HC Deb 04 March 1997 vol 291 cc695-7
3. Mr. Llew Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to involve non-governmental environmental organisations in the planning for the British contribution to the Earth summit II in New York in June. [17003]

Mr. Gummer

The NGOs' involvement began with an Oxford seminar in June 1996, and continued with a Government consultation paper which was issued at the end of December. Comments on the paper are now being considered. We are in close touch with non-governmental organisations and have invited them, local government and businesses to join the United Kingdom delegation to the event and to the two preparatory meetings.

Mr. Smith

As the Minister is unlikely to be available in April for the final planning meetings for Earth summit II, what plans does he have to give more responsibility to NGOs and local authority delegations to press the United Kingdom's case? What action will he take to ensure that banks are meeting their Rio commitments? According to this week's Green Alliance report, they are failing dismally.

Mr. Gummer

We are keeping NGOs closely involved, as we have throughout. We are of course including Friends of the Earth—which, on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, appears to have been excluded from his meeting.

Sir Sydney Chapman

Further to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, will he confirm that Friends of the Earth is playing an important part in planning Britain's contribution to the second Earth summit? Does that not stand in stark contrast to the extremely petty action of the Leader of the Opposition, who has banned Mr. Charles Secrett, executive director of Friends of the Earth, from attending his meeting with other environmental chiefs, simply because he had the temerity to write an article criticising the Labour party's environmental record?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have found that Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and other organisations are particularly important in giving us advice. I have excluded no one from the discussions that we have had. I am sorry that the Labour party—which knows so little about the environment and has had so few meetings on it—has, now that it has called such a meeting, decided to exclude one of the most important organisations. Friends of the Earth has shown great independence of mind in criticising the Labour party.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

One of the issues that concerns the NGOs in relation to Earth summit II is the continuing problem of relations between the United Nations' environmental work and the World Trade Organisation, which remained entirely unresolved at the Singapore meeting. Is there any progress on that?

Mr. Gummer

I am not sure that it is fair to say that the problems are entirely unresolved. It is clear that the international environmental commitments that we have entered into cannot be overthrown by decisions of the WTO. We are seeking to ensure that proper protection of the environment continues and that any argument between the two can be resolved. Britain will continue to play a creative part in that.

Mr. Meacher

As reducing carbon dioxide emissions will be such a crucial issue at Earth summit II, why did the Secretary of State cave in last night at the European Environment Council by tamely accepting a much lower level of cut than is needed? How can he pretend to green leadership in Europe when he offers only a 10 per cent. cut by 2010, whereas Germany and Austria have offered a 25 per cent. cut and the Labour party is committed to a 20 per cent. cut? Is not his problem that the Conservatives' hostility to public transport, which is environmentally friendly, and his recent cut in the funding of energy efficiency, far from helping to find a solution to global warming, have made it a lot worse?

Mr. Gummer

Every comment that the hon. Gentleman has made is wholly wrong. Britain has taken the lead and has brought other nations on board. We were the first country to go for a commitment. We are the only country in Europe to be able to cut our emissions to below 1990 levels before 2000. The Labour party is committed to spending more money on coal-fired power stations, which would increase emissions. The Labour party has the worst environmental record of any socialist party in Europe and is a laughing stock among all its neighbours. All the other Ministers at the Council of Ministers, including those from Germany and Austria, complimented the United Kingdom on our leadership and wondered how we managed to play such a role with a Labour Opposition so uncommitted to the environment.