very point.

I hope that, when the Minister replies to the debate, he will give us a progress report on eco-labelling. Perhaps he will venture to tell us how much Government money has been spent on each eco-labelled product that has been sold so far; I suspect that setting up the system has cost thousands of pounds for each washing machine costing a few hundred. As I have said, progress over the past five years has been disappointingly slow. The Government need to find a way of ensuring that a large number of products are labelled quickly in the European Community, thus returning some credibility to the scheme.

Not only have the Government failed to get the system going, however; they have failed to deal with the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. As was made clear at the outset, one of the problems is caused by the false claims of many companies that their products are environmentally friendly. Some claim simply that their product is "green", which it is virtually impossible for a trading standards officer to investigate; others claim that certain ingredients are not included in the product—usually a detergent—when rival products do not contain those ingredients either. It would have been very simple for the Government to table an amendment to the Trade Descriptions Act, making it clear that any attempt to make environmentally friendly claims that could not be justified breached that legislation.

The Government must carry public opinion with them —and this is where testing on animals comes in. Many people who would be prepared to buy environmentally friendly products are concerned that those products should not have been tested on animals. I realise that this is a difficult subject, and I do not entirely accept the "holier than thou" arguments of the Body Shop: many of the products that originally went into shampoos were originally tested on animals. If the Government and the eco-labelling board want to carry public opinion, however, they must come up with some method of assessing whether it is essential for a product to have been recently tested on animals.

The Body Shop also argues that labels should be awarded to only a small proportion of products. That is a mistake: I think that we should try to ensure that virtually 100 per cent. of some products, especially detergents and shampoos, eventually meet the eco-labelling requirements. I understand why one or two shops want environmentally friendly products to have a certain exclusiveness, but if we are concerned about the environment that is the wrong attitude.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

One of the problems is the fact that the scientific base on which such judgments are made is constantly moving on. For instance, many people have switched to buying diesel cars, only to be shell-shocked on reading a recent report that diesel cars may well be considerably more damaging to the environment than the cars that they bought previously. How would the hon. Gentleman deal with that problem?

Mr. Bennett

I am quite prepared to accept that eco-labelling is not easy, but the west Germans have managed it for a number of years; besides, it is much easier in the case of certain products. I submit that, if it is difficult for people to award the labels and for hon. Members to make judgments now on the Floor of the House, it is equally difficult for other people to make such judgments when they are going around supermarkets and stores.

I believe that in many areas it is possible to make a scientific judgment. Such judgments must be made on the basis of the best information currently available, and alternative views may well be advanced in the future. It is difficult to say that certain products are environmentally friendly throughout Europe, which is one of my reasons for criticising the authorities for starting with washing machines. I have always thought that it must be hard to find a washing machine that would be environmentally friendly in the lake district and southern Italy. In the lake district, water consumption will not be particularly important, whereas energy and heat consumption for drying will be, while in parts of southern Europe where water is much more expensive it will be important for the machine to use the minimum amount; the drying may not be nearly so much of a problem.

It was the Government who said that, rather than establishing a British system, they would introduce a European system and encourage the rest of Europe to go along with it. As I have said, it is disappointing that, after five years, only one product—an expensive washing machine—has been given a label.

The Secretary of State made great claims about our signing up to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2000. When the Environment Select Committee—of which I am a member—looked into the matter, it found that the Government's main delivery mechanism was to be the Energy Saving Trust. It was to have a programme involving energy conservation, and it was hoped that it would provide at least 30 per cent. of the reduction in emissions.

The problem faced by the Environment Select Committee six months ago was where the money would come from to fund the Energy Saving Trust. It was suggested that it should come from a levy on the gas industry. The Select Committee wanted to know what the electricity and other industries as well as the Government would contribute to the Energy Saving Trust.

The Government have now appointed a new gas regulator and she does not believe that there should be a contribution from the gas industry to the trust. She believes that such a contribution would be pure taxation and would be illegal. It is time that the Government told us from where the trust is to obtain its money if it is not to receive it directly from the gas industry. Unless the Government can find some money for it, it will not be able to deliver the 30 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. It is an urgent and serious problem. How can the Energy Saving Trust plan a programme for energy saving if it does not know how it is to be financed?

I think that there is a great deal of scope for encouraging people to move towards energy efficiency. We should also look towards solving the problem facing many low income households where it is difficult for them to find the capital to insulate their homes in order to reduce energy consumption and to make savings in their gas and electricity bills. It is important that the Government or the Energy Saving Trust should talk to the building societies and others to ensure that there is an assessment of how much energy is being lost from each property and then to see whether loans can be made to enable people to carry out the necessary work.

It is urgent that the Government tell us how they intend to finance the Energy Saving Trust. If they cannot come up with a system of finance, we will not be able to deliver our commitment to reduce emissions by the year 2000.

It was unfortunate that the Government did not have the courage in the previous parliamentary Session to introduce a Bill on hedgerows. They put it in their manifesto and I suspect that 90 per cent. of hon. Members would have supported them. They did not have the bottle to do it. They left it to the hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth) to introduce a private Member's Bill. They then allowed a small handful of their Back Benchers to filibuster and thwart the legislation.

I am disappointed that the Government have not introduced legislation in this Session. Several of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), have offered to introduce such a Bill, but the Government have rejected all their suggestions.

We know that the Government are talking about introducing a Bill in the next Session, possibly to merge the Countryside Commission with English Nature and to set up the environment protection agency. I do not know whether the rumours are correct, but it is being suggested that the Government are trying to draw up the Bill in such a narrow way that it will simply be a bureaucratic measure dealing with the procedures of those organisations but that it will not spread over into any other environmental issues. That would be an insult to the House. If the Government are to introduce such a measure in the next Session, they must include hedgerows.

When the Minister replies I hope that he will make it clear that the Government intend to do that. They cannot go on ducking the issue. Hedgerows are disappearing and, worse still, many have not been maintained appropriately over recent years. I strongly believe that, if the Government can provide money for set aside and other things for farmers, they should provide money to regenerate many of the hedgerows that are disappearing.

The Government keep claiming that Britain does better than many of the other EU countries. If that is correct, how often have the Government gone to the Commission demanding enforcement across the rest of the EU? It is important that they tell us that. It is no good just complaining about a lack of enthusiasm from other parts of the Common Market. The real issue is how far and how often the Government use the mechanisms within the EU to ensure that there is enforcement.

The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. Robert Atkins)


Mr. Bennett

If that is the case, I hope that the Minister can give us one or two examples of his success when he replies.

I shall listen carefully to what the Minister says about what the Government intend to do to take forward eco-labelling, where they intend to find the money for the Energy Saving Trust, when they intend to do something about hedgerows and what they intend to do about enforcement throughout the EU.

5.44 pm
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

I was so enraged by the comments by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) that I should like to put on record the fact that the last Labour Government made the largest cut in the sewerage programme that there has ever been in this country. They cut it by about half. Areas such as that covered by Canterbury council, which I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) had growing populations and when I arrived as a new Member I found that many of my constituents suffered from the most appalling sewage problems.

Privatisation has enabled the largest ever programme of sewerage investment to take place in this country. In the area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North and myself, we have seen a brand new, ecologically sensitive, sewage works to replace an unbelievably filthy and smelly old one. The product that comes from that sewage works is used as fertiliser by the farmers. There has been a complete reworking of the sewerage system of Herne Bay, and many new pipes, including a major one at Seasalter in my constituency.

I want to deal mainly with metal recycling, particularly the EC directives on waste management and waste shipments. I have a good news story to tell. We were close to a Christopher Booker style horror story when the rapid and effective intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), who was the new Minister responsible, averted what could have been a serious cock-up.

There are essentially two scrap metal industries—ferrous scrap metal and the British Secondary Metals Association. I have links with the BSMA because one of its past chairmen is a constituent of mine—he is our deputy lord mayor.

These are important industries. The BSMA embraces 30,000 jobs and hundreds of millions of pounds worth of exports. Even more relevant to this debate, it is by far the best established and most effective recycling industry in the country. A casual observer with only a mild interest in politics might imagine that, when the Government are committed to recycling and when we have a deregulation initiative in hand, we might be looking at ways to reduce regulations for such a highly successful recycling industry. In fact, as a result of the two EC directives to which I have referred, we were on the brink of having a string of new measures which would have had a devastating effect on the industry.

The waste management directive is something which I believe that nearly everyone here would support in outline. It is a thoroughly sensible idea that, in the public interest, we should have more regulation of waste disposal facilities such as rubbish tips and so on. The problem is that it appears—we will not know for certain until July—that its definition of waste includes metal recycling. We must bear in mind the fact that, on the average BSMA site well over 90 per cent. of what goes in through the gates comes out again, mostly in the form of high-cost, high-quality metal products, whether it is tungsten, copper, zinc or whatever. It is an extraordinary anomaly that the industry could be categorised with rubbish.

Also, our industry is concerned about what the regulations mean for them and about what is being done in other parts of Europe. Concern focused on two areas. First, there was the proposal for a duty of care which could mean, in principle, a lot of extra metal work and, in a business where there are many small transactions, it could lead to a great deal of paperwork.

Secondly, and even more serious, concern focused on arrangements for surrender. It is not always known what preceded a secondary metal site, which is usually built on 9 in of concrete, with the bulk of the site indoors. If people are made responsible for the sins of previous site owners, the impact on the value of their principal asset—their site—will be tremendous, and the willingness of bankers to lend and insurers to insure may evaporate.

I do not want to bore the House or my hon. Friend the Minister with an account of what other European countries are doing. The good news is that my hon. Friend has secured a five-month delay on the implementation of the regulations. The industry and his Department are investigating practice in other European countries. The BSMA and I are confident that that those countries have made less onerous proposals for implementing, the directive and that we can learn from experience abroad.

I am particularly encouraged that my hon. Friend the Minister has said that we will have our own title. Although it is only a matter of the label, that shows a change of mind. The regulations will be called the metal recycling regulations to distinguish them from ordinary waste management—a fundamentally different activity.

We have had a lot of hot air from hon. Members about toxic waste, about which everyone is concerned. No one wants toxic waste to be dumped in an unsatisfactory fashion or to be transported in ships along coastlines.

In introducing new regulations, we must be careful that they do not catch perfectly legitimate businesses. Products are classified into green, amber and red categories. Batteries are amber items. It is in the interests of people who want a good environment that batteries should be purchased and sold to customers, whether in this country or abroad, for recycling and reuse.

Mr. Rowe

Does my hon. Friend agree that the highly developed industrialised world could assist countries that are striving to achieve that same level of industrialisation by taking some of their most hazardous waste and dealing with it in ways that we have painfully developed over many years?

Mr. Brazier

Indeed. My hon. Friend anticipates my comments. He and I share in our county the university of Kent, the world leader in the biodegradation of hazardous waste products. We could make that technology available to the world, to the benefit of the whole world. We must be careful that the regulations do not frustrate the objectives that they are designed to achieve. Other Departments might like to take note of the example of the Minister who recognised a potential problem and that serious worries had been exposed, but who was willing to listen and to say, "Let us take this slowly and carefully to see whether we can achieve our objectives in a way that is satisfactory to everyone." For that, I am most grateful.

5.53 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

As always, this is an important debate. It will be all the more interesting because none of the three parties' manifestos for the European elections has been officially published yet. My colleagues—

Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford)

And I.

Mr. Hughes

My colleagues and I will vote for the motion and not for the amendment. We welcome the Labour party's interest in the subject, which has grown over the years, although it is still weak at the top: the Leader of the Opposition is still not overtly interested in the matter and has said less about it than even the Prime Minister.

In my objective opinion, today the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) did not make one of his best speeches, whereas, in terms of performance, the Secretary of State did.

The fundamental flaw in the Labour party's justified attack is that it does not have adequate answers to some of the key questions. Until the Labour party sorts out the answer to the difficult question of how to pay for what it wants, it will have no credibility on environmental policy, environmental taxation and eco-taxation.

Mr. Burns

How will the Liberals do it? Answer the question.

Mr. Hughes

I shall answer the question, but let me deal with other matters. After about 10 minutes of expectation, the hon. Gentleman will have three minutes of fulfilment.

All the opinion polls show that environmental policy has been one of the most successful and most popular in the history of the European Community. The environment was not part of EC policy when it was created, although it was vaguely referred to in the preamble to the treaties in the early 1950s. It was included formally only when the heads of Government resolved to do so at their 1972 summit. One of the mischievous bits of history is that it was Lady Thatcher who signed up to the environmental commitments of the EC, to which the European Commission then paid attention and submitted proposals. When Prime Minister, it was Lady Thatcher who took the Single European Act 1986 through the House. It was only as a result of that Act and only after 1986 that we have really been committed to environmental policies as part of the European Community.

That Act, by which an article to the treaty of Rome was introduced, states: Action by the Community relating to the environment shall have the following objectives: to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment; to contribute towards protecting human health; to ensure a prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources. An article in the treaties then allows legislation for environmental activity.

There have been European environmental action programmes—we are up to the fifth, which runs from 1993 to 2000 and is referred to in the motion. The debate on the Maastricht treaty touched on how much the Government would backtrack from their environmental commitments, which is a serious concern. Some of us believe that, were it not for the European Community, environmental attainment standards in Britain would be far lower.

We are naturally sceptical, therefore, if subsidiarity provisions under Maastricht will mean that the power to make decisions on environmental matters will return to the Government, not remain in the European Union. There was much suspicion—not all of it proven, but some of it apparently was justified—that during negotiation on the Maastricht treaty, the Commission did not pursue environmental issues against the Government, for example, in relation to Twyford Down, because it wanted to keep the United Kingdom on board.

The environmental impact assessment directive has been one of the best achievements of European legislation. It was passed by the House and it ensures that the effect of many proposals, such as road and power schemes, are assessed for their impact on the environment. Other directives raise our standards and tighten targets on air quality and emissions, including vehicle emissions, which, as the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) will remember, followed an initiative from the European Community. Bathing water is probably the most urgent, controversial and topical matter, even before the publication today of the National Rivers Authority report on the quality of our beaches. Promptings on all those matters came from the European Community.

We may be good at enforcing directives that we have agreed compared with other member states. At least the law binds us, and the Government normally agree to sign up to a directive. For instance, the Conservative party manifesto for the previous European election gave a commitment to honour the bathing water directive.

The Government are aware that they are also being judged on other proposals that are in the pipeline and to some of which other hon. Members have already referred.

The Labour motion criticises the Government for their substantial failures. If the Government are honest they will admit—and anyone observing the environmental agenda will certainly admit—that they have as yet made no commitment to ensuring that the rest of the habitats directive is implemented in domestic law. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) rightly reminded the Government that they have not honoured their manifesto commitment to legislate to protect hedgerows. Such legislation would have been passed had the Government been determined.

The Government appear to have backed off completely, but I hope that they will reconsider a Europewide system of civil liability for environmental damage. It is very important that there should be a legislative remedy for such damage, but the Government have tried to ensure that no such remedy exists.

We have not heard details of the implementation proposals of the fifth action programme; nor have the Government been positive about the proposed amendments to extend the environmental impact assessment directive. There is a list of similar items, some of which have been alluded to in today's newspapers, because yesterday the Government produced their checklist of what they had and had not done. Knowing that that list was coming, the Labour party rightly chose today for this debate.

The Government should not really need to be reminded of what still needs to be done, but I hope that they will now honour their commitments. We have not yet had details of the air quality targets which were due in 1993, nor have we received details of the minimum construction standards for chemical and oil stores which were due in 1992. We were also expecting proposals for the removal of lead solder from water pipes which were promised in 1992.

We are still awaiting proposals for the adequate protection of sites of special scientific interest, especially after the National Audit Office today confirmed that one in five—or 20 per cent.—of them have been partly or wholly damaged since the legislation to protect them came into operation. We are also awaiting the draft legislation for the environmental protection agency. There is still no sign of the terms of reference, let alone the timetable and details, of the nuclear review. In addition, contaminated land registers appear to have dropped off the agenda altogether.

Mr. Atkins


Mr. Hughes

Long-term targets for limiting CO2 emissions seem to have disappeared.

Mr. Atkins


Mr. Hughes

In that case, I look forward to hearing what they are.

Most vividly and most recently, the Government were wholly determined to thwart the energy conservation proposals outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)—the Minister himself ensured that the Energy Conservation Bill was talked out.

There is a further worrying suggestion in today's newspapers. The Government yesterday published their third yearly report after "This Common Inheritance". It was eight months late, but the Government's lame excuse was that they had to wait for their proposals on sustainable development. Any logical person would realise that the report could have been published on time eight months ago; the sustainable development proposals, which were meant to have been in place by the end of last year, could have been published later; and the fourth report could then have been published on time later in 1994. However, the third report appeared only yesterday.

It has been reported today, especially in The Daily Telegraph, that the Government may be deciding not to produce another report. I expressly ask the Minister to give an undertaking that, as the Government promised in 1990 when they issued the first report, there will continue to be annual reports, that they will in future be published on time and that they will contain a checklist of what has and has not been achieved. I agree with the Secretary of State that it is a good thing for the Government to produce annual reports. The Government gave an undertaking to do so and, if they are now dropping it, it would severely weaken their accountability.

Mr. Atkins

This is the first that I have heard of any such intention. It is certainly not my intention or that of the Secretary of State that such reports should be dropped.

Mr. Hughes

I am encouraged by the Minister's reply. However, I refer him or his officials to the suggestion in The Daily Telegraph today. I had not heard the suggestion before. The Government clearly made a commitment in 1990 that there should be annual reports. We were frustrated because this year's report was eight months late, which was inexcusable. It would also be far better if there were an opportunity annually for the report to be sent to the appropriate Select Committee, for the Select Committee to issue a report on it to be put before the House and for us then to assess annually the national and global environment, as happens in the United States.

I deal now with two issues in which I know that all hon. Members are interested. I accept the Secretary of State's proposition that, if we are to join an environmental club, we have to pay the admission cost. By way of a preface, may I say that there was nothing in the Conservative party's 1992 manifesto or in the Labour party's 1992 manifesto about energy taxes. However, my party's manifesto did mention them and our proposals were costed. In order to make it clear, I shall put our proposals on record.

Our view is set out clearly, and it will save Tory central office sending people for the brief—

Mr. Burns

"Costing the Earth".

Mr. Hughes

No. Our view has been set out most recently not in "Costing the Earth" but in another document, properly adorned—it is the European policy document passed by our conference at the beginning of the year, in March.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

It is the same as "Costing the Earth".

Mr. Hughes

No, it is not the same as "Costing the Earth". I have never before written a document which has had such a wide readership among all parties as "Costing the Earth". Had I known that it would be so popular, I would have increased the price and insisted on taking royalties. I shall not bore the House with details of our policy process, but it clearly fascinates Tory Members, so I shall relate a quick history of it.

As Conservative Members know now, we considered and rejected the idea of value added tax on domestic fuel and we now have this policy, which I commend to the House. The new policy is contained in one and a half columns of the document—in other words, there is plenty of it. I shall not read it all; I shall paraphrase.

We propose a shift in the burden of taxation towards taxing resources rather than people. We also propose a carbon energy tax along the lines of the European suggestion, which we could not accept as it stands because it stupidly leaves out some of the biggest polluters, which is clearly nonsense. Such a tax should be phased in and we believe that the rate should vary according to the energy content of the fuel and the amount of carbon dioxide that it releases. That would mean making cleaner sources cheaper and the polluting ones more expensive.

I come now to the party political issue—let us not mess around. Such a tax would be revenue-neutral, because the money raised would be put back into the economy in one of three ways. First, there would be compensation for those who were especially vulnerable to higher energy and transport costs. Secondly, there would be targeted investment in energy efficiency schemes and public transport. Thirdly, and interestingly—especially for a Government who say that we must retain VAT on domestic fuel—there would be a reduction in other taxes such as income tax, national insurance contributions and employers' national insurance contributions and, perhaps, a reduction in VAT on domestic fuel to 5 per cent.

We cannot get rid of VAT on fuel now because we are committed to it under European legislation. However, as I have told the Secretary of State to his face, we do not believe that levying VAT on domestic fuel was the right way to tax fuel. In any event, the paradox is that in last year's Budget the Government also proceeded to levy taxes on petrol which were higher than we had proposed.

We voted against them, but not because we did not believe that fuel costs should go up. We did, and do, believe that they should. That view has been shared by all three parties and all three have gone on the record on the subject. But we did not believe that the Government should impose the combination of VAT on domestic fuel, increasing in two stages up to 17.5 per cent., and the increase in petrol duty.

Mr. Burns


Mr. Nicholls


Mr. Hughes

I did not think that I would get through my speech without having to give way. The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), as often, was the first to indicate his interest.

Mr. Burns

As the hon. Gentleman is in such helpful mode, I should be grateful if he would help me a little further. On the revenue-raising side of the equation, will he tell the House how much would be raised by the proposals that he paraphrased? On the other side of the equation, has his party made an assessment of the impact of the proposals, before any reliefs, on rural parts of the country?

Mr. Hughes

Yes. At the risk of being tedious, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that we have. I have another document here, which I shall let him see afterwards. It contains costings from our 82 manifesto—

Mr. Burns


Mr. Hughes

Yes, 82.

Mr. Nicholls

Eighteen eighty-two?

Mr. Hughes

No, it was 1982—or rather, 1992. I meant to say 1992. Two whole pages—pages 5 and 6—of our 1992 manifesto set out the yields for proposals linking car tax to fuel efficiency, the cost of a 1 per cent. cut in VAT phased in over five years, increases in benefits for the poorest, and other compensation measures for people with disabilities and people in rural communities. All that is set out year by year.

Mr. Burns

How much?

Mr. Hughes

In the first year nil, in the second year £80 million, in the third year £240 million, in the fourth year —but I need not go on. It is all here. We have all the details for the graduation of vehicle excise duty with fuel efficiency, and for environmental grants and subsidies. Because it is all so detailed, I shall not amplify my explanation any further, but I assure the hon. Members for Chelmsford and for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls)—

Mr. Burns

Will the hon. Gentleman send me a copy?

Mr. Hughes

I shall give the hon. Gentleman a copy, and I shall not charge him for it. As the hon. Member for Teignbridge, too, always quotes Tory central office briefings during such debates, I shall let him have a copy as well.

Mr. Nicholls


Mr. Hughes

I shall allow one more intervention; then I shall say a few words about bathing water; then I shall finish.

Mr. Nicholls

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We always enjoy his contributions, even when he turns round and says, "Forget about that previous document; we've got another document now." From what he has said, we now understand that there has been a terrible misunderstanding and that the Liberal Democrats actually supported an increase in petrol prices, but not quite as large an increase as the Government chose. So will he remind us whether, during the passage of the Finance Bill, he tabled an amendment calling for an increase in petrol prices, but not such a large increase as ours? I cannot recall such an amendment, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will remind me if there was one.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman is hoist with his own petard. He should remember the procedure. In this place we first vote on the money resolutions; a selection is made of those on which we are to vote. There was a vote on that resolution, and we opposed it.

Mr. Nicholls

Did the hon. Gentleman table an amendment?

Mr. Hughes

My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), the Treasury spokesman of the Liberal Democratic party, and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock), who participated in the Committee proceedings on the Finance Bill, made our position clear.

The hon. Member for Teignbridge is unusually badly informed, for him. I can send him chapter and verse, showing that we have argued for increases in petrol prices, but that before the 1993 Budgets we argued that they should be less than the increase that the Government eventually chose. Thereafter we said, "Look, you have gone over the top. Even you need not have done that much."

Mr. Nicholls


Mr. Hughes

I shall send the hon. Gentleman chapter and verse.

Mr. Nicholls

So the answer is no.

Mr. Hughes

The answer is not no. The argument went on in Committee almost ad nauseam. We voted accordingly and the speeches are on the record.

My last point is about the bathing water directive. The issue is not only topical but extremely important. There is a programme under way to ensure that we comply with European standards. Many of our beaches do not comply. When people go to resorts such as Blackpool and Brighton, they often have to swim in sewage. That is a disgrace. It is unacceptable. At a time of high environmental awareness, we cannot expect to persuade people to spend their holidays here if that is what happens when they go to many of the beaches round our country.

We believe that we must honour the commitments; we must not water them down. Of course, a politically acceptable formula must be found, and that means a variety of things. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) suggested, it means changing the basis on which people pay their water rates. It means changing the way in which the cost is shared over the whole country. It should not be borne disproportionately by the region with the most beaches, such as the south-west. I have supported proposals by hon. Members to alter that, whichever party they come from. Finally, there must be more public investment by the Government. The problem is not insuperable. The Government can deal with it, but standards must not be reduced.

I hope that our clarity on this and other issues will be rewarded when in many places we are returned as the party with the best environmental commitments—[Laughter.] —at the European elections next month. I assure the Government that their inadequacy in honouring their commitments means that they will find it difficult to defend their record.

6.14 pm
Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North)

I shall not take up too much of the time of the House, but I want to make a couple of general points and one specific point on a subject that, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, has not been touched on so far. I congratulate the Opposition on choosing a debate on this subject, although it is a bit of a shame that the speech by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) did not match the magnificence of his theme.

None the less, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, because the environment is a sphere in which Europe has an important role to play. Clearly, many environmental problems cannot have a purely national solution. Pollution does not respect international frontiers; it works its way through the air, the sea and the rivers of Europe, oblivious to any notion of national sovereignty. So it is right that we should seek solutions to those common international problems at a European level.

The question is how Europe can best address those problems. What institutions and organisations are best equipped to provide solutions, and how far should their competence extend? That is a developing area of European policy, where targets, strategies and institutions are being fashioned to meet the challenge of protecting our common environment. The environment is an area of great public concern, in which the legitimacy of Europe's competence is widely accepted, and where European solutions are expected. It is also an area in which Europe has already demonstrated its determination to bring about significant improvements in the quality of our environment. As the Secretary of State has already outlined, the United Kingdom has played a leading role in shaping European policy, institutions and legislation.

However, several issues concern me, and they will present Europe with real dangers, difficulties and challenges in the years ahead. Those issues must remain at the forefront of the Government's approach to the European environment.

The first problem is the damage that the European Union could do to itself and to its long-term ability to provide solutions to environmental problems if it fails to get the balance right between issues best tackled at a European level and those that are best left to national Governments. A failure to make that distinction would undermine all the good work being done. It would create disillusionment and, ultimately, destroy European institutions. That is why subsidiarity is so important, and why the Government are absolutely right to pursue it as doggedly in the environmental sphere as in any other.

My constituency was recently threatened by the over-zealous encroachments of a Greek Commissioner, Mr. Paleokrassas, who decided to try to ban bathing on Blackpool's beaches. It would not surprise me if the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) agreed with that idea, because he talked about people swimming in raw sewage off Blackpool. Of course, that was absolute nonsense. The very thought of banning bathing off Blackpool's beaches is absurd, and was rightly recognised to be a monstrous piece of Greek cheek.

In the event, Mr. Paleokrassas's attitude proved completely unnecessary. After a campaign by Michael Welsh, the Member of the European Parliament for Lancashire Central, the Commissioner agreed that his proposed bathing directive would have been unnecessarily intrusive and that decisions on whether to close beaches were best left to national Governments and local authorities. If he had not had the good sense to accept Michael Welsh's argument, he would have done untold harm—harm which the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey still seems prepared to do—to Blackpool's lifeblood, its tourist industry.

He would also have failed to put in place any more effective solution to the problem than was already being provided by North West Water, because the north-west now has a £5 billion programme to modernise the water and sewerage infrastructure of the region. That will include a brand-new, high-technology waste water treatment plant at Fleetwood, along the coast from Blackpool, which will mean that Blackpool and the Fylde coast will be able to meet the, quite rightly, high standards of the bathing waters directive by 1996. It could not be done any quicker than it is being done at the moment and the European Commissioner's attitude was as irresponsible, before he reconsidered, as that of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey currently appears to be.

My second anxiety is about the problem of implementation and enforcement. A common criticism of European legislation is that it never appears to be universally applicable. In this country, we ensure that it is enforced rigorously. We have an excellent record of implementing Community environmental legislation in full and on time. The same cannot be said for many of our European partners. Between 1988 and 1992, of all the cases in which the European Court of Justice identified infractions of environmental legislation, only 2 per cent. were against the United Kingdom, compared with 10 per cent. against France, 16 per cent. against Germany and 24 per cent. against Italy.

To return to my example of the bathing waters directive, it is very irritating to find that while the European Commission was turning its attention to Britain's beaches, where a multi-billion pound programme was under way to meet the new standards, other European countries appeared able to get away with staggering levels of pollution.

The Secretary of State mentioned some of the appalling horror stories from the rest of the European Community. A recent report in the Daily Express revealed the pollution in some other European resorts. It said, for instance, that in France, untreated sewage is discharged in Nice, and

at Cannes, special filter boats battle to clean up the water. In Italy, the Bay of Naples is muddy brown, churning raw sewage and oil from tankers… In Spain, a high water stain of pollution and sewage rings the resorts of the Costa Brava and Costa Blanca … In Portugal, raw waste from shanty towns flows directly into the sea along parts of the Algarve. For all the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey speaking about people who visit Blackpool swimming in sewage, which is nonsense, he should consider, as should Labour Members, what is happening in other parts of the European Community, not spend his time talking down British resorts, and British tourism, which is Britain's second-largest industry.

The Government are absolutely right to make implementation of environmental legislation a major priority. We should hold all member states to account and insist that the Commission monitors implementation and publishes its findings.

The third problem that I wanted to mention, which has not been mentioned but which none the less strikes me as very important, is the scale of the environmental catastrophe confronting Europe and our efforts to tackle it.

Little has been said about what I would refer to as "the forgotten half of Europe". Communism in eastern Europe has left a tragic legacy of environmental devastation and pollution. The countries of eastern Europe and of the former Soviet Union have inherited massive air and water pollution, degradation of the soil, deforestation and loss of biological diversity. Lakes, forests and seas are dying or disappearing. Marshes are turning into sandy wastes. Noxious emissions have polluted scores of cities. The number of cases of terminal cancer and respiratory diseases has increased in industrial areas. The nuclear industry in certain areas continues to be a serious problem.

That is happening throughout eastern Europe, but the problem is especially bad in the former Soviet Union and in Russia. Water pollution, contaminating drinking water, has led to outbreaks of disease in the former Soviet Union. Water pollution has reached crisis proportions in parts of Kazakhstan and the rest of central Asia after decades of improper agricultural practices, such as the over-use of pesticides. In Siberia, Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world, is polluted by a pulp and paper mill, which every year disgorges into the lake 100 megatonnes of cellulose waste, only partially treated by an inadequate purification system. The condition of Lake Ladoga, outside St. Petersburg, in which levels of phosphorous have increased by 300 per cent., and those of nitrogen by 30 per cent., in the past 30 years, is alarming.

All that is happening on our doorstep. That is only one example of water pollution, but one can go through every sphere of environmental concern—soil degradation, industrial and radioactive waste—and find the most horrific examples of massive environmental catastrophe on our doorstep. It is extraordinary that that has not been mentioned in the debate. It is perhaps a measure of how seriously we treat the problem. However, I think that the Government are starting to take it seriously. Some measures are now in place which begin to tackle the problem.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth

The subject of the former Soviet Union and the eastern bloc was mentioned earlier. My hon. Friend may remember that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) deplored the role of the private sector in this country in environmental policy. Does my hon. Friend agree that the appalling human and environmental tragedies in eastern Europe occurred under state control, and that many British companies, including privatised water and power companies, are now active in eastern Europe, helping to sort out the problems that state control created?

Mr. Elletson

My hon. Friend is right. That was one of the more ludicrous arguments of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury in what was pretty well an entirely ludicrous speech. Of course state control, state communism and state planning have created the problem in eastern Europe, and the British private sector and European private companies are helping to clean it up.

My plea to the Minister is that we should consider further ways of helping British and European companies to tackle that problem. We have begun to do that through initiatives such as the know-how fund, and through organisations such as the London Initiative on the Russian Environment, but I hope that we shall find further ways of helping to solve a major environmental catastrophe on our doorstep.

6.27 pm
Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I shall speak briefly and offer one cautionary example of what I believe is the threat posed to all of us by the implications for the environment of the Government's policy on the environment within their policies on Europe.

We heard much from the Secretary of State about how a good environmental policy must be operated internationally within the European and the international frameworks. We totally agree with that. Indeed, the members of the European Community who have gained most from being members of the Community are those whose national Governments work closely towards commonly held goals with the European Commission and with their regional governments.

Britain at the present time, with the current Government, is hopping along in a three-legged race on one leg, because we have no regional structure at all and the Government will not participate wholly in European goals because they believe that the most important policy on Europe is to opt out of everything to do with the social chapter.

I suspect that at least half of Conservative Members would, if they were honest, quite like a second opt-out, on the environmental issues of Europe, despite the protestations of the Secretary of State for the Environment earlier. In the deregulation task force's proposals for reform, which we have pored over long in the Committee considering the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, there are no fewer than 12 pages of recommendations from big business, the masters and controllers of the Conservative party, of ways in which they want to deregulate; to remove what they consider to be burdens on business, including some imposed by European directives and some imposed in this country. In contrast, there is only a page and a quarter about the employment element. Twelve whole pages are devoted to regulations that are considered to be burdens on business. My guess is that there is a desire to deregulate the environment out of existence.

One of the most welcome environmental initiatives of the European Commission's grant regime is the requirement that applicants for help under grant-aided projects should spell out an environmental impact assessment. That has put pressure on both private companies and big public authorities to look to the long-term effects of their proposals, rather than consider just short-term gains. When we read, under the heading "Environmental Assessment", that one of the recommendations of the task force is that Existing requirements should be reconsidered and any further European Community proposals vigorously resisted", we should be extremely concerned. This is one of the major benefits from Europe that business interests have wanted to see removed.

The same thing applies to utilities such as water, about which we have heard a good deal today. The task force says that there are often unnecessarily high standards in new drainage and sewerage requirements. The public do not believe that high standards in this field are unnecessary. Whatever business says, they want to see high standards retained, as has been pointed out by other hon. Members.

It is in this context that I relate my cautionary tale. As chairman of the recently formed all-party parliamentary group on water, I was approached last week by a delegation of business men involved in the manufacture of clay and plastic pipes. They came to say how concerned they were —so concerned that they offered me a briefing paper pointing out that Britain's sewers are under threat because of what has happened since the privatisation of water, following which the major water companies set up their own water industry certification scheme, commonly known as WICS. The problem here is that the industry itself is both giving certification and setting standards—not necessarily European standards—for this crucial aspect of sewer pipe work and drainage. This is clearly important for public health.

The most recent event of great concern to the Clay Pipe Manufacturing Association is the granting of a certificate outwith any European certification, for fairly thin plastic pipework—I was shown an example—currently used to take surface water away from motorways but proposed for use in sewerage. According to the association's tests, there is no doubt that such plastic pipes would not last the 100 years that we have heard Conservative Members say sewer pipes have to last. What concerns the association is that approval has been granted for the first time through an unprecedented private agreement with a single manufacturer.

My point is that, if we lose to bodies financed by private companies the control of the standard of products in industries as crucial as water and sewerage, the public will be deprived of the guarantee that the European Union offers through its certification schemes—the guarantee that we shall have healthy systems.

As the Secretary of State said, we must not talk this country down. Over the centuries, the United Kingdom has led the way in the provision of water of a high standard and sewerage and plumbing systems second to none. That is the result of the pre-war drive of public authorities to ensure good water and sewerage systems.

Our concern is that the damage resulting from the weakening of controls that has occurred over the past 15 years and the drive towards the privatisation of these crucial public utilities will become apparent not next week or next month but in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years' time. That would be the effect of 15 years' non-compliance with the very high standards that are necessary in this area.

I do not want to be accused of scaremongering, but I must draw attention to the fact that, according to one of today's newspapers, South West Water has had to agree to pay £400,000 in settlement of claims from people whose health was affected by contaminated drinking water six years ago. There are long-term dangers. In the case of the River Severn, recently there was major pollution. We are extremely concerned at the way in which individuals with particular interests in chemical companies are being appointed to water companies up and down the country, and to the Ofwat customer services committees.

We do not believe that the thrust of the Government's policy on the environment will have other than extremely dangerous consequences for the public in the long term.

6.36 pm
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

This whole debate is misconceived. It is based on highly dubious premises. It is a terrible mistake to think that it is good for Britain to work with other countries on a matter of this kind. How much easier it would be if the United Kingdom were not part of the European Union. What possible national advantage do we derive, for example, from efforts to clean up the Mediterranean? The only possible way of enhancing the attractions of the newly gilded Blackpool tower would be to ensure that Mediterranean beaches were filthy enough to make the one at Blackpool attractive despite the weather.

If only we were to withdraw within British territorial waters and ignore the European Union, we could spend the money that is currently being spent to clean up our drinking water on adjusting our methods of dealing with sewage. If, for example, we could build stores for it until the wind was in the right direction, we could use our new long sea outfalls to ensure that it ended up on some foreigners' beaches rather than on our own. At the moment, companies such as Southern Water are buying a channel tunnel drill to bore a huge and expensive tunnel under Brighton beach to deal with a bit of flood water.

What about the birds, which seem to preoccupy so many of our environmentalists? If, instead of trying to reverse the progress of this century, we were to accept that birds are messy creatures that spend an unacceptably large part of their time dirtying our lovely shiny motor cars, we could stop worrying about trying to protect them. What is more, so many of the birds about which people like the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) are worried are foreign. They come here only to mess up our eaves or eat our cereal crops or generally make a nuisance of themselves. In addition, they are probably unqualified birds that have not taken an exam in their lives.

Then there is all the fuss about trees. How can the rapidly expanding United Kingdom forests possibly compete with Scandinavian or Russian forests unless we are allowed to kill off large tracts of foreign forests with our industrial emissions? Hon. Members who want to confine European action to market activities are quite right. Take the common agricultural policy. Why go on arguing about set-aside when there are thousands of hectares of land in the European Union so poisoned that it beats set-aside hands down? Let us not waste valuable cash trying to clean up the poisoned hectares. Instead, let us refer to them as set-aside land.

Another advantage of cutting loose from the European Union would be that many large United Kingdom companies that have plants in Europe and elsewhere could stop trying to equalise standards across their plants and return to the United Kingdom, where we could set our own standards well below those of other countries and thus repatriate many British jobs.

It could be argued that I am advocating a risky strategy. For example, what if European Union countries resent our acid rain or sewage outfalls? What if they retaliate against our trade? We need not worry about that. After all, if we were outside the European Union we would trade with countries so far away from us that they would not be directly affected.

Some suggest that we have a duty to our grandchildren to protect the environment. That is a dangerous argument. Generations of nannies are reputed to have said that a speck of dirt harmed no one. Natural selection will ensure—if we do not waste time and money on reducing fumes, for example—that we shall breed grandchildren who are immune to asthma, lead and many other current bogeys.

As I have said, the debate is ill-founded. We need to return to little England outside the European Union, setting our own robust standards of protection and giving not a fig for all those ridiculous foreigners across the channel. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister secretly shares my view that true Brits can swim anywhere and that all the talk about European Union or Rio standards is just a fiendish foreign conspiracy to take away our sovereignty, and should be resisted.

6.41 pm
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

I think that the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) directed his remarks more to the Government Front Bench than the Opposition Front Bench. I am sure that he was not speaking seriously. It seemed that the Minister did not take his remarks seriously and, that being so, I shall not take them up. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

It has been a useful and interesting debate. I compliment my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) and for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). They demonstrated their usual grasp of the subject and their concerns in extremely useful speeches.

The Secretary of State made some very ambitious claims. Sadly, they seem not to be matched by specific actions on the Government's part. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was a catalogue of extravagant claims which, unfortunately, had little substance. It was outrageous when he claimed that the Government have a better record overall than any other European Union state. I shall not go through all the criteria—[Interruption.] I note that Conservative Members shake their heads. I shall take only one example—the Government's compliance with the bathing water directive.

I have the figures for 1993, which are the most recent to be published. The Secretary of State said that Britain was at the top of the list and that Greece, Germany, Italy and all the other member states were at the bottom. When it comes to complying with the directive and meeting guidelines, Britain is not at the top of the list, as the Secretary of State extravagantly claimed. In fact, it is the second dirtiest man in Europe. Greece meets 95 per cent. of the criteria and values. Ireland and Denmark respectively meet 86 per cent., Italy comes in with 85 per cent. and Portugal 75 per cent. Next to bottom of the list is Britain, with 36 per cent. The facts hardly meet the Secretary of State's rhetoric.

Problems are building up throughout Britain as a result of toxins. There are problems in Derbyshire, as there are with bathing water at Blackpool. It is a sorry state of affairs, and the Government should be ashamed of their record rather than trumpeting it.

No amount of hot air from the Minister, or from any other Ministers—we get plenty of it—can lead us away from the fact that airborne pollution in Britain, for want of a sensible strategy, has increased at the same rate as the incidence of asthma since 1979. Regional levels have increased by between 100 and 200 per cent. These are inescapable facts that reflect on the Government's record. The Secretary of State tries to disguise those facts, but he is unable to do so.

The Secretary of State claims that the imposition of value added tax on fuel is a green policy that proves the Government's green credentials to the British people and to Europe. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. He has never been able to refute the assertion that the imposition of VAT on fuel will reduce by only 1 per cent. the amount of fuel that is consumed. That is the reality. That is what should be set against the Government's exaggerated claims.

If the Government are serious about protecting the environment and reducing emissions, where is their energy conservation strategy? There is no such strategy. The Government do not have one. Where will the money come from for the Energy Saving Trust? The Minister will not be able to answer my question. The Government's policy is in tatters. I pay credit to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who attempted to introduce energy-saving legislation, but his Bill was wrecked by the Government's tactics.

A sensible energy-saving strategy would go far beyond anything that could be achieved by the imposition of VAT. If it were introduced sensibly—it would be quite cheap —emissions could be reduced by 4 per cent. That would indeed be a green measure. Instead, the Government have been panicked into imposing VAT on fuel because of the economic mess for which they are responsible.

Time does not permit me to tell the House of the difficulties that I have encountered in obtaining information from the Government or their agencies on sites of special scientific interest. Today, however inadequate it is, we have a report published by the National Audit Office on the protection and management of SSSIs. What is the truth about the Government's attempts, and those of their agencies, to protect wildlife and natural habitats in Britain? Since 1987, the instances of reported damage to SSSIs have increased from 94 in 1987 to 218 in 1991–92, the last year for which figures are available. Such instances have more than doubled. That is another failure on the Government's part.

The list continues. There are numerous examples of failure, but time does not permit me to refer to them.

Last week, in local government elections throughout the country, the people demonstrated that the Government's overall performance is woeful and inadequate. They will do so again in next month's Euro-elections. The environment will be one of the key issues against which they will judge the Government. We need positive action, but all we get from the Secretary of State is froth and bubble. It is not good enough.

6.48 pm
The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. Robert Atkins)

I can say only that the speeches of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) and for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith)—my view is shared by my hon. Friends—were ineffective and not appropriate to the debate. In one of the best speeches that I have ever heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State make—I have heard a good few in my time, believe you me, in one way or another—he touched on every important topic that relates to the environment and to Europe generally. He dealt with each one in great detail. We are proud of our record and, as I say, my right hon. Friend spelt it out in some detail.

I shall comment on the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson). My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, in his inimitable fashion, talked with some knowledge about scrap metal and the recycling of metals, which he knows about through his connection with a prominent industrialist in his constituency. The British Secondary Metals Association and the British Scrap Metal Federation have spoken to me at great length about what they believe, with some justification, to be probably the oldest recycling industry in the world.

The point they make about their concerns and the effects of the European directive is one that we take to heart. I was pleased to be able to go on a visit to see what was involved in relation to the various sorts of recycling of waste and scrap metal and I have given them, as my hon. Friend said, a few months to consider the proposals which we have come up with. Incidentally, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the point that he made about sewerage in Canterbury. He spelt out clearly the obvious difference between the Government and the Opposition, in that the money spent by a private water company on improving sewerage facilities in his constituency compares favourably with what happened before.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North, who spoke with great authority on matters relating to the eastern bloc, raised a very interesting point. Only the other day, the Minister for the Environment for the Ukraine came see me to talk about the special problems in his country. Incidentally, keen as he was to hear of our success stories on the water front, he also came to tell me and the Government about the problems of the former Soviet countries of one form or another.

It is interesting that the debate has been brought to the Floor of the House by the Opposition. They performed abysmally from start to finish and they are not interested —it has to be said—in the summary of the debate. Indeed, not many Opposition Members were here, but some have arrived belatedly, presumably to vote for a motion which did not really address the subject at all.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North talked about the beaches. He knows better than anyone how important Blackpool is to the tourist industry, not only of this country, but, arguably, of Europe as one of its biggest tourist resorts. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend talk about our friend Michael Welsh, the MEP for that area, who has done so much to safeguard the beaches of Blackpool and its tourist industry. I know that the electors of Lancashire, Central will do their best to ensure that he is re-elected.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North also made a point about the fairness of enforcement. I am delighted to agree that enforcement of the directives brought to this country is crucial. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and those of us who are involved in negotiating in Europe on those directives, fight so hard to protect our corner, from the British point of view, and to ensure that when a European directive becomes effective in this country it meets our interests and fits well with what we require.

Other hon. Members have raised points with which I would like to deal. Much has been made of the Energy Conservation Bill. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has dealt in considerable detail, and rightly so, with that Bill.

The hon. Member for Knowsley, North suggested that we had no policy in that respect. The Government spend £100 million a year on energy conservation—something like a doubling of the amount previously allocated to that area. Investment in the home energy efficiency scheme, which is directed at the more vulnerable members of society, the low-paid and those who need assistance, has been increased to some £75 million, yet the hon. Gentleman has the nerve to say that we do not have an energy efficiency policy. It is simply not true. The hon. Gentleman would do well to read the speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in some detail and learn precisely what has been and will be done.

One aspect of the Opposition motion that I find wholly unacceptable is the expression that we are somehow "lagging behind". They say that Britain should be at the forefront of environmental progress, rather than lagging constantly behind our European partners. It simply is not true and my right hon. Friend demonstrated cogently and articulately why that is the case. As he pointed out—it is worth reiterating—of the 22.5 per cent. of complaints laid against Britain, in terms of the European Commission, only 2 per cent. result in anything like infraction proceedings. The Labour party allies itself to any campaign to knock the United Kingdom and most of those campaigns are based on inaccuracies and false information.

Of course, we all recognise that we do not all meet the objectives that we set ourselves or which are set for us. However, the point worth reiterating to the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and to Opposition Members is that we are better than Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece. We argue our corner. We fight our corner from a position of support for the European Union, but for what we believe are sensible directives in Britain's best interest.

For example, how would the Labour party's support for the Euro-socialist manifesto, which removes the veto and advocates majority voting on everything, help? My right hon. Friend made particular reference to the carbon tax. How would the Labour party cope with something which it could not prevent from happening when it says that it supports that manifesto?

As everyone knows, there is a balance to be struck.

Mr. Chris Smith

The Minister clearly cannot have heard what I specifically told him earlier in the debate. The Labour party wishes to retain the national veto on matters relating to taxation. That is precisely the point that he is now ignoring.

Mr. Atkins

If the hon. Gentleman is in a minority of one and he believes in majority voting on everything, how will he prevent the carbon tax, to which he said earlier he was opposed, from happening? He cannot. His policy does not make sense, like most of the rest of the stuff that he used this afternoon.

Therefore, there is a balance to be struck.

Mr. Nicholls

My hon. Friend talks about the balance. Does he share my concern at the effect of European judgment 57–89, which means that, once an area has been designated as a protected area, member states are unable to alter that designation for industrial or economic reasons? That means that rampant environmentalism could yet achieve for the expansion of our ports what the dock labour scheme failed to do. Is there not a balance that must be achieved between industry and the economy and the environment, and is it not highly suspicious that, this evening, we have heard not a single word about that threat from Opposition Members?

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend is a lawyer and he doubtless reads such matters with a great deal of interest and expertise. I can only say that, since he has raised the matter in such a way, I shall look at it closely and doubtless I shall have his help in so doing. However, he is right to say that a balance needs to be struck between environmental requirements and the costs of them.

We did not hear much from the Labour party about whether those costs had been examined and whether the commitments that it was making had been approved. Sustainable development must be sustainable if it is to be successful. That means carrying with us all sections of society. On every count, the Labour party shouts loudly and knocks our country's achievements. It offers not policies but panaceas—uncosted, unco-ordinated, uncontrolled and mostly illogical and ill thought out. It does not understand the effects on industry and commerce, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) referred, and it does not understand the effects on ordinary people.

Tagging along behind the Labour party, we have the Liberal Democrats, nodding and winking to every populist issue, never mind what was said the day before. Whatever doorstep they arrive on, they say what they think is appropriate for that doorstep and nothing else. What is more, both the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats have been rumbled by the many environmental organisations that are interested in those matters in the country.

Many of those organisations criticise Government, and rightly so. That is what they exist to do. However, often, they are privately complimentary for what we have achieved and, notably, what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has achieved. But they have little or no time at all for the Opposition, whether Labour or Liberal. If we could harness the wind and hot air that emanates from Opposition Members, the country's energy requirements would be met from now to the end of the century.

By contrast, the Government, under the leadership of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, have faced, are facing and will continue to face up to the difficult, sometimes costly and controversial decisions required to protect our environment for the future. The balancing that we need to do of the needs of the environment, with those of industry and commerce, which have to pay, are paramount in our considerations. That is why we have got it right and the Opposition have got it wrong, and that is why I urge my hon. Friends to support the Government amendment.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 244, Noes 298.

Division No.237] [6.59 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Dixon, Don
Ainger, Nick Dobson, Frank
Allen, Graham Donohoe, Brian H.
Alton, David Dowd, Jim
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Eagle, Ms Angela
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Eastham, Ken
Armstrong, Hilary Enright, Derek
Ashton, Joe Etherington, Bill
Austin-Walker, John Evans, John (St Helens N)
Barnes, Harry Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Barron, Kevin Fatchett, Derek
Battle, John Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bayley, Hugh Fisher, Mark
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Flynn, Paul
Bell, Stuart Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Foster, Don (Bath)
Benton, Joe Foulkes, George
Bermingham, Gerald Fraser, John
Berry, Roger Galloway, George
Betts, Clive Gapes, Mike
Blair, Tony Garrett, John
Blunkett, David George, Bruce
Bradley, Keith Gerrard, Neil
Bray, Dr Jeremy Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Burden, Richard Godsiff, Roger
Byers, Stephen Golding, Mrs Llin
Caborn, Richard Graham, Thomas
Callaghan, Jim Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Grocott, Bruce
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Gunnell, John
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hain, Peter
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Hall, Mike
Canavan, Dennis Hanson, David
Cann, Jamie Hardy, Peter
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Chisholm, Malcolm Henderson, Doug
Clapham, Michael Heppell, John
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hinchliffe, David
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hoey, Kate
Clelland, David Home Robertson, John
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hood, Jimmy
Coffey, Ann Hoon, Geoffrey
Connarty, Michael Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Corbett, Robin Hoyle, Doug
Corbyn, Jeremy Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Corston, Ms Jean Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cousins, Jim Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Hutton, John
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Ingram, Adam
Dalyell, Tam Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Darling, Alistair Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Janner, Greville
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Pike, Peter L.
Jowell, Tessa Pope, Greg
Keen, Alan Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Khabra, Piara S. Prescott, John
Kilfoyle, Peter Primarolo, Dawn
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn) Purchase, Ken
Kirkwood, Archy Quin, Ms Joyce
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Radice, Giles
Lewis, Terry Randall, Stuart
Litherland, Robert Raynsford, Nick
Livingstone, Ken Redmond, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Reid, Dr John
Lynne, Ms Liz Rendel, David
McAllion, John Robertson, George (Hamilton)
McAvoy, Thomas Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
McCartney, Ian Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Macdonald, Calum Rogers, Allan
McFall, John Rooker, Jeff
McKelvey, William Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Mackinlay, Andrew Rowlands, Ted
McLeish, Henry Ruddock, Joan
Maclennan, Robert Sedgemore, Brian
McMaster, Gordon Sheerman, Barry
McNamara, Kevin Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
MacShane, Denis Shore, Rt Hon Peter
McWilliam, John Simpson, Alan
Madden, Max Skinner, Dennis
Maddock, Mrs Diana Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Mahon, Alice Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Mandelson, Peter Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Marek, Dr John Snape, Peter
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Soley, Clive
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Spearing, Nigel
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Spellar, John
Martlew, Eric Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Maxton, John Stevenson, George
Meacher, Michael Strang, Dr. Gavin
Meale, Alan Straw, Jack
Michael, Alun Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Milburn, Alan Turner, Dennis
Miller, Andrew Tyler, Paul
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Vaz, Keith
Moonie, Dr Lewis Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Morgan, Rhodri Wallace, James
Morley, Elliot Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Wareing, Robert N
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Watson, Mike
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Wicks, Malcolm
Mudie, George Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Mullin, Chris Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Murphy, Paul Wilson, Brian
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Winnick, David
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire) Wise, Audrey
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Worthington, Tony
Olner, William Wray, Jimmy
O'Neill, Martin Wright, Dr Tony
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Young, David (Bolton SE)
Parry, Robert
Patchett, Terry Tellers for the Ayes:
Pendry, Tom Mr. John Cummings and
Pickthall, Colin Mr. Eric Illsley.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Aitken, Jonathan Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Alexander, Richard Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Baldry, Tony
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Amess, David Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Arbuthnot, James Bates, Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Batiste, Spencer
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Beggs, Roy
Ashby, David Bellingham, Henry
Aspinwall, Jack Bendall, Vivian
Atkins, Robert Biffen, Rt Hon John
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Blackburn, Dr John G.
Body, Sir Richard Gill, Christopher
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Gillan, Cheryl
Booth, Hartley Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Boswell, Tim Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Gorst, John
Bowden, Andrew Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)
Bowis, John Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Brandreth, Gyles Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Brazier, Julian Grylls, Sir Michael
Bright, Graham Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Hague, William
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Browning, Mrs. Angela Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Hampson, Dr Keith
Budgen, Nicholas Hanley, Jeremy
Burns, Simon Hannam, Sir John
Burt, Alistair Hargreaves, Andrew
Butcher, John Harris, David
Butler, Peter Haselhurst, Alan
Butterfill, John Hawkins, Nick
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hayes, Jerry
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Heald, Oliver
Carrington, Matthew Heathcoat-Amory, David
Carttiss, Michael Hendry, Charles
Cash, William Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hicks, Robert
Churchill, Mr Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
Clappison, James Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Colvin, Michael Horam, John
Congdon, David Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Cormack, Patrick Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Couchman, James Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Cran, James Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Hunter, Andrew
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jack, Michael
Day, Stephen Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Deva, Nirj Joseph Jenkin, Bernard
Devlin, Tim Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dickens, Geoffrey Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dicks, Terry Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dorrell, Stephen Key, Robert
Dover, Den Kilfedder, Sir James
Duncan, Alan King, Rt Hon Tom
Duncan-Smith, Iain Kirkhope, Timothy
Dunn, Bob Knapman, Roger
Durant, Sir Anthony Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Dykes, Hugh Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Eggar, Tim Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Knox, Sir David
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Legg, Barry
Evennett, David Leigh, Edward
Faber, David Lennox-Boyd, Mark
Fabricant, Michael Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lidington, David
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lightbown, David
Fishburn, Dudley Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Forman, Nigel Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Lord, Michael
Forth, Eric Luff, Peter
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) MacKay, Andrew
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Maclean, David
French, Douglas McLoughlin, Patrick
Fry, Sir Peter McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gale, Roger Madel, Sir David
Gallie, Phil Maginnis, Ken
Gardiner, Sir George Malone, Gerald
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan Mans, Keith
Garnier, Edward Marland, Paul
Marlow, Tony Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Soames, Nicholas
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Spencer, Sir Derek
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mates, Michael Spink, Dr Robert
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Spring, Richard
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Sproat, Iain
Mellor, Rt Hon David Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Merchant, Piers Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Stephen, Michael
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Stern, Michael
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Streeter, Gary
Moss, Malcolm Sumberg, David
Nelson, Anthony Sweeney, Walter
Neubert, Sir Michael Sykes, John
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Tapsell, Sir Peter
Nicholls, Patrick Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Norris, Steve Temple-Morris, Peter
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Oppenheim, Phillip Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N
Ottaway, Richard Thurnham, Peter
Page, Richard Townend, John (Bridlington)
Paice, James Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Patnick, Irvine Tracey, Richard
Patten, Rt Hon John Tredinnick, David
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Trend, Michael
Pawsey, James Trimble, David
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Trotter, Neville
Pickles, Eric Twinn, Dr Ian
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Viggers, Peter
Rathbone, Tim Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Redwood, Rt Hon John Walden, George
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Richards, Rod Waller, Gary
Riddick, Graham Ward, John
Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Robathan, Andrew Waterson, Nigel
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Watts, John
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Wells, Bowen
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Whitney, Ray
Ross, William (E Londonderry) Whittingdale, John
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Widdecombe, Ann
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Wilkinson, John
Sackville, Tom Willetts, David
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim Wilshire, David
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Shaw, David (Dover) Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Wolfson, Mark
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wood, Timothy
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Shersby, Michael
Sims, Roger Tellers for the Noes:
Skeet, Sir Trevor Mr. Sydney Chapman and
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Mr. Derek Conway.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments) and agreed to.

MADAM SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House recognises that the environment cannot be properly protected by national endeavour alone; acknowledges the importance of Europe-wide action to prevent pollution and improve environmental standards; applauds the work of the European Union and especially of the European Parliament in helping to safeguard the environment here in Britain; welcomes the lead taken by Her Majesty's Government in ensuring that the European Union plays an effective part in global environmental matters and implements the principle of sustainable development in all its activities; insists that Britain should continue to press for sensible and cost-effective environmental decisions on those matters which are properly the concern of the European Union; welcomes the progressive policies of the United Kingdom in all those other areas where national measures are appropriate; is saddened by the failure of Her Majesty's Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Party to support the necessary fiscal measures to reduce energy consumption; highlights their failure to evolve effective policy towards the environment and their desire to remove the United Kingdom's influence in the European Union by their insistence on majority voting and the abolition of the veto; and regrets the way in which they fail to support the Government's insistence that in internal matters it is for the United Kingdom Parliament to decide upon the most appropriate ways of reaching sustainable development goals.