HC Deb 08 June 1999 vol 332 cc496-541


Order for Second Reading read.

5.38 pm
The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill is short but important. It flows from a piece of European legislation—the integrated pollution prevention and control directive, which the United Kingdom and, to be fair, the previous Government can be rightly proud of pioneering. It is, if I may use a famous phrase, a win, win, win Bill. It will be good for the environment, for industry, for local people and for local democracy. What is more, the benefits will be reaped across the whole of Europe. Integrated pollution prevention and control is an example of the European Union at its best, improving the quality of life for all citizens and extending a level playing field on which industry may compete. It is an example of how well the EU can be made to work when there is constructive engagement from the UK.

Much in the Bill is not new. The directive's roots are firmly planted in current UK pollution control regimes, and I shall explain briefly how those work. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 established a number of pollution control regimes. In particular, it established integrated pollution control and local air pollution control. The integrated approach was first put forward by the royal commission on environmental pollution in 1976 to tackle difficult industrial problems at source, whether they affect air, water or land.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

I am just starting to explain the background. I will give way, but I suggest that the hon. Lady should allow me to make a little progress.

The royal commission cited a ridiculous case in which a company had been required to use water to prevent gaseous fluoride from causing air pollution. The contaminated water ended up in sewage sludge, which was in turn spread on grazing land—the cattle developed fluorosis and a minor air pollution problem became a serious land pollution problem.

The integrated pollution control regime covers around 2,000 industrial processes in England and Wales and about 200 in Scotland. It is operated by the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. It affects mainly the power generation, oil refining, metal, mineral and waste disposal industries—in other words, in general big installations with significant potential to pollute.

Miss McIntosh


Mr. Meacher

I can see that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) is not going to allow me to proceed, so she had better make her point.

Miss McIntosh

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. Is he aware that the directive now extends to pig farms? Did the Government intend that it should do so? Did Labour Members of the European Parliament draft an amendment to extend it to pig farms under his instructions, although those farmers are suffering difficult competitive conditions?

Mr. Meacher

As I said, the integrated pollution and prevention control regime originated in Europe under the previous Government. The extension to intensive pig and poultry installations is, indeed, part of the IPPC directive. I am surprised that the hon. Lady has raised that point because the previous Conservative Government agreed the directive in Europe. We certainly take the view that that extension is perfectly sensible and proper.

I was explaining the existing IPC regime. Under the parallel system of local air pollution control, local authorities regulate about 13,000 less polluting processes for emissions to air only. The regimes require an operator to have a permit before he or she can operate a specified process. The regulator then sets conditions on the permit to require the use of the best available technology not entailing excessive costs—to use the awful acronym, BATNEEC—to prevent or minimise polluting emissions.

At their core, the regimes are based on a site-specific, case-by-case judgment about the best cost-effective pollution control for that plant. It is an approach that ensures sensitivity to local conditions and to the circumstances of the operator. It is much more effective and efficient than, say, a rigid set of emission standards.

This flexible approach can reduce the operator's costs. I shall give an example. Permit conditions for coal handling usually require that a wheel washing machine, costing around £40,000, be installed to remove coal dust. My Department decided an appeal where an operator had covered his yard in tarmac and was scrupulous about maintaining and cleaning his site. In the circumstances, the equipment was not necessary.

The IPPC directive now extends those principles throughout the European Union.

Dr. Norman A. Godman

(Greenock and Inverclyde)rose

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)


Mr. Meacher

I will first give way to my hon. Friend.

Dr. Godman

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Will he confirm that the Scottish Parliament has an important role to play in relation to clause 3 of the Bill in the determination of regulations? I think that that holds true for the Welsh Assembly and, eventually, for the Northern Ireland Assembly, presumably. Will my right hon. Friend refer to the covering of offshore installations in his speech? If so, am I right to think that, despite the role of the Scottish Parliament, enforcement in respect of offshore installations and structures will be under the Department of Trade and Industry?

Mr. Meacher

My hon. Friend is correct on both points. The Bill's powers will be fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. He is right to think that it applies to offshore installations. The Bill will be used to implement Lord Donaldson's recommendations for command and control of operations in the event of a threat of serious pollution from offshore oil and gas installations. He is right to think that that remains with the DTI.

Mr. Bercow

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Meacher

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will harass me until I give way, so it is better that he gets his bile out now.

Mr. Bercow

Far be it from me ever to be accused of harassment. The right hon. Gentleman should know by now that I am a thoroughly genteel and charitable soul. In view of the directive's intended replacement of BATNEEC, best available technology not entailing excessive costs, with BAT, best available techniques, will he confirm that he is satisfied that there will be sufficient consideration of the likely increase in costs to small businesses? Does he accept that that is especially important not only because of his own responsibilities, but because of the position adopted by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on the reduction of regulation and costs on small businesses?

Mr. Meacher

Yes. There is a change from BATNEEC to BAT. There is no question of a change in respect of the account taken of cost effectiveness, including in relation to small businesses, which are important. The phrase "available techniques" in no way diminishes the existing regard for cost effectiveness. The directive states that 'available techniques' shall mean those developed on a scale which allows implementation in the relevant industrial sector"— these are the crucial words— under economically and technically viable conditions, taking into consideration the costs and advantages. In fact, there is a greater definition of cost-effectiveness under BAT in the Bill than the Environmental Protection Act 1990 gave under BATNEEC, which remains a relatively undefined concept in United Kingdom legislation.

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) asked about small businesses. Integrated pollution control is overwhelmingly concerned with large installations. IPC and the local air pollution control regime cover fewer than 20,000 installations. For example, only a very small number of the 130,000 members of the Federation of Small Businesses will be affected by the regulations.

Let us consider the effect across Europe.

Mr. Bercow

Before the Minister continues, he has not answered my question. [Interruption.] Labour Members can cavil from sedentary positions for as long as they like, but I make no apology for speaking up for the interests of small businesses in my constituency. If there is no reason for small businesses to be unduly concerned, why has their national representative organisation, the Federation of Small Businesses, expressed grave concern about the likely costs?

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman abuses his position in seeking to intervene twice and make such remarks. I am perfectly prepared to answer his questions directly. I have already told him that the Federation of Small Businesses covers 130,000 small businesses, hardly any of which will be caught under the directive. Any concern expressed involves very few firms. They are no more affected in terms of cost-effectiveness by the new regulation than by BATNEEC.

The IPPC directive extends those principles across Europe in a manner that is similar to the UK's IPC regime. All member states will now benefit from an effective and efficient system of pollution control, and industry—I repeat—will benefit from a level playing field.

The environment will also benefit. As we always say, pollution does not respect national boundaries. Indeed, the directive requires member states to consult their neighbours about installations that have a significant trans-boundary effect. One important improvement in this post-Kyoto world is the inclusion of energy efficiency among the factors to be considered by the regulator. Climate change was, of course, not one of the big environmental priorities back in 1990 when the current regimes were established. By setting conditions requiring cost-effective energy efficiency measures, the IPPC directive should cut carbon emissions by about 3 million tonnes of carbon a year by 2010; that is about one twelfth of the total needed to achieve our target. It is a no-regrets policy: while benefiting the environment, energy efficiency measures will bring financial benefits to the businesses themselves. Most of industry has welcomed that new aspect.

The IPPC will also take account of noise pollution. I believe that that is a long-neglected issue which seriously affects people's day-to-day quality of life. In addition, the new system will take account of the use of raw materials and apply a holistic approach to waste minimisation. There will be a new requirement for operators to leave a site clean and safe when they move on.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

The Minister is proud of the fact that noise pollution is included. Why is light pollution not included?

Mr. Meacher

As I have said, noise pollution is included. One could include all sorts of pollution. I am not making—dare I say it?—a partisan point, but the previous Conservative Government agreed for the UK the ingredients of the IPPC directive that now has to be transposed into our national law. I should like the directive to extend to all forms of pollution. I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. However, if he wants an answer to his question, perhaps he should ask some of those who were Ministers in the previous Conservative Government.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)

Perhaps I can help the right hon. Gentleman. As he is aware, in clause 1 the Government try to take the legislation further than the directive signed up to by Ministers in the previous Conservative Government. Subsection (1)(b) refers to provisions regulating, otherwise than in pursuance of that Directive, activities which are capable of causing any environmental pollution. Why could the Government not include light?

Mr. Meacher

Under that reading of the provision, that is possible. It was not our direct intention, but I should be happy to consider the matter in Committee. However, the issue of pollution has been substantially extended in a perfectly proper way. Most people would not consider that light pollution was in the same category as noise pollution or issues such as vibration, waste, use of raw materials and energy efficiency. Those are much more significant matters, but let us explore in Committee whether there are other matters that we agree should be included.

The directive extends integrated pollution control to more installations with a significant potential to pollute. If the hon. Member for Vale of York will attend, she will note that I am drawing attention to the point that she made. Such installations include about 1,000 landfill sites, a similar number of large intensive pig and poultry farms and about 500—perhaps almost 1,000—food and drink factories. The directive will also extend integrated control to about 10 per cent. of installations that are currently regulated only for air emissions. We believe-and I am surprised that the hon. Lady does not appear to agree—that that is a desirable extension to the existing IPC parameters.

Through the Bill, we shall improve the environmental regime offshore—the point referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman). The IPPC directive applies to large combustion plant on offshore oil and gas installations. We are using the Bill to implement this year the requirements of the Oslo and Paris convention of 1992—0spar—on the use and discharge of chemicals from offshore installations. The Department of Trade and Industry, which retains responsibility for those matters, has just completed a first round of consultations on implementing those requirements efficiently and coherently, and on making other improvements to the offshore regime.

The measure is good for industry. We are implementing the directive in a manner that will benefit our industry rather than lumber it with a regulatory mess. Had we taken the easy option of imposing the directive using the powers under the European Communities Act 1972, we should have ended up with three regimes: an IPPC regime, covering the 6,000 installations that the directive specifies; an IPC regime, covering about 400 processes that we control through IPC, but which are not covered by the directive; and a local air pollution control regime, covering the remaining 11,000 or so processes. I believe that we made the right decision and, as a result, the Confederation of British Industry and other industry groups have strongly supported the Government's approach.

Some good deregulatory ideas have been thrown up for improving the way in which things are done under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. For example, we shall be able to extend the permit review period if circumstances so warrant, rather than be forced to review an operator's permit every four years—in other words, there will be more flexibility. That will minimise costs by introducing standard application procedures and standard permit conditions where an industry sector is suitably homogenous. Of course, each installation will always have the right to be assessed individually if the operator chooses. Crucially, however, IPPC retains the essential principle that costs should be imposed only where there are commensurate benefits.

When the Bill was debated in another place, some noble Lords doggedly promoted the misconception that replacing the principle of best available technology not entailing excessive costs—BATNEEC—with the directive version, best available techniques, meant abandoning the consideration of cost when setting conditions for an operator. I repeat a point that I have already made because it is important and there has been a misunderstanding: it is a patent untruth. The directive spells out the principle of cost-effectiveness in its definition of best available techniques much more clearly than the 1990 Act did in its concept of BATNEEC.

The measure is good for local democracy and for local people. We are determined to strengthen the participation of local people in the process of pollution control in their neighbourhood. About 10 per cent. of the installations currently regulated by local authorities will need to move to integrated control—traditionally, the realm of the Environment Agency for England and Wales. However, I propose to keep local authorities responsible for the bulk of those installations in England and Wales. I intend to strengthen the partnership and dialogue between the Environment Agency and local government more generally—a matter to which I give great attention. Under the new system, local authorities will have a strong role to help them in their new responsibilities for local air quality management.

We are also boosting the involvement of local people more directly. The Environment Agency will soon consult on proposals for enhanced public consultation in respect of regulating particularly contentious installations; at the same time, we shall remove unnecessary consultation on routine changes.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

My right hon. Friend will know of the tremendous controversy about pollution from the cement industry. Will he say more about the content of the public registers that are to be given details of the integrated pollution control processes? If some of that information is to be out of bounds to the general public because it is allegedly commercially confidential, many people's faith in the new system will be badly dented.

Mr. Meacher

I strongly support my hon. Friend's point, and I want the maximum amount of information to be made available. I am well aware that commercial confidentiality can be construed in a way that is designed to prevent the public from obtaining information that is not genuinely confidential, but whose publication would be inconvenient to the company concerned. I am determined to ensure that the way in which we extend the use of the pollution inventory—which, together with the Environment Agency, I announced last month—will not enable such manipulation to take place.

Through public registers and over the internet, the inventory will give the public free access to information about pollution from all IPPC-regulated installations in the local area. However, that is only the first step: the Government are considering plans to extend the inventory further, to the landfill sites and sewage treatment works that the agency regulates and, further still, to the 13,000 or so installations regulated by local authorities.

Through the Bill, we shall increase public participation, extend openness and enable people to make informed decisions based on their having access, for the first time, to comprehensive information about what is being emitted in their midst. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome the Bill and so reflect the broad consensus of support among industry, the regulators and environmental groups. The Bill will lay the foundations for an updated pollution control regime, strengthen environmental protection and bring benefits to industry and individuals alike.

One of the beauties of the regime is its adaptable and evolving nature: it is a flexible, interactive form of regulation in which experience and good ideas can be shared and spread, and I am keen that that should happen. The very process of regulation promotes the development and improvement of technologies and techniques that bring wider and greater benefit. That process will be far more dynamic now that the whole of the European Union is part of it. I commend the Bill to the House.

6.3 pm

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)

As the Minister said, the Bill implements European Union directive 96/61, to which the last Conservative Government signed up in 1996. It will come as no surprise to him to learn that we stand by our commitment to the directive and that we agree with the broad principle underlying the Bill. However, although the Minister was charming, helpful and reasonable, I noted his failure to mention the massive and glaring omissions from the Bill.

The Minister knows that the Bill, which started life in another place, has had an extraordinarily rocky and chequered career since receiving a Second Reading there on 7 December last year. What causes me most concern is not the philosophy that the Bill reflects or the regimes that it would introduce, for those command widespread cross-party support—I am most concerned about its constitutionality. We have before us today a piece of primary legislation which simply gives the Secretary of State wide-ranging powers to issue regulations to implement it. Nothing of importance to do with the control of pollution is on the face of the Bill, which consists of a series of clauses giving the Secretary of State powers to impose secondary legislation to flesh out the skeleton of the primary legislation.

That causes me great concern for the simple reason that the procedures of the House do not allow us to amend secondary legislation in any way. Some statutory instruments are fortunate enough to be debated in Committee, and I accept that, thanks to the actions of Members of another place, a large proportion of the regulations to be promulgated under the Bill are to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and so will probably be debated in Committee. However, the regulations will have to be accepted, or rejected in their entirety. Anyone can do the mathematics: given their majority, if the current Government want to get a statutory instrument through a Committee, they can ensure that it gets through. The Government nominate hon. Members to sit on statutory instrument Committees and, as an ex-Whip, I fully understand what happens. Therefore, the potential lack of scrutiny causes me great concern.

Hon. Members who have followed the Bill's progress through the other place will be aware that it has not had the smoothest of passages. The House of Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation reported that the Bill represents an inappropriate delegation of secondary powers", and called for amendments to specify with more precision the ambit of the legislation". I welcome the concessions that their lordships extracted from the Government to improve what was initially an extremely flawed piece of legislation, but the process resembled extracting teeth from an unwilling patient.

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but he has drawn the wrong conclusion. In fact, a set of regulations is a far more flexible instrument than a piece of primary legislation. It is in the interests of those who are regulated that their problems and their needs are dealt with as expeditiously as possible. We have ensured a proper degree of parliamentary control: the regulations will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure when they are first made, and thereafter when certain important amendments are made to them. I should point out that the House of Lords Select Committee, which the hon. Gentleman quoted, believed that to be adequate.

I repeat the commitment given by my noble Friend Lord Whitty in another place that any amendments to the regulations which affect matters which were previously included on the face of the Employment Protection Act 1990 will be put to Parliament for consideration under the affirmative procedure."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 May 1999; Vol. 600, c. 1391–92.] I believe that that fully meets the hon. Gentleman's concerns about parliamentary control.

Mr. Burns

In response to the latter half of the right hon. Gentleman's intervention, I paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies—he would believe that, wouldn't he?

I was going to raise this point later in my speech, but now might be an opportune moment for the Minister to develop the argument and so help us to determine whether the Government's actions are satisfactory. Will he tell me, in plain simple language, the exact meaning of clause 2(7)?

Mr. Meacher

indicated dissent.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. We will have to treat that as a rhetorical question.

Mr. Burns

I am left with no choice but to treat it as a rhetorical question. I am rather stunned that the Minister did not respond. It is his Bill, and he should be conversant with it. I assumed that he would be able to give me a straightforward answer. Even if the right hon. Gentleman does not think so, it is an important question, given what he said in his intervention about the Government's commitment on the affirmative procedure. If the Minister does not want to respond, we will pursue the matter by other means.

Mr. Bercow

In the light of what we have just witnessed, does my hon. Friend agree that, as Baroness Thatcher once observed in a different context, the right hon. Gentleman does not appear to be entirely the master of his subject? Does my hon. Friend agree, furthermore, that if, in future, significant numbers of regulations are to be subject only to the negative procedure, not to the affirmative procedure, that will undermine the importance of the maximum consultation period set for draft regulations in order to accommodate the needs of small businesses?

Mr. Burns

My hon. Friend is right. I could not agree with him more. Proper scrutiny is crucial, as the primary legislation gives the Secretary of State powers to issue secondary legislation to define how the system will operate. It is important that we should have a clear explanation of what clause 2(7) means. If it means what I think it means, it devalues—I do not means this in a rude way—the assurances given about the use of the affirmative resolution. The Minister is entitled not to answer, but I will get to the bottom of the matter. I see that the civil servants are passing him a note, so I hope that we shall be able to clear it up.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has experience. He should know that there can be no references to anyone other than hon. Members in the House.

Mr. Burns

I am extremely sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I genuinely did not realise that. I will not repeat the error.

As drafted, the Bill gives the Secretary of State carte blanche to impose regulations. There is little to require him to bring matters to the proper attention of Parliament. With such powers, it is clearly an unacceptable procedure for the Government to use secondary legislation in such a sweeping and all-embracing manner.

The problem is not that the Secretary of State will have too much power to benefit the environment. Because of the way in which the Bill is drafted, it gives him the potential to do a great deal of damage in the name of the environment, without being exposed to the cautionary voices that a process of full and proper parliamentary scrutiny can offer.

As was done in another place, we will seek in Committee to examine carefully the powers being granted to the Secretary of State, and to ensure that his decisions are subjected to an appropriate degree of scrutiny.

It should be incumbent on the Secretary of State to demonstrate that any regulations that he makes under the Bill will address a significant problem. Any regulations made under the Bill should be measured against pre-determined criteria. A point of reference should be established in advance with which regulations would be required to comply. If they did not comply, it would be for the Government to justify them before Parliament.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, under the European Communities Act 1972, the directive could have been transposed into law without the full range of scrutiny that the Bill allows? My history is sufficiently good for me to remember that the 1972 Act was introduced by a Conservative Government. Surely the hon. Gentleman accepts the assurances given by my right hon. Friend, and admits that we will have much more detailed and effective scrutiny of the system than would have been the case if the directive had simply been implemented in its own right.

Mr. Burns

The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that when we went into Europe—the votes were taken in 1971 and 1972—it was under a Conservative Government with the support of, I think, 69 Labour Members of Parliament—

Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North)


Mr. Burns

I think that the hon. Gentleman is forgetting the deputy leader of the Labour party, who resigned his position as a result of that vote.

The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) may be right to say that the Government and the previous Government would have had the choice of introducing the measure under the 1972 Act or through primary legislation. I believe that the Government have taken the right decision to use primary legislation in the House, rather than implementing the system under the 1972 legislation, which would have produced three competing regimes.

My complaint is not that the Government are using primary legislation, but that the primary legislation is simply a series of clauses giving the Secretary of State unlimited powers to issue orders and regulations in the future to flesh out what I believe should be written into the Bill. I cannot think of any other legislation of this nature that has come before the House under any Government which is so much a skeleton to be fleshed out by secondary legislation.

The present Secretary of State may have benign intentions and may use the legislation wisely—I do not question that. However, it remains to be seen whether his successors can be relied on to do the same. The claim that the Government would never dream of using the powers to harm industry or agriculture may or may not be true, but, sadly, in the real world, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation commented: We consider that any regulations which amend or repeal an Act of Parliament should be subject to affirmative procedure". I welcome the initiatives in another place to improve the Bill so that it meets that aim. That strikes me as a common-sense way to amend the Bill at an earlier state. However, it does not contribute to good environmental practice if businesses are forced to operate under conditions of great uncertainty about the legislative framework.

One of the problems with regulation in general is that it often encourages organisations to adopt a culture of minimum compliance—they comply to the letter with regulations, but make no effort to improve their activities further. That is human nature and not an unreasonable attitude.

Organisations look to the Government to provide a definition of what constitutes responsible environmental practice. If they are faced with an ever-changing vista of laws and regulations, they will not know where they stand. What is acceptable environmental practice one day could, under the Bill, become unacceptable within weeks.

There is no obligation on the Secretary of State to engage in proper consultations, despite clause 2(4). It may be the Secretary of State's intention to widen the consultations, and I welcome the fact that in another place the Government accepted an amendment on the consultation process to include agriculture in the specified organisations and bodies that were to be consulted. However, after a Government have gone through the process of consultation, there is nothing to oblige them to take account of the representations that they receive. That is why—[Interruption.]

Mr. Burns

The Under-Secretary rather demeans her post by making sedentary comments such as that.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson)

I pose again the question that I put to the hon. Gentleman from a sedentary position: what is the point of consulting if one does not listen to the responses of the consultees? That might have been the country's experience under the previous Administration, but it is not its experience under this Government.

Mr. Burns

I do not want to fall foul of the rules of debate, but the Minister might like to have a word with the disability groups in her constituency because, in the light of the vote before the Whitsun recess, I do not think that disability groups in this country think that the Government go through meaningful consultations and listen to their representations.

We are not calling for an end to environmental legislation. On the contrary, one of our chief criticisms of the Government is that, despite making a raft of promises to improve on the UK's already excellent record, they have yet to produce a major piece of environmental legislation. Sadly, the Bill is not proper, fully fleshed out environmental legislation, but simply a framework—a skeleton for the Secretary of State to build on through secondary legislation.

Our case is simple: important decisions should be subject to appropriate scrutiny, but we do not believe that that will happen under the Bill. For example, I invited the Minister for the Environment to intervene to discuss clause 2(7). Would he or the junior Minister be kind enough to give a simple explanation of what that provision means? We may have misread it, which is why it is important to have clarification. Could the negative resolution procedure be used in respect of draft regulations that are laid before the House? If so, that significantly undermines what the Minister has said about use of the affirmative resolution procedure.

Mr. Meacher

In the past several minutes, the hon. Gentleman has made a number of statements that simply do not stand up to scrutiny. First, he expressed doubts about the consultation. Clause 2(4) states: Before making any regulations under this section, the Secretary of State shall consult—

  1. (a) the Environment Agency …
  2. (b) the Scottish Environment Protection Agency …
  3. (c) such bodies or persons appearing to him to be representative of the interests of local government, industry, agriculture and small businesses".
That seems to me to be as extensive a pattern of consultation as one could ever ask for.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman said that he wants every matter to be dealt with in primary legislation; my point is that business would prefer flexibility. A set of regulations relating to the needs of industry is likely to be far more flexible than primary legislation, which, as he knows, is difficult to amend.

Thirdly, my statement on parliamentary scrutiny stands. If the hon. Gentleman wants information, clause 2(9) refers to cases that have to be approved by affirmative resolution. Otherwise, clause 2(7) provides a choice between the negative or the affirmative procedure, but none of that diminishes the point that I made, and that statement stands.

Mr. Burns

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but may I press him a little further? He rightly draws attention to clause 2(9), but used the word "otherwise" in respect of clause 2(7). Will non-draft orders made under subsection (7) be subject to the negative resolution procedure, and will other orders have to be made subject to the affirmative resolution procedure? That is the nub of the matter. Is there any way—are there any circumstances—in which regulations made under subsection (9) could be subject to the negative resolution procedure?

Mr. Meacher

I was correct to remain seated when first challenged because the further we proceed with what is supposed to be a Second Reading debate, the more we get into the kind of detailed and precise argument that normally takes place in Committee. I will answer the hon. Gentleman's question briefly, but he is abusing the procedures of the House by making such arguments now.

All the cases specified in clause 2(9) have to be decided by affirmative resolution. The position is somewhat different under clause 2(7), which provides that there should be a choice between either the negative or the affirmative procedure, but I have made it clear that we accept that it would be correct to use the affirmative procedure for making important changes to provisions in the Environmental Protection Act 1990. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Perhaps I can help the House. It is not an abuse for any matter to be raised during a Second Reading debate, but it is certainly customary for such debates to be confined to points of general issue and principle.

Mr. Burns

I will move on now, although that point is fundamental.

Mr. Gray

Before my hon. Friend moves on, which he says he is about to do, does he agree that the Minister and the junior Minister made great play of the consultation process that they have gone through? Is he aware of the letter from the Federation of Small Businesses, which states: The FSB contended in the strongest possible terms that small businesses could not afford the implementation of such a directive. Following the FSB's response to that consultation, it does seem to us that we were taken out of the loop as far as further discussions of this item were concerned and the FSB has no evidence of even an acknowledgement of its original response."?

Mr. Burns

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making part of the point that I was making and for referring to the FSB. I noted carefully what the Minister said, but, at national level, the federation has expressed deep concern about that aspect of the Bill, which he says is restricted to a limited number of its members. The 1990 Act, which currently sets the framework for integrated pollution control, stipulates that pollution control should be achieved through best available technology not entailing excessive costs—BATNEEC, as he said. The Bill, pursuant to the directive, would substitute for that common-sense approach the concept of best available techniques.

I listened carefully to what the Minister said about cost. There is a view abroad, which is not confined to the FSB—as he said, it was raised in the other place—about whether best available techniques would be applied irrespective of cost. He gave some interesting quotes from the detailed workings of the directive about that, and I was reassured to hear them. There is little to be gained by pursuing the matter now, but we should certainly do so in Committee. Small, medium-sized and large businesses clearly need to be reassured that there will not be a problem because of the omission of the words "not entailing excessive costs". We need to be able to set people's minds at rest that the understanding is a misunderstanding at the moment, and we will raise that point later.

I shall refer briefly to two important issues—one has been raised by the Country Landowners Association and one by the National Farmers Union—that we will want to discuss further in Committee and which merit discussion in the context of this debate. The CLA is particularly concerned that clauses 1 and 2 take the Secretary of State's powers beyond the scope of the Directive. The Directive clearly sets out in its Annex 1 the activities that should be controlled. Clause 1(1)(b) and (c) of the Bill specifically refer to activities other than those listed in the Directive. I raised that issue in an intervention. That is fine, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) said, we may consider light pollution and other issues. It would be extremely useful for us to pursue other areas.

The NFU is concerned that the original version of the Bill, which started in the other place, contained a general definition of environmental pollution that has now been extended to tie it in to pollution which may give rise to any harm". Clause 1(3) contains a definition of "harm". Although there is a reference to "harm" in the original directive, the definition now proposed in the Bill extends the concept to include matters such as harm to the health of "other living organisms" as well as to human beings, and includes an

offence to the senses of human beings". On the latter point, the NFU says that noxious smell is clearly a potential source of pollution, but the definition would appear to encompass visual offences to the senses of human beings which would be likely to be highly subjective. The NFU raises a specific concern about the definition of pollution. Pollution of air includes air in buildings but, in some agricultural situations, the building is itself a pollution prevention control measure. For example, in a power station fuelled by chicken manure, the fuel is stored in a building under negative atmospheric pressure. Mushroom composting facilities may also use buildings to control pollution. Clearly, those facilities should not be regarded as pollution in themselves. The Minister may think, with some justification, that we should consider that matter in Committee, but it must be examined—the NFU does not raise these issues just to pass the time of day; they are of genuine concern to its members.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

My hon. Friend will be aware of the effect that the well-meant landfill tax has had on farmers, who have this year alone identified 60,000 cases of fly dumping as a result of legislation that was meant to help to control environmental pollution. We must be careful before we put powers into the hands of Government officers or statutory bodies and introduce legislation that may have devastating, unforeseen effects.

Mr. Burns

I shall read my hon. Friend's comments carefully in Hansard tomorrow, because we may well consider this aspect in Committee.

We do not object to the basic aims behind this legislation, as there is a need for an integrated system for the control of pollution. However, I have some misgivings about the way in which the regulations will be issued, and about the fact that primary legislation is being used to give the Secretary of State so much power to make orders by secondary legislation.

Despite the sterling work in the other place to improve the Bill, it is wrong in principle to rely so exclusively on secondary legislation. We shall consider this measure carefully in Committee, as we want to build on the work that was done in the other place to improve it.

6.34 pm
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

My warm welcome for the proposals has been slightly marred by the negative contribution of the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). We have heard much about the omission of provisions on the best available technology not entailing excessive costs—or BATNEEC to those of us who have sat through many Committee stages of previous environmental pollution Bills. We have not, however, heard a great deal about emissions. The hon. Gentleman's speech was about omissions, not about emissions that pollute the air, water and land and damage the health of all living organisms.

The House must understand that this welcome legislation deals with a subject that matters to people across the country, and is not about the concerns of one or two vested interests. We are concerned about the damage, pollution and contamination caused by those vested interests, and the legacy and liabilities that we have inherited because they have not understood and invested in the importance of environmental and public health. I hope that in Committee the hon. Member for West Chelmsford will take a more positive approach, so that we can get this legislation right.

I should declare an interest, because I am a vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the chair of the all-party environment group, which I am pleased to say contains many hon. Members from both sides of the House. I welcome the Pollution Prevention and Control Bill because, once enacted, it will give us the toughest set of pollution control measures in Europe. Unlike the hon. Member for West Chelmsford, I have every confidence that my right hon. Friend will undertake any necessary further fine tuning. In other legislation before the House, such as the Freedom of Information Bill, and through the agenda of competitiveness promoted by the Department of Trade and Industry, the Government will ensure that we have joined-up thinking across Departments, throughout Europe and among local authorities through consultation with local people. That is desperately needed and long overdue.

I pay tribute to the people who have worked to get us to this stage. I do not underestimate the importance of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and all the other work that has been done, but time is running out and much more needs to be done. The European directive must be on the statute book by the end of this year. It is right that we should deal with the matter as quickly as possible, especially given the full scrutiny to which it was subjected in the other place.

I have sat on Committees considering previous Bills. I am aware of the shortcomings of the current legislation from the point of view of my constituents. Yesterday, I received a document from the city of Stoke-on-Trent pollution control unit. It shows that large parts of my constituency will not meet air quality objectives even by 2005. We stand a far better chance of setting and meeting targets because of the work that my right hon. Friend the Minister is doing and will continue to do.

Mr. Gray

Is the hon. Lady saying that the good people of Stoke-on-Trent would not set such targets were it not for the Bill?

Ms Walley

I am saying that the people of Stoke-on-Trent depend on the Government to ensure that the highest standards are set, and that the resources, procedures and framework are put in place to start to deal with the legacy of the industrial revolution. In my area we have made huge advances in air quality control, but much still needs to be done, and will be done under the Government.

The Select Committee on Environmental Audit, of which I am a member, is looking forward to monitoring the real changes and benefits that the Bill will provide as a result of the implementation of the European directive.

Despite my positive welcome for the Bill, I would not like the House to think that I do not have a few words of warning. There must be proper enforcement. In the past, Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution has been starved of resources. Huge advances have been made, ensuring that both the Environment Agency and local authorities are adequately staffed, and I was very pleased to hear what my right hon. Friend said about the extra work that would be done with local authorities; but, without enforcement, none of what we are trying to do can become a reality. Another problem is that, as always, the devil is in the detail. In the case of provisions that are not currently in the Bill, we must place our trust in my right hon. Friend, and let it be known that we are doing so.

As I have said, I welcome the fact that local authorities will be involved, and that communities will participate and be consulted. Only this week, I received a letter from the Environment Agency telling me of the consultation that will take place throughout north Staffordshire. That is crucial: our public and environmental health agenda will succeed only if we can inform and educate the public and ensure that they are with us, and only their vigilance will enable us to make the strides that we want to make.

The legislation will need careful scrutiny in the coming months, and throughout the consultation period. We must consider who will administer the controls, and how those people will be trained. I was pleased to learn that the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health would be involved in the training. Moreover, universities and research establishments throughout the country will be given opportunities to ensure that training initiatives are launched, and that a team of experts will work with the informed public to keep pollution control high on everyone's agenda. I am confident that, at some stage, my right hon. Friend will work with his colleagues in the Treasury to provide adequate resources through the revenue support grant.

Much will depend on the progress of the Freedom of Information Bill. I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) mentioned that earlier. I cannot stress its importance too strongly. We must have information on pollution levels, and that information must be freely available to the public; otherwise, we shall not have the joined-up thinking that is so essential to the changes that we want.

I mentioned loopholes. Since the Environmental Protection Act 1990 came into effect, I have had time to develop an understanding of the impact of some of those loopholes on my constituency. I shall be interested to hear from the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), how the Bill will sit side by side with planning guidance. Given the legacy of existing land use, it is all too easy for planning permission to be given, followed by authorisation for polluting processes. If we do not have joined-up thinking at local level—in planning guidance, and among planning officers—integration will be difficult. I hope that it will be made clear in Committee that the planning process will be involved. After all, once planning permission has been given, it is too late to start thinking about the impact of polluting processes and installations. Stoke-on-Trent city council fears that the absence of planning policy guidance on the status of air quality issues in the development control process may lead to problems. Rather than storing up such problems for the future, we should deal with them at the outset.

Certain provisions are missing in the Bill. We must ensure that regulations, and the flexibility to which my right hon. Friend referred, will be there as and when we need them, enabling us to respond quickly to any emergencies that may arise.

I have sat through meetings of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, which has received evidence from the Environment Agency. Everyone welcomes the news that energy efficiency is to be part and parcel of integrated pollution control, but we must get it right. There are intensive industrial users of energy in my constituency, two of whom have contacted me. One is well known in the House: we daily drink tea and coffee from Dudson Duraline ware. The other company is Steelite, which manufactures wonderful table ware that is used in hotels and, indeed, here. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful to hon. Members for recognising that.

Both those companies have made enormous advances in trying to reduce the amount of energy that they use. Each has spent some £150,000 per annum, and has been happy to do so. They are pleased to participate in climate change; what they want is a level playing field. Perhaps my right hon. Friend, along with his colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry, will consider the whole issue of competitiveness. Today Stoke-on-Trent launched a major report, the Ecotec report, as a result of the Government's work. I hope that the Environment Agency, and all Departments, will work with the ceramic and pottery industry to ensure that energy efficiency is considered in sufficient detail.

Contaminated land is another crucial issue. I note with interest that proposals that were to be announced in July have been delayed until November. My right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong.

I fear that there could be a lawyers' charter, and that local authorities could spend many months arguing about what is and is not harmful. Those who live in areas where there is contaminated land want, above all else, action to deal with the contamination and dereliction. I urge my right hon. Friend to consider a regime to deal with the legacies and liabilities that the past has given us.

The problems of fanners have been mentioned. The spreading of condensate is a problem in my constituency. I should like clarification—if not today, at a later stage—in regard to the installations that will be covered by the new proposals. Will rendering processes be included? In my constituency, liquid offal condensate has spread on grazing land. Recommendations have been made by the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, but we are currently depending on case-by-case initiatives by local authorities rather than an holistic, integrated pollution-control approach. Given the problems that we may be storing up, I feel that we should have a proper pollution control regime.

I may have spoken for too long. I welcome the proposal, and hope that, in five or 10 years' time and in the long term, we will lay foundations to prevent the pollution that has affected so many people in the past.

6.50 pm
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

It is a great pleasure and privilege to speak in this debate, and to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley). However, I did not quite understand the thrust of one of her points. If the Stoke-on-Trent local authority is so happy with the way in which it is handling pollution control—the report that she mentioned described its happiness—why is she so enthusiastic about implementing the European directive, essentially to force her local authority to do what it is already doing quite adequately?

Ms Walley

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, my point was that all local authorities need the support and framework that the Government are introducing, to ensure that the work they are doing is done with the greatest resources and best support.

Mr. Gray

I shall return to that point later in my speech. I am not sure that the Bill promises more resources to help in reducing pollution—as we all seek to do—but suspect that it implies a significant increase in the resources that will have to be supplied by private industry, farms and other parties.

I should like first to say that this is a particularly flimsy little Bill. It is also the first Bill that the Government have introduced on any aspect of the environment. The Water Charges (Amendment) Bill may be cited as an example of environmental legislation, but it was more to do with charging than with anything else. The Government have introduced absolutely no environmental legislation—nothing on air quality, or on water quality.

Ministers had a water summit, but that did not amount to a hill of beans. They have done nothing on the countryside, other than talk briefly about the possibility of a right to roam Bill. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) on the Government Back Benches—he is promoting a private Member's Bill on the right to roam—but, so far, we have heard nothing official from the Government on that Bill.

Although we have heard talk from the Government about a series of aspirations, and warm words about press releases, launches and consultations, no less an organisation than Friends of the Earth has described the Government's entire environmental policy as "Carry on Consulting". So far, that is all that we have had from this so-called green Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made great play of his green Budget, but it contained hardly anything that is the slightest bit green—with the exception of increasing petrol prices, and we know precisely where that has led the Government. The Budget was not green at all.

Petrol price increases and the Government's threatened minerals tax have nothing to do with environmental taxation, but are to do with raising extra revenue for the Treasury.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gray

I should be happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman, as long as he does not talk about the right to roam.

Mr. Prentice

The hon. Gentleman is talking complete tosh, and he knows it. The Budget provided for a 25 per cent. duty reduction on alternative fuels, specifically to encourage people to change to using cleaner, environmentally friendly fuels. He should now apologise.

Mr. Gray

The hon. Gentleman has a nice line in humour, as he demonstrated the other day in his speech on the right to roam—but I shall not be led down that track.

The Government's record on green issues is pretty thin. However, they have another two or three years of this Parliament, and we look forward to seeing some very interesting legislation to address environmental issues—such as the legislation introduced by the previous Government in our 18 years in office. We should think back to Baroness Thatcher and her great speech on the environment. She invented the word "environmentalism". So far, however, this brave, environmental and green Government have produced only this flimsy piece of paper, amounting to so disappointingly little.

The Bill is particularly disappointing because, originally, it amounted to a licence for the Secretary of State to decide, in the privacy of his own room, the regulations that he wished to introduce and the industries that he wished to regulate. Originally, it was a huge Henry VIII Bill—as was noted in Committee in the other place, when it forced the Government to change the Bill's title and much of its detail.

Some of my noble Friends in the other place—such as Baroness Byford, Lord Dixon-Smith, Lord Jenkin of Roding and Lord Pearson of Rannoch—subjected the original Bill to a terrible attack, forcing the Government to change substantial parts of it. Nevertheless, in many respects, the Bill that we are now debating is still a bad one. I shall explain later, and in detail, why the Bill is a bad one. Essentially, however, it is bad in principle.

The previous Government passed the Environmental Protection Act 1990, after which the European directive on the subject was issued. This Bill's only real purpose is to implement that directive. As I asked in an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke–on—Trent, North, why should this sovereign Parliament need a European directive to demonstrate what we have to do with our own industries, farmers and small businesses? The Minister for the Environment did not listen to small businesses at all in consultations on the Bill.

Why do we need a European directive to tell our small business people what they should do about pollution? Surely this place is sufficiently worthy, intelligent and hard working to tell our small business people and others what they must do to deal with pollution. It is bad in principle to introduce fairly damaging legislation merely to satisfy a European directive.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

I am intrigued by the hon. Gentleman's comments. In a previous life, he was an adviser to a previous Secretary of State for the Environment. Is he now seriously saying that, in that capacity, he had nothing to do with the European directive?

Mr. Gray

I happily give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I came into the then Department of the Environment some time after the directive was agreed, and some time after my boss—my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer)—became Secretary of State for the Environment. The directive was before his time. Nevertheless, he used to describe me as the grit in his oyster, as his views and mine on matters such as European directives were never in accord. Therefore, even if it had been agreed in his time, I am confident that I should have advised against its promulgation. However, that is delving into ancient history.

The general principle that I have described is a good one: we do not need a European directive to control how we deal with United Kingdom environmental pollution. We should also consider how the United Kingdom handles European directives. True Europeans—continental Europeans—do not deal with European directives as we do. When the French receive a directive, they shrug their shoulders, in a Gallic type of way, and put it on a shelf. The Germans know a great deal more about the matter than is described in the directive, and they have already implemented its contents. Therefore, there is no need for the Germans to worry about it. In the United Kingdom, however, my erstwhile colleagues—civil servants at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions—receive a European directive in the post, look at it, and create a gigantic library of regulations to attempt to implement it. They gold plate European directives most extraordinarily.

We have already heard in the debate details of how annexe 1 of the directive specifies the industries that should be regulated, and of how the Bill would quite significantly increase the number of industries that should be regulated.

I think of the water industry, with which I was very much involved when I worked in the Department of the Environment. Very properly, the urban waste water treatment directive provided that sewage outfalls should be controlled, and the previous Government went to great lengths to reduce sewage pollution in sea. Now, however, certain people—such as no less a body than Surfers Against Sewage—are making representations to the Government that ultraviolet screening of long sea sewage outfalls should be operated the whole year round. Doing so might seem sensible enough, until one realises that people surf only between about April and about October, and that ultraviolet screening is extraordinarily expensive. Operating year-round screening would be equivalent to gold plating the directive. I suspect that some of the proposals on implementing that directive are no more than gold plating.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test)

Has the hon. Gentleman ever heard of wetsuits?

Mr. Gray

I have indeed heard of wetsuits, and, when I go surfing in Cornwall, I wear one. However, wetsuits are not a factor in the comments of Surfers Against Sewage on ultraviolet treatment. Its members are saying that, despite wetsuits or any other personal protection, they want ultraviolet protection the whole year round, so that when they go surfing on Christmas day they will be protected. I think that the hon. Gentleman rather missed the point.

There are three ways of treating European directives. First, we could do what many of my colleagues in Government often did, who said, "We must be in the forefront in implementing the directives and show Europe how to do it. We're not going to gold plate them. We're going to deal with every issue and sort them all out. Look at us—aren't we great?"

The second way to treat European directives is how the French and Italians do it, by saying, "Who cares anyway? We'll just ignore them, and hope that no one will notice." Surely the sensible way is to be in the middle of the pack, conforming to most of the directive in good time and avoiding being taken to the European Court for failing to implement it, but not rushing forward. The Minister might like to think about clause 1, which takes the Bill significantly further than annexe 1 of the directive. I am concerned about the gold plating tendency of my worthy and distinguished former colleagues at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

My second concern is the effect that the Bill would have on businesses. We have already heard a great deal about the difference between BATNEEC and BAT. The Government have gone to some lengths here and in another place to say that there is not much difference. If that is the case, why have all the industries gone to such gigantic lengths to say that they are very concerned about the difference? They say that the measure is gold plating and will cost them a lot of money. They say that despite their best efforts the Government have not listened to a word that they have said.

In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), 1 quoted from a letter from the Federation of Small Businesses, which is very concerned that the Bill will put people out of business in my constituency. Its letter to the Government setting that out was not even acknowledged. The federation was out of the loop. The Minister said earlier that it was happy and that there was nothing in the Bill to cause small businesses difficulties. That is demonstrably not the case. I have extensive quotations from the Federation of Small Businesses saying the opposite. Small businesses are rightly worried.

The key to environmental legislation must be cost-benefit analysis. Many measures could be beneficial. We have heard from one hon. Member who wants ultraviolet screening on Christmas day on long sea sewage outfalls. We have to balance the benefits against the cost of implementing environmental legislation. The Bill fails to strike a sensible balance between cost and benefit.

Leaving that general concern about business to one side, I am particularly concerned about some specific industries. The Minister boldly says that he believes that the Bill will affect 6,000 installations rather than the 2,000 that are currently affected. That means that 4,000 installations will be brought under the regime. That rings large alarm bells. Many of those 4,000 businesses, farms and other installations across the country are no doubt in my constituency, although I do not know about them. They will suddenly be subject to regulation. We do not know what kind of regulation, because the Bill leaves it to the Secretary of State to decide that in the privacy of his office.

I am worried because I do not know the effects on some of the installations. We are told that 1,000 landfill sites and 1,000 pig and poultry farms will be covered. The Minister talked about very large pig and poultry farms, but a farm of 40,000 hens is a small to medium-sized farm. The Bill will cover all poultry farms except the very smallest. Any worthwhile poultry farm will be covered by the regulations. The Bill will also cover 500 food and drink factories that are not currently regulated. The other businesses affected are small businesses that are currently regulated by local authorities.

The Minister must tell us the environmental benefits of bringing those 4,000 businesses into regulation and the cost to them. He must not waft the issue away, telling us not to worry because this is a fearfully good environmental Bill and small businesses and farmers will be all right. We want to know the detailed benefits of the Bill and the costs to the industries that I have mentioned.

The landfill tax is increasing thanks to recent Budgets to discourage the use of landfill sites. That is fine, but if the Bill brings extra costs to bear on landfill sites there could be an increase in fly tipping. There have been 6,000 to 8,000 reported incidents of fly tipping across the nation.

Mrs. Gorman

Sixty thousand to 80,000.

Mr. Gray

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for correcting me. Those incidents are largely a result of the landfill tax. How much extra fly tipping will the Bill cause?

We would all like our rubbish to be incinerated rather than put in landfill sites. Will the Bill affect rubbish incineration sites? Will it affect waste-to-energy sites?

The Minister might like to consult his officials before he responds so that he can tell us whether they are included. If they are, he might like to tell us whether the regulations will make it easier or more difficult to set up a waste-to-electricity site.

In my rural constituency I am particularly concerned about farmers. I have several poultry farmers and a large number of pig farmers. Thanks to the Government's two years in office, my pig farmers are nearly all going out of business. Anyone who attended the Royal Bath and West show last week will know that—the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was concerned by what he saw of the pig farmers. We have told our pig farmers to get rid of their stalls and tethers, their prices have gone through the floor, and they are worse off than European pig farmers and going bankrupt—and now we are going to regulate what they do with their pig dung and invite the local authority and people near the farm to tell us what they think about it. Those of us who are green and organic would much rather chicken and pig dung was used on the fields instead of fertilisers—although the Minister for the Environment may differ from that view—but it smells and attracts flies. If we invite every villager in the surrounding area to complain and use the legislation to stop the farmer from using dung, the cost of disposing of it and growing the produce in the fields where it is currently used will increase. The Bill will have a significant effect on pig and chicken farmers in my constituency and elsewhere. I do not believe that the Government have taken proper account of the damage that the Bill will do to them.

Small businesses have been mentioned a great deal during the debate. They concern us all, particularly the Conservatives, because we are the party of small businesses. The Minister has shown that the Government are not excessively concerned. Small businesses may be bad polluters individually, but the percentage of pollution that they produce collectively is relatively small. The Bill may bear down particularly heavily on small individual polluters, even though 70 per cent. of all pollution is produced by the chemical industry. The Minister might like to consult more fully with the Federation of Small Businesses on its concerns about the Bill. He might care to respond to the federation's submission before the Bill goes to Committee. In Committee he might like to find ways of addressing its reasonable worries.

I have concerns about the format of the Bill and its practical effects. It is easy to talk about it as a tidying-up measure. Throughout the debates in the other place, Lord Whitty consistently said that the Bill was a small administrative matter and the Government were tidying up so that we have one pollution control system instead of three. He told us not to worry, because it was just a small matter of implementing a European directive that the Government would get through on a one-line Whip on a quiet evening. Some 6,000 extra businesses will be covered. It is important to look carefully at what the Bill will mean to them.

This is a baby and bath water Bill. We want to know which babies will be thrown out with the bath water. Which babies are in the bath? Is the bath gold plated? The Minister is not listening, or he might appreciate my reference. We want to know what will happen. Which businesses will be terminally affected? Which pig farmers or chicken farmers—already on their uppers thanks to the Government—will go out of business as a result of the Bill? Above all, what will the Minister do to protect small businesses, to whose representations the Government have been notably reluctant to listen?

7.10 pm
Mr. Nick Ainger (West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire)

I congratulate the Government on introducing the legislation. Throughout the 1990s, I have been involved in dealing with the effects of an application by National Power to burn orimulsion at Pembroke power station in my constituency. In an unconnected incident, the Sea Empress ran aground at the mouth of Milford Haven resulting in what is still the sixth worst oil pollution incident in the world. I therefore have some knowledge of pollution and integrated pollution control.

What followed the application by National Power was a model of how not to regulate the potential for pollution. In 1991, the company made an application to burn orimulsion at its then oil-burning power station. It finally withdrew the application, which had gone through various processes, in the summer of 1997, although no decision had been reached. The process probably cost the company in the region of £2 million to £3 million. The three local authorities involved also put in a great deal of expenditure and staff time.

The matter was originally dealt with by Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, which then became the Environment Agency. Obviously, massive amounts of staff time were devoted to the application. The Countryside Council for Wales was also heavily involved in respect of environmental impact, both marine and land. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was also involved in respect of potential marine pollution resulting from the importation of orimulsion, and the Welsh Office was involved in planning and environmental protection matters.

Despite the involvement of all those agencies, no decision was reached. When, some six years after the original application, the Department of Trade and Industry decided—rightly, in my view—that there should be a public inquiry, the company decided to withdraw the application.

A holistic approach and a truly integrated system of pollution prevention and control are clearly needed. Although I take on board some of the comments made by Opposition Members about the Environmental Protection Act 1990, that measure did not deliver in respect of a large, complex and expensive project—it would have cost £500 million to convert Pembroke power station. When the directive is incorporated in British law, it will make the system more effective and efficient and I am sure business will welcome that.

I turn to the comments of Opposition Members, particularly in relation to competition. Again, I refer to National Power and its plan to burn orimulsion. What really annoyed National Power was the fact that PowerGen, its prime competitor in power generation in the United Kingdom, was burning orimulsion without any of the pollution controls that the Environmental Protection Agency would have imposed on National Power. The same applies to other industries that have not reached the same point in the integration of pollution control, particularly in continental Europe.

About a year ago I saw the pollution that was emitted by the refineries in Algeciras, in southern Spain. I do not know whether it was part of the Spanish Government's attitude to Gibraltar, but whenever I looked over at Algeciras, the pollution was blowing straight over Gibraltar. The refineries at Milford Haven in my constituency, where top-quality management insists on the highest environmental standards, are competing with refineries in Algeciras and elsewhere around the Mediterranean where there seem to be many old and rather dirty oil refineries which clearly have not made the same investments as British refineries. It is unfair competition.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) should realise that because the directive applies throughout Europe, it will improve the competitive position of British companies. I accept his point about Germany, but because we have made the necessary investment, we are very close to the German position in a number of respects. It is unfair that British companies, particularly in the oil refining and power generation industries, have to compete with refineries and power stations in continental Europe which have not implemented top-quality pollution controls.

Mr. Gray

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the offshore oil industry. What does he think about the pig industry, and the fact that stalls and tethers have been banned in the United Kingdom, but not in Europe? The Bill will drive our pig farmers out of business.

Mr. Ainger

No pig farmer has ever told me that the problems in the pig industry—which are cyclical, not structural—resulted from the banning of stall and tether. Like the hon. Gentleman, I represent a rural constituency where there are pig farmers, and none of them has made that point. There is a cyclical problem, which in many cases relates to overproduction, which in turn is creating difficulties for pig farmers. The animal welfare issues are not to blame.

Ms Glenda Jackson

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware, even though the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) is not, that in respect of pigs and chickens there is a requirement to apply the integrated pollution prevention control directive that was brought into being by the former boss of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that there are no proposals whatever to adopt lower thresholds than those in that directive.

Mr. Ainger

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her clarification. I am sure that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire now accepts that.

I now move on to another part of the Bill and welcome the fact that we are to have truly integrated pollution prevention controls. The offshore installations around our coast were highlighted in Lord Donaldson's reports. The most recent one, with which I helped, covered major pollution incidents at sea. I welcome the fact that we shall now have proper controls covering pollution from offshore installations.

I am sure that my hon. Friends representing constituencies on the north Wales coast and the Wirral will join me in welcoming the measure. Over the past 18 months, their constituencies have suffered a series of pollution incidents involving the Broken Hill Petroleum Company, the old Hamilton Brothers Company, at its Liverpool bay installations. None of them were major incidents involving hundreds of tonnes, but they were significant enough to appear regularly in the media. Environmental pollution has a negative impact on the tourist areas along the coastal strip of north Wales, such as Colwyn Bay, Llandudno and Rhyl. It is vital that we have a regulatory framework to address the offshore industry, as offshore installations have not been covered by the 1990 legislation in the same way as onshore installations.

I welcome the fact that energy efficiency will become part of the holistic approach to pollution control. It is to the great credit of the Government that they are willing to take difficult decisions that many constituents do not like in relation to fuel duty and so on. However, that is part of the green agenda that we are implementing.

There is a need to ensure adequate monitoring of atmospheric and marine pollution. The technology is available to industry, which must get involved in research and development as well as marketing and producing. The major polluters of the atmospheric and marine environments need to be able to show the regulators that their permitted emissions are not being exceeded, either overall or on a peak basis.

This is an opportunity for small businesses—to which Tory Members keep referring—to get into the environmental monitoring industry, which is growing and is worth billions of pounds. I hope that the Bill will encourage more British companies to research and develop environmental monitoring equipment, and I welcome the Government's intention in proposing the Bill.

7.22 pm
Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

I start by declaring an interest, in that I am a trustee of the Centre for Environmental Initiatives—an organisation in my constituency which does much work on environmental issues, both locally and nationally.

The Liberal Democrats welcome the Bill because we must strengthen pollution prevention and control in this country. However, the Bill is not perfect and further work will be needed on definitions, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). Should the definition of "harm" extend to offending the senses of human beings? That is worth revisiting. There may be legitimate concerns also about releasing the names and addresses of producers—again, something to which we may want to return. In Committee, we will table amendments to strengthen the Bill and to address some of its weaknesses. However, the Bill represents progress, and we shall give broad support to its principles.

We want to flesh out the detail of any proposed pollution inventories. The Labour party promised action in this area before the general election. The Minister for the Environment promised: Local Authorities will be responsible for a comprehensive Local Pollution Inventory detailing emissions of pollutants into air, water and ground in their area. That promise has been repeated, most recently at the 1998 Labour party conference—still, I believe, the sovereign body of the Labour party—where the Minister said that he wanted a toxic releases inventory of all noxious discharges to land, air and water in their neighbourhood to be readily available for public inspection by local people. The principle of pollution inventories is supported by the Environment Agency, which recently stated that a truly comprehensive pollution inventory would contain information on all sources of pollution in a local area", particularly associated with landfill sites and sewage works. The agency believes, as do the Liberal Democrats, that an amendment to the Bill would be the most effective way of achieving that.

There is broad support for the concept of pollution inventories among industrialists. The business and environment director of the UK Chemical Industries Association said that if the Government proposed a comprehensive inventory, the association would give that its wholehearted support. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor) has tabled an early-day motion calling for pollution inventories, which has been supported by no fewer than 194 Members of Parliament. I hope that others will support it in the days and weeks to come.

My hon. Friend's Access to Environmental Information Bill is what is needed. The crucial difference is that people have a right to know about dangerous pollutants emitted from sources in their area. That is where the protection of the environment and freedom of information combine—something to which the Liberal Democrats are committed. My hon. Friend's Bill, supported by Members from both sides of the House, would deliver that.

It is appropriate that we are discussing the Bill today, as we prepare to go to the polls for elections to the European Parliament. The window of opportunity for the Bill came with the integrated pollution prevention and control directive. That is a good thing that has come out of Europe—I hope that all hon. Members can agree on that. That is why my party has taken a positive line on Europe—a firm but fair line. It is not possible for this country to have a pristine environment if a reactor in France fails, if Germany pollutes the air or if everybody else destroys the oceans. As others have pointed out, environmental pollution does not respect national boundaries.

Anybody arguing for a weaker Europe, or for this country to go it alone, must realise that that has knock-on effects on issues such as the environment. Only with a strong Europe—working on environmental issues and taking tough decisions on the world stage—can we hope to see action on the scale that is so desperately needed to ensure that our environment is safe. A weaker Europe equals weaker environmental protection for all. Perhaps the Tories' campaign slogan should be, "Not in Europe, but polluted by Europe". The Liberal Democrats are proud, as environmentalists, to be strong supporters of a more open, more democratic, reformed and more sustainable EU.

The Liberal Democrats often criticise the Secretary of State for taking powers that we believe to be unnecessary. However, in this case, I hope that Ministers will assure the House that it is the Secretary of State's intention to use the powers available to him—selectively, of course, as many Members have raised concerns about the far-reaching nature of some of the powers. I would like an indication that the Secretary of State would be willing to use the powers where necessary—a point made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley).

We do not want to spend hours debating a Bill upon which, in the end, the Secretary of State has no intention of acting. I do not believe that that is the intention, but I hope that Ministers will confirm that the Government will use such powers, which powers they intend using and whether there is an outline timetable for when that will be done.

The Access to Environmental Information Bill is a way forward which, eventually, I believe will be agreed in this House. However, the Liberal Democrats are realists and, in the spirit of constructive opposition which characterises my party's positive and sensible approach to politics, I have another proposal.

I wrote recently to the Minister for the Environment to ask him to consider amendments which many hon. Members will have seen, as they were circulated by Friends of the Earth. I have not had a response, and I would be grateful if the Under-Secretary would respond on his behalf when she winds up. The amendments are non-controversial and I hope that the Government will support them—or table them themselves—in Committee.

The amendments would enable better information to be provided to the public on environmental pollution. That would not require the Secretary of State to take action, but it would give him the ability to do so in line with the enabling nature of the Bill. He will be able to collect pollution data from a variety of sources—landfill sites, factories, sewage treatment works and so on. That information could be made readily available to local people. That is what we want, what I believe Ministers want and what many other groups and organisations want.

An effective consensus has been reached in favour of such a measure, and I hope that the Minister will not disappoint us in her reply. In the meantime, we support the Bill as a first step in the right direction.

7.30 pm
Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford)

I, too, believe that it is timely that we should debate this matter today, only two days before the European parliamentary elections. As my right hon. Friend the Minister said, the Bill stems from the need to implement next year the European directive on integrated pollution prevention and control. That is another excellent example of the benefits of being in Europe and of being positive about it.

Contrary to the assertions of foreign imposition and domination made by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), the directive is very much influenced by the United Kingdom's system of integrated pollution control, which is site specific and based on permits, in contrast with the more general countrywide and inflexible controls favoured by many other member states. The European Council has listened to our arguments.

I understand that a significant proportion of the staff at the European Union's integrated pollution prevention and control bureau, which is preparing guidance on these matters for all member states, have been seconded from the Environment Agency for England and Wales. That is an example of positive international co-operation and shows how we can be constructive and helpful about Europe, and thus exert significant influence on measures that will benefit not only us, but all of Europe. In an election week, it must be said that that is in sharp contrast to the essentially anti-European position of too many Conservative Members.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) that, although the constitutional and procedural matters raised in great detail in another place are important, by concentrating only on those, the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) gave the impression of a somewhat negative approach to the Bill. He could have said a little more about the positive aspects of pollution control, raising standards for people in this country and throughout the European Union.

Mr. Burns

The responsibility of the official Opposition is to oppose those parts of legislation that we feel are not particularly good or need improving. I made it plain that, in principle, I support the aims of the Bill, because it is based on a directive to which the Conservative Government signed up, but our role is to find and draw attention to areas where we believe it is not ideal.

Mr. Hall

I look forward to positive and constructive interventions from Conservative Members in Committee.

It is widely understood that pollution does not respect international boundaries. It is a global issue and we clearly have to co-operate. The directive is an example of working together for common goals and the common good. It is also an example, in this election week, of the effective stewardship of the British people's interests delivered by the Government's leadership and competence in Europe. We are being listened to in Europe because we are positive about our engagement in Europe.

The directive, usefully, goes further than the UK system of integrated pollution control by requiring energy efficiency and noise to be considered as well as emissions. That is a welcome and important step forward. That good practice is already followed by many organisations and firms in this country, but it is important to set higher minimum standards. The Bill is extremely positive in that respect.

Mr. Gray

I was not being in the slightest bit anti-European. I was merely asking why we need a directive to implement such measures. What are the trans-boundary implications of noise pollution?

Mr. Hall

It depends on how loud the noise is. I hope that, if he serves on the Bill in Committee, the hon. Gentleman will make quiet but constructive noises that will be welcomed by our friends in Europe.

The directive and the Bill lay emphasis on installations, as opposed to the British system, which emphasises processes. That will be helpful. The scope of integrated pollution prevention will be widened to include landfill sites, which will be very welcome to my constituents in Bedford and Kempston, given their proximity to the brick clay pits, which are some of the biggest holes in the ground in this country. Some are still active, but the exhausted pits present a potential resource, including that used by the existing huge landfill operation, which deals with domestic and industrial waste, including some extremely toxic materials.

Large food and drink factories and intensive pig and poultry farms will be regulated, as will sewage works, which are frequently a source of local environmental concern. The Bill presents a common system, unifying the European IPPC directive, the UK system and the local air pollution system operated by local council environmental health departments. Many will welcome the idea of a unified, integrated system.

Will my hon. Friend the Minister expand a little further—in Committee, if not tonight—on those three strands? How can a common system work effectively and seamlessly, given that it will be operated nationally by the Environment Agency and locally by hundreds of authorities covering thousands of installations? There are resourcing and communication issues, and we need to ensure consistency between what is done in accordance with the same legislation by different organisations at different levels. That is a crucial question.

The Bill provides an excellent opportunity to deliver something that is crucial to an environmentally sustainable future: the empowerment of all citizens by making it possible easily to obtain clear information about pollution affecting them where they live. That should include information on health outcomes and hazards.

Just as democracy cannot be left only to politicians, so must care for the environment and respect for the planet not be left only to the experts. Of course we need experts' advice and the public must be kept informed, but to achieve really high environmental standards and to reduce or even eliminate pollution wherever possible, the concern and participation of the public are essential. Children are very keen on these matters and by being able to get information adults, too, will be able to contribute more effectively.

I warmly welcome the Government's commitment to comprehensive pollution inventories. Two welcome initiatives have already been introduced this year: the factory watch initiative from Friends of the Earth and the pollution inventory launched by the Environment Agency last month. Both those initiatives will enable the public to get information through the internet about their local environment, but they have only just got under way and there are some limitations. For example, the health threat data that Friends of the Earth have been using is questioned by some. It is based on US definitions, but the principle of having information about health outcomes and hazards is very important, and that work should be continued and strengthened.

The pollution inventory from the Environment Agency is currently restricted to the processes that the agency is able to cover under the regulations, although the scope will be widened. The biggest local source of pollution is usually road traffic, which is not included, but should be; nor are landfill and sewage works, but they will be if the Bill becomes law, as we hope. Indeed, the agency' s press release of 12 May says that its wish to expand the pollution inventory to create a truly comprehensive service could be achieved by an amendment to the Bill. I am sure that that issue will be carefully considered in Committee; the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) promised to raise it. He mentioned the fact that local councils will have an important role also, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will make some encouraging and instructive remarks about how that area can be developed.

It is important that we make progress in trying to reduce pollution at source. It is also important that we hold the polluter to account. We should recognise that pollution from industrial processes has been reduced in recent years, but we should not take that for granted. There is still a long way to go, and a recent article in The Observer revealed that some parts of the country suffer from releases of high levels of cancer-causing chemicals, dioxins and other toxic waste.

The Bill could help to drive standards up and to push pollution down. To do that, it must embrace the measurement of road traffic pollution. It should require a national pollution inventory to empower the public which is not diluted by unreasonable considerations of commercial confidentiality. It must also include the means to set serious targets, which are important if we are to make progress. We must not stay where we are or take what has happened for granted.

The Bill can help to create the conditions to build a body of good practice and high technological competence so that Britain becomes a centre of excellence. It is appropriate that the birthplace of the industrial revolution should become the place where some of the unacceptable consequences of industrialisation are effectively tackled. We should build up a body of research and information for the benefit of the planet. That will benefit this country and the European Union, and will have tremendous international implications. The Bill has great potential and I welcome it.

7.44 pm
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

The environment is one of the most fashionable causes of the past few decades. It has spawned masses of sacred cows which are trotted out whenever the Government look for a cause that might rouse public concern and interest. It has created many scares, which are good for publicity for the pressure groups, such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, and for businesses such as Ecologika—I shall talk later about how it operates in my constituency—which get fees from other organisations and the Government to tackle problems that often turn out not to be problems after all.

The Bill is designed to appeal to those people who have been, to some extent, taken in by the green lobby. In many cases, people's concerns have been raised needlessly. The Labour party promised those people a clean earth at the election to obtain their votes, but the Government have failed to deliver. They went overboard to secure the green lobby's votes. The tobacco lobby is another good example. The Labour party promised to ban tobacco advertising, only to modify the legislation and to excuse one of the major tobacco advertisers when it came into office.

The concept behind the Bill is riddled with contradictions and anomalies. The Government wish to call a halt to the dash for gas, which will mean more coal pollution, but the gases produced by coal pollution are much more dangerous to the environment than those caused by more efficient fuels, such as gas. If we are serious about reducing pollution, we should realise that atomic energy produces fuel in a much cleaner and greener way, although the Labour party would never dream of that solution. The Government's idea of alternative fuel is wind farms, which pollute the visual environment with ghastly concrete fins. The energy produced is accompanied by a horrible screeching, which is a noise pollutant for those who live nearby. Furthermore, the production of wind energy is so uneconomic that the whole wretched business has to be heavily subsidised by Government grants. That is the sort of ridiculous situation that the Government are in as a result of the anomalies and contradictions in their approach.

Landfill sites will get some more attention. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Hall) claimed to represent the landfill site of the nation, but I challenge that. The area that I represent is full of landfill sites. They are smelly, and the flies are so bad in the summer that people living within a mile or more cannot open their windows. The sites spawn rats, mice, sparrows and huge flocks of seagulls which, having fed on a mish-mash of domestic waste, leave their droppings on people's washing. The droppings are full of salmonella and other bacteria. However, the Government oppose the sensible alternative of incineration. They have come up with the fanciful idea that we can recycle everything, but goodness knows where all that recycling is to take place.

The ideas behind the Bill do not deal with realities. The Bill is an attempt to appease a particular group of the population whom the Government kidded to vote for them on the ground that they would produce magical results in environmental improvement. The Government are also leaning on the wretched European directive, which will mean more powers for agencies to bear down on small and large businesses alike. When businesses are forced to implement standards that are inappropriate and expensive, the costs are passed on to the consumer.

There is no such thing as a free environmental improvement measure. All such measures add to costs, both domestic and industrial. It is laughable to suggest that all Europe will abide by regulations such as those that appear in the Bill, and thus improve the competitiveness of our industries.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

A firm in my constituency—Biwaters—offers an example of how competitiveness can be improved by getting rid of various forms of pollution. That firm was under much pressure because of the pollution that it was causing in the area. When it expanded, it agreed to provisions to ensure that the pollution did not continue. The result was that growth brought more employment to the area, wealth and opportunities were created, and pollution was reduced. So there is no trade-off between pollution and cost.

Mrs. Gorman

The hon. Gentleman's example merely shows that our current system is working. The firm in his constituency was able to expand and ended up improving its methods to deal with waste. The previous Government used the polluter pays principle to improve the disposal of industrial waste, and it has worked well.

I wish that Labour Members would not always rubbish our country and the improvements that have taken place. I do not know how many of them have been on parliamentary trips to inspect other parts of the world, but anyone who has been to Mexico will know that the air there is not breathable and makes one pass out for the first few days. This country's air has been improved out of all recognition, without European directives. We have some of the best air in the world.

We keep on hearing about pollution from motor cars, but new cars produce almost no exhaust particulates. They do produce carbon dioxide, but the total amount of that gas produced by all forms of transport amounts to only 1 per cent. of all the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Incidentally, only 0.5 per cent. of that total is produced by cars. If we took every car and lorry off the road tomorrow, the difference in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be infinitesimal.

The Bill will allow the Government to intensify policies that, eventually, will render our car industry almost non-existent. The industry cannot keep up with the demands that the Government place on it. Safety requirements mean that cars have to be bigger and heavier, and thus consume more petrol, whereas the requirement to reduce carbon dioxide output serves little purpose, as it is not a serious problem.

The Bill will not prevent the large environmental disasters that, regrettably, occur from time to time. Such disasters include accidents at nuclear power plants which, although very regrettable, are rare, given the number of such plants around the world. Nor will the Bill prevent what happened when vessels such as the Torrey Canyon or the Exxon Valdez ran aground, or the pollution that afflicted the Welsh coast. Such incidents are due to human error, which cannot be eliminated by a measure such as this. The powers that the Bill will give the Government will not stop those regrettable, but unfortunate incidents.

I want to pay special attention to the question of landfill sites, which is of particular importance in my constituency. That matter has been mentioned several times already, and is a feature of the Bill. Landfill sites are unpleasant places, but their lifespan is to be reduced and no more will be introduced. Three cheers for that, although the process of phasing out landfill sites is not the result of Labour Government legislation, but has been taking place for some time. However, the alternatives are completely unrealistic. I urge the Government to consider the need to incinerate more of our domestic waste, thus producing energy. Domestic waste can be regarded as a form of biomass, and incinerating it will remove several other pollutants that are in too great abundance.

I seriously object to the fact that, although the Bill will lead to more regulation and add to the costs of industry, it will not make much difference to the environment. The Government have shown that they will slip out of obligations when it suits them, and the smoking pollution to which I referred earlier is one example of their duplicity. Nor will they deal sensibly with the problem of traffic congestion, a matter over which they have hoodwinked the public. The Government are torn between appeasing the motorist and keeping the green lobby happy.

How can congestion be cured without increasing the number of roads and bypasses, and without increasing funding? It is bizarre to suppose that new European regulations, which allow giant European lorries and more heavy goods vehicles on our roads, will help matters. Many of my constituents live up country lanes, along which relatively small lorries used to bring waste to be dumped. Now, the waste comes in enormous vehicles that destroy the hedgerows. Vibrations from those vehicles cause serious problems to building foundations. Any legislation that allows agencies to produce more madcap schemes is thoroughly bad. I hope that, in Committee, we shall hear some sensible, practical examples of how the effect of legislation can be the opposite of what was intended.

I am uneasy about the reality of improving the environment. Making people pay for the pollution that they produce is admirable, and has produced enormous benefits and great improvements in the way in which industry deals with its waste. The previous Government supported that approach, and that is the way we should go. We should not introduce legislation that bends to the fashionable environmentalist lobbies, whose views are often based on nonsensical and bizarre interpretations of science which will not produce the results that they intend.

7.58 pm
Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West)

Unlike the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), I support the Bill, which I believe offers the possibility of a big step forward in the way that we manage pollution prevention and control in this country and elsewhere in Europe, as similar legislation is being introduced throughout the European Union.

If one reads the background to the Bill and the discussions that have been held elsewhere on its provisions, it is clear that there have been substantial changes since it began its progress on 26 November last year. There is no doubt, either, that the wide consultations that have been held since July 1997, when the first consultation paper on implementing the European directive was issued, have also helped.

Of course, in most respects the Bill is concerned with a series of fairly dry, technical matters involving an abundance of off-putting acronyms and jargon. Even so, it is widely considered that the fairly substantial changes that have been made have improved the Bill.

I have a real interest in pollution control matters as my constituency contains a substantial concentration of industries that are potential polluters. It includes representatives of power generation, metal processing, mineral industries, the chemical industry, waste disposal and numerous other industries. The Severnside area also acts as an economic generator for the whole of the greater Bristol region, and underpins many of the jobs in that area. It is therefore vital that any new legislation strikes the right balance between protecting the health of the local people and the environment, without imposing unnecessary burdens on industry which could lead to it becoming uncompetitive.

The Bill strikes that balance. The decision not to introduce new legislation to run alongside existing legislation was wise. I know that people to whom I have spoken who are concerned with industry on Severnside would much prefer a one-stop-shop approach instead of having to deal with a number of different agencies. The existing overlap of permissions will also be aided by the new requirements to deal with whole installations rather than individual processes on a single site.

I have also discussed the proposed new legislation with the health and environmental services department of Bristol city council, which favours the integrated approach that is being adopted. In particular, the council is pleased with the possibility of organising processes to achieve the aim of sustainable development. The directive on integrated pollution prevention and control presents a huge opportunity to break the cycle of industrial land contamination. Requirements to avoid pollution risks, and to return sites to a satisfactory state when an installation closes permanently, must be included in the IPPC permits. That would not only ensure that the polluter pays for any remedial work, but that there was an incentive to manage processes so that contamination was avoided.

In a sense, the consumption of raw materials and energy is at the heart of sustainable development, and the way in which different business sectors respond to that pressure will be the key to future success. The Bill's proposals may help to influence the culture of industrial investment in the UK, which is traditionally short term in comparison with the longer-term view of some competitor nations. Encouragement of better energy efficiency will be a new responsibility for local authorities in this context and may not be easy to enforce. Measuring emissions may be child's play by comparison, but if sensible agreements can be reached, the effort will be worth while.

The EU directive and the Bill also emphasise noise prevention and reduction in an industrial setting, and that, too, marks an advance in treating noise pollution in a manner similar to that employed for other emissions for control purposes. I understand that there is currently some sort of turf war between local authorities and the Environment Agency about who should have the last word, but once that has been resolved, nothing but good can come.

I welcome the unifying and simplifying aspects of the Bill, and I understand that the Confederation of British Industry, local authorities and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health do too. That is an unusual combination, but it provides some measure of the broad support for the Bill.

8.3 pm

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

My constituents will welcome the Bill. Even Britain's most easterly constituency is part of the UK, of Europe and of the world. We share a common interest in preventing environmental damage in pursuit of a sustainable future. Pollution is the sharp end of environmental damage and dealing effectively with it must be at the heart of any environmental policy. I am pleased that the Bill emphasises the reality that pollution—particularly of the air and of water—respects and recognises no national boundaries. Flows of air and water do not stop at border controls.

It is important to give force to the Europe-wide directive, and it is fitting to do so in the week of the elections to the European Parliament. Our approach must be integrated across the countries of Europe. Everyone must sign up to the same standards, and enforce them to the same degree. The European Union has the tasks of ensuring that standards are enforced to the same degree in every country, and of showing that that is so. Many people in the UK are still convinced that other countries do not enforce standards to the same degree as we do. I do not know whether those allegations are true, but the belief is commonly held, and the EU must address it so that we may all be confident that regulations are equally enforced. We need higher standards across the EU, and a level playing field on which our businesses can compete.

Integration is also important to the approaches taken by individual Governments towards addressing the various forms of pollution, the regulations that govern operators, and the Government machinery for enforcement of regulations. If all that is integrated, we shall have an effective system that businesses involved can cope with and manage.

I want to focus on the relationship between environmental management and economic well-being, particularly as it affects my constituency. Waveney has particular reasons for welcoming improvements in the tackling of pollution. First, we are a coastal constituency, and tourism forms a major part of our economy. We have many attractions, but the basis of our tourism is clean beaches, clean sea water and clean rivers in the Broads national park. I am proud that since 1988 we have attained 51 beach awards and 13 European blue flags. Lowestoft was voted the best beach in the country by the English Tourist Board in 1991, and it still holds the title because the competition has not been run since then. More than 4,000 jobs are involved in tourism, and we have a clear interest in preventing pollution of our oceans and the North sea.

In 1978, an oil tanker shed some of its load, causing oil sludge on our beaches in north and south Lowestoft. A clean and healthy marine environment is also a necessity for good fisheries. Preventing pollution in seas around the country would be good for our fishing industry, which is particularly important to Lowestoft. Despite the gloom and doom we hear about fishing, I believe that we have a bright and sustainable future. Our main company has invested £3 million in a new trawler, which it would not have done unless it believed it had a future. The Bill will help to ensure that fish can breed in our marine environment.

When we implement environmental regulations, it is important to ensure that affected industries can adjust to change. We cannot afford to destroy businesses along the way. Let me offer a brief example that is currently causing concern. Anglian Water is implementing a current European directive, and Lowestoft fish merchants are concerned about what is happening in Grimsby.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment the fact that fish merchants face an increase in their sewage bills of 1,000 per cent. because of the way in which Anglian Water is implementing the directive. No business can cope with that, and my fish merchants are worried because a new sewage treatment plant is coming and they may be faced with the same problem in a year or two's time. A means must be found of managing the change, and I hope that my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend can find a way to resolve the situation. If they cannot, people at the Lowestoft fish market, on which our economy is heavily dependent, will continue to be worried.

That example illustrates the need to gain environmental advances without economic disbenefits, particularly in areas of high unemployment. Hon. Members who have studied the league table of unemployment in travel-to-work areas will know that a large number of coastal towns appear among the worst 20 areas.

My constituency has jobs in tourism and fishing. Another major source of employment is the offshore oil and gas industry, as is the case in several other towns around the coast. Therefore, we must carefully consider how the Bill relates to that important source of employment with its 350,000 jobs nationally, and given the 16 per cent. of industrial investment that it makes.

The industry has stated up front that it wants to play its part in developing an expanding environmental regime for offshore operations in partnership with the Government. It does not wish to run away from environmental responsibility. Indeed, during this debate I managed to take part in a meeting upstairs where the Minister for Energy and Industry was discussing that matter. He said that since he has been in office the industry has taken action in advance of legislation, which shows its attitude.

However, I wish to bring one or two concerns to the attention of the House. One concern is the means by which we reach the desired ends. Offshore installations vary because of geographical strata, technology, infrastructure and so forth. When trying to reach those ends, it is important that we consider installations on a site-by-site basis and recognise that different provisions should be made for different cases in relation to persons, circumstances, areas or locality.

I was heartened by the Minister's remarks on that subject at the beginning of the debate, when he mentioned flexibility and approaching matters on a site-by-site basis. We have to meet the desired ends, but there are different ways of doing so. We do not want the blanket application of specific technologies. There will be different solutions for different installations to reach those ends and that must be an important aim for the Government.

My second worry concerns the dreadful acronyms involved and the fact that BAT, or best available techniques, is to replace BATNEEC—best available technology without entailing excessive costs. The remarks of the noble Lord Whitty in another place and of the Minister this evening are heartening. They have confirmed that costs will form part of the new BAT regime, but it would be helpful if the Minister could make that absolutely clear when summing up. It will take away some of the worries and fears if, when seeking the best available technological solutions, we have regard to cost and the fact that it will not be excessive.

One cost with which offshore installations will have to deal is that of emissions from offshore combustion units. That will form part of the estimated additional £300 million that the industry feels the Bill will cost it. The industry questions one aspect that is related to combustion units and whether the cost involved will bring about significant improvements. A recent study carried out by the Norwegians—who, as we know, have a good environmental record—concluded that the environmental effects from combustion units in the North Sea do not pose a significant risk to populations or the environment. That study was carried out in March 1999 and was called "The Contribution to Nitrogen Deposition and Ozone Formation in South Norway from Atmospheric Emission Related to the Petroleum Activity in the North Sea." It showed that emissions from the British and Norwegian sectors contribute less than 5 per cent. each of the measured … values for coniferous trees during the growth season. If we are to compare emissions from combustion units with those from coniferous trees we must think seriously. I am not that familiar with the study and I do not understand all the science behind it, but that is a point worthy of consideration.

In searching for better environmental standards, we must always ensure that we get the best bang for our buck, to use the slang expression—that we make the most difference environmentally for the costs that will be incurred. Furthermore, in the consultation papers an appeals system was outlined for the onshore sector, but was apparently not suggested for the offshore sector in the Department of Trade and Industry paper. Natural justice would suggest that there ought to be an appeals procedure for that sector, too.

These are important matters for the British offshore oil and gas industry. The remarkable thing about that industry is that it is still here. Twenty years ago, people said that we would have run out of oil and gas by now, or that it would no longer be viable to extract it. The industry is still here because costs have been reduced so that marginal fields can be exploited. We need to get the cost balance right so that we can continue to exploit the resources that are left for 30 years or more. Now, 60 per cent. of the operation in the North sea involves gas, which is a relatively environmentally friendly fuel. It is important that we are able to extract and use up all or most of that gas—that finite and valuable resource—while the infrastructure is there. It would be very good environmental husbandry to take out that gas while we are able to do so, and that is why we need to consider costs alongside the important environmental advances that the industry also agrees need to be made.

8.15 pm
Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

So much has already been said in the debate, which is coming to an end, so I hope not to re-rehearse the arguments. However, having been able to listen to so much of the debate, I want to pick up on certain points, even if somewhat briefly.

The Bill is important because it dwells on the vital subject of pollution, which affects us all in one way or another. The underlying principles of the Bill were well rehearsed by the Labour party when in opposition, but it is worth reinforming and reinforcing them. To start with, we have the precautionary principle, which is so important in its own right. We also have the principle that the polluter pays. Both are integral to any legislation that deals with pollution. We can underline those with the principle of transparency and, in particular, the predilection to inform and keep records, to which hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred. Linked to that principle is the increasing awareness of the relevance of participation and, certainly, consultation.

All those are important principles and they have produced legislation that I hope will be supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House—one would hope that no one will vote against it. Interestingly, the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman rightly said that a Conservative Government were responsible for passing the directive—the Bill is very much an enhancement of that directive—but his argument was kicked to pieces on the Conservative Back Benches and I know not why.

I am genuinely pleased to see the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) in his place. I have always found him to be sound on environmental matters, if not so sound on agriculture, where we may disagree on some of the antecedents of various features affecting agricultural Britain at present. However, he made a pretty negative speech about the Bill. I thought that he would be genuinely in favour of some of the improvements and enhancements in it.

Mr. Gray

I was trying to point out, perhaps not expertly, that unlike the Millbank tower-controlled drones on the Labour side, we Conservative Members are able to express our own views. My view is that we in the United Kingdom apply the highest possible environmental standards. Therefore, why should it be necessary for us to pay lip service to a European directive to achieve what we are already achieving? I made that point to the hon. Member for Stoke—on—Trent, North (Ms Walley).

Mr. Drew

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. In many respects, the way in which we approach the subject may be laudable, but anyone who has an interest in it—I imagine that all hon. Members have—can recall instances where that has not always been the case. In considering some of the issues that have been raised in the debate, I hope, in a roundabout way, to show that we can always improve and extend our provision and that we can always learn, dare I say it, from examples in other parts of the world where things are not necessarily being done better, but differently.

The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), who is not in her place, asked whether we are driving our motor car industry out of existence. I do not think that we are, but some important driving factors come from the United States, where compliance standards are being ratcheted up greatly. They may have different views about congestion costs, but they are worried about the environmental consequences of vehicles whose emissions are too high. We can always learn from abroad and ensure that we are willing to take things forward.

Hon. Members have asked why we need to move to BAT when we have BATNEEC. In a previous life as a councilor, I got well used to BATNEEC. The derogatory reference to it as catnip was interesting. I am not sure what that stands for, but I think that it means that people do what they need to do to avoid prosecution, rather than doing what they should do. My experience of BATNEEC was that it did not work in the most extreme cases. Local authority environmental health officers were often unable to pursue companies.

One case springs to mind. It was understood that companies could introduce a new form of technology involving a centrifuge to remove the residue, which they were putting into the atmosphere, of a nasty green powder. To be fair, the companies themselves thought that, but they kept saying that they could not afford it. It went on year after year. The next-door neighbour was a resident—there were also businesses nearby—who kept demanding that the change be made, but it never quite happened. If we can define BAT more carefully, some instances where an improvement is promised but not delivered could be avoided.

According to Opposition Members, we are anti small business—if not anti business—in the way in which we are making the changes, but one of the biggest gainers is small business. I regularly get complaints from small businesses about how business treats them with regard to pollution. Without naming or shaming, I have a case involving a large depot that has a poor record on oil spillage, which directly affects a market garden and a smallholding next door. The neighbours have regularly pursued the matter with the Environment Agency and I am pleased that we seem to be getting somewhere. It is naive to think that small business does not have a view or regards this only as a cost when it can see the benefits in cases where they are affected by the often deplorable behaviour of other businesses. I shall qualify this point in a moment, but while business wants a level playing field and fairness, it also wants to know that the costs of regulation are not being introduced in an unprecedented or unfair manner.

Mr. Gray

Small businesses that suffer pollution from big business will of course wholeheartedly favour big business being controlled. However, the Federation of Small Businesses, which speaks for small business across the nation, has made it 100 per cent. plain that it opposes the Bill because it will damage small businesses. How can the hon. Gentleman argue that the Bill, which brings 2,000 small businesses into the control mechanism, is good for small business?

Mr. Drew

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman heard what I said. Of course regulation implies that there may be additional costs, but businesses that are being unduly affected by the behaviour of other businesses will favour the changes. His point did not come up in my consultations with the Federation of Small Businesses locally. There may be a time lag and small businesses may not be sure about what regulations are coming, but I believe that they will welcome what they see as a fair and just system. People who break the regulations should be pursued and the polluter should pay. That cannot be done without regulation. Without it, this policy would be empty gestures, hot air and rhetoric. It is wrong to say that small business opposes the measure. It will see the benefits when clear offenders are dealt with.

I welcome the inclusion of energy efficiency. I hope that we are moving towards examining standard assessment procedures and how we assess building regulations so that we can improve the quality of our stock to ensure that we get the benefit of not allowing energy to escape through walls or roofs. Greater care should be taken in respect of noise pollution, which affects many more people than is often thought.

There is also the question of moving ecological management forward with, for example, EMAS—ecological management auditing systems—schemes. The hon. Member for Billericay may not like some of what is happening, but there is a spirit of enterprise and of wanting to do things better. That can all come together to make our world a better place to live in and to enable business to make a profit through its enterprising activities.

The qualifications that I want to make are not radically different from those of the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). Like him, I have been contacted by the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association. We need some clarification on where we are with the directive. I am sure that that will come in Committee, although the Minister may want to allude to it now. Is annexe 1 the way to curtail regulation, or will we go beyond that? There is always an argument about what constitutes harm and how to redefine that.

With those qualifications, I welcome this excellent Bill. I hope that it gets a fair wind tonight so that all its principles can be implemented.

8.27 pm
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) obviously made an impression because he has been mentioned by several Labour Members. I will be no exception because I want to refer to his analysis of European directives. He said that there were three ways in which the nations of the European Union could respond to directives. They could respond enthusiastically, as he felt that we did in the United Kingdom; they could ignore the directives, as tended to happen in Italy; or, as he favoured, they could drag their feet by doing only enough to avoid prosecution. That seems to be a strange attitude to adopt towards an organisation with which we are supposed to be associated.

The hon. Gentleman hit on a fourth possibility when he suggested that the Germans did not need to do any of those things because—he claimed—they were already operating the directives and therefore we were adopting their ideas. In fact, the Bill contains a fifth position, because it not only adopts a Council directive, it goes considerably beyond that, which is one of the most exciting things about the Bill. Even the long title of the Bill refers to otherwise preventing and controlling pollution". It goes beyond the provisions in the Council's directives. That is explained in clause 1(1)(b) and (c), which refer to regulating, otherwise than in pursuance of that Directive, activities which are capable of causing any environmental pollution; and otherwise preventing or controlling emissions capable of causing any such pollution. There are a series of definitions that add to those provisions and show that the Bill contains serious measures to try to tackle pollution. The method by which that will be done is set out in the regulation provisions in clause 2. Some people are entirely anti-regulation; we have heard some speeches to that effect, such as the one from the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman). Other people are much more favourable to regulation; they realise the problems of bureaucracy and want to control it, but they believe that fair regulation systems can operate.

The position of the official Opposition was given by the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), who is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench. He said that we could evade the regulations by having the measures clearly set out in the Bill, so that it explained the type of matters that would be dealt with. The problem faced by the Government in introducing the measure is the complexity of environmental protection and how to handle it. For example, in relation to dioxins, only one criterion is set down for unacceptable levels of dioxin—that is for dioxin in water. Apart from that, there are various examples of levels that people judge create dangers and difficulties and on which action is needed. In those circumstances, it would be difficult to introduce measures—the legislation would be massive—that tried to set out every level that had to be adhered to, every provision and every complex arrangement that would have to be made in one firm, so that it could establish the difficulties that it faced and so that the provisions for action in the Bill's schedules could be undertaken.

The procedure set out in the Bill is the best that can be managed. There are a series of avenues through which regulation can be introduced, but it will be introduced by affirmative procedure so that there is an opportunity to kick an item into touch if people disagree with it and feel that it is unduly bureaucratic. We can overcome the difficulties expressed by the hon. Member for West Chelmsford by considering that general provision.

A problem in my constituency would have been handled much better by this Bill than by the existing provisions. About a year ago, there were two massive incidents involving the escape of acid gas at the Sarp plant at Killamarsh. As a result, the population of the area mobilised and organised; they were adamant that they wanted rid of that chemical reclamation plant and the pollution that they had suffered over many years. The two incidents that had led to that crisis and the mobilisation of those people were extreme examples of pollution. Since then, enforcement notices have been issued in relation to other shortcomings of the firm and prosecutions in respect of the two incidents are currently taking place.

Clause 2 would make available to the Secretary of State a regulation procedure that could have applied in those cases. Clause 2(3)(b) states that he can make different provision for different cases, including different provision in relation to different persons, circumstances, areas or localities. That might appear to be a very wide-ranging potential power to put in the hands of the Secretary of State, even if any regulations he made would have to pass the affirmative resolution procedure before they could take effect. However, in the case I described, such a power would have allowed the possibility of consulting the Environment Agency, local government, the industry itself, the small businesses in the area affected by Sarp's operations, and the local action committee which was organised, Residents Against Sarp Pollution. All those views could have been taken on board.

In fact, my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment did all that, by visiting the plant and meeting members of the action group and local councillors on 30 July last year. However, he was restricted in terms of possible avenues of action. The Bill would open up those avenues. The Bill might also present the Secretary of State with some problems, because he will face pressure from various local organisations that want to push him into taking action on certain matters, but such democratic pressure is good and healthy.

The Bill will be of great advantage to us in the work to contain and control pollution. It will help us to ensure that people operate according to best practice and that pollutant-creating plants do not affect the population in their locality. Having a healthy local population strikes me as being of great economic advantage: people live longer, earn longer and pay more taxes, and they do not go to hospital as often, so the cost to society of their treatment is less. Therefore, even if we treat people as mere economic units working to create wealth in society, legislation that is sensitive to the need to tackle the problems of pollution cannot be said to impose an excessive burden on society; rather, it is a benefit to everyone in the long run. The Bill will be of economic and social benefit and it will improve the quality of life of everyone in society.

The Sarp site at Killamarsh is next to a school playing field: they now send out what is known as a sniffer patrol before letting young children play on that field. Tackling and overcoming such problems can do much to enhance the quality of human life. Ultimately, it is all about running an effective, well-organised society that creates wealth and distributes it properly among its people. We should not accept the views of those who want to do nothing and who would leave it to industry to act out of the goodness of its heart. In a system that produces goods but also produces pollution, people benefit, but they also suffer. If we weigh up the costs and benefits of such a society, the overall balance is supposed to be to our advantage, but there are such things as diseconomies, which should be subtracted from the benefits of social activity.

The Bill is important. Governments always have to be watched when they produce regulations, so we must have opportunities to scrutinise and debate such regulations. Some Governments will not produce regulations that are good enough, and they will have to be prodded into doing so. However, I do not see any means other than the Bill of building a system for the future that results in a decent society that protects us from the worst of pollution.

8.39 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson)

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) ended where the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) began—with the regulations, which are an essential part of delivering on the Bill. The hon. Member for West Chelmsford expressed his concerns, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment made it abundantly clear that the House of Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation believed that as all the regulations were subject to the affirmative procedure, adequate parliamentary control would be retained.

That was underlined by an undertaking given by our noble Friend Lord Whitty that any future amendments to the regulations which changed provisions previously included in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 would be put to Parliament for consideration under the affirmative procedure. We therefore believe that the proper safeguards are in place.

In his contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for North—East Derbyshire made the particularly effective point that regulations are so valuable because they allow flexibility to be brought to bear on a developing scene that is immensely detailed. As he said, that approach avoids static, bureaucratic imposition on industries and business.

Another concern was expressed by the hon. Members for West Chelmsford and for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray). I was somewhat bemused when the hon. Member for North Wiltshire pulled out of the air the figure of 2,000 small businesses, which he claimed would be caught by the Bill. It is clear in the directive that thresholds have been set in annexe 1, below which the directive will not apply. That means that small firms are unlikely to come within the scope of the directive.

The Federation of Small Businesses has responded constructively to each of the three consultation exercises that we carried out, and it will continue to be consulted. The federation welcomed some of the deregulatory changes that the Government are making in replacing current regimes—for example, the use of standard application forms, which will save manpower costs, and the use of standard permit conditions, which will lead to lower charges. There is scope for less frequent permit reviews for industry, resulting in cost savings, regulators' decision times will be reduced from four months to three months in certain uncontentious cases, and there is the possibility of greater use of standard permit conditions or general binding rules to streamline procedures. I repeat that, as my right hon. Friend said, only a fraction of the Federation of Small Businesses' 130,000 members will be affected.

Mr. Gray

Will the Minister give way?

Ms Jackson


Mr. Gray

The hon. Lady asked a question.

Ms Jackson

I did not ask a question; I made a statement.

Another concern expressed not only by Conservative Members, but by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), related to the use of best available techniques—BAT. My hon. Friend was worried about costs, as the Bill will bring into its remit the offshore gas and oil installations which, as he said, play such a major part in the economy of his area.

The directive states, with regard to best available techniques: Available techniques shall mean those developed on a scale which allows implementation in the relevant industrial sector, under economically and technically viable conditions, taking into consideration the costs and advantages". I trust that I have addressed my hon. Friend's concerns. The site-specific nature of the provisions means that there can be no excessive costs and no bureaucratic regime can be imposed. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke—on—Trent, North (Ms Walley) offers the House her apologies for the fact that she is not in her place, as she had a prior engagement in her constituency. She brought to the debate all her expertise, information and her commitment to all matters environmental, which does not stem simply from her membership of the Environmental Audit Committee and the all-party environment group. She has pursued environmental matters with passion and integrity, not only while she has been a Member of the House, but before that.

My hon. Friends the Members for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger), for North-East Derbyshire and for Bristol, North-West (Dr. Naysmith) highlighted the impact that failure to protect our environment has had on their constituencies and on their constituents, and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney told us about the other side of the coin. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North pointed out, her constituency suffered for many years from the effects of the industrial revolution and environmental protection has assisted her local authorities and communities in beginning to improve their environment.

The constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire has suffered more than once from the impact of disastrous accidents or failure to protect the environment adequately, and he spoke with a direct appreciation of the benefits that will be brought into play by the Bill. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke—on—Trent, North—indeed, all my hon. Friends—welcomed the holistic approach that is inherent in combining the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the European directive, which will mean that there will be a less bureaucratic regime. It will also be possible for businesses and industries, which must respond to the requirements of the legislation, to know precisely what is being requested of them.

I was much intrigued by the contribution of the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), and I regret that she is not in her place. I distinctly remember the first time that she and I exchanged opinions across the Floor of the Chamber, when I was a new Member of the House: she said that, as a scientist, she knew that no damage was being inflicted, there was no hole in the ozone layer and there was no such thing as global warming. I was fascinated to hear tonight that her opinion on those matters has basically not altered.

I was also fascinated by the hon. Lady's ire at what she claimed to be the present Government's introduction of the Bill. She seemed to be entirely ignorant of the fact that the basis of the Bill—the 1990 Act—was introduced by the Conservative Government. The directive, which is being incorporated into that Act through the Bill, was signed by them. However, it is always a pleasure to listen to her because of the delicious frisson caused by disagreeing with virtually everything she has to say.

The contribution of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) was essentially concerned with public information and he said that a comprehensive inventory should be available to the general public. I was somewhat surprised that he cavilled about that because my right hon. Friend and the Government are passionate about developing a comprehensive inventory. As my right hon. Friend said, the Government believe that local people should know what is happening in their own area and information should be available and accessible to them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Hall) was keen to welcome that accessibility. The Bill provides a wide-ranging power requiring information on emissions to be included in a pollution inventory, whether a person is the holder of a permit or not. We welcome the launch by the Environment Agency on 12 May of its inventory in which information on emissions from 2,000 integrated pollution prevention and control processes is presented in an easily accessible form on the internet. We are examining the extension of a similar reporting requirement to the 13,000 processes regulated by local authorities and we hope to announce our conclusions shortly.

As I am sure the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington knows, the Environment Agency has plans to require landfill sites and sewage treatment works to make an information report. We shall consider the proposals carefully. We are delivering on our pledges. We expect to announce shortly our conclusions on the extension of the reporting requirement to local authorities. It is wrong to say that the Bill needs amendment before landfill sites and sewage treatment works can be required to report. Under the Bill as it stands, information can be required from any operator, whether or not he holds a permit.

Mr. Brake

Will the Minister seek clarification from the Environment Agency on its view that an amendment to the Bill is required?

Ms Jackson

I am somewhat bemused by that. I am sure that those at the Environment Agency have read the Bill, and it will be clear that paragraph 11 of schedule 1 gives the power to require information from anyone, whether or not he is a permit holder.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire seemed either not to be aware or not to care very much that the 1990 Act and the directive came into being under the previous Administration.

Mr. Gray

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Jackson

If I may finish this point. The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, and I can well remember when, during an examination of the British maritime industry, he boasted that as a maritime lawyer he knew nothing about ships. Clearly, it has been central to his professional life to speak at great length on subjects about which he knows absolutely nothing—a habit that he indulged again this evening. He was much concerned about the timing of the directive.

Mr. Gray

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Jackson

If I may just finish. The directive was agreed in the summer of 1995 by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer).

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire was also concerned about increasing the number of businesses to be regulated from 2,000 to 6,000. The IPPC requires that. Again, that was agreed under the previous Government by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, for whom the hon. Gentleman worked.

Mr. Gray

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way at last. She thinks that she knows a lot about these matters. For the record, I am not and have never been a maritime lawyer, and I have never said that I was. I have never claimed to be a maritime lawyer, so I do not know to which exchange she was referring. I am afraid to say that she knows as much about what happened in the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee as she does about what happened this evening. The point I was making was that the provisions in clause 1(1)(b) and (c) go a great deal further than annexe 1 of the directive. Instead of this cheap actress activity of poking fun across the Chamber, perhaps she should address herself to the Bill. Does she accept that the Bill goes significantly further than the terms of annexe 1 of the directive? Or perhaps she does not know.

Ms Jackson

It is bizarre that the hon. Gentleman intervened earlier and demanded to know why pollution from light was not within the remit of the Bill. He clearly never listens either to what other people say or to what he says himself, because he cannot remember his own contribution.

A point tellingly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) highlighted how the Bill can protect small businesses from the environmental depredations of larger firms and industries. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney emphasised the importance of environmental protection in his area. He referred with no small pride to the primacy of the beach at Lowestoft, and stressed that it is by having clean beaches, sea and air that tourism, which is vital in his part of the world as it is in many parts of the United Kingdom, and the well-being of those areas and their local people can be protected and sustained.

We believe that most people both inside and outside the House will welcome the Bill. The issue of environmental protection is increasingly important, not only as it affects the quality of life, but in terms of improving the health of our people and the health of the world. Certainly, we have made clear commitments in regard to Europe; indeed, we have made international commitments. We believe that the Bill will help us to meet those commitments, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to standing Order No. 63 (Committee of Bills).