HC Deb 18 November 1997 vol 301 cc135-7
5. Mrs. Brinton

What plans he has to encourage businesses to adopt environmentally friendly practices.[14845]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher)

The Government are providing advice and guidance through the energy and environmental best practice programmes; promoting the take-up of accredited environmental management systems and encouraging public reporting by companies on their environmental performance. We are also increasing consumer awareness so that companies have better incentives to produce environmentally friendly products.

Mrs. Brinton

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware that in my constituency many small and medium businesses are working very hard, in association with the authorities and other organisations, to develop environmentally friendly practices? Is he further aware that all our efforts will be set at naught unless these are complemented by similar action from some of the global industries, in particular the large oil companies? How does he plan to respond to some interesting overtures that are being made by some of these industries, in particular BP and Shell, to develop policies and ways of working to combat the terrible effects of global warming and associated climate change?

Mr. Meacher

I am certainly aware of the initiative taken by the Supersavers project in Peterborough, where very substantial savings have been achieved through the employer involving employees, in particular the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, in that project. My hon. Friend makes a fair point. The leading companies have to be involved. She mentioned Shell. In fact Shell recently launched new, renewable businesses, and plans investments of more than half a billion dollars over the next five years.

My hon. Friend also mentioned BP, which, incidentally, has left the Global Climate Coalition. I hope that Shell will soon do the same.

BP has made a substantial investment in solar energy. Only today, the Chemical Industries Association signed an agreement—voluntarily—to achieve a 20 per cent. cut in energy consumption, and hence in carbon dioxide emissions, by 2005. So it is beginning to happen, but we must go a great deal further. We will publish our White Paper soon after Kyoto, setting out what we expect from each sector of business.

Mr. Pickles

At a recent meeting of the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, the Minister explored the possibility of fiscal incentives for companies. Does he agree with the general principle that any shift towards green taxation should be neutral, and that it should not increase the general burden of taxation?

Mr. Meacher

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already said in his first Budget that he will pay particular attention to the issues of quarrying, water pollution charges and the landfill tax, which was introduced by the last Government at a low level. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any commitment that an increase in green taxes would automatically be offset, but I believe that there is a case—as there was in regard to the landfill tax—for giving companies an incentive by enabling them to make contributions to environmentally sensitive alternative objectives. That is a good model, and one that we will follow closely.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

Will my right hon. Friend join me in applauding the successful efforts of small firms such as Cambridge Econometrics and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre—both of which are in my constituency—to persuade employees to walk and cycle to work rather than using their cars?

Mr. Meacher

That is extremely desirable. I was asked earlier whether Ministers would participate and give a lead. I think that everyone who is in a public position should try to give a lead, and one of the best ways of reducing greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide emissions—especially in the context of transport—is not just driving vehicles that are cleaner or more fuel-efficient, but using cars less: walking more, cycling more or using public transport. All of us, without exception, should be doing that.

Mr. Beggs

Will the Minister consult a small company in my constituency called Environmental Engineering Concepts? Will he also consult the local council and the education and library board? They have produced a product which, when added to fossil fuels, causes almost complete combustion, reduced emissions and greater efficiency, and also pays for itself. It is so good that it has not been taken seriously. The last Government had an opportunity to examine the product, but I heard no more about it. I appeal to the Minister to follow the project through.

Mr. Meacher

I would be extremely interested if the hon. Gentleman would send me details of that project. It is exactly the kind of initiative and breakthrough that we wish to support. I am saddened, although not surprised, that the last Government were so indifferent, but the hon. Gentleman will find that the present Government have a very different attitude. If he sends me the details, we will act on them.