HC Deb 19 March 1997 vol 292 cc795-817

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

Madam Speaker

Mr. Cynog Dafis.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not wish to delay proceedings this morning, but I should be grateful if you would give me guidance. The day before yesterday, I sent you a written application to launch a brief emergency debate under Standing Order No. 20 about the drastic situation concerning the future of Edgware general hospital. I am not commenting or complaining about the fact that I have not received a reply—I am sure that you are very overloaded with work, Madam Speaker—but I wonder whether I may press that point further by way of a point of order, and raise the matter briefly, either now or at 3.30 this afternoon, at your discretion.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman may not raise the matter now. I am sure that he has been in the House long enough to know that the Speaker does not respond to applications under Standing Order No. 20 or applications for private notice questions unless the response is positive.

9.35 am
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

I thank you, Madam Speaker, for allocating time for this important debate. It has been sought by an informal group of Members working together on a cross-party basis, as a way of highlighting Earth summit II and the issues with which it is concerned.

It is fair to give notice of the fact that, if the members of the informal group are re-elected, which we fully intend to be, we shall continue to be active on the subject after the election—reinforced, I hope, by the increasing number of people, including other Members of Parliament, who see sustainable development as the central issue of our time.

Nothing could be more important than the cluster of issues brought together under the term "sustainable development"—the maintenance of a healthy environment, which is the basis of all our prosperity and success, as well as of all our cultural and spiritual fulfilment, and the issue of social and global equity regarding the satisfaction of human needs.

Those two themes convey what sustainable development amounts to, and what Earth summit II—the United Nations General Assembly special session in June, which is part of the Rio session—is about. Earth summit II offers us a chance to put new and much-needed urgency and impetus into the process.

We have been glad to receive assurances both from the Prime Minister and from the man whom I must describe as the likely next Prime Minister to the effect that whichever of them is elected to that office will attend Earth summit II. In his letter to me, the Leader of the Opposition said: I certainly agree with you about the enormous significance of the event", and the Prime Minister speaks in similar terms.

"Enormous significance"—that is strong language, and there is every justification for using it. We should make no mistake about the fact that sustainable development is a radically different way of organising the economy and society. I do not think that enough people have managed even to begin to comprehend that. Mainstream economists, politicians and the public at large have barely begun to understand the concepts underlying sustainable development, much less the means by which they can be given substance.

Mr. Dykes

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it has been noteworthy throughout the argument, all over the world and within the United Nations, that the European Union has played a leading and united role in promoting those good causes? Is not strength through unity another example of the way in which the United Kingdom can play an efficient role within a united European Union?

Mr. Dafis

That is a useful intervention, and I emphasise the fact that the European Union has a potentially key role to play. It has prepared an enlightened and advanced position paper that stresses the importance of moving now to implementation—actual action—on sustainable development. The Rio process emphasises global and regional activity—that means European activity—as well as national and local activity. All those levels of activity have a role to play. There is an enormous task in providing basic education which has still to be done.

I can do no better than quote Klaus Topfer, the former chairman of the Commission on Sustainable Development and German Environment Minister, who is one of the great leaders in the global movement for sustainable development. He says: We need a radical ecological structural change in the economy and society and the extension of economic and social systems to include the ecological dimension. We must alter our technologies and we must alter our behaviour. Our guideline in doing this is sustainable development. In a nutshell, this means: preserving our natural capital, preserving the branch we are sitting on. We can no longer afford to go on living beyond our natural means. Taking that seriously, and treating the resources of the natural environment as capital, has far-reaching implications.

What progress has been made since Rio, where the countries of the world signed up to Agenda 21 and to sustainable development? Things have not gone well, and the world is now less sustainable—if anything—than it was in 1992. Poverty is on the increase, except in south-east Asia and the countries of the Pacific rim. Per capita income among 1.5 billion of the world's people has declined during the 1990s. The disparity between the wealthiest and the poorest is becoming greater. Indicators of social development show a decline in many countries. Life expectancy is down in 32 countries, and the improvement in Latin America is negligible, as life expectancy there is far too low.

I wish to refer to the natural environment. Taking soil as an example, according to the Secretary-General of the UN, 10 per cent. of the earth's dedicated surface is at least moderately degraded. Water is emerging as a crucial environmental and resource issue for the next century, and it is projected that, by the year 2025, two thirds of the world's people will be living in countries suffering from water shortages.

Forest cover is being lost, and we are using non-renewable energy resources, at an alarming rate—that has serious environmental and social effects. There is a massive impact in extraction, transportation, processing and combustion. The use of fossil fuels has a massive effect. Energy consumption—mainly of fossil fuels—is up by 40 per cent. since 1973. The pressure from developing countries to increase energy use is intense: one has only to think of China and the huge implications of that country beginning to use its coal resources. Things are not going well in that sense.

What about the political process? The creation and implementation of policies to turn this matter around is important, and that is what the Rio process was supposed to achieve. Agenda 21 and the convention signed at Rio were supposed to contribute to this work. It would not be true to say that nothing has been achieved—one might say that the show is still on the road, and that is no mean diplomatic achievement.

In climate change, it is true that the show is still on the road, but progress has been painfully slow. In its response to the United Kingdom Government's position paper for Earth summit II, the World Wide Fund for Nature agrees that progress has been very poor, and gives examples. There has been no progress in implementing or funding the desertification convention. Neither in the convention on climate change nor in the biodiversity convention have we managed to agree a programme of actions or mobilise sufficient financial resources to implement their aims inside developing countries. The United States has not even ratified the biodiversity convention, to its eternal shame.

As far as the financial mechanisms are concerned—the global environmental facility is the key one—there is no clear strategic direction, and the GEF has a derisory budget, amounting to less than 0.004 per cent. of OECD GDP per annum. If one compares that with military expenditure worldwide—expenditure intended to ensure global security—one sees that it is absurd and grotesque. The best means of ensuring global security is to ensure sustainable development, and we need to put resources into it.

What is to be done at this time? First, we need to apply the political will with the greatest urgency to achieve sustainable development. I very much welcome the announcement by the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), that he intends to make the environment central to a Labour Government's foreign policy. That is very good. I hope it will be central to a Labour Government's economic and social policy as well, but there is precious little indication of that.

However, to be positive, the statement by the shadow Foreign Secretary is seriously encouraging, and the task force he has put together has an impressive membership. If that kind of spirit informs the UK contribution to Earth summit II as part of a strong and serious EU commitment, that is good news.

What should we look for this year? The EU has produced an excellent position paper, although I hope that the EU means what it says—that does not necessarily follow. The paper states that Agenda 21 needs to complete the transition to the operational phase. That is an admission in itself, as it suggests that we need to start doing something, rather than talking about the theory.

What do we need to do? First, we need action in relation to key sectoral issues. Climate change is to be discussed at Kyoto at the end of the year, and a reasonable—or at least adequate—target is a 20 per cent. reduction from 1990 levels in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 2005. Some say that that is unrealistic, but I would ask whether it is realistic to allow the climate to change as it currently is, bearing in mind the effect that that will have.

On forests, we need effective action linked to climate change and biodiversity. On fresh water—a very important issue—the EU calls for a recognition of the interaction between fresh water and soil erosion, demography and security of food supplies. These are terribly important issues, but there are others, including toxic chemicals, oceans and energy. But these specific sectoral issues will not be addressed unless certain key cross-sectoral themes are seriously tackled. The most important of these has to be finance for sustainable development in third-world countries, where the situation is appalling.

We have seen a decline in overseas aid from the developed world in GDP terms. There is profound disenchantment about the process in third-world countries, because the developed world has not begun to deliver. Private investment flows are increasing, but they are not geared to the poor countries or to sustainable development.

The commitment to 0.7 per cent. of GDP for overseas development aid targeted on sustainable development must be fulfilled by 2005—a reasonable target. We must move towards more debt cancellation, and there has to be a firm commitment to the replenishment of the GEF. I hope that we get that commitment this morning. But we also need new financial mechanisms, and an aviation tax on international flights—with the proceeds earmarked for sustainable development—is perhaps the most immediately feasible. The call for an intergovernmental panel on finance is a perfectly reasonable one, which I back.

The United Kingdom Government should go to New York with an unshakeable commitment at least to financial matters, because, if we do not get that right, we can say goodbye to sustainable development, and the consequences will be disastrous. It is a key foreign policy issue.

The link between sustainable development and trade must be taken seriously. By all accounts, the World Trade Organisation—the key organisation in this—is not doing so. Earth summit II should tell it that it has to take it seriously.

Sustainable consumption and production is another underlying cross-sectoral issue. I do not know whether all the other members of the group I have been working with would agree, but I believe that modern consumerism—the very engine that drives our economic system—is ultimately incompatible with sustainability. It is as if it were designed to impose stress on the natural environment that makes it possible.

Weaning ourselves off consumerism is a daunting task, but we have to begin the process. Two mechanisms are essential, and the first is new indicators of economic success. Progress there has been slow, and we need those quickly. We need a radical revision of our accounting system, and we need not only to develop the indicators but to use them to describe the extent of our economic and social success.

Secondly, the internalisation of environmental and social costs simply has to be faced. A glaring example where that is not being done, even remotely, is in transport. That requires a change in the basis of the taxation system, which we are beginning to talk about. A commitment about that should come out of the Earth summit. Of course, the constant need to include social equity must be borne in mind in doing so. One cannot internalise environmental costs unless one is concerned about social equity at the same time. Sustainability is about social equity and social inclusion as much as it is about the environment.

Much has been said about the international institutional structure to drive forward Agenda 21 and the whole agenda. Briefly, we need to renew and strengthen the United Nations Environmental Programme, which is important and has a key role to play. I hope to hear a commitment this morning to ending the suspension of UK funding to UNEP.

Secondly, the CSD has clearly shown itself to be a useful body. Mr. Topfer, the former chairman, said that we need it to become a sort of environmental security council. There is general agreement that it needs a more focused agenda, and the UN Secretary-General has set out a timetable for it leading up to 2002. I agree with WWF's suggestion about the need for a stronger and better resourced mandate for the CSD.

I look forward to hearing the response of the spokesmen on the two main Front Benches, as well as that of the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats. We do not want to hear complacent self-congratulation from the Government, and I hope that we will not, although I am perfectly prepared to acknowledge the Secretary of State's important achievements in this regard. From Labour, we do not want a lot of electioneering and slagging the Government off. We want to hear clear signals that we regard Earth summit II as an historic opportunity to start a course of radical action globally, regionally and nationally at last to begin the transition to sustainability.

9.53 am
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I welcome this debate. It is good to see at least some hon. Members here, wishing to take part. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) on his contribution, this morning and throughout this Parliament, on environmental issues. It is essential that some hon. Members are prepared continually to take up such issues, and I pay tribute to him for doing so. The way in which he opened his speech is important. He drew together all the strands of environmental destruction that are taking place, and underlined the importance of the Earth summit that is to take place later this year.

Frankly, the current rate of exploitation of the world's natural resources is totally unsustainable. The current process of economic planning and growth is leading to increased unsustainability, rather than greater protection for the world's natural resources. We have to change course—not just in this country, but worldwide—or we will be looking at total destruction within the next century.

Unfortunately, I do not suppose that environmental issues will be the main feature of the coming general election campaign. I wish that they would be, but unfortunately I doubt it. In some parts of the world, environmental issues are a major concern, and they ought to be here. They are a major concern where children are growing up in urban areas and suffering—as in London— from chronic asthma because of the use of fossil fuel-driven vehicles when electric vehicles would be better, or because of toxic waste dumping. They are a major concern for children growing up in west Africa, where toxic waste dumping on the beaches is routine as a way of evading European and north American regulations; or children growing up in shanty towns throughout Latin America and south Asia.

We have to deal with environmental issues and with the way in which people live, and, above all, the way in which we plan the future of the world. Although the Rio summit had many shortcomings, it at least recognised that there are limits to the growth that one can undertake and to the way in which we can exploit the world's natural resources. In that sense, it was a bringing together of all nations. Agenda 21, which came out of the summit, was extremely important.

The downside of the summit, however, was the side agenda that was not on the table at Rio. Closing down the UN office on multinational corporations, and the way in which western nations have cajoled third-world nations into supporting the general agreement on tariffs and trade, are leading to increased food dependency, world trade, pollution and environmental destruction for the poorest people in the poorest countries.

That shows the power of the mega-corporations of Europe and north America to squeeze the poorest people in the poorest countries. Increasingly, those issues will dominate political debate in the next 30 or 40 years, as the lack of natural resources for economic development in the northern countries becomes more apparent, and the dash for everyone else's oil, uranium, copper, gold, tin or whatever in the poorest countries comes to dominate politics.

There are signs of hope, however. This Parliament has at least signed the Antarctic treaty, which recognises that one cannot continue to exploit every section of the globe for ever. We have achieved the end of mineral exploration in Antarctica, and when all countries have finally got round to ratifying the treaty, we will achieve an environmental secretariat, which I hope will guarantee the permanent protection of that important area for scientific research and peaceful exploration rather than the exploitation of its natural resources.

I mention Antarctica because it acts as a laboratory for the whole planet. By taking ice-core samples there, we can see what we are doing to the world's air quality, what pollution is taking place, the amount of lead being pumped into the atmosphere and the amount of nuclear waste being pumped into the atmosphere as a result of testing. We can see the effects of global warming, as glacier movements speed up and the rise in sea levels begins to become very apparent. Those issues are crucial to our long-term survival.

In Islington, I am the chair of our local Agenda 21 forum. Such forums have been set up throughout the country in response to the Rio summit, and they are very exciting affairs. Large numbers of people come to take part in serious discussions of how they can try to create a more sustainable environment in a heavily built-up urban area. My constituency is the most urban part of the United Kingdom, yet we have a determined group of people trying to ensure that we have a better environment for everyone in the community to live in, but above all, that we try to play our part in sustainable economic planning. However, that cannot be done on a solely local basis, and we cannot plan the traffic policies of the country as a whole or stop the Government building roads that force more and more cars into London. That has to be done by national economic planning.

A future Labour Government must support Agenda 21 initiatives, and, above all, bring people together regionally, nationally and internationally to ensure that there is coherent policy making. It is no good our arguing for better public transport within our community if, at the same time, the car and fossil fuel lobby is so successful that more roads get built and there is more pollution and damage to the environment.

We must consider the serious consequences of the process of rapid economic growth and exploitation of natural resources. Every time that a crisis appears, something is done. The damage done to the ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbon emissions became apparent, and something was done, but an awful lot of CFCs were then offloaded on to third-world countries, and are still in use today.

The refrigeration industry in many parts of the world is still dependent on outdated ozone-damaging technology, partly because of the way in which western countries protected their technological advances during the GATT negotiations to maintain their pre-eminence, showing little concern for environmental damage in other parts of the world.

Deforestation emphasises the way in which we wantonly and ridiculously use and waste vast quantities of paper without even troubling to recycle it. Much paper ends up in landfill, and much is used to print totally useless advertising material in bulky newspapers. It is all very well to talk about recycling, but we should also talk about not using the paper in the first place. Levels of forest destruction are horrendous, and we will all pay the price.

Many people do their best to save and increase forests, but, if we tell a third-world country with serious poverty and unemployment that is finding it difficult to feed its population that the only way forward is to build an export-led industry and destroy its natural resources to pay a totally unpayable debt to the west, we must accept that our trade and economic system is responsible for those mahogany trees being chopped down and that virgin forest being destroyed, never to be replaced.

We must also consider the way in which food and food production systems are developing. Many African and south Asian countries had a large degree of food self-sufficiency until 20 or 25 years ago, but GATT insists on a world free market in food, which means that the most powerful grain producers—basically, North America and to some extent Europe—can dominate, which leads to good agricultural land in the poorest countries being taken out of use, making those countries more dependent on what goes on in the west.

The British Government must play a role in GATT that encourages sustainable economic development. That does not mean an increase in ships passing each other carrying refrigerators one way and refrigerators the other, cars one way and cars the other; it means seriously considering the environmental costs of transporting consumer goods around the world that could be produced much nearer to home, and examining the question of food production, food dependency and the type of food that is being produced.

The thrust by the culture of the United States, in particular, for everyone to eat beefburgers is a major factor in the destruction of a large amount of forest land. Using agricultural land as pasture for beef cattle is of itself extremely wasteful of resources. We must seriously examine life styles as well as all the other factors.

I have asked many parliamentary questions of the Department of the Environment over the past year or so about climate change and global warming. If one looks at temperature levels historically, it is obvious that the problem is serious and that there is an accelerator factor: it is a question not of a 0.1 per cent. or a 0.05 per cent. increase over a given period, but of an exponential increase. Ice is melting in both the Arctic and the Antarctic, and sea levels are beginning to rise.

The implications of global warming are massive: not only rising sea levels and huge climatic changes but the creation of desert areas and the serious loss of food production capability in many areas. The situation is urgent: some Governments are committed to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 2010, but they need to revise their estimates and bring forward the reductions, as well as considering seriously the implications of economic development elsewhere in the world.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North spoke of the problems of the growth of the consumer market in China. If a quarter of the world's population suddenly wants to have motor cars in the same proportion as even the poorest European country, there will be another 300 million cars on the road in a short time, and all the pollution that goes with that.

We should recognise that the people campaigning for a safer environment, be they opposing unnecessary road building in this country or forest destruction in other parts of the world, are all basically arguing for exactly the same thing.

Last year, I had the privilege of meeting some visitors from Ecuador, who explained the problems they are having with the destruction of the forest and mangrove swamps, the way in which North American and European oil and gas companies wantonly destroy the environment in their mad dash to find more oil and gas to sell cheaply elsewhere, and the way in which the Government of Ecuador is constantly told by outside economic advisers that such exploitation is an economic necessity.

A briefing document on Ecuador says: On a recent visit to Ecuador a US AID adviser on environment said that 'Ecology is a luxury for Latin America'". In other words, Latin America should destroy everything it has as quickly as possible, and hang the consequences.

However, many people in the poorest areas of the Amazonian region of Ecuador are determined that that should not happen. They want a sustainable life style to continue, and they do not want forests to be destroyed and rivers polluted. They want a sustainable economic system in their country, as many of us do in many other parts of the world, but they cannot achieve that alone, because of the power of market forces from around the world and because of the way in which Ecuador is told that the way out of its economic problems is to export more goods, destroy its natural environment and exploit its natural resources as rapidly as possible.

I look forward to significant changes in Government policy in this country when my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) becomes the responsible Minister, and above all to the ability of ordinary people to say that they want a sustainable world, not one that it is busy destroying itself. It is possible to achieve sustainability, but not if we predicate everything we do on the myth that rapid economic growth and consumerism can solve all the problems. There need to be fundamental changes in attitudes. At least this debate gives us an opportunity to say something about that.

I only wish that the general election campaign was going to be dominated by crucial environmental issues. If this one is not, future elections will be. It is wrong that our children suffer from asthma throughout urban Britain because of air pollution, that the rivers of Latin America are being destroyed by industrial waste, and that mammals that have existed for far longer than human beings are being destroyed because we cannot be bothered to live with the environment, but instead try to exploit it.

10.9 am

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

We have been faced with serious challenges since the Rio summit, with continuing global environmental destruction. I do not want explore the full range of issues, which have already been covered by previous speakers. I want to keep my remarks short to allow others to comment.

Perhaps the greatest and most intractable problem has been the financial resourcing of our commitments to achieving environmental and social sustainability. Finance is likely to be at the centre of debates at the UN General Assembly special session in June, the so-called Earth summit II, and will be fundamental to its success.

The need of developing countries for external funds is as great as it was in 1992. Since then, forests have continued to be cleared, wetlands have been further destroyed, and the earth's biodiversity has been substantially further eroded. In too many cases, this is not through wilful neglect but because many developing countries lack the resources to pursue more sustainable forms of development.

I visited Brazil two years ago to see construction on the Amazon. One key problem was the poverty of farmers who cleared land in a desperate attempt to grow the food they needed, which led to the early destruction of that land, for which their agricultural techniques were inappropriate. They have neither the information nor the training to make better use of their resources.

Another key problem was the inability of the Brazilian Government to fulfil their commitments, not least because they cannot afford the immensely difficult task of policing their policies effectively. Similarly, when the Environment Select Committee visited Thailand and Malaysia, it found the same problems: there were difficulties with tackling illegal logging, let alone getting policies right in the first place. Continued economic pressures hit Governments' ability to tackle the problem.

The developed countries have not fulfilled their commitments at Rio to provide new, additional resources. Official development assistance fell from a peak of £62 billion in 1992 to around £53 billion in 1995. The £3 billion pledged to the global environmental facility since 1992 has not come close to making up the shortfall, let alone meeting the increased need identified at Rio. If developing countries are to remain committed to the ambitious agenda agreed at Rio, and it is imperative for all our futures that they do, we must demonstrate at Earth summit II that we are prepared to live up to our financial commitments and ensure that adequate financial resources are available.

The developed world has only 20 per cent. of the world's population, but consumes 80 per cent. of the world's resources. That level of consumption is already leading to the destruction of the global environment. If the developing world follows our path of wasteful consumption, the destruction will accelerate fivefold. As we have been the beneficiaries of the destruction up to now, no one should argue that we should not bear a fair share of the cost of putting it right. That means a majority share, including helping the developing world to avoid the path that we have so destructively followed.

An incoming Government, of whatever colour, will face two immediate challenges, both of which are opportunities to make their mark on the environmental political scene. On 2 May 1997, negotiations will begin on replenishment of the global environmental facility. We must argue vociferously for an increase in funding from developed nations. That would send a clear signal of co-operation to developing nations before the Earth summit, and will make it far more likely that we can achieve the necessary progress.

The second challenge is a UK one: to make a commitment to meeting the aid target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product within 10 years. Only the Liberal Democrats of the major parties are costing that into their pledges for the general election. Before the manifestos are launched, I urge that the other parties do so as well. The Government's commitment stands at only 0.28 per cent. of GNP, which has fallen from the 1980–84 average of 0.37 per cent. The cuts must be reversed, or we will share the vastly larger costs of environmental destruction and climate change.

The cuts are a practical obstacle to solving the developing world's environmental problems, but, even more important, they are a major psychological block to winning co-operation from the developing world in setting the necessary targets and strategies at the Earth summit. At the same time, the quality of aid must be improved. Although progress has been made, all too often aid continues to focus on large-scale, technology-intensive projects, rather than small-scale, sensitively planned projects that yield environmental and social benefits to the communities involved and further the aims of the Rio agreements and subsequent conferences.

Although international private investment has grown dramatically since 1992, the bulk of it goes to a handful of fast developing countries, hardly any of which are among the least developed. Almost three quarters of foreign investment in the developing world goes to only nine countries.

In any case, we should have no illusions that private finance is a panacea. Private funds are driven by market imperatives, and will not automatically deliver public goods such as environmental sustainability or the elimination of poverty. Because they are driven by an economic priority set largely in the developed world for goods that we continue to waste and with which we destroy the environment, they are even more destructive in countries where they bear little relation to the needs of communities. There will remain a substantial need for public funds, and for private finance to be regulated to ensure that it is consistent with those aims.

I recognise that public spending in the developed countries is under domestic and international pressure. Conventional development assistance budgets will never be able to provide sufficient funds to meet demand. That is why debates have started at the Commission on Sustainable Development about new ways of generating funds, such as new international taxation. Liberal Democrats want more debate in Britain about how to progress along the route of environmental taxation.

A charge on aviation fuel on international flights is one currently mooted proposal, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis). We should push that up the agenda in our international negotiations. However, it needs international agreement and co-operation to achieve action. We cannot go it alone, but that is all the more reason for the UK to take a leading role in arguing for it.

The time is ripe to make swift progress on the issue, because the EU is to consider at the end of 1997 the expiry of the exemption of aviation fuel from excise duty. The money raised could be channelled back into the global environment facility to promote the aims of Agenda 21 and other Rio commitments in the developing countries. Much global environmental damage could be avoided and substantial funds raised for environmental protection, and not only in developed countries. That could be done with funds that currently subsidise operations that actively damage the environment.

The Worldwatch Institute has estimated that Governments worldwide subsidise environmentally damaging activities, such as over-fishing, and excessive road transport and coal production, to the tune of more than $500 billion a year. It is vital that we start working out how to eliminate those subsidies and put them to better long-term sustainable use.

Non-governmental organisations working in the field suggest that a new forum may be need to facilitate debate and political consensus on new ways of financing sustainable development. An intergovernmental panel on finance, situated in the Commission on Sustainable Development, is their preferred option. We should consider that seriously, and I hope that the Minister will say that the British Government will it give their encouragement and consideration. The CSD could also have more formal links with key international financial bodies such as G7 and the World bank. That would help to put sustainability at the heart of the world's most powerful financial and economic centres.

All funds in all countries need to be not only used in the way intended but seen to be used as such. That will happen only when we have proper accountability of funds and full transparency. Far greater efforts are needed to eliminate corruption and make sure that social and environmental priorities remain paramount. That is a matter in which the British Government, while they may have their faults at home, have considerable expertise, which, as well as practical help, they can offer to countries around the world.

Much was achieved at Rio five years ago, but an awful lot still needs to be done. Over-consumption in the north and population growth in the south are combining to put huge pressure on the dwindling stock of natural resources and on the earth's ability to absorb pollution. The developed world contributes disproportionately to those problems, so we must disproportionately take on the burden of overcoming them. We must help developing countries to develop in a more sustainable way than we have done, at the same time as we put our own house in order.

We should never think that developing countries are not concerned about the environment. Polls show that people in countries such as Brazil and Poland are as concerned about the environment as people here. But people in such countries have far fewer resources and far less room in their economy to tackle the problems. That means, at the very least, that Britain must meet our internationally agreed targets for financial support.

The optimism and consensus of Rio show that the world knows what needs to be done. We must not let it break down in bickering about who does what. Britain must show that we are willing to play our full part, and that, having identified the problems, we will take our role in finding the solutions.

10.21 am
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

I begin with two sets of congratulations. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) on obtaining the debate. The issues he raises go far beyond party divisions or the commitments made in any of the party manifestos. They are the biggest challenge to our society and civilisation, and political parties have yet to face up to them.

On a smaller scale, I ought to pay tribute to the Government. At least they have met one of the obligations on funding for biodiversity. It is new and additional funding. However, we must put it in context and view it on its proper scale. It is like to trying to find enthusiasm about the receipt of a new pair of laces when someone has stolen one's shoes. It is the theft of shoes that I want to talk about.

The world that confronts us now is poorer than it was in 1992. There are more poor people in the world. The gap between rich and poor is wider. The rate of depletion of our fish resources and forests is accelerating faster. It is running away from us. All the small contributions that are being made are dwarfed by movements in the opposite direction. They are cynically dwarfed by the amounts of money that go into the arms trade, but no less cynically by our active part in the accelerating investment in exploitation.

There is no point in our saying in the House that we want a few more million or perhaps even a billion pounds to go into development aid, when we refuse to close the door on unsustainable trade. That is the heart of the contradiction that the industrial world has to face. It is enshrined in the absurdities of the general agreement on tariffs and trade. The recent treaty presented a new deity to the economic world. It suggested that the pursuit of unregulated free trade would be to the general benefit of humanity, whereas in fact it is the greatest threat to humanity.

Three main proposals have come out of discussions at European level to promote serious alternatives to a deregulated view of the world, which can only accelerate the depletion of our natural resources and pose real threats to the sustainability of not only our life but all life forms on the planet.

The first proposal is that we have failed to do anything to check accelerating consumption in the industrial world. The nature of that acceleration does not make sense. Almost 60 per cent. of the foodstuffs imported into the United Kingdom are products that we could produce ourselves. There is no costing of externalities in global trade. We import green beans 6,000 miles from Kenya. We import apples from South Africa.

We are a net importer of parsnips, which travel 11,500 miles from Australia. I have to confess that, when I was a child, there were times when we kids used to pray that my dad would not bring in any more bloody parsnips from the garden. There are only so many parsnips that one can know and love at any one time. For Britain to be a net importer of goods that we can produce ourselves seems the height of folly, and it is all for the sake of getting goods into the supermarkets a week or a month earlier, irrespective of the social and environmental cost.

I marvel at the fact that we subsidise the over-use of pesticides, fertilisers and growth hormones in agriculture, all of which make their way into the food chain and the water chain, make the land water-hungry, and add to the momentum of increasing water shortages. By 2025, two thirds of the world's population will face water shortages. We also subsidise non-production. Set-aside is Britain's second biggest agricultural industry. The one thing that we will not subsidise is traditional and organic farming— the sustainable methods of farming which have made societies stewards, not owners, of the planet, from one generation to another. We need to consider how to reverse that position.

Sustainability has to involve not simply aviation fuel taxation but measures to reduce food miles. A recent article explained that the average pot of yoghurt on a supermarket shelf would have travelled 1,000 km before it reached the hand of the purchaser. It seems crazy that so much unnecessary transportation is built into the way in which we over-consume. It would be extremely helpful if we tackled that problem.

We must re-localise production. That would also allow us to consider how we can deliver food guarantees. When staff in a supermarket are asked what has gone into the produce on the shelves, with the best will in the world they do not know. The more we break the link between urban communities and the rural, farming hinterlands, the more food accountability is impossible in our pattern of consumption. The same applies to goods.

Instead of continuing to go along with the assumptions behind GATT, we need to argue the case for reversing them. In parts of America, states are beginning to say, "Site here to sell here. If you want access to our markets, you must be part of the terms of production which generate jobs. You must have accountable forms of production which we find acceptable." We cannot leave it to the public to achieve this by running their own consumer boycotts. As nation states, and as coalitions of nation states, we should be imposing ethical constraints on the nature of our assumptions about production, distribution and exchange.

That would allow us to return to the concept of local labour agreements. We used to be able to build those, not only into our domestic economic policies, but into our international aid packages, which included good labour agreements. All that is being stripped away in a regime that is dominated by global giants, whose interest in other people's economies is simply the interest of the locust.

There has to be an international dimension to this issue, and I want to try to set out a potential framework. We must challenge another part of GATT—the issue of patents and licences, which is almost GATT's sole protectionist element. Global corporations are now even seeking to patent trees in India because of their potential medicinal and curative properties.

We must reverse that attitude; we need a new gift relationship. I grew up believing that the best example of a gift relationship in this country was the blood transfusion service: we gave blood not on the banking assumption that we would get our own investment back, but so that there would be enough in the common pot to see us right in the event of an unforeseen accident.

For the next century, we have to have a new gift relationship—a technology gifting relationship, which donates sustainable technologies to the developing countries, so that they are not forced down the path of production processes that deplete resources for themselves and everyone else. If we can address that, we will begin to make life sustainable, not only in other parts of the planet, but in our own countries, for our own people and as stewards of our own environment.

10.31 am
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) on having obtained this debate, and on the eloquent and reflective way in which he introduced it. It has been a valuable and wide-ranging debate—indeed, it has been one of the most interesting that I have heard for some time.

The environment will be a central issue for the incoming Government. That is why Labour has set up the green globe task force, which the hon. Gentleman applauded. It is a key issue, not only for the United Nations General Assembly special session in New York in June—the current Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), has made it clear that, if elected, he will attend it as Prime Minister—but for the Kyoto meeting on climate change in December and for the British presidency of the European Union in the first half of 1998.

The original Rio summit in 1992 was a mixed affair. It achieved two important legally binding conventions on climate change and biodiversity that were signed by more than 150 countries. It established a set of principles for the sustainable management of forests worldwide and it launched Agenda 21.

However, its weaknesses are equally obvious: no targets were set, so there is no measure of progress or backsliding. No one would disagree with the assertion that the action taken since Rio has not been nearly enough. Nevertheless, the key frameworks are in place: just as action on chlorofluorocarbons tightened progressively after the original signing of the Montreal convention in 1987, so it must tighten now on climate change and biodiversity.

Opinions divide sharply on what now needs to be done. For the wealthy nations in the north, sustainable development means conservation, energy efficiency, recycling and reversing global warming and ozone depletion; but for the poor countries in the south, it means equity, redistribution of wealth, transfer of technology and a fairer trading system. The fact is that both north and south need each other: the north needs the co-operation of the south to cut greenhouse gas emissions caused by mass industrialisation, but the south will not co-operate without a far more extensive programme of redistribution.

The north is right to be concerned about worsening degradation that seriously threatens the viability of the planet, even though the north is itself often the main perpetrator. Global warming, which will generate hurricanes, droughts, floods and severe crop losses across the world, is primarily driven by rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, which are set to double within the next century compared to pre-industrial times. Therefore, halting and ultimately reversing those excessive CO2, concentrations is a critical goal for global ecology.

On the key issue of climate change, Labour has set a target of a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon monoxide in the UK by 2010—[HON. MEMBERS: "Carbon dioxide."] Sorry, I meant to say carbon dioxide.

Mr. Corbyn

That is the heavyweight.

Mr. Meacher


It is disappointing that the Secretary of State gave way at the European Union Environment Council a fortnight ago, and offered only a 10 per cent. cut by 2010. On his own boast, Britain has already achieved up to an 8 per cent. cut, largely because the Government have decimated the coal industry and engineered a long recession, so what he is proposing over the next decade is, in effect, a cut of a mere 2 per cent. or so, which is pretty feeble when Germany and Austria have offered cuts of 25 per cent. by 2010. We all know that the Secretary of State will bow out at the election, but his much-vaunted green leadership has fizzled out with a whimper.

We shall achieve our more ambitious target of a cut of one fifth by 2010.

Mr. Matthew Taylor


Mr. Meacher

I am coming on to that.

We shall achieve it through policies that we already have in place. We are committed to an integrated public transport strategy, which is more environmentally friendly, in conjunction with pursuing a public-private partnership to develop a greener car, and a task force to advise on how best to achieve ultra-low emissions.

We are committed to promoting a big increase in renewable energy, with the objective of one fifth of our electricity being generated in that way by 2025. That will be achieved not least through an increase in the use of wind power: Britain has 40 per cent. of Europe's potential wind power—I must say, it sometimes feels like it—but we currently use less than 1 per cent. We are also committed to stepping up a national programme of energy efficiency measures.

I should make it clear that we do not support a carbon tax, because that would impact heavily on poor households, just as the VAT increase on fuel has done. It is important to note, although it is not often said, that such a tax would also bring comparatively little environmental benefit, because of the low elasticity of domestic demand. We believe that the same ends, on which we all agree, can be achieved through a more focused policy, via a changed regulatory regime for energy companies, improvements in building regulations, minimum efficiency standards for appliances, and measures to facilitate energy efficiency programmes by local authorities.

Trade and environment is another key issue that will feature strongly at the coming Earth summit. We believe that protection for the environment should be paramount in the development of a managed sustainable trading system, which means that international environmental treaties should be exempt from any challenge under the GATT/World Trade Organisation rules. That should include the Montreal convention on substances that deplete the ozone layer, the Basel convention on hazardous waste, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, the biodiversity convention, and the climate change convention. They should all be protected.

We also believe that there is a strong case for extending the range of these paramount conventions—perhaps in the case of forests, certainly in the case of chemicals. About 100,000 chemicals are in commercial use, and their impact on human health and ecological function represents largely unknown risks. Highly toxic hormone-imitating chemicals such as DDT, the polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins and alkylphenols have increasingly been leaching into aquifers and rivers worldwide and thence into the food chain, causing serious damage to the endocrine and reproductive tracts of mammals, including humans. Many people think that the dramatically falling sperm count in men is most likely to be due to oestrogen-like chemicals in detergents, plastics and other man-made materials.

We believe that what is needed at the UN in June is a binding convention that will reduce and eliminate those dangerous chemicals. That should be linked, in our view, to a prior informed consent procedure for international trade in all hazardous chemicals, 51 of which have been identified as hormone disruptors. The banning of those highly toxic chemicals—DDT is already banned—must not be subject to haggles over trade: they are environmental absolutes.

Action on forests is less advanced. Although we would, in principle, consider a convention on forests, it is doubtful, in the light of experience of the convention on desertification—mentioned by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North—which has not been a great success, whether that is the most appropriate way to proceed. We might do better pursuing the same goals, which we strongly support, via bilateral agreements and consumer pressure.

As many of my hon. Friends have powerfully argued, the central problem at New York is likely to be that of reconciling the demands of the north with the huge needs of the south. Already, a fifth of the world's population— more than 1 billion people—lacks access to safe water, and half the world's population does not have safe sanitation. Every year, more than 5 million people die from diseases caused by unsafe drinking water or lack of sanitation.

Adding 3 billion people to the planet since 1950 has brought huge destruction of forests, devastation of grasslands, soil erosion, crowding, poverty, land hunger and growing water pollution. One can only imagine what will happen if 4.7 billion more people are added by 2050, more than 90 per cent. of them in the third world, as predicted by the UN.

The result is a growing divide of epic proportions. In the 1890s, the income of the average Indian was about half that of the average European. By the 1940s, the gap had grown to 1:40. It is now 1:70. Not only the poorest have suffered. World grain production, which has actually fallen by about 1 per cent. a year since the mid-1980s, has been falling fastest in the 40 poor countries containing a sixth of the world's population.

However, using a more realistic and comprehensive system of economic accounting, which takes account of the loss of natural topsoil and forest and productive grasslands, it could be argued that a majority of humanity suffered a decline in living standards in the 1980s. That is the task that confronts us.

How can the needs of north and south be reconciled? A reduction or write-off of debt for the most severely indebted countries might be linked to a commitment by them to preserve their rain forests and biodiversity. The damage to the environment caused by mass industrialisation in the developing countries would be reduced if the north made available the most advanced technology, especially clean coal technology. A forestry convention might suit the needs of the north, but the south's concerns over finance, which the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) eloquently spoke to, and the issues of land ownership and a code of conduct for transnational corporations must be addressed at the same time.

When a quarter of the world's fisheries are already being exploited at maximum productivity and a third are over-fished, the north must accept that we need an intergovernmental panel on oceans with the same clout as the panel on climate change, to protect the oceans as a vital food source, as a carbon sink and as the home of some of the most diverse species on earth.

Those will be the central issues at the UN meeting, but other items will feature on the agenda, including tourism, which is fast becoming the world's largest industry. Of course everyone is in favour of it, because travel broadens the mind and people deserve holidays, but we need to make it sustainable and not spoil places that people want to visit. Disappointingly, little has been done about that in the European Union, despite the fact that tourism is one of the five priority sectors listed in the "Fifth Environmental Action Plan." That may be another task for the British presidency.

On biodiversity, the next conference of the parties will take place in May 1998, during the British presidency, but, if I may say so to the Minister, a main priority is to set our own house in order in various ways, such as strengthening protection for sites of special scientific interest and safeguarding our hedgerows. The Department of the Environment has taken 17 years to designate 136 sites as special protection areas for bird conservation under European law; another 130 sites await designation. In response to the UN biodiversity convention, the Department has completed only 116 "action plans" detailing its efforts to conserve declining species; it still has 278 to prepare.

The UN special session is obviously important as a signal of political commitment, but perhaps we should not become too fixated on it. As others have said, the meeting in Kyoto of the Commission for Sustainable Development may prove more significant in the long run, as may the on-going work in the World Trade Organisation trade and environment committee.

As preparation for those meetings, there is already an extensive dialogue with non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders. Labour will seek to build on that dialogue in government as we have in opposition. Unlike the present Government, we shall not be hampered by deregulatory dogma in responding to the concerns of NGOs and other stakeholders.

The Labour party stands ready, as a Government-in-waiting, to make progress on all the measures I have outlined, and to infuse a new sense of leadership and drive, which is much needed for the sake of our world.

10.46 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. James Clappison)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) on raising this subject and securing the debate, and I agree with him that the subject has central importance and needs the widest public understanding.

I welcome the opportunity to debate the United Kingdom preparations for and contribution to the UN General Assembly special session, which marks the fifth anniversary of the Earth summit in Rio. It is an important occasion for looking back at the achievements since Rio, and for charting the course for the next period. I shall seek to obey the injunction by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North to look to the future as much as possible.

We are making every effort to ensure the success of the special session. The Prime Minister was one of the first Heads of Government to announce his intention to attend. At the end of 1996, my Department published a consultation paper, setting out its objectives for the special session and giving its views on the issues that urgently require the attention of the international community.

Since the Rio summit, sustainable development, in the sense that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North defined it, has been at the heart of the Government's environmental economic policy, and we believe that the special session is an opportunity to persuade other countries that sustainable development should be the cornerstone of their policies too.

Much has been achieved since Rio, and the UK has played a leading role in pushing those successes through. The biodiversity convention has been negotiated, and action put in hand. In the United Kingdom, we have been the pioneers for the idea of national action plans for biodiversity.

We have been asked during the debate for targets. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and other hon. Members know that we have, through our action plans, set out clear targets and measurable objectives. We have provided a model for others to follow, and many others are interested in the pioneering way in which we have approached biodiversity.

Another biodiversity success which the Prime Minister announced at Rio was the Darwin initiative, a bilateral aid programme; and last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced the 1997 awards, to 32 projects in 26 countries, ranging from the conservation of marine turtles in Egypt to the revision of the Galapagos marine management plan.

We have heard a good deal today about the UN framework convention on climate change. We fully accept that we in the north have a special responsibility to take action on controlling emissions of greenhouse gases. Unless the richer nations take responsibility for dealing with the pollution that results from our development, we cannot expect other countries that are—rightly—seeking to raise their standards of living to take up their burden as well.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West attributed some importance to this subject, but he might have acknowledged more graciously that we come to the negotiations in Europe, and later in Kyoto, from a background of success in meeting our obligations—unlike many other countries. We are among a minority of industrialised nations in having met our obligations. We also have one of the best records among European Community countries.

At the discussions in Kyoto and in Europe, we must look ahead to targets that can be achieved by others, too. As the House will know, we have just secured agreement with our European partners to a target reduction of 15 per cent. by the year 2010, with appropriate burden sharing.

We believe it to be vital that Heads of Government in June send out a clear political signal that effective action is required when the convention parties meet at Kyoto in December. The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North said that the show is on the road as a result of Rio; we now need to make more progress.

I agree with the hon. Member for Oldham, West that climate change is important. We have accepted the scientific advice that we have heard on the subject. Scientific opinion differs, but we have taken the side of what we believe to be good advice about the dangers. We look to other countries to follow our lead by reducing their emissions, so that we can ensure that the pace and extent of change are manageable. We will be pressing hard at the special session for new commitments in this area.

The hon. Members for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North and for Truro (Mr. Taylor) raised the question of tax on aviation fuel, which we regard as an important subject. The hon. Member for Truro rightly said that it needs to be dealt with at international level. We have been pressing for international action through the international civil aviation organisations convention. We believe that to be the right forum for dealing with aviation fuel tax, but we accept that progress in that forum has been slow. We are also, therefore, pressing for commitments at the Kyoto convention to action on aviation fuel tax.

There have also been many other institutional developments since Rio: the convention to combat desertification, and agreements on migratory fish stocks, on the protection of the oceans from land-based sources of pollution, and on the sustainable development of small island developing states. The establishment, funding and replenishment of the global environment facility was a great advance.

I can assure hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Truro, that the Government remain strongly committed to the global environmental facility, and we intend to play a positive role in the replenishment negotiations and to achieve a satisfactory replenishment. We come to the discussions from a background of being one of the major contributors to that facility—we are the fifth largest contributor, having put in £130 million. We are therefore punching our weight. We think that it is an important fund, which must be replenished and which will provide the links needed between the north and south.

Hon. Members have also mentioned the Commission on Sustainable Development. In its first five years, the commission has looked at the whole of Agenda 21, which the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) discussed. In our view, the commission needs to concentrate its efforts on a limited number of issues on which it can make a distinct contribution.

The commission has already shown that it has a role to play in launching initiatives—for instance, setting up the intergovernmental panel on forests at the 1995 session. At the 1996 session, the decision on oceans showed that it can provide a lead in calling for improvements in the international institutional machinery for dealing with this pressing issue. We also see the Commission on Sustainable Development as a forum for inter-sessional meetings on the subject of finance—

Mr. Corbyn

What resources is the Department prepared to put into co-ordinating the excellent work done locally by Agenda 21 all over the country? The danger is that energies will be devoted to the local programmes, without co-ordinating them at a wider level.

Mr. Clappison

We have certainly given a lead; we have also given satisfactory support to local government finance in this respect. The very success of Agenda 21 locally shows that our approach to it has been successful.

In the United Kingdom, we have made great progress in bringing sustainable development principles into our national governing structures. Our annual reports on progress set out clear targets for action and explain the progress made against them. We have pioneered new ways of drawing together advice on sustainable development. Hon. Members will know of the work of the Round Table on Sustainable Development, and of the many other groups to which we have listened.

It is important to look ahead to necessary future priorities for UNGASS. Hon. Members mentioned the significant threats to a number of areas—for instance, the threat to fresh water, a most important subject. Deforestation is another problem that must be dealt with by UNGASS.

The Government certainly agree that action on forests is a priority. The UK has participated fully in the intergovernmental panel on forests, and welcomes its achievement in reaching consensus on a wide range of forest issues. Our task now is to ensure that agreed actions are implemented, and that international dialogue on sustainable forest management continues. At the special session, we will press for negotiations to begin on a forests convention, because we believe that a legal instrument is the best way to ensure comprehensive implementation of the panel's recommendations.

Hon. Members also mentioned poverty in the context of economic relations between north and south. We believe that the roots of poverty have still to be tackled in many developing countries. The world is still a long way from reaching sustainable production and consumption levels. Inevitably, methods of finance and technology transfer will be key issues for discussion at the special session.

The Government believe that, in general, financing for the implementation of Agenda 21 should come from a country's own public and private sectors. In this decade, external private sector investment in developing countries has tripled; it is now more than twice as great as development assistance. Aid naturally continues to be important, but it should be concentrated on the poorest countries. Our aid programme is targeted on the poorest countries in Asia and Africa, and is widely recognised to be of high quality.

We also think that private sector funding has an important role to play in technology transfer. Foreign direct investment offers the best opportunity for transfer of environmentally sound technology, provided that national environmental standards are in place. At UNGASS, we must move the debate forward to ensuring that new financial mechanisms and new opportunities for technology transfer are fully explored. We should not get stuck in debates on aid and technology transfer that bear no relation to changes in the real world.

In this respect, the development of new markets for trade and investment will be crucial. We regret that the WTO meeting in Singapore last December made such little progress on integrating environmental concerns into trade policy. We will continue to promote greater integration of environmental considerations in developing trade policies.

Another emerging issue which UNGASS must address is fresh water. In many parts of the world, the decline in the quantity and quality of fresh water is becoming critical. We support the development of a global framework convention on the uses of shared river basins to agree principles of application. Lack of clean water leads to disease and poverty; it also inhibits economic development. Unless we solve fresh water problems, we cannot expect sustainable development to become a reality. We need to take the same approach to ocean management, which we regard as equally important.

I have had time to mention only some of the subjects to be covered at UNGASS. We hope that world leaders will also deal with energy consumption, urbanisation and tourism—three problems that will have a large impact on development over the next five years.

I emphasise that we shall go to the Earth Summit later this year from a background of having fulfilled the obligations that we entered into at Rio. We have taken a lead in establishing those obligations and in following them through. The UK has a good record on meeting its obligations with regard to the important conventions on biodiversity and climate change, and on giving a lead to other countries. We have tried to take the approach of putting sustainable development at the centre of Government policy, where we believe it belongs and will continue to belong in the future.

We also believe in having an open debate on those important subjects, and listening to the views of, for example, the Round Table on Sustainable Development and other important pressure groups. I listened with interest to the comments of the hon. Member for Oldham, West when he said that he wanted to listen to NGOs' views, because there have been some interesting developments in that area. I hope that, in future, his policies in opposition will offer an open door to important pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth.

We believe that this is an important subject, in which Governments should give a lead. We shall continue to give such a lead.

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