HC Deb 11 July 2000 vol 353 cc688-90
5. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

What proposals he has to combat the effects of acid rain on the brown trout population; and if he will make a statement. [128404]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher)

Government measures to reduce acidifying emissions include the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Gothenburg protocol, the proposed national emission ceilings directive, the proposed amendment to the large combustion plant directive and the sulphur content of liquid fuel directive.

Mr. Llwyd

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. I know that he is something of an expert in environmental matters and has a great track record in that area, but may I urge upon him the need to move quickly with regard to intrinsic stocks of brown trout? They are dwindling now. May I suggest that the Environment Agency's remit be extended, so that a full audit is prepared and it can then look at ways of combating the present trend?

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point on a matter that we are very concerned about. I am glad to say that, as a result of the string of directives that I read out, United Kingdom emissions of sulphur dioxide—which is the main cause of acid rain—have decreased by 57 per cent. compared with 1990 levels, and are expected to decrease by 84 per cent. by 2010. However, I understand that further action is needed.

I believe that liming—which I understand to be the practice of treating acidified waters with calcium oxide—is proving very successful. The latest evidence shows that the river Tywi—which is in south-west Wales, and was almost fishless in 1990—has had an increase of about 600 adult salmon and 2,500 adult sea trout returning to the river each year. However, we shall keep a very close eye on the issue and take account of the hon. Gentleman's comments.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

When considering work to improve the environment, will my right hon. Friend have a word with his colleague the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about promoting research and development and a private finance initiative in clean coal technology—which will help not only to improve the environment, but to secure jobs within both the electricity generating industry and the mining industry?

Mr. Meacher

Yes, I certainly shall. Although my hon. Friend's question is fairly wide of the main question, I am very happy to have such discussions with my colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry. I think that clean coal technology is indeed very interesting. It is not yet commercially viable, but it has the potential of achieving continued and high levels of coal production in a manner that minimises the impact on the environment. We are certainly keen to see further research done, both in the private sector and in the public sector, to secure that technology.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

Does the Minister accept that the greatest impetus to a healthy brown trout population is the existence of fishing? Is not the reason why so many Labour Members are enthusiastic supporters of the practice of fishing the fact that fishing is good for conservation? However, if that is true, why do not the same arguments apply to the co-existence of a healthy fox population and hunting?

Mr. Meacher

That is a very good try. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity, but I am afraid that there is no analogy between the two issues.