HL Deb 20 April 1972 vol 330 cc191-268

3.29 p.m.

LORD KENNET rose to call attention to the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment to be held in Stockholm in June, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the human environment could hardly be described as a neutral subject, but it is at least a neuter one. Recently the Press has been full of coverage for two documents dealing with the future of mankind and threatening early extinction or disaster. One is the book Limits to Growth, published by the Club of Rome, and the other is the so-called Blueprint for Survival, published by the Ecologist magazine. I am particularly glad to see that Lord Avebury is down to speak this afternoon because of the Motion he has down on the second of these publications. My Lords, both these publications have something in common, in that the analysis they make of the situation is, in the view of most people I think, a pretty good one, but that the conclusions they come to about what mankind ought to do are in each case defective.

The Club of Rome book, with its plethora of computer runs, should be treated with no more respect than the politicians and others in Government everywhere always treat computer runs—that is to say, as useful tools to be used, together with others. The Blueprint, with its call for a return to living in com munities of no more than 500 and for the abandonment of cities, ends with naive and romantic conclusions. On the other hand, we have a brigade of people who are blithely whitewashing and who say that world pollution is only a fad, that nothing is wrong, that we should continue as we are going now and that technology will come to the rescue, as always. The debate increasingly centres on the concept of the gross national product. There are those who say that we should not any longer seek to increase it. The G.N.P. was invented by the economists as a measurement, no more. Now we politicians run away with the standard litre and turn it into the Holy Grail. The G.N.P. does not measure happiness or utility—only money, whatever it is spent on. We now have to widen our angle of vision and set ourselves the national goal of useful growth or of "gross national well-being". Oddly enough, these ideas seem new to our economists and few are yet working on them, though the number is increasing.

The world's environment is single, with a vengeance! Consider a small plastic package. You throw it away. If you live in London, it is collected by the borough council but it is disposed of by the Greater London Council—very likely into the North Sea. If so, it will come under the North Sea dumping convention negotiated by the United Kingdom Government with other Governments. Of course, it may float northwards round the corner into the Atlantic, where there is not yet (though there will have to be) a world convention on dumping negotiated by all the Governments of the world. Add to this that this plastic package might not have been sold to you in the first place if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had taxed it; and one sees that this is one of those fields where if you think of anything you must think of everything.

My Lords, that is exactly what the Stockholm Conference is about. I should like first to look at the preparations which are being made for that Conference and then at the hopes that we may entertain about its outcome. The Conference is a Swedish move, proposed by the Swedish Government some years ago. The British effort towards participation in it was commenced under the late Labour Administration. Things really took off with the appointment of a Canadian Secretary-General, Mr. Maurice Strong, a strong and energetic Secretary-General such as is not always found in international organisations. His arrangements were full and very intelligent. Everything was considered, usually three times, both functionally and geographically—and also sectorally, in so far as that is distinguished from functionally. In November, 1970, Mr. Strong made a speech in which he said that some countries had already set up national committees to help prepare for the Stockholm Conference and to rope in all the wit and wisdom in their countries that was relevant to it. He appealed to those countries who had not yet done so to follow suit.

In that same month, we on this side of Parliament wrote to the Secretary of State for the Environment and urged him to do the same thing. Mr. Walker was good enough to ask me to go to see him, and in due course he took a rather imaginative and unusual step: he appointed, not one national committee but four Working Group chairmen. He left the chairmen to choose the members. Obviously there are dangers in this course. It gives the Working Groups greater liberty to say things that the Government do not welcome, but, equally, it gives the Government greater liberty to reject those findings if they should wish to do so. It seems to me that if the reports of the working groups are good they could be very good, better than those that could be obtained by conventional means; but if they are bad they run the risk of being very bad and worse than those that could be obtained by conventional means. We shall see. We are told that the reports will be out in the middle of May. I should like to ask the Government what is the booklet that Mr. Eldon Griffiths referred to in the House of Commons recently. He said that some booklet is to be published by the Government. Will it be the four reports in one, or will it be something else—and, if so, what? Many voluntary bodies sent evidence to those four working groups, bodies including the United Nations Association, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Committee on Oil Pollution of the Sea—and the last, I know, will be of nostalgic interest to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, for he used to be chairman of it.

Then, at a certain point, we on this side again wrote to the Secretary of State asking this time how the delegation to Stockholm is to be composed. The Secretary of State is to lead it himself. That is a very right decision. We asked whether there could not be some Members of Parliament on the delegation in order to associate Parliament fully with the work of the Conference. We are glad to learn that my right honourable friend, Mr. Anthony Crosland, has been invited to form part of that delegation, even if the invitation is for only three days out of the fortnight that the Conference is to last. There have been one or two signs, I think, that the Government may not be throwing their full weight behind this. I want to ask the noble Earl whether he can set our minds at rest about the matter. In a debate in the House of Commons on December 22 last year, Mr. Laurance Reed, who is a man of great skill in these matters, asked the Government whether they would work towards a "Doom-watch" agency. This would be a global agency watching over the state of the environment, monitoring it and surveying it to see whether anybody was breaking any of the "ten commandments" which might be set up. Mr. Griffiths, in reply, poured cold water on that—not scorn, but cold water—and said that he did not think that any such thing was a good idea at all.

Now, in the formal proposal before the Conference, we have something called an "Earth-watch Agency" which is really to be precisely the same thing. It is to be an agency to check continually on the state of the environment, to draw conclusions from it and to assist the United Nations in laying down priorities as to what problem should be tackled first. I hope that Mr. Griffith's negative attitude towards "Doomwatch" does not mean that the Government are going to adopt a negative attitude to "Earth-watch", because they are much the same thing. There is another straw in the wind. The Government did not mention this Conference in the Queen's Speech—why should they? The Queen's Speech is not an eternal one—but they mentioned the 1973 Conference on the Law of the Sea. This Conference is important too, but it is further ahead and concerns a smaller sector. Why could they not find a place in the Queen's Speech to mention the Stockholm Conference? That is the end of my critical questions.

My Lords, let us turn now to the question of East Germany. There is a tangle here, because the East Germans cannot come to that Conference until they are members of the United Nations or of one of its bodies. This situation is not welcome to the Soviet Union, who threaten to pull out, with their friends, unless the East Germans are allowed in. This is another demand for the recognition of East Germany. I think it is important to emphasise that this difficulty is a matter of Soviet choice; it has not been chosen by the Western countries. The Soviet Union can very well come to the Conference without East Germany and I hope they will. If they do not it might well turn out that they are cutting off their nose to spite their face. It is hard to agree with those who hold that the environmental crisis is so much graver than any other crisis that has ever faced mankind and the Conference is therefore so much more important that we must accord back-door recognition of East Germany. Recognition of East Germany is the keystone of the most arduous and difficult settlement which has been undertaken in Europe, perhaps in this century. I do not believe that this United Nations Conference is a reason for shooting away the props on which the Chancellor of West Germany is standing at this moment in those most difficult and important negotiations.

We hope from this Conference that a fund will be set up. This should be a fund for knowledge about the environment and for the "Earth-watch" which I have just described. This will be a fund for research and training; it will not be a fund for subsidies for Governments or firms to avoid fouling the environment and will not be a disguised form of aid to underdeveloped countries (which we discussed yesterday) and which should be increased by all means according to its own criteria, but not necessarily by this means.

Here again I have to ask the Government some questions. We suggested in November that perhaps the Government were not very favourable to the idea of this new fund of new money of the United Nations, and Mr. Peter Walker wrote to me in private correspondence that as yet no firm proposals for the fund either from member States or the secretariat existed. That was in January of this year. But, my Lords, they very soon did. On February 8 President Nixon, in a message to Congress, called for a fund running to 100 million dollars in the first five years. He said that the United States would bear their fair share of that and continued, "I invite other nations to join with us in this commitment to meaningful action".

My Lords, five weeks after that, on March 15, the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, in answer to a Question in this House about this fund and about President Nixon's proposal, said: The proposal was tabled on March 7 at the fourth session of the Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, in the form of a draft resolution proposed by the United States Government for the Stockholm Conference. It was discussed in a preliminary way by the Committee and remitted for consideration at the Conference under the heading of organisational and financial implications of recommendations for action which may emerge from the Conference. Meanwhile, Her Majesty's Government are giving careful consideration to the proposal. There seems to be a certain discrepancy between President Nixon's ringing invitation to the nations of the world to join him in this positive initiative and that rather dusty answer. Can we have more news to-day of the Government's attitude towards the fund?

I turn now to the question of ocean dumping. We have a good North Sea arrangement which must be extended to cover the world. I think we may hope that Britain will take a lead in this matter. I hope also that the Government will soon see their way to taking a lead towards an all-purpose authority for the North Sea, not only to deal with dumping but to deal with pollution, with navigation wrecks and with fishing conservations, something if you like, like a river basin authority for the North Sea composed of all the riparian States. I am glad to see that the concept of river basin authorities themselves as between different nations has found its way into the Conference document, along with many other positive ideas like the working limit for intake to the human body of certain substances. This is technical. I will not go into it, but I think it is the right approach. I think we may hope that the proposals for the World Heritage Trust, for wet lands and waterfalls, for islands for science, for the preservation of genetic pools and for a 10 year moratorium on whaling (though there is a big question mark over that) all this wonderful list of poetic things will come out in some practicable form in Stockholm.

I turn now to the question of structure, the United Nations structure we may hope to see emerge. I think there is a need for a new body, a body which will be able to see that everything is done by someone and that nothing is done twice. Can the Government tell us their views about the possibility of this body being set up in London? I see that it was stated in the House of Commons recently that it ought to be near other United Nations bodies concerned with the matter. This, of course, at first sight suggests Geneva, but IMCO, the International Maritime Consultative Organisation, which is very much concerned with the matter, is in London and I should like to think that we stood a chance of getting this body set up here. It would be good if we could.

There are those who say that there should not be a new structure. It is true that there is already a body in existence called the Advisory Committee on Coordination within the United Nations family. It has written a paper offering its functional group on the human environment as a continuing structure to come out of Stockholm. I think that paper is unsatisfying. A body has to be created to give a lead. What are the Government's views on this matter? Do they agree with the proposal which is widely held that there should be a new unit in the secretariat under a strong head which would come under a new inter-Governmental council of twenty or thirty nations, and that this council—or commission if you like—would report either to the General Assembly or to ECOSOC. Naturally the new inter-Governmental commission would lay down guidelines for the use of the proposed new fund.

Then, my Lords, there is the question of spreading the word about what hap pens at Congresses and what is set up. I should like to tell the House about something called the International Parliamentary Conference on the Human Environment. The first one was held last year and the next one will be held immediately after the Stockholm Conference. Two Members of the House of Commons and one Member of your Lordships' House are going to that conference in an attempt to ensure that as many as possible of the Parliaments of the world have at their disposal Back Bench opinion which is fully informed about what has happened in Stockholm and not only Government opinion.

My Lords, all these problems, I think we know, come back in the long run to population. A great many of the difficulties would be eased if the population explosion in the world were to draw to an end some time soon. We have a Motion down for debate next week on our own population rate and the population policy in this country, so I hope that this afternoon we shall keep off that subject. I would like to draw attention to the very great difficulty which the world as a whole is going to face on population, including some unfamiliar ones, one of which I will now mention. I do not think it is generally known that the Czechoslovak Government is trying by propaganda to improve the birth rate. That does not mean what we mean by improving the birth rate, nor I think has it attracted much attention in this country, but the French Minister of Defence, M. Debré, on returning from a visit to Moscow published the statement that the Russians are studying how to keep up the birth rate of the Slavonic group compared with the other groups which compose their empire. Your Lordships can see how the inhabitants of the less developed countries are worried about the racial imperialism which they fear may lie behind global population reduction policies.

I hope that the Stockholm Conference will also—and perhaps the Government would make a point of this—do something about getting ecologically trained people into the right place in the Government structures, particularly of less developed countries. I should like to tell the House a story about this, if I may. In a certain zone of rice paddies, I think near Penang—at any rate, in Malaysia—the peasants had a big breakfast of kedgeree and then went out to work in the rice paddies. One-fifth of the kedgeree was fish that used to swim about in the rice paddies. Then along came a Green Revolution and a strain of rice was given to them which produced two crops a year. So the irrigation cycle had to be changed to twice a year instead of once a year, and that was not long enough for the reproductive cycle of the fish, so there were no more fish. The peasants then had to have a breakfast of rice with no fish, and they went out into the hot sun. They all fainted and so they did not gather their two crops of rice a year. Now there was in Malaysia a man who knew that this was going to happen. He said, "You cannot introduce this rice until you have made arrangements to bring dried fish to sell to the people to help to feed them so that they may maintain the balance of their diet." The only trouble was that he was not in the Government. His voice was not audible to the Government of that country, so a small ecological disaster took place. I sometimes think that most of the troubles in the underdeveloped countries could have been overcome already if, instead of the people being tucked away in some of these institutions, they were right in the heart of the Government planning concern. They should be there.

My Lords, the greatest problem of all which is going to hit the Stockholm Conference is the conflict, as the developing countries see it, between development and environment. I quote from paragraph 35 of the Paper on development and environment which is before the Stockholm Conference: The capacity of the natural environment to absorb and dissipate waste without suffering intolerable damage must now be regarded as an economic resource. That is an extraordinarily important statement. I wish that we in the developed countries had got as far as fully understanding it. But it seems that in some of the developing countries they have. Once you say that, you realise that this is an economic resource of which the developing countries have infinitely more than we have. As soon as they realise that, and basing themselves on this principle, there comes a very strong temptation to turn themselves into dirt havens for the great international corporations, just as some of them have already turned themselves into tax havens for the great international corporations.

The very same Paper which puts this excellent formulation said that under no circumstances must any trade barriers be imposed for environmental reasons. Well, my Lords, you can instantly see that that puts out of court any idea of disciplining a country which is not agreeing to possible internationally agreed standards of environmental purity by excluding from the import list products made in an excessively dirty way. This Paper goes on to say that if such trade barriers are imposed (in spite of the fact that they must in no circumstances be imposed) they must not. be imposed without warning being given through the GATT Group on Environmental Measures and International Trade.

My Lords, I will leave you with the thought that that Group has what is possibly going to be the most difficult and important job of the last decades of this century. There is latent in this situation a conflict the solution of which is totally opaque to me, and indeed to anyone else to whom I have talked about it. I have not a clue about what is going to happen; I am very glad that I am not a member of that Group, and if I were a praying man I would pray for it nightly. I wonder whether the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, or the noble Lord, Lord Sand-ford, can tell us how far Government thinking has got on this triangle of difficulties—that the developing countries can afford more pollution, and if they do they will undercut everybody else on prices; and that they do not want any international régime to be set up which would discriminate against goods produced in a polluting way in a manner analogous to the way we discriminate against dumping at the moment.

My Lords, I look forward to a useful debate and I shall pay particular attention to all those who speak. It is, in a way, a curious moment to have a debate—before the Government have fully made up their minds on everything and before the Papers which the Government have commissioned to help them make up their minds have been published. But I hope that we are not too late in our attempts to wish the Government well and to spur them to even greater vigour than the vigour which no doubt they are already developing.

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, not only for putting down this Motion to-day and for the speech to which we have just listened, but also for advancing it in time so that we could discuss it before the Stockholm Conference actually takes place. I hope that it will have some influence on what does transpire in Sweden. My Lords, the Conference should be a landmark in history, although I think there is a danger that we shall be led into believing that such a conference can achieve in one go more than in fact it can in practice, and we should not be disappointed. At its best I think that Stockholm should not be expected to be more than a very important first step on a very long and arduous journey, but a journey which has to be undertaken and at a speed which is far from slow.

There are a number of factors which have to be brought under the Stockholm umbrella, each of them, in my view, being a different aspect of what one might call public awareness. Each of them requires to be dealt with responsibly and soberly, and if possible divorced from the emotive overtones which have characterised these problems in some quarters of our international society. In a nutshell, Stockholm poses the question: how are we going to manage the affairs of the first technological world? It demands, I think, that the new technological world and the environment in which it operates, and which largely it creates, should be recognised as a one-world situation. It is for this reason that I want to endorse everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, about the imperative nature of finding a political solution to enable all nations to be represented at Stockholm without loss of face. I sincerely hope that the Government are giving some consideration to what influence they can bring to bear on this vital problem.

My Lords, I do not intend to cover all the subjects likely to be on the Stockholm agenda. Certainly that would mean four or five days of debate. I propose to refer only to a few, and as one who has spent a good deal of his life in the extractive industries which handle heavy metals and raw materials, I think I may claim a firsthand knowledge of environmental problems. The new factor which has to be recognised is the sheer scale of man's operations to-day, coupled with a far too rapid increase in the world population. I think the first task at Stockholm will be to recognise the very magnitude of the task with which the whole world is confronted, and to identify the more pressing problems as quickly as possible. The second task is to build up a blueprint and structure for tackling the immediate problems and to provide a realistic time scale for solving them.

I do not believe that this is a time for ill-thought-out, instant solutions. The management of this new technological world is not a matter for enthusiastic amateurs, although they have a very important part to play. It is a matter for hard thinking and deep research by Governments, international agencies, private and public industry, finance, scientific institutions and the rest. This is why I was appalled to see in Monday's Press a report, which I hope is not correct, that 26,000 protesters and demonstrators were expected in Stockholm. The Stockholm Conference will need a full two weeks for hard, concentrated thinking and discussions without interruptions of this sort. The time to demonstrate is when people are not prepared to tackle problems, and I think it is madness to distract them when, by attending the Conference, they have shown their awareness of the seriousness of the situation.

My Lords, I want to deal with only three or four major aspects of the problems with which Stockholm and its successors will have to deal. I mentioned the need to identify the immediate problems: by this I mean, for example, the theory that the 10 per cent. increase, or possibly rising to a 25 per cent. increase, of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could have a catastrophic warming effect, resulting in the melting of polar ice, changes in the ecology of the sea and floods on an undreamt of scale. This was stated categorically, I think, by U Thant some time ago. But I believe that this theory is highly controversial; I think that it is even now suspect. Should we not, therefore, try to resolve it fairly rapidly? If it is proved to be correct, of course immediate action will be required. But if not, it must be given a much lower priority, or even discarded, because we have a lot to do in solving these technological problems and we must get the programme in the right order of priority.

I have referred to a realistic time-scale for solving problems. Some of these problems will need time for technology to deal with them; and where there is no immediate danger to the constitutional health of individuals, but where there is a possibility that cumulative effects may constitute a potential risk, I hope that sufficient time will be allowed to enable acceptable standards to be met without the intervention of panic measures which could, if the wrong standards are insisted on on the wrong time scale, result in massive unemployment and cause tremendous economic problems throughout the world. Where there is an immediate danger to health there is no question but that immediate, action has to be taken. But I believe that pollution problems can be solved if a few years are given to the necessary research and structure and organisation and policing of them. On the other hand, I believe that the time scale for solving these problems can be shortened considerably if there is encouragement for research on an international basis and the encouraging of the pooling of ideas. One matter which ought to be raised in Stockholm is the fear that American companies have of infringing the anti-trust laws if they get together on combined research on pollution problems. This will have to be rethought, because it is essential that there should be positive encouragement in the technological field to try to solve these problems on an internationally agreed basis.

The second matter is that of acceptable standards of performance. Here I believe that there is a very real dilemma, on which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, touched. If there are varying standards in different parts of the world, there will be different costs of production, with lower costs being obtainable in the more permissive areas of the world. That will result in pollution havens in the less developed areas. I am sure that this is not what is desired, either by the developing world or by the developed world. On the other hand, if there is uniformity of standards. and presumably high standards, the less well developed parts of the world may well ask, "Why should we be forced to accept in our part of the world standards which are designed for Birmingham, Philadelphia or Milan?" Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, I do not know the answer to this problem. It may be that some form of international subsidy will be needed in order to get an equilibrium and a balance. I believe that this is a matter which should have high priority in international discussions and in discussions between Governments and international industry.

But whatever new standards are agreed, two things are clear. The standards should be high enough so that industrialists and local authorities are not going to be under constant pressure to change them in the course of every few years. Secondly, the costs of obtaining higher standards will be very high indeed. They must be faced, but in the long run, however they are tackled, it will be the consumer, or the taxpayer, who pays. This is a further reason for pooling research resources to assure that new standards are achieved at the minimum possible cost. I do not think we realise how much expenditure has taken place in countries like the United States, where billions of dollars have already been spent on anti-pollution measures. In the United Kingdom, in the ten years from 1958 to 1968, I think on air pollution alone there has been a capital expenditure of something like £150 million, and in the same period a working cost of £324 million. These are very large sums of money.

When we talk about standards we must recognise that this is a field in which there is still a good deal of controversy, and even ignorance. In some cases, I have discovered recently that methods of measuring pollution or physical absorption by humans are not at all agreed by eminent authorities working in the same field. This is something which can be tackled pretty quickly; but there is no doubt that some agreement on the correct way of measuring pollution or physical effects is essential if we are to get standards that will be worth while. In the same way, statistical methods of forecasting need, to my mind, to be put into perspective. I have no doubt that the exponential method is a useful tool (it scares me stiff), but I do not think that it ever allows for adjustments in performance as a result of the forecast itself, because when you make a forecast it has an adjusting effect if people take notice of it.

Much has been said about the preoccupation of the world with growth and G.N.P. This is too big a subject to be tackled in this debate, except to say that a world policy may well have to be determined as to the rate at which we expend non-renewable resources. But I think we have to realise that G.N.P. as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said, is only an odd way of measuring things. I believe it is true that if every married man paid his wife half his wages it would have a tremendous effect on G.N.P.: it would produce a most remarkable mathematical result.

This brings me to the whole question of the machinery for dealing with these problems. In that very good Times Supplement on the Environment there was an important article by Sir Humphrey Waldock, the Chichele Professor of International Law at Oxford, in which he said: Treaties and action by individual States are not enough to-day. What is also needed is international machinery which exercises continuous supervision over threatened areas of the environment and in which the skill of scientists and technologists is combined with that of officials and lawyers: and for certain aspects of the environment, they are needed both on a world scale and a regional plane. He added: States will co-operate in imposing restraints on their own nationals only on the basis of solid expert opinion. I believe this to be at the heart of the problem. There is still a great deal of controversy between the experts themselves. This is where the co-ordination of discussion and research is so vital, and it must go on at different levels. So far as Britain is concerned, we may be in danger of falling between too many stools; for we have national policies but, being a marine nation, we are dependent very much on international action, be it by the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the E.E.C. or NATO.

My Lords, I think that one of the major tasks to be faced at Stockholm is to try to get agreement on who does what, so that our relatively few skilled manpower resources in the world are not frit tered away in unnecessary duplication and overlapping. I cannot help feeling that the Nixon 100 million dollars over five years will prove to be much too little as target for this sort of work. That is why I reiterate my plea, because this is such a tremendously important problem, that we should not bedevil it by preservationists, conservationists, environmentalists, industrialists and different Ministries fighting one another. The problem is big enough already. We need to harness the efforts of all these interests, every one of which has an important contribution to make, to tackle the problem, instead of tackling one another. I come back to the point that what we are facing is the problem of managing the first technological world as a world problem and with a world responsibility. That is why I hope that every country which has any influence with Russia or East Germany will do everything possible to see that there is a full attendance of the countries of the world, each one of which has a direct responsibility for the future.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, we all know the deep and informed interest which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, takes in these matters and, like the noble Lord, Lord Byers, I should like to express our gratitude for the Motion which he has just introduced so admirably. I am glad to think that this debate has attracted two distinguished maiden speakers, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and my noble friend Lord Leicester, who I believe after a silence of some 22 years in your Lordships' House will now be breaking his duck. I should also say straight away—and I say it with deep regret—that I am afraid that I shall not be able to hear nearly as much of this debate, the subject of which lies very close to my own personal interest, as I should have wished, because I have unavoidably to go elsewhere.

It is the Government's belief that this will be an important Conference in many ways. It is important, perhaps, above all in that it reflects the growing realisation among the nations of the world that many of the environmental problems which we together face far transcend the differences which so often distract us. For many of the problems with which the Conference will be dealing are essentially of regional or global interest, and if they are to be dealt with at all effectively it can be only through international cooperation. In the words of the Government's official Report (and I will satisfy Lord Kennet's curiosity about it in a moment), an advance copy of which I have managed to obtain, we have only one world to pollute, and if this one is ruined, we have no other. But that world is in a real sense one world, and we are therefore grateful to the United Nations for its decision to hold this Conference. We are also grateful to the Government of Sweden, whose initiative led to it, and who will be acting as the host when the Conference takes place in Stockholm in six weeks' time.

The preparations for this mammoth Conference have been in train for a long time and a great deal of work has already been done on the international plane to prepare for it. I should like (echoing the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in this respect) to pay tribute to Mr. Maurice Strong, the very able Canadian Secretary-General who has led and organised this preparatory work. Under his guidance, a series of inter-Governmental Working Parties and a preparatory committee with representatives of 27 nations have been helping to clear the ground and identify the main issues. It is he and his secretariat who produced the workmanlike agenda for the Conference and who have organised the set of lengthy and detailed papers which are now being considered by Governments. Indeed, when this Conference sets to sea it will carry in its hold a vast cargo of documentation.

The Conference is still six weeks ahead of us and much of that great cargo of documentation has only just reached these shores and is still under study in Whitehall Departments. I do not think this in any way makes our debate to-day premature: if anything, rather the reverse. I should like to say straight away that the views already expressed and those which will be expressed in your Lordships' House to-day will have very careful attention paid to them in our preparations for this Conference. So I think the debate is particularly well timed, but because of its timing I am not in a position to-day to give the House—and perhaps your Lordships may be glad that this is the case—a detailed exposition of our attitude on all the agenda items. I would therefore propose at the outset of this discussion to outline the Government's general approach to the Conference, our aspirations to its outcome and to leave it to my noble friend Lord Sandford, who will be winding up from this Bench and whose Department is at the heart of the environmental matter, to deal with the majority of specific points raised in the course of the debate.

First of all, I should like to make it plain beyond peradventure that we attach the highest importance to this Conference. We have played an active part in the preparations to which I have referred, and it is our intention to follow through on those preparatory efforts at the Conference itself and thereafter—and it is the follow-through of those preparatory efforts thereafter which will be just as important as the Conference itself. We have contributed several documents of, I think, the highest importance to the Conference secretariat and we are making arrangements for those to be made available not only to the participants in the Conference but also to a wider audience in this country. This debate is not the occasion for making Party political points, and I do not wish to indulge in any self-congratulation on the part of the Government. However, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, when he speaks will refer to the important discussion at the Royal Geographical Society recently, over which, as President, he presided. Perhaps he will forgive me for reminding him and informing the House of the impressive and sincere tribute which Mr. Maurice Strong paid at that discussion to the part which Her Majesty's Government and the United Kingdom had played in the preparations for the Stockholm Conference.

As an important ingredient of those preparations, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment set up. as the noble Lord. Lord Kennet, mentioned, four Working Parties last year to collate and assess public opinion in this country, and to make recommendations on the matters likely to come before the Conference. I should like to make clear to your Lordships how grateful the Government are to the four chairmen and the members of these Working Parties for the time, knowledge and experience which they have so freely given—and they have given a great deal of their time—to what has been a very valuable exercise. In many ways it was a rather unique exercise, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said, since the way in which these committees were constituted and run has made them rather unusual horses in the Whitehall stable.

My honourable friend selected four distinguished chairmen of these four Working Parties in Sir Eric Ashby, Mr. Ralph Verney, Lady Dartmouth—whose names are all familiar to your Lordships—and Mr. Denis Stevenson, the new 26-year-old Chairman of the Peterlee Corporation. However, having selected the chairmen, he made it quite clear to them that they were absolutely free to appoint whoever they liked to their Working Parties, to consult with whoever they wished and to say in their reports whatever they wanted. These reports, in full and without amendments, warts and all, good or bad, as the case may be, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will be published in early May and since they will be published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office they will be easily available to Members of your Lordships' House. From the early preview pirated copies which I have seen, I can say that they are lively, vigorous and controversial documents, which reveal the care and attention which the chairmen and members of the Working Parties have devoted to their preparation. At the same time as these reports are published, the Government propose to produce their own official report of our preparation for the Conference. It is a statement in popular language about Britain's approach to environmental problems. This will reveal our own problems, describe how we have gone about dealing with them, and will mention our hopes and aspirations for the future in the context, in large part, of the Stockholm Conference.

A further sign of the importance which Her Majesty's Government attach to this Conference lies in the strength of the proposed British delegation. It is to be led by the Secretary of State himself. In addition, I am glad to say that his predecessor, the right honourable Mr. Anthony Crosland, has accepted an invitation to join the delegation. Apart from Mr. Walker and Mr. Crosland, we hope that it will include Ministers, Mem bers of Parliament from both sides of another place, as well as senior officials, representatives of industry, the trade unions and local government. We also hope that some, at least, of the four chairmen of the Working Parties to whom I have already paid tribute, will be accompanying the delegation.

My Lords, I hope I have said enough to make it clear that we regard the subject matter of the Stockholm Conference as being one of the highest importance, that we wish the Conference well and that it is our firm intention to make a serious and sustained contribution to its work. There is a particular reason perhaps why we are in a special position to make such a contribution. The first Industrial Revolution had its birth in these Islands. We are still coping with much of its resulting scar tissue, and these are not therefore new problems for us. In tackling them we have gained, I think, a certain experience and, again without unduly congratulating ourselves, as a nation I think we have made a good deal of progress. I will not instance all the items involved, but there are two which are very much in my mind. One of them is the enormous progress made in the last two decades in dealing with some of the problems concerning, for example, air pollution. When one looks at the gleaming new white facades of Government buildings in Whitehall and one remembers the smog of 1952, one can visualise something of the remarkable progress which has been made in this respect and also as regards the cleansing of many miles of our rivers.

Many of these national problems which I have just touched on have necessarily to be dealt with by national Governments, and are best so dealt with. But this does not mean that there are not issues in this primarily domestic field which cannot usefully be ventilated at Stockholm, where exchanges of national experience will not be profitable and where it may well be desirable to organise more systematic exchanges and contacts where national interests overlap. For example, there are four such possible areas. The first is the urban environment. We all have a lot to learn from each other about how best to deal with the problems of modern urbanism—urban sprawl, the problems (including the social problems) of the inner city, and so on. Secondly, there are all the problems thrown up by modern transport developments. A huge new deep-water port or a large, modern international airport located in one State is likely to have major consequences for neighbouring States. Third, there are the international aspects of the national exploitation of natural resources; and an obvious example here is the exploitation of the oil and natural gas resources of the North Sea. A fourth and obvious example is what we are all doing about the explosion of recreational facilities all around the world. In almost all these areas, and in many more, there may be a lot to be gained by more regular and systematic exchanges among experts. There are other problems, which overlap national frontiers but are clearly the prime concern of a small group of nations, which are most effectively and rapidly handled on a bilateral or regional basis.

The regional agreement which we signed in February in Oslo, after only eight months' negotiation, to regulate dumping in the North-East Atlantic is an excellent example of this kind of regional co-operation. It also holds a moral. As your Lordships will remember, we acted as hosts for the first meeting held in London last June of a United Nations working group trying to draw up a world Convention to secure effective control of marine pollution by dumping. We played an active part in that group and the first meeting took place at the same time as the first meeting of the North-East Atlantic Nations. But while the North-East Atlantic Convention was signed two months ago, progress in a wider context has been a great deal slower. This confirms us in our view, which we do not hold dogmatically, that there is a great deal to be said for trying to simplify international talks in these matters and to confine them, by and large, to those nations directly and intimately concerned.

This does not mean, my Lords, that these regional matters will not be discussed at Stockholm. It is our hope that this great international Conference will in fact be a spawning ground for regional agreements of the kind I have mentioned. It would be a great pity if the international were in any way to preclude the regional. We, for our part, place particular emphasis in this context on our forthcoming membership of the European Economic Community. It is my personal hope that the Community, as it develops, will constitute a good example of what progressive nations can do, by rational and systematic co-operation in this whole area of environmental management. That said, we recognise that there are many problems in this field whose implications are global and where universal discussion on a fully United Nations basis is necessary. I have already instanced marine pollution on a world scale. Like the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton and Lord Kennet, I have for some time had a deep interest in the problems of marine pollution and I believe it is a matter of urgent international necessity that more progress and better control of the international plain of the seas and oceans of the world is necessary.

I have already mentioned the rather slow progress which has been made in wider discussions on this matter and on the control of dumping on a global scale. I should add, to bring your Lordships up to date, that we were represented at a further meeting in Reykjavik last week which agreed articles of a draft convention. We are by no means at the end of the road here; we are pursuing this matter vigorously, and it may well prove that IMCO will be the proper body to administer such a convention. This is very much the practical matter which we hope to see practically grappled with at the Stockholm Conference. There is the wider and more difficult problem of the control of those polluting agents which enter the seas and oceans of the world other than via ships—that is to say, through estuaries, through rivers and, indeed, from the air. These are the most potent sources of much marine pollution. There is a crying need for co-ordinated regional and international action in this particular area, too.

Much the same is true when we consider the international exchange of environmental data and information. A great many studies are being made in many nations and international bodies, and arrangements already exist for a full flow of information about them and between them. But at the same time it is quite clear to us that more is needed, and the important question is how best to organise this. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, touched on this matter. A kind of United Nations "global brain" has been suggested, with every bit of available information about the world environment stored on magnetic tape. We seriously doubt whether this is a practical proposition. I have a horrific vision of a world headquarters brought to its knees at some time in the future strangled in its own magnetic tapes. On the whole, Her Majesty's Government favour the concept of a switchboard or referral system, the concept of which has been developed by British and American experts. This would have the automated capacity to connect inquirers with sources, but would not itself store the vast body of information which is relevant to environmental problems. This is a matter which we hope will be fully ventilated and practically discussed at Stockholm.

My last example—and one has to be selective with this vast agenda—of problems of a truly international character that we should like to see discussed at Stockholm is the organisation and structure of future discussions. Let nobody suppose that Stockholm will be an occasion on which world environmental problems will be for once and for all solved. It will be neither the start nor the finish of a long and continuing process. Nevertheless, we hope that it will do much to determine the future planning characteristics of the process. Essentially, as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said, this is a matter of how best to deploy and use the scarce resources of human skills available in the world. Unless we can organise things better, there is a danger that the real experts will never be on the job. They will be spending 52 weeks a year or 104 weeks a year flying from international conferences from China to Peru.

There are two problems here: how to reduce overlap and duplication between the many international organisations within and outside the United Nations family, and how to organise the discussion of central issues which has been taking place in the preparatory work for Stockholm and which will undoubtedly need to be continued after the Conference. The solution to the first of these problems lies in a lot of hard work and patient persuasion within the organisations concerned as their work develops. The second is a matter on which we may expect to see important developments at Stockholm. There is, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, suggested, a wide field of opinion here, ranging from those who think that nothing new is needed to those who favour a new major United Nations environment agency which would take over all the present environmental activities of the world meteorological and health organisations—the F.A.O., IMCO and all the rest. Thinking within this area has been slow to crystallise and it was only in January last that the options began to become clearer. But there has been no harm in this process of preliminary thinking in view of the very awkward problems which arise from an answer to the question, "Who does what?" in an area of considerable overlap. It is the view of Her Majesty's Government that the inter-Governmental preparatory work for Stockholm largely carried out by a group of 27 nations has amply demonstrated the need for organised post-Stockholm discussions. We should not ourselves—and this will be no surprise, I think, to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet—favour the creation of some mammoth new agency which would set out to rob existing agencies of environmental work which in our view is rightly part and parcel of the discharge of their functions. We ourselves strongly at this stage prefer the idea of retaining. and possibly institutionalising in some way, something rather like the Inter-Governmental Preparatory Committee for Stockholm itself; a body which in a central position of the United Nations would exert a wide and strong influence both by advice and by acting as a channel for the funds for new United Nations environmental activities which might be decided on.

The question of the precise position within the United Nations that such a body might occupy is of course complex. The United States has recently proposed a Commission for the Environment under the Economic and Social Council, composed of 27 nations, on an equitable geographical distribution. Such a Commission would provide guidance for a United Nations Environmental Administrator. both on policy and on expenditure from a United Nations Voluntary Environment Fund, to which the United States have offered a generous contribution to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred. In answer to his question, I should say that this is a matter which is under study at the present time, and therefore I am not in a position to reveal what we may be able to do, but I can inform the noble Lord that we hope to reach a decision on it before the Stockholm Conference itself. In any event, your Lordships can be assured that the Government are carefully considering these various proposals and we will join in discussion at the Conference with the aim of agreeing on a practical and progressive way forward.

The problems which we are likely to be considering in this context are very complex indeed. A great deal of attention has been given recently to predictions on the serious situation which could arise on a world scale from conflicts between present trends in population, economic growth, energy consumption, mineral use and so on. I would make clear that the Government have no intention of shrugging off these problems. We have followed closely the work being carried out by the Club of Rome, and we of course noted carefully the theme taken up by the Ecologist—this same theme—in its recent edition, Blueprint for Survival, which proposed a drastic remodelling of the society in which we live. I need not remind your Lordships that wide differences of opinion are held about all this. There are those who take a despondent view about the prospect for mankind and foresee a future characterised by poverty, hunger and conflict for dwindling resources. On the other hand, there are those who believe that technology and economic growth hold the key to our survival. Our view is that here there is an overriding need for a cool and informed debate of these issues, and it is our hope that Stockholm will provide a platform for such a dispassionate debate. It would be a good thing if we could try to reach some consensus of opinion on the major problems here, but I think it would be unrealistic to assume that such accord can be achieved in ten days' discussion, even in Stockholm. I would merely stress that the complex problems raised by these differing positions are taken very seriously by this Government, and we are at the present time giving a lot of thought to the precise nature of the methods by which, and the organisation in which, we need to study the problems in depth ourselves.

Finally, as those of your Lordships who have already spoken have made clear, the emphasis on environmental preservation may well carry a different weight among the developing countries of the world, who will be strongly represented at Stockholm, from that taken in the United Kingdom, in Europe or in the United States or North America. As our debate yesterday on UNCTAD made clear, they are confronted with fundamental problems of food, shelter, health and education, and their needs and aspirations differ widely from our own. The Conference, in our view, would be sadly mistaken if it were to seek to impose universal standards which were either irrelevant to their circumstances or well beyond their capacity to meet. Nevertheless, because of our long and very painful experiences over the last two centuries or so of the effects of development upon the environment, a heavy responsibility rests upon the developed countries to exchange ideas in these fields and to be generous with our ideas in these fields in order that some of the mistakes that we ourselves have made may be avoided by others.

Some spokesmen for the developing countries have urged that any additional costs incurred through their building measures to protect the environment into aided projects should be paid for by increased aid. Her Majesty's Government do not believe it is desirable to segregate one of the many components of a development project in this way. But I would remind your Lordships that we already seek to include provisions to safeguard the environment in the aided projects we ourselves support, and within what we hope will be an expanding aid programme we intend to go on doing this. I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, have said: this is possibly going to be a difficult and contentious area in these discussions at Stockholm, but it is one which we consider to be of great importance, and it is right that priority should be given to its discussion.

My Lords, to conclude, this Conference will be tackling a vast canvas and it is too early to try to predict what kind of picture will eventually emerge. In any event, I would assure your Lordships once again that our delegation propose to play a very full part indeed in the deliberations. They will aim to concentrate first on those matters where definite international agreement can be obtained and where effective international action is called for. And on the wider issues it will be our aim to contribute to the development over the years of a sound international consensus. In any event, we recognise that this is just the beginning of this road, and it is our hope to be a good companion among the nations to those who wish to walk further down this road with us.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the gratitude that has already been expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for raising this matter and thus giving me the opportunity on this, the first occasion that I have had the honour of addressing your Lordships, of speaking on a subject which is of such great importance. Your Lordships may think, as indeed I do myself, that it is perhaps foolhardy for a person who is inexpert to speak on matters which are obviously of such great complexity. I do so because, although it must be obvious to everyone that these are technological problems, yet at the root of them there are real moral issues; and it will he decided, as I think, by the ordinary person as to whether or not this world overcomes the perils with which it is faced.

We have heard something already this afternoon of the complexity of the subject; and I need not remind your Lordships of it. The more one reads about the human environment, the more one sees that there are innumerable things that men must do, none of which will be sufficient in itself, but all of which are vital if the peril to mankind is to be averted. I suppose some of them will be much easier than others. Perhaps the control of dumping, for instance, is not impossibly difficult; but the control of population is going to be immensely difficult. Some of the things that we have to do will, I suppose, touch men's imaginations and be popular, as, for example, the preservation of rare species of animals. But some of the things equally that have to be done, like the restraint in the growth of our own stand ard of living perhaps, will patently be very unpopular. But the great and fundamental problem in all this will be the establishment of a right will in men and in nations to tackle what needs to be done. Because the achievement of this right will necessarily involve a radical reappraisal of the aims and the priorities which for so long have dominated the thinking of ordinary people, and dominated ordinary people's commercial and industrial practice.

We shall have to accustom ourselves to a new way of thinking and get used to the expenditure of vast sums of money on projects which are not profitable. We have had already, of course, as any civilised society must have, some experience of this, but we shall have a great deal more before we are through. We shall have to redefine what we mean by a "rising standard of living" so that cleaner air and a pleasanter environment, and water that does not taste of chemicals, become perhaps as important to us as an increase in the gross national product. As the noble Lord, Lord Byers, first reminded us this afternoon, we shall have to accustom ourselves to be prepared to accept a much greater degree of international control.

Last month at St. George's, Windsor, there was a conference of very distinguished ecologists under the joint chairmanship of the Dean of Windsor, and in their statement they said, among other sensible things: We feel however, that what is proposed, and the possible institutional outcome of Stockholm, is inadequate to the global dimensions and urgency of the problem and reveals that governments of nation states, as presently organised, are structurally constrained from the width of vision and scope of action essential for planetary management. My Lords, I do not defend that as being a happy example of good English, but if what it says is true then this is what we have to accustom ourselves to. We shall have to look (shall we not?) carefully at the whole concept of "growth" as that word is commonly used in connection with the economy. The resources of the world are limited and over-production can be self-defeating.

In the debate which took place in your Lordships' House yesterday on world development, it seemed sometimes that it was being suggested that it might be possible for all nations to grow richer all the time. Is that in fact possible? In a paper entitled Growth, issued by the Home Mission Department of the Church of Scotland, it was pointed out that in their opinion, and in the opinion, I believe, of many people, what is needed is a steady state in world economy, by which is meant a state in which it is recognised that everybody cannot get richer all the time because the size of the cake is limited. If the rich are to get richer, it will be at the expense of the poor, and by the same token the poor can only become richer if the rich are prepared to grow less rich.

I doubt whether most people, even those who are keenest about particular environmental reforms, have really begun to appreciate some of these basic facts, and to do so will involve a very great change in the value judgments which our society has been accustomed to make. To speak of this change as a "spiritual revolution" would not, I believe, be too strong a term. It could be said—and I have no doubt that it is being said—that the Church has been strangely slow in drawing these inevitable conclusions from its own doctrines, and I am afraid that that is only too true. Until fairly recently, the Church, except for a few prophets—the Church in the West at least—has been content to share unreflectedly in the general affluence. But I think there are signs now that we are waking up to the implications of our own theology and realising that what ought to have been said long ago is now being forced upon our attention by the obvious dangers which mankind is facing.

I believe that the Church—and by that I mean, of course, Christians of all denominations—has a real contribution to make here, not simply by the kind of detailed and expert work that can be done by such bodies as the Board of Social Responsibility in the Church, but by ordinary clergymen and ministers and Church people up and down the land. By our concentration upon the true meaning of "stewardship"; by our emphasis upon the practical implications of the Christian doctrine of creation we can, I believe, greatly influence the grass root level of understanding upon which the solution of this problem ultimately depends.

Rudyard Kipling, a writer who is not, I fancy, much regarded in this present generation but who said many very sensible things, once wrote, as no doubt many of your Lordships will remember, a poem called The Gods of the Copy Book Headings, by which he meant those basic principles of life which men are for ever ignoring, but which are for ever reasserting their authority, and the theme of the poem was that these gods of the copybook headings catch up with us. They do indeed catch up with us, and say to us the same things that have been said many many times before and which men have to learn to heed; and the Stockholm Conference will, we hope, recall—or help to recall—the nations of the world to the importance of heeding.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I feel very happy indeed to be following the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and to be able to congratulate him and thank him for the speech he has just delivered. He has concentrated our thoughts upon fundamental principles and moral priorities, and, if I may say so as one who is not a member of the Church, I constantly appreciate in this House the contribution which is made from the Bishops' Bench in those regards. The words which the right reverend Prelate has uttered give the promise that in his forthcoming contributions to our debates he will be carrying out those principles. He has said in his speech that the Church may have been slow to express the implications of its own ethics. May I just say this to him? Many of us who are humanists and who are not Christians have been tremendously impressed in recent years by the way in which representatives of the Church have spoken out against injustices and inequalities in the world, and after the speech which we have heard this afternoon we are quite sure that the right reverend Prelate will be making many contributions to our discussions and will reflect that development. I thank him very much indeed.

My Lords, I am not going to deliver a detailed speech—I am quite sure much to the relief of the House: I did that yesterday. Nevertheless, I feel the importance of this issue tremendously, and, as noble Lords know, I have several times put Questions on it to the Minister. I want particularly to raise one question to which some reference was made in the speech of my noble friend Lord Kennet, and I think also in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, but to which rather to my surprise (unless I was not at that moment paying attention), no reference was made in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. Almost every one of us in this House, I think, regards it as a priority that this Conference should be held. We have been reading in recent weeks that there is a possibility that it may be only partial, and indeed that it may not take place at all. We have been reading that unless the German Democratic Republic, East Germany, is represented there fully as a member, the Soviet Union and the Communist countries attached to it may boycott the Conference. I hope that it will be possible for Lord Sandford, when he is making a reply to this debate, to indicate what is happening in this regard, because we are all very deeply worried about it.

I hope that the Soviet Union and the Communist countries will attend the Conference, because of its vast importance, even if at this moment East Germany is not welcomed as a full member. But may I make this constructive suggestion to Her Majesty's Government? It is not only the Member States of the United Nations who are eligible for representation. States which are members of the international Agencies of the United Nations are also eligible, and there are some States who are associated with those international Agencies which are not actual member States of the United Nations. East Germany, the G.D.R., has made application to be a member of the World Health Organisation. That application has been defeated by only a few votes. There will be a meeting in May, and the opportunity could be taken at that meeting to welcome the G.D.R. as a full member of the W.H.O. My Lords, surely there is no principle at stake here. Surely the W.H.O. would be in a strengthened and more representative position if East Germany were within it. And if it were within it, then it would not be excluded from full participation in the Conference at Stockholm.


My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us, because I am sure the House would be interested, whether he would urge that East Germany be accepted into the World Health Organisation even if West Germany urged that it be not accepted?


No, my Lords. As a matter of fact my noble friend anticipated what I was going to say next, which was this. The Chancellor of West Germany is in London at this moment. In view of the importance of this subject, cannot discussions take place with him immediately upon this issue? If my noble friend is interested, I may tell him that my next note on my papers is that such discussions would be in agreement with the West German Federation. I hope that it will be possible for an approach to be made in that way, because I believe it would be disastrous if the Conference were to be partial, and still more disastrous if it were not to be held at all.

I would just mention two further points. If the present détente in international relations continues, if the present better relationships within Germany between the West and the East continue, it is very likely that both East and West Germany will be members of the United Nations next year. And it would seem to me to be disastrous, as my noble friend Lord Avebury and others have said in The Times, if the diplomatic timetable were to be dangerous for the holding of the Conference at Stockholm. The other point I want to make is this. The approach that Western Germany is now making to the East, the policy of Herr Brandt, is in some danger. It would help immensely in the efforts of Western Germany to build up peace with the Eastern World, it would hell) greatly in maintaining a solution of the problems in West Berlin, if this problem of Communist representation at Stockholm could also be met. I would urge Her Majesty's Government to do everything in their power to see that Stockholm is a full Conference, representing the whole world, and certainly to see that it does not have to be cancelled, or even postponed, because of the difficulty to which I have drawn attention.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, this is my maiden speech, and as I rise to speak I first need to beg your indulgence and forbearance, because I have not before felt impelled to speak in your Lordships' House in the 22 years I have been a Member. But the subject of this debate is of such interest and urgency to me that I feel I must take part on this occasion. My own record of silence may not be all that remarkable, as I know that my family, who have the obstinate habit of spelling our name "Coke", and not "Cook" in the way it is pronounced, have not been over-talkative in this House. According to Hansard and the researches carried out by our librarian, my father never spoke during the short time that he was a Member in the War years. My grandfather never spoke either in the 32 years he was a Member. Nor indeed did my great-grandfather in the long period of 67 years when he sat in this Chamber, eventually becoming Father of the House. It may be that all these forbears of mine remained silent because they felt that my great, great-grandfather, Mr. Coke of Norfolk, as he was known, a staunch Whig and a powerful supporter and friend of Charles James Fox, had spoken all too much and perhaps all too ardently on occasions in another place before agreeing, at the advanced age of 83, to resume the Leicester Earldom in this House. There was, I think, perhaps another reason. My family were possibly too involved and occupied in the day-to-day business of managing a large estate and seeing that the proper use was made of its resources to engage in public debate.

I have a feeling that on this occasion my predecessors would somehow definitely approve that a Coke, after nearly a century and a half of silence, should once again try to stir the broth of debate in your Lordships' House. Anyway, it obviously can never be said that this is a case of too many Cokes having tried to spoil the broth in the past! For I am sure that they would be as grateful as I am that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has had the wisdom to set down for debate the matter of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. I have tried to follow my forebears in being a conservationist, concerned as they were in the proper use of our land and interested not just for themselves or for their direct successors but for all who were to come after them.

This debate is hardly likely to become a controversial one. I should be very surprised if any noble Lord were likely to say—or to feel—that he is opposed to the coming United Nations Conference with all the publicity that the environmental issues of to-day have been receiving these past three or four years. I think we are all on the side of conservation and against the abuse of the land, sea and air. We are all, I know, against pollution, ugliness, noise and devastation.

I do not intend to try to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, or my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, who spoke after him, in talking about the wider international aspects of the environmental problem. I want, if I may, to use my own experiences in order to emphasise certain of our national problems. Whatever may be agreed in Stockholm about international action to protect the human environment, it will have to be effected through our own national institutions and, in the end, by men like ourselves and by all our fellow citizens. If it does nothing else, the United Nations Conference will help everybody to realise that our own population, like that of the rest of the world, is multiplying rapidly. Then, as our standards of education and living rise, the expectations of our fellow citizens also rise. As a result of both these things we have every year to use our physical resources more wisely than has been the general rule in the past. We really have not very much land, and what we have is precious. In this island there is little space in relation to the size of the population. We dare not forget that our towns and cities will have to expand to accommodate our growing numbers. They can do this only at the expense of rural land. But at the same time more and more of our city dwellers will seek relaxation and solitude in the country and perhaps on the coast.

We shall have to have more roads to take them there—that, too, will be at the cost of agricultural land. If we are to maintain our standards of living, space will have to be found for our factories to produce the goods with which to pay for what we import. But as a nation we must not ignore our agricultural resources. We have to grow more food, and our farming will need to become even more efficient and intensive as our numbers increase and our farming land decreases. Equally, we dare not turn our backs on our resources of coal, or on the natural gas and oil which. happily from the point of view of the national economy, have turned up on our part of the North Sea Continental Shelf; any more than we can do so on such economic mineral resources that may be beneath the surface of our land. These things are inevitable, and we must not lose sight of them. They are bound to bring about further visual changes in the country we are now rather apt to take for granted. In fact, not very much of the country we take for granted has not already been partially transformed in one way or the other by man. My message in this debate is that while we accept the need for change we must ensure that it occurs without detriment to our general wellbeing.

The part of the North Norfolk coast in which I am fortunate enough to live is classified as an area of outstanding beauty, but it is in fact an area which has been somewhat changed from its original state of nature as a result of human action. My own ancestors enclosed salt tidal marshes in order to turn them into productive farmland, but they did so in such a way that, while it may have slightly altered the landscape, it is, I think, true to say that in the minds of most people the work done did not detract very much from its original scenic beauty. At the time there may have been people around who wondered what the changes were going to bring about, and even regretted the partial altering of the landscape that was there before; but I doubt if there were very many in point of fact. To-day we should certainly expect some to protest against any change. If the Fens had not been drained in the 17th century no doubt there would be those who would protest against their being drained to-day—whatever their enormous economic value to the country.

I understand this view fully, but equally I know that change is inevitable. What I should like to see is that the changes which do take place, whatever their nature—whether it be in the loss of farmland to towns, or into roads, or to gravel pits, to airfields, or even to mines—are made in such a way as to provide for those who come after us a visual landscape at least as acceptable to them as is the one we now try to defend.

As a landowner who feels himself committed and dedicated to try to leave behind as beautiful a landscape as my family helped create, I know how difficult my task is. Rural land is diminishing at an ever-increasing rate, the present figure being about 70,000 acres a year, so I am informed. Here I would strongly urge that derelict and waste land is first utilised as far as possible. This is of vital importance and perhaps not quite always fully understood and appreciated. The farmers' costs go up all the time and therefore farming has to be even more efficient and intensive, where possible, if the farmer is to survive and make a living. Labour costs now make it necessary to aim at one man to one hundred acres where it used to be about one man to ten acres. The horse has had to give way to the tractor. There is not enough natural fertiliser, so we have to use the artificial, which is not quite the same thing, whatever people may say. One cannot weed or destroy pests by hand, so chemicals have to be used which perhaps have not always been sufficiently well tested before being put on the market and which are used in some cases with the inevitable risks involved to human, bird and animal life.

Unfortunately, hedges and trees are apt to be mutilated and destroyed, sometimes quite unnecessarily, to justify the expenditure of money on all these things. But it must always be remembered that, apart from adding to the beauty of the countryside, these hedges and trees help to conserve moisture for the land and provide shelter for stock. If we shut our eyes to this basic law of nature, we shall do so at our cost and to our detriment and will be inviting and encouraging dust-bowl conditions in this country, as has happened already in some parts of the United States of America and Australia. We must act now before it is too late. Those of us who remember the farming of the past may not like these things, but we are more or less obliged to accept these conditions knowing that without them some farmers might not be able to survive. What I should like to see is that we try to learn from the mistakes we make, that we use safer chemicals in place of those which cause damage, and that we do not unnecessarily destroy trees, hedges and wild flowers, and so help to reduce the bird and butterfly population, and that we find sensible and practical ways of dealing with farm waste. Trees must be planted and cared for and our forestry in general taken seriously.

In my own case, there is also a coastline of dunes and sea-walls which constantly need to be buttressed against the ravages of high tides and winds. Those of us who live on our coast will not easily forget the disaster which occurred suddenly on that dark and windswept night of January 31, 1953, when large areas of marsh and low lying land were suddenly inundated to a depth of 10 feet by the sea, and when many people lost their lives and hundreds of cattle and sheep were drowned, not to mention the serious damage done to some of our coastline villages bordering on the sea. The flooding was appalling, some land remaining under salt water for two to three months where the water became landlocked. It took about eight years to get this land productive again.

We therefore know how rapidly nature can bring about change, and change which ill suits our needs or pleases our eyes; and we also know how man, working with nature, can enhance a landscape, and that the economic use of our resources has to be made compatible with the preservation of our amenities. But this all takes thought and care. If preservation means that nothing can ever be changed, we know that we shall never be able to afford it. On the other hand, if we all work together what we can afford is the mutual conservation of our natural resources and assets, by which I mean that we should be able to accept change in the knowledge that it need not necessarily be offensive to our eyes or to our ears.

In the days when large estates were more numerous than they are to-day, landowners who were dedicated to their trusts could see to the integrated use of their resources in the interests of agriculture, forestry and amenity. Taxation and estate duty have reduced their number to a relative few. Very few large estates—perhaps only a bare fraction—are profitable and productive enough to form the new capital required for the preservation of rural attractions. Most big estates have to be financed from the rewards of commercial or industrial enterprises. I cannot be the only one in your Lordships' House who knows how difficult this is, or who knows that when land gets sold off in relatively small lots the task of preserving the environment becomes more and more difficult. So that some of these great territorial landed estates of the past served a purpose and helped to mitigate this problem of the environment and provided a feeling of continuity, at the same time being a stabilising factor in the countryside, especially during the time of war and in the Industrial Revolution period of the nineteenth century when things were changing all the time. No one was to gain by the eventual break-up of these estates, least of all the countrymen and women who had lived there all their lives and had been given steady and long-term employment.

I said when I rose, that I would try not to be controversial, and I hope that it would be regarded as neither controtroversial nor presumptuous were I to urge my noble friend Lord Sandford that the Government bear in mind the direct and urgent need to complement the efforts of these remaining landowners who are dedicated to the proper use of their land, and to the safeguarding of our existing resources, but who find the task increasingly difficult. In conclusion, I should again like to remind your Lordships that many areas of outstanding beauty would not be here to-day were it not for the past efforts of some of these landowners, and that as the numbers go on dwindling an even costlier job will need to be undertaken by the State if what was created in the past is to become changed—if we have to accept that it will be—without due regard for these amenities which it was the privilege of the large landowner to help create, and which it is now the privilege of only a few of us to maintain.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, I share the feeling of gratitude which several noble Lords have expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for having introduced this debate. This debate on the human environment takes in an enormous number of very complex and fascinating issues, as several noble Lords have already said, and over the past three or four years, as we all know, these issues have begun to exercise the minds of thinking people in all parts of the world. They have concerned some of us very much longer, among them my noble friend Lord Leicester whom I should like to congratulate on his most sincere, effective and witty speech. I can well understand why he chose this topic to break his silence, and the long silence of the Cokes before him. I am one of those who are lucky enough to live in that part of North Norfolk whose environmental charm owes so much to the devoted care given to the land, the marshes and the coastline by his forbears. Their achievement, which he has added to, was made all the more enduring when the noble Earl a few years ago generously entered into a nature reserve agreement with the Nature Conservancy, whereby several thousand of his coastal acres became a reserve under the 1949 Act. What with other land held by public bodies such as the National Trust, I believe that North Norfolk now has the longest stretch of protected coastline in this country.

Your Lordships have already been reminded that the question of the human environment is closely linked with that of the problems of population and the use of physical resources. It is worth remembering that the first Conference called by the United Nations in this field was held in 1949, and it dealt with the conservation and utilisation of the earth's renewable and non-renewable resources. In 1954, the United Nations convened an equally impressive Conference to deal with the problems of world population. This took place in Rome, and it was followed by another in 1965 in Belgrade. I happened to be a member of the British delegation to the first two of these conferences, and both yielded immensely valuable information. It is interesting to me that the present Conference on the Human Environment has been organised after the questions of resources and population have been tackled, and not before. I make this point, my Lords, because in my view it has come in the correct order. It was right that the world community should first ask itself about the availability of food and the requirements of life, such as timber, metals and so on. It was correct that this discussion should lead to an analysis of the relationship between the growth of population and its social and economic development.

The new Conference, as we have heard, is concerned to see how the physical environment can be protected as industry, agriculture, towns, roads and all the other features of our civilisation spread in the effort to cater for the world's multiplying millions and in the task of raising the standard of living of hundreds of millions who are now living in hunger and hardship. It was a bold and imaginative move on the part of the Secretary of State for the Environment to organise four independent committees to help in the United Kingdom's work of preparation for this Conference. He is to be congratulated on creating so useful a precedent. I have every confidence that under his leadership we shall play at least as valuable a part in the Conference as any other of the participating countries.

My Lords, references have been made to other papers produced, not only by our own four groups but by the various groups under Mr. Strong, in preparation for this Conference. But so far one has not been mentioned. I have not seen it, and I have no pirated copy, but in the United Nations information letter there is a reference to a declaration on the human environment which has been agreed by an inter-Governmental working party now and which will be presented at the meeting at Stockholm—in the hope, I understand, that it will be unanimously accepted. It is very clear that this group has taken no narrow view of its task. The declaration defines 23 principles, of which the first states that all now alive have a right to adequate conditions of life, at the same time as it is the responsibility of everybody to protect and enhance the environment for future generations". But the declaration also recognises that economic and social development is essential if favourable living conditions are to be achieved and if the environmental damage caused by conditions of underdevelopment are to be remedied. And as an answer to those extremists who see the problem only from one narrow point of view, the declaration also recognises that, while there are areas of the world where high concentrations of population have adverse effects upon the environment and on social and economic development, there are other places in the world where low population density prevents the enhancement of the human environment. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, had this point in mind when he referred to the view of the U.S.S.R. in wishing to multiply the particular populations to which he referred, but I know that this is a topic which is to be debated in your Lordships' House next week, and therefore I do not want to pursue that point further. But it is an extremely important one: that one cannot uniquely associate high population density with devastation of the environment. Sometimes low population density and a lack of economic development are just as fearful so far as the environment goes.

My Lords, it is wise to recognise that different environmental conditions need different measures of environmental protection. If we forget this, the present wave of enthusiasm for the environment may well run into the sands. Some have urged the imposition of common international environmental standards—I think the noble Lord, Lord Byers, had this in mind when he was speaking—relating to, let us say, the amount of sulphur dioxide which should be allowed to get into the atmosphere. In this particular case I think wiser counsels have prevailed. The Clean Air Act, whose benefits we enjoy, would be meaningless in Cyprus, just as the new American legislation setting statutory limitations on the amount of exhaust gases motor cars can emit would have no significance in, say, the North of Scotland. What we want is not set and agreed international standards, but common international goals in the preservation of the environment. The fogs which were due to the burning of coal and the smog over Los Angeles are warning signs from which all can learn, using the lessons they provide where they are relevant—and here I should like to refer to something which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said when he was talking about the protection of the environment in the underdeveloped countries. Unless I misunderstood what he was saying, he was suggesting that there might one day be a need to subsidise, as it were, environment measures to protect the environment in developing countries.

There has also been reference to certain dirt havens or pollution havens—an idea which has been ventilated more than once as something which might make it possible to demarcate an area of the globe which can be polluted in order to protect some parts which should not be polluted. I know the noble Lord, Lord Byers, did not have this in mind, but I have heard it expressed in that way. I think that what we ought to remember is that protecting the environment, whichever way we do it, whether by cleaning up past devastation or by imposing new measures in production centres, costs money. The money that it costs is one of the components of production. We cannot equalise the components of production throughout the world. Labour costs are not the same in all parts of the world; pollution costs are not the same in all parts of the world; raw material costs are not the same; transport costs are not the same. If this ever did become the widely accepted principle, I think that we in this country should apply to this international fund for subsidies for the growing of, let us say, Avocado pears up in Aberdeenshire.

I should like to suggest that one lesson to be learnt is that all improvement in this field depends upon scientific and technical progress. These create both the knowledge of how to avoid pollution and the wealth needed to avoid it. People sometimes speak as if the Clean Air Act of 1956 was the result of a sudden realisation that smog can be lethal to people with bronchial illnesses. The deaths in the smog of 1952 and the appointment of the Beaver Committee were the immediate cause of the Clean Air Act, but the basic causes were that we had learned how to have clean air and how to afford it. In the 'twenties and in the 'thirties, getting rid of the domestic coal fire, which is what has produced the improvement we see to-day, would have been economically impossible. Even the working man in regular employment could not have afforded to use any fuel but coal, still less the widows, the pensioners and the unemployed. The change has come from improvements in fuel technology, from the fall in the cost of oil and, above all, from the growth in wealth which has come from the advance in technology generally.

This leads me, my Lords, to my next point, which is that we must not get things out of perspective. Pollution is a real issue; but so, too, is how much we should pay to reduce pollution at the cost of not doing other things which are also socially necessary. It is essential that more and more research is encouraged on these problems, and that we find some way of solving the question of who decides what the standards should be. On most of these issues we are far from having an agreed view by the relevant scientists of any one country, leave alone by any international forum of scientists. I was interested, again, in an observation by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, when he reminded us of that remark by U Thant about the dangers which would occur if the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose by some frightening per cent. That is quite definitely something one will not find responsible scientists talking about to-day. Unfortunately, in this field the enthusiasm which is displayed by some anti-polluters seems to be in inverse proportion to their knowledge of the scientific facts.

The other point that I wish to make, and I make it as one who has been both officially and unofficially concerned with environmental problems for at least the past 25 years. is that we should not allow ourselves to he driven by extravagant and frequently fallacious statements into getting our priorities wrong. The environment and pollution, population growth, the depletion of the earth's non-renewable resources (oil and minerals) are issues which are now worrying more and more people. But their concern is being fanned by many sweeping statements emanating from presumed authorities that doom is nigh. We must be careful lest the "Doomwatcher" approach does not stimulate a reaction of total boredom and disillusion. We must be careful that, in Robert James's words, we do not allow the extremists to debase the coinage of alarmism through the violence of their speeches and the exaggeration of their images.

We must not allow the facts to be distorted. In America, extremist propaganda has reached such a point that it is said that people are being made miserable and even developing psychoses and asthma from believing that the air they breathe is full of poison. A major short age of electric power looks like developing there because of objections which are raised to proposals for new plant, whether fossil-fuelled or nuclear-powered. Meanwhile, the impetus of the drive for the Great Society is in danger of being lost. In this country no one seriously doubted a few years ago that pollution was being reduced. There was no doubt about it. So it was being and so it is being and has been reducing for many years. But now people are being "conned" into believing that conditions are getting worse. Anybody who is older than 15 years will know how ridiculous is this concept. A good cause is never furthered by wild exaggerations bordering on untruths.

My Lords, we have to protect our physical environment. That goes without saying. We must see to it that the generations who follow us do not condemn us for what we did to our physical surroundings. But at the same time we have to remember that protecting the environment and, even more, repairing the damage inherited from the past, means employing resources which, as I have already said, would otherwise be put to different social purposes. And these different social purposes exist and are just as pressing. May I refer here with admiration and congratulations to the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. I do not entirely share the views he expressed on economic growth, but I was very moved and impressed by what he said about the way resources are being used. We are dealing with a problem which has to find its rightful place in the order of our social priorities.

It is a sobering thought that the estimated cost of the environmental restitution and anti-pollution measures which have been almost statutorily introduced into the United States in the past few years, will mean an expenditure of something like 20 billion dollars a year. This sum, 20 billion dollars a year, is nearly five times the total of all official world economic aid; that is, grant aid. It is certainly more than all the grant aid. loans, credits and investment capital that goes from the advanced to the developing countries. I am using the example of American expenditure only as an illustration of an issue that we need to bear in mind. Protecting the environment is a social need. Has anybody really asked whether this social need, measured in these terms, stands so far ahead of the need for economic aid in capital development?

The environment, like any other social or physical need, must find its rightful place in a sensible list of priorities. Our own record for protecting the human and physical environment is second to none. Here I would go further than did the noble Earl the Leader of the House who seemed not to be as proud as I happen to be about the achievements of this country in this field. No country has done as much as this one to stem pollution and to repair the devastation of the past. Let us continue on this path but in a rational way. Let us help others, at Stockholm and elsewhere, along the same rational paths.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, in spite of surgical circumstances I feel compelled to speak on the second day running because, like UNCTAD, the Stockholm Conference on the Environment is of tremendous importance for the future of mankind. I do not recommend breaking a leg as a way of curtailing speeches; but it helps. My physiotherapist said that I can stand for nine minutes. Yesterday I wilted at seven minutes. To-day, I may need the extra two and might even claim injury time.

The two subjects, trade development and the environment, are, as has been said on many occasions to-day, involved one with the other. If the world's multiplying population makes irrational demands on our natural resources and if those resources are squandered through domestic and industrial waste, the biosphere on which all life depends will be irreparably damaged and man's leasehold on this planet will be foreclosed. Following the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, and his warnings, I know that your Lordships may regard this as Doomsday stuff; but I am quite impenitent, absolutely so. I think that those of us (including, if I may, Lord Zuckerman himself in some of his incarnations) who have warned people of what those risks are, have created the circumstances in which we can now begin to consider realistically the possibility of doing something about the problem. We can be alerted and aware and on a world scale, and no less than that, can take measures to redress the present mistakes and forestall the accumulated damage which will put posterity in hazard. I am quite impenitent in saying this because I believe it to be true.

One can say that the Stockholm Conference is just in time. Any shilly-shallying or dilly-dallying or any Governmental hesitation—and I am not referring to our own Government in this connection—will condemn the present political system with its short-sightedness of which the younger generation with some justification is so critical. In the dimension of the environment, the national interest, any national interest—indeed, any personal and individual interest—is the world interest. There is no use in Governments (including our own) going along to Stockholm merely to say: "Look how well we are doing in our own backyard!" That is of no use if we are still tipping refuse over our backyard fence—and that is true of the spill-over fumes of effluents. of air-borne pollution and of the general lack of international responsibility for our common heritage of the atmosphere and the oceans.

I hope that our Government's participation at Stockholm (and I am confident of this, having listened with great respect to the noble Earl the Leader of the House) will go beyond the recapitalation of our own quite impressive record—and here I endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman—of correcting the abuses which we inherited from the Industrial Revolution and which to some extent we continue in the present century. We have useful lessons to teach others and I hope that we shall go further and take the initiative in promoting an international system, a genuine system, and the machinery for such a system. I have no doubt that out of Stockholm we shall get confirmation of and an extension of the treaties on oil spillage and on the dumping of toxic wastes and so on; but I hope that our expertise from Britain will also be available and that it will be backed by what means it needs for a world monitoring system and for a really concentrated effort to provide the scientific answers which Lord Zuckerman will agree with me are necessary in the area of the environmental problem and of which we are profoundly ignorant. We cannot really have the enforcement of necessary measures of control until we know much more about the behaviour of pollutants and the pathways of their distribution. We have talked about "Doomwatch" and "Earth-watch". Something of that kind—something of the nature of "Earth-watch" is necessary if we are going to master this problem. We have to find out and provide, I hope with a great deal of support from this country, the scientific means which are necessary if we are going to protect future generations from the consequences of our lack of foresight.

I was personally impressed by the extent of our ignorance about such things when recently I produced a study of the pollution of the Mediterranean. There we have, unquestionably, a sick sea. The prognosis at the moment is alarming, and one does not have to be a Doomsday man to realise it. There we have in the basin of our Western civilisation a place where we can see the effects of homo-faber, man the maker, and the effect of his industrial activities and domestic occupations over 4,000 years. We can see what is happening. These activities, like copper-mining in Cyprus, ironworkings in Asia Minor at the time of Troy, and mercury extraction in Spain were not themselves different in kind from the discards of to-day. The present and future danger comes from the obsession with growth—g.n.p. if you like; with the exaggeration of the use of resources and the consequent haphazard disposal of waste. I have never understood, incidentally, why the use of resources should of necessity be accompanied by simply discarding very valuable materials which we call waste. Domestic activities, with the almost total absence around the Mediterranean of sewage treatment, are playing havoc with the recreational beaches and so on, and are also affecting the ecosystem of the Mediterranean.

This has been complicated by the modern traffic in oil which in terms of tanker ferries from the pipe outlets of the oil fields of North Africa and the Middle East to the refineries of Italy and Southern France, and the Adriatic, is greater to-day than it was before the closing of the Suez Canal and the routing of the giant tankers round the Cape of Good Hope. There is now every evidence, including a submarine oilfield being exploited off Spain, that off-shore drilling, with its contingent hazards, unless we take adequate precautions, will be general throughout the Mediterranean. This, combined with heavy industrialisation in the South of France and the Adriatic is producing a serious complication; but in addition the trans-national rivers and the winds, always underestimated as a factor in the distribution of pollution, are bringing from the hinterland pollution into the Mediterranean. This fate of an inland sea is a trans-national problem which can be solved only by the combined efforts of all the countries around the Mediterranean.

In addition there is the question of our scientific ignorance. We only discover the subtleties of the system when the deleterious effects become evident. For example, the great Bourbon forests on the Western coast of Italy are dying on the seaward side because the winds smother them with the spray which is an infernal combination of oil and D.D.T. and what is called synergism, the affinity between different chemicals, which in the case of oil and D.D.T. produces a film which acts like an enamel on the trees themselves. They are not poisoned; they are in effect suffocated by the inhibition of photo-synthesis. I quote this, merely as demonstrating from my recent studies that we need far more scientific insight as well as world-wide monitoring, "Earthwatch" if you like, and we must pay a great deal more attention to what is happening in and to our oceans.

Your Lordships, from past experience, will be aware of my concern to produce an ocean regime, not only to control the imminent industrialisation of the ocean-bed itself but also to protect the web of life which is the marine biological system involving the ocean-bed; but also the living waters above them and indeed the atmosphere, all of which are inseparable in the ocean system and, in relation to our atmosphere, helps to generate our climate. I said that today's debate was related to yesterday's on the question of trade and development. As has been pointed out by previous speakers—and certainly it was the experience of Maurice Strong, Secretary General of the Stockholm Conference, and his colleagues—it was manifest that so far as developing countries are concerned there was a cynicism, now I understand somewhat mollified in the developing countries, about our concern about the environment. They tend to regard it as a problem of the advanced countries and an attempt—almost a deliberate attempt, I gather, from discussions I have had with some of them—to inhibit their development by the imposition of controls which did not apply to the advanced countries in their development.

The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, referred to the fact that Britain was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. That is one of the examples in my experience cited against environmental control. In the 19th century the boast of our prosperity was, "Where there's muck there's brass". The soot and slime, the slagheaps and the sewer rivers which disfigure so much of our country were applauded as a sign of our prosperity. The quantity of our industrial and commercial production with the discarding of anything we did not want and which was not saleable damaged the quality of life; but it paid off. and it is not unreasonable for developing countries to want to take the same short cuts that we did. They too are facing the problem, inherent in the growth of population and the development of technology throughout the world, of urbanisation—if I may be excused a piece of Doomsdaymanship, a case of Kingsley Davis, that within the lifetime of young people still alive to-day we shall hue most of the world's population living in cities. A rural life, even in the countries which we regard as wide open for development, will be saturated and people will be living in cities.

Here we will see, in all the predictable circumstances. the worse aspects of pollution. It is therefore quite essential that world statesmanship should take this into account and see that the restraints—I am talking now of the attitude of the developing countries to this problem—the precautions and anti-pollution processes which we need to safeguard the world at large should be subsidised by the world at large. I say, in spite of the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that this is one of the things that manifestly we should do something about in subsidising developing countries. This is one form of aid, although I regard others as necessary also, which is very important, because it is the one way in which we can anticipate the ravages which they themselves will bring to us in a self-interested condition. That should be subsidised by the world at large and not be a charge on the infant industries of developing countries. This has to be worked out. We are asking for these precautions. We have a duty—I say, "we"; I think that mankind has a right—to be intelligent about these things and say that this will happen unless those precautions are taken. If we insist on that, we ought to be prepared not to make a special case of the developing countries. I cite for example the consequences—and this may still happen although it has not yet happened—of the development of nuclear energy and the random spread of nuclear atoms throughout the world without precautions being taken. It is the same thing, when we come down to it. What we have become tremendously conscious of in terms of radiation hazards we are becoming more conscious of in terms of other kinds of hazards: chemical pollution, and so forth. Therefore we have a duty to say to the countries who are seeking their way through to the same kind of material prosperity that we will at least build our precautions into their system.

My Lords, I ought to say, in his absence, how delighted I was by the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Leicester. I have only one piece of advice to give him. If he wants to "balance the books" and the 147 years of silence he should make an honorary member of the family my noble friend, my dear noble friend, Fenner Brockway. He would balance the books immediately. I want also to say how much I was stimulated by the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. I was very happy about it because, in a way, I heard in his speech an echo of the words of a previous colleague, that very enlightened man on this kind of subject, the Bishop of Norwich. I was grateful to the right reverend Prelate for referring to the conference of which, incidentally, the former Bishop of Norwich. now the Dean of Windsor, was a co-chairman with Professor Tunbergom, the Nobel Prizewinner. It was a very impressive conference. My noble friend Lord Kennet and I both were present and we had representations from many countries of people directly and deeply concerned in this matter. That conference raised clearly and strongly the kind of issues that we are discussing to-day.

I would add to the Bishop of Gloucester's references to bad grammar, or bad English in the paragraph he quoted, a further statement from the St. George's House Conference on the Human Environment: Unprecedented problems call for unprecedented responses. We believe that the need has arisen for inter-community co-operation between those groups among national communities which represent powerful and potentially effective interests that are currently devoid of regulatory responsibility. It goes further in those terms in calling on Governments to take action. It continues: Business and labour could perhaps act together as one such group, the scientific community could act as another, consumers—or users—as a third"— consumers, and indeed the public which helps to create the pollution by asking for cheap commodities.

In this way we can see beyond the Stockholm Conference, which is essentially an inter-governmental conference—and we have had experience of the limitations of inter-governmental things—to the follow-through, which we hope will take the form of concrete institutionalising of part of it. Also I hope it will bring into active co-operation bodies of people—not just the Government—who are the authors and, to some extent, the victims of what is happening. I refer to the big industrialists. They ought to be—and I think are—developing a conscience about what they are doing. Also the people at large who are asking, in terms of cheap commodities, for the things which cost a lot of money and which they are getting on the cheap at the expense of what should be spent in preventing the pollution we are talking about. The environmental question is a vital issue. I also think, despite what has been said and the words of caution we have heard, that it is an extremely urgent one.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, that this matter is extremely urgent. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, that exaggeration of these problems is not in any way helpful. It is likely to produce a back-lash. But I am not aware that there is very much exaggeration in this country in the discussion of these problems. In the United States, where pollution has already gone so far that almost all marine life in Lake Erie has come to an end there has been perhaps inevitably more talk in exaggerated terms than there has been here. But when we look back in history we must note what serious consequences there have been as a result of insufficient attention being paid to environmental problems. My Lords, when we consider that North Africa was the great source of grain and food and raw materials for imperial Rome, and that practically the whole of that sea coast has been denuded of trees and therefore of vegetation and that it has become a desert, we have warning from the past and must not underestimate the dangers of the future.

We were in a sense fortunate, I think, in having the smog of 1952. Nothing less than that would have roused public opinion to the importance of clean air; and the sensational revelations taking place at the present time about uncontrolled and secret dumping of dangerous materials in the countryside are likely to have the same beneficial effect. It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, has said, that this country is as far advanced as any in the world in trying to rectify the pollution and defacement of the past. Therefore it is right that we should go into this international Conference resolved to place our own experience at the disposal of the world. We all now realise that only limited pollutions and harmful invasions of the environment can he rectified by a single country acting by itself. Therefore the Stockholm Conference comes at an extraordinarily opportune moment.

My Lords, so far as pollution is concerned, it is I think owing to two main factors first, the startling increase in the population of the world, a subject which we shall be debating next week, and secondly, the very great increase in what is called the standard of living. I want to see an improvement in living conditions, which is often something quite different from what is now called an improvement in the standard of living. I believe that there are parts of the United States where the consumption of milk did not increase at all during a period when the number of containers thrown away increased 44 times. This is the kind of trouble which is new to the world, and it is the result of technological progress. I should be the first to say that the technological process that has produced these things should also be—and no doubt in due time will be—able to destroy them in a harmless if not useful manner. But we must recognise that, as things are at the present time, the problem is increasing, and at a very great rate. We must not ignore, either, the waste of irreplaceable materials, such as fossil fuels. Consumption of everything appears to involve the production of some kind of waste, and we should be giving as much attention to the disposal in an innocuous manner of the waste as we are giving to the production of useful commodities.

The improvement in living conditions in many parts of the world has been largely due to the development of fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides. No one would wish that we should be without such things, which obviously are likely to make a great contribution to providing additional food for the underfed populations of the world. But the persistence of some of these pesticides, which can be passed on right through the chain of life until they are found in Arctic and Antarctic birds, clearly threatens the life and health of living things in all parts of the world. The new synthetic molecules which have been produced by man appear to be almost indestructible. But, again, I believe that, even though they may be indestructible by bio-degradable processes, it is only a matter of time before the scientists who have shown such ingenuity in producing them will show how to dispose of them in a useful and certainly a harmless manner.

We in this House have debated pollution on a number of occasions. We debated the pollution of the rivers about three years ago, and it is immensely satisfactory that the Report which was recently published by the Government shows that great and satisfactory progress is being made in that particular respect. But the pollution of the rivers which we may be rectifying is paralleled by the increasing pollution of the sea, which so far we have done very little to put right. I fully recognise the wonderful work that has been done in reducing the pollution of the seas by oil. That is an encouraging example of what thought and ingenuity can do to reduce the harmful effects of some useful modern commodity. But much more requires to be done, and we all welcome what the noble Earl said about the Oslo Convention on Dumping of Wastes in the North Sea and the hope that he holds out that at some time in the future the same kind of enlightened international co-operation may be applied all the world over. We in this country of course are fortunate in being an island. But I spend my holidays on the lake of Geneva, which is already seriously polluted; and what the Swiss may be doing to make sure that from their bank pollution is reduced and, as they hope, abolished, is going to be in vain unless the same thing is done by France. The destruction recently of fish in the Rhine is merely a dramatic example of how essential it is in the case of international rivers to have proper international co-operation.

I hope that the Stockholm Conference will result in three things. First, I hope that it will do something to organise the scientific research which the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, with his unexcelled knowledge of these subjects, says is one of the urgent needs. Secondly, there is the spread of information. When I say "information", I again take into account the noble Lord's warning against exaggeration. The information must not be just propaganda, but must be sound information based upon a monitoring of the dangers we are facing, coupled with advice based upon scientific research as to what can be done. Thirdly, there is action. I strongly urge that our Government should recognise that in the last resort in this matter, as in nearly all others, when the scientists have done their best, and when the thinkers and publicists have created the right and appropriate opinion, based upon sound information and knowledge, then the responsibility must rest upon the politicians to ensure that action is taken.

My Lords, I have spoken about pollution because it appears at the moment to be the most pressing danger, but I should not like the Stockholm Conference to confine itself to dealing with the evils that exist and rectifying the errors of the past. Concern with the environment should also be optimistic enough to try to look forward to improve it. There is much that can be done in the way of positive planning, which can result not merely in preventing pollution and damage but in ensuring a better and fuller life for the population of the world in the generations to come. This is a pressing and an urgent problem. It is not one that warrants any sort of despair. There are enough tragedies in the past to make us realise that disaster is possible, but I believe that with the right approach, with courage and enterprise, we may reconcile technological and economic advance and progress and increased consumption, and at the same time ensure the preservation of a good way of life.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, technological man has stirred up for himself a hornet's nest of problems. It seems to me a fair bet that the Stockholm Conference will show only that there are more problems than we have been aware of up to now. At the same time, as has already been pointed out, there will be bodies of experts, apparently each just as well informed as the others: on the one hand, the "Doomwatchers", who will tell us that civilisation is doomed, and the others who will tell us that we are being over-pessimistic and that the problems are not insoluble. When the experts differ in this way, when we suppose that they have access to the same information, and when they make predictions diametrically opposed, is not this a sign that we should perhaps consider directing our thinking in a totally different way?

If we have no sword available, why not let us try just stepping over the Gordian knot? I want to suggest that, instead of trying to find our way laboriously from a difficult position towards a solution, we should go straight to the solution and work backwards. Have we not all a pretty clear idea of how we should really like to live? Or, if we have not, is it not perhaps time that we thought it out in as much detail as we can? In order to do this we must think it out from the bottom. We must take the everyday details of life and put these together to add up to a family community and a whole society—ultimately a whole world, if we can take it as far as that. So let us start from the everyday level at which we know what feels right, and let us see what these extrapolations can lead us to.

There seems to me to be an unfortunate tendency to "Utopianise" from the top downwards—to start by deciding which form of Government we must have when, by working upwards from the smaller to the larger group we may (dare I say it?) find that we need no Government at all. By starting from the bottom, as I have suggested, we may be able to construct a feasible environment, an environment which is in balance and which provides us not with a higher standard of living but with a higher quality of living. We may be able to do this on a national scale. If we can construct such a plan then we have a criterion by which we can tell which social changes we need to support and which we should resist. There are in practice, when one is trying to think out a life-style in this way, certain constraints on the features one can put in. We have to test these features in different ways, but we meet very early on the necessity for such tests and we have to find the best way to act within the constraints.

If, on the other hand, we were to find that national problems are beyond us and that we can solve only smaller-scale problems—and this would amount to saying that large groupings of people were inherently unstable—this would still give us at the same time the opportunity to establish what perhaps one could call "survival islands"—to establish areas within which people can live the sort of life which they have worked out to be best for themselves, without interfering with the chosen life-styles of others—and to have these islands sufficiently buoyant so that they will be able to float over and absorb the impact of the changes that will inevitably be going on in the surrounding environment. This may sound an egotistical, egocentric and perhaps a self-satisfied attitude. My Lords, I do not think it should necessarily be, provided we arrive at our "survival islands" by the process of building upwards from the details. This is a way of thinking which can yield results; and constructive thinking is infectious. In fact the only thinking that is more infectious is that which leads into panic and despair.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he can tell the House what kind of life he envisages for those who are not comprised in these "survival islands"?


My Lords, short and bitter, I think one might describe it.


I feared so.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, I accept fully what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, and my noble friend Lord Molson, about the need not to exaggerate the threat to the environment, but there does seem to me to have been an unfortunate tendency among certain groups of people to dismiss those who have expressed anxiety about the future of mankind as "doomwatchers", "prophets of despair" and so on. They have even been given class labels as a means of denigration. But those who predict disaster unless early action is taken are not cranks or people of no consequence: they are some of the most brilliant and respected scientists in the Western World. I believe that we ignore their warnings at our peril. It was surely significant that in addition to the list of distinguished persons who signed the Blueprint for Survival, 187 scientists wrote subsequently to The Times to say that although they could not subscribe to the recommendations they endorsed the general conclusions reached in that document.

The principal theme of the Blueprint, as also of the very important Study commissioned by the Club of Rome, is that we cannot continue indefinitely with economic growth without destroying everything that we most cherish. It appeared from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget Speech that Her Majesty's Government do not agree with this view. This afternoon we were told by the noble Earl the Leader of the House that they had taken note of these documents, but he did not say what was the result of this taking note; and in a Written Answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, some weeks ago, the Government said that they were having discussions with the Ecologist about the Blueprint. Perhaps they will be able to say when the result of these discussions will be known.

These two documents seem to me to be of such tremendous importance that I hope there will be an opportunity later to have a debate upon them. I expect that many of your Lordships will have read the series of debates published recently in the Observer. One of them was between Dr. Norman Borlaug, who is well known for having developed the new strains of wheat and rice and who was described as an optimist (he is of course to a large extent responsible for the "green revolution"), and Dr. Borgstrom, the Swedish Professor of Food Sciences at Michigan University, who was described as a pessimist. It was, naturally, a most interesting discussion that took place between them; but what disturbed me particularly was that Dr. Borlaug, the alleged optimist, was only a fraction less pessimistic than Dr. Borgstrom, the alleged pessimist.

That brings me to the second of the points that I wanted to make, which is that I regret that the Stockholm Conference will not be called upon to consider any resolution about population policy. The subject is mentioned in the Conference papers, but only with a view to referring it to national Governments for their consideration, and for such action as they think necessary. It is not expected to be considered in detail. I should like to say something about this because I feel that as it concerns world population, it is more relevant to the debate on the Stockholm Conference than it will be to the debate next week which is confined to United Kingdom population policy.

I do not see how it is possible satisfactorily to hold a world conference on the environment without discussing the one subject which is at the root of so many environmental problems. It is cardinal to us in the West because we are already over-populated and more people create more pollution, and it is cardinal to the underdeveloped countries not because they pollute—they do not—but because with an already low standard of living they are going to double their population in 32 years. It is a nightmare which hardly bears thinking about. Not only have these extra people to be fed when many of the existing population are already hungry, but where are they going to live and, even more important, what are they all going to do?

The so-called "green revolution" has brought us a breathing space of perhaps twenty years. But if we do not use that breathing space to reduce the world population growth, the green revolution will turn out to be a major calamity because the catastrophe, when it comes, will be that much worse. On the green revolution. I thought the little story of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, about the kedgeree in Malaya was extremely relevant because it points to the fact that some of the new solutions which are proposed to our problems are not always so easy to work as is suggested.

In your Lordships' House yesterday in the UNCTAD debate, much was said about the need to be more generous in the prices that we paid to the poorer countries for their primary produce—give them more for their bananas and so on. I fully subscribe to this. I am all for being more generous, but on one condition; that is, that they have proper birth control policies in those countries. Otherwise we are merely pouring money straight down the drain.

We in the West have to do two things. First, we must ourselves adopt population policies and thus set an example, because we can hardly expect the poorer countries to take action when they see us doing nothing to limit our own growth which, although less explosive than theirs, is much more harmful in its effects on the environment. Secondly, we must put far greater effort and much more money into birth control assistance to the poorer countries and into research into birth control techniques here at home. One of the lines of research that I should like to see pursued is that of pre-determination of the sex of children—an achievement which is, I understand, well within our grasp. If people could choose the sex of their children it would, I believe, be of enormous benefit to mankind. Not only would it satisfy the personal wishes of married couples, but it would also provide Governments with a means, through a system of incentives for males and disincentives for females, to lower their population levels in a relatively painless way. I make this proposal with regret, because I personally would much prefer to see a world with more women than men in it. I think that women are much nicer creatures on the whole—you have only to look at the criminal statistics. But we are facing a crisis and that requires crisis measures. My ideas might create social problems but I believe these could be overcome, as they have been overcome in Tibet, which is a country with a heavy predominance of males.

Finally, I should like to turn from the haunting spectre of world population to say something about anti-pollution measures here in the West. The real meat of anti-pollution appears to be the recycling of materials and effluents, and the promotion of the durability of consumer goods; policies which have recently been strongly backed by Dr. Mansholt, the President of the E.E.C.; policies which he admits will adversely affect the material standards of our people. It seems impossible for any one country to undertake them because of the expense involved, the increase in the cost of the goods produced and the loss of markets to competitors. It is here that our entry into the European Community is surely so important. As one of the Ten we should be able to co-ordinate our anti-pollution measures and I hope that there will be regular meetings of environment Ministers from different countries with this in view.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, made one point which I did not fully understand, but I may have misunderstood him. He said that one of the things that was worrying him was that because underdeveloped countries do not pollute, in time they would be able to produce goods more cheaply than we could if we adopted expensive anti-pollution measures. I do not know whether that is correct. If it is, I should have thought that this was an advantage that we could well give to the underdeveloped countries. We start with so many advantages, we could well give them this one.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, I was not saying quite that. It was not that the underdeveloped countries do not pollute, but that they can afford to pollute more than we can because we are already much polluted and they are not. So they can start making things in a polluting way which we cannot continue to make in a polluting way here because we are already polluting. Therefore, their things will be sold at a lower price than our things.


My Lords, that realy confirms the point I was making; our products will be more expensive and less competitive.

The Stockholm Conference is one of the most important international conferences that will ever be held because on its recommendations and the reaction of Governments to them may well depend the future of life as we know it. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will seize the opportunity presented to give a decisive lead to the rest of the world.

6.29 p.m.


My Lords, there is in this kind of debate an inevitable feeling that we have been here before; that we have been debating toxic chemicals and the environment, and that new labourers in the vineyard are coming along and telling us what to do when we have been trying for a long period to tell Governments of all kinds what to do, and sometimes Governments have done something about it. Therefore I feel that I am a little poised between what one might call the "Zuckerman position" (and although my noble friend is not present at the moment he has certainly heard nearly everything else for so much longer) and the position perhaps adopted, with which I am a little more in agreement, by the noble Lord, Lord Molson.

One of our great problems in a matter which has suddenly aroused such interest in the world is to establish what is likely and what is unlikely, and indeed what is true and what is not. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Molson—I mention this not by way of criticism but as an example—say that Lake Erie is dying. I am told that the myth that Lake Erie is dead is something which is quite untrue, and that Lake Erie perch are as good and healthy to eat as they ever were. This leads us on to one of the most important proposals which have come in the course of this debate and which we hope will emerge from Stockholm: the need for much more accurate monitoring and presentation of information.

I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Kennet for introducing this debate and I am sure that we are all glad that he is going to Stockholm. He is, indeed, almost Stockholm Man; he is going as observer for the Socialist International, for the Labour Party, for International Parliamentary Conferences. I think this helps to exemplify one of the many satisfactory aspects of this Conference; namely, that it is not to be a Conference in which the British delegation consists only of officials and Ministers (this is not intended as a reflection on Ministers or officials) but will include a good cross-section of the community.

A few years ago the threat to our survival seemed to come very much more from the threat of nuclear destruction, of nuclear war, and the voices who were crying rather more in the wilderness on the subject of the environment were not able to make the impact which now they are able to make. As the risk of nuclear war, as I believe, diminishes, so we are becoming better aware that we are in the middle of a more subtle threat: that in a relatively short time—some people would say thirty years; some people would say a hundred years; some might say rather longer—the situation will threaten the effective survival of mankind. The environmental problem is so much more difficult to solve because it does not depend on Governments alone, whereas the control of weapons does. It is in the decision of individuals as well as of Governments that we must find the solution. I think we are all agreed that this is not just a single problem; it is a mixture of interrelated problems. Indeed, as one goes more deeply into this matter one finds that we are really talking about the whole of life; that there is practically no aspect of life which is not included in some way within this problem. There have been references, for instance, to yesterday's debate on UNCTAD, and there is clearly a great deal of interlinking in all these matters.

There is one theme that I should like to take up, and it was dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, in his, as usual, interesting speech. That is the responsibility of industry in the field of the environment. This is an area in which there is room for a lot of hope. For those of us who were concerned in the battle of toxic chemicals which led to so much slaughter of wildlife (and there was a time when nobody would believe that that slaughter of wildlife was due to toxic chemicals), the fact remains that voluntary action has been taken. Here one has to pay great credit to the Nature Conservancy and to people such as Mr. Max Nicholson and Dr. Martin Holgate, and others who were in the Nature Conservancy. As a result of this action it has been possible greatly to diminish that threat without having a damaging effect on agriculture, and very largely without any Government legislation at all.

The plea I would make I would direct particularly to those who have now joined the bandwagon of the environmentalists—and we welcome them. It is that they should continue to realise that it is by getting their views across in a form that is reasonable and rational, and, above all, bears some relation to the facts, that they are most likely to influence industry and polluters generally. This is where the work of the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, and others is so important. Having referred to the need for industrial understanding and the need to get industry to move quickly, I would mention another example: that of the oil companies. The responsible oil companies acted in connection with putting oil into the sea; and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and I myself, and others who have been chairmen of the Oil Pollution Committee, know just how important that kind of industrial co-operation is.

At the same time, my Lords, we need to recognize—and this is where I was very interested in the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester—that we require a real shift in social attitudes. I do not want to start using Party political phrases in this matter, but it must be obvious that old-fashioned concepts of capitalism, of unrestrained free enterprise, are dead, as most of modern free enterprise in industry knows; and they really are no longer relevant and no longer provide satisfactory guidance for action in industry. I have no doubt that altruism will have to play a very much bigger part. And not only is altruism necessary; there must be recognition of the need for the survival of others as well as of oneself. The point that the right reverend Prelate made in regard to moral attitudes is therefore very relevant indeed. I shall certainly look forward to hearing him replacing, as I hope, to some extent the contributions of the former Bishop of Norwich, who was always so interested in these matters and was involved in this particular Conference to which the noble Lord referred.

My Lords, let me in the very few minutes that I am going to take refer briefly to some of the institutional aspects that are necessary for further progress. I was interested to hear what the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, had to say with regard to some sort of continuation or institutionalisation of the Inter-Governmental Preparatory Committee. I agree with those noble Lords who feel that it would be a mistake if we were, so to speak, to tear up existing agencies. And I have particularly in mind IMCO. These international agencies may not be perfect; they may not have done as good a job as they should. But usually that was not the fault of the officials who manned them; it was the fault of the Governments concerned. However, I very much hope that there will be a further move towards strengthening the institutional arrangements for dealing with the problems of environment and that while we may reject, as I think my noble friend Lord Kennet did, the "Doom watch" type of organisation, the "Earth-watch" organisation has, I believe, the kind of basis to which we should look.

Here again I should like to refer to the role of voluntary conferences of one kind or another. There has been a number of these. I recently attended one given by that admirable institution, Ditchley, on the Arctic, the threat to the environment in the Arctic, and the possible damage to the permafrost, which is very great indeed; and it was quite obvious from the discussion that the only way in which one would be able to preserve the Arctic (some people may ask why we want to preserve the Arctic, but there is a lot of important Arctic territory and sea which must not be destroyed) is by international co-operation. In order to support that international co-operation a great deal more research will be necessary.

One interesting suggestion which has been put forward by Professor Southwood, the professor of Zoology at Imperial College, is that somewhere there should be fitted into this network of organisations, both governmental and inter-governmental, some form of a completely inter-disciplinary institute. It may well be that the Royal Commission on Pollution is already moving in that direction, and this would make a most promising beginning. I am glad that the Government have continued with it. But I suspect that either a Royal Commission or some other body will need to be set up with a much wider range of disciplines, and that it will need also to be continually refreshed, not only from the universities and scientific institutions but also from industry, trade unions and indeed even by ordinary civil servants in the course of their training and secondment. In my view it is in this direction that further progress can be made.

One further aspect of the information side is the interesting work that has been developed in the course of the International Biological Programme, whose world headquarters, incidentally, are in London and who have been developing the use of computerised surveys to bring together all the countries' factors composing the environment. The world data centre for this is located at the Monks Wood Experimental Station of the Nature Conservancy. Some very promising progress has been made in this area and we hope that similar progress will be made in the case of the world weather watch, in which again the British Meteorological Office is playing such a very important part. Few people know just how much is being done in this field.

That brings me to one further point—indeed, almost my last point—and that is the future of the Nature Conservancy. I admit that this does not come directly on the agenda for Stockholm, but I cannot let an opportunity go by without expressing some anxiety as to what are the intentions of the Government with regard to the Nature Conservancy. I do not expect that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will be able to answer to-day, but I am bound to say that of all the institutions that have been set up since the War which have had a really valuable effect on our society, the Nature Conservancy is almost uniquely at the top of the list. In my view it is extremely important that whatever is done, whether it continues in NERC or is independent, or is in some way attached to the Ministry, the two parts of the Nature Conservancy, both research and the operation of nature reserves, should be kept in the same organisation. It has been a very happy combination and has led to the success of that admirable institution.

One could go on speaking at great length on this subject, but I think it would be much better now if we merely encouraged those who are going to participate in this important international Conference to think hard about what has been said in the debate. In particular, I would again commend the very clearly expressed and wise words of the noble Earl, Lord Leicester. We were delighted to hear his maiden speech. I hope that those concerned will approach this Conference in a spirit of optimism. It is sometimes difficult to be optimistic when we think of some of the things that are done in the world to-day and to which nobody pays any attention: the fact that in the United States of America 55,000 people every year are killed on the roads—the equivalent of dropping an atom bomb on a medium-sized town—and another 300,000 are injured. One wonders whether the world is capable of co-operating.

However, I think there are signs of progress. The crisis is a real one. I believe we shall have to solve it or make rapid strides within the next 30 to 50 years. My own impression is that the pollution problems will be solved. The resources problems may be much greater, and here the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, was very important indeed. I hope that, even if not much progress is made at Stockholm on population, it will emerge as a major subject for further conferences. My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Kennet on introducing such a worthwhile debate, and we look forward with interest to hearing what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, may say and to his answering some of the questions which his noble friend was unable to answer at the beginning.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for giving us an opportunity to discuss this important topic at this particular moment. May I start, though, by congratulating the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Gloucester, on his maiden speech. As one who has sat at his feet and learned from him the art of preaching sermons, it gives me particular pleasure to be here and taking part with him in this debate. I remember his enjoining brevity upon me; I am not sure that in answering such a wide-ranging debate I shall find it very easy to comply with that teaching. I was grateful to him for adding the dimension that he did to our debate, and from my position as an ordained member of both Her Majesty's Government and the Department of the Environment I should like to confirm my impression that we are in fact witnessing a veritable revolution in public and social attitudes towards the Creation and towards man's stewardship of it. If I may, I should also like to join in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Leicester. We are greatly honoured to be here on the occasion when he breaks such a long family silence, and I think it will be a long time before there is any danger of anyone saying that we are hearing too much of the Cokes.

My noble friend Lord Jellicoe answered most of the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, but I shall have more to say in a moment about the position of East Germany, and a little more about the structures that we want to see emerging from the Stockholm Conference. I was grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said—and other noble Lords followed him—about the limits that we need to set on the degree of international uniformity of standards. Uniformity is appropriate in certain circumstances, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, said, there are parts of the world where it would be ridiculous to insist on the stringency which it is right to apply in large conurbations: we do not need, for instance, to apply the same standards in the Highlands of Scotland. I am also grateful for what he said about the importance of ensuring that in the arrangements we make we do not waste highly skilled scientific manpower in unnecessary duplication.

Noble Lords have said at various stages during the debate how important it is that in future we should all compare notes and share information about our progress and experience, and it is of interest perhaps that one of my first appointments on Monday will be to receive the environmental correspondent of La Stampa and to describe to him, as I might to the environmental correspondent of The Times, our attitudes towards these topics. I think a lot of interchange of views and techniques will go on in this way over and above any formal arrangements that we make.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, followed the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in asking about our attitude to the East German delegation. We want this Conference, as he does, to be a full one. It has been made quite clear to the East Germans that they can attend: all members of the United Nations can attend, and East Germany can attend. But we have to remember that they are not members of the United Nations. They have been invited to attend on a working basis, and this will give them as full a part as it is possible to give them in the Conference. They will be welcome to attend and participate in the work of the Conference on a working basis.


My Lords, can the Minister define that a little more? Does that mean that they will be able to attend as observers, perhaps with speaking rights but not having full rights of membership?


They will be able to attend, not just as observers, but to participate; but not being members they will not be able to vote.


My Lords, are Her Majesty's Government prepared to consider the proposal I made: that they might be nominated for membership of the World Health Organisation, which would give them full representation?


My Lords, that is quite a different point, and I will, if I may, decline to be drawn on that. The invitation is to participate and speak, but not being members they cannot expect the right to vote.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister, on this question of voting, whether it is really contemplated that there will be much voting at a conference of this sort? is not this something which might be accepted: that there will not be very much voting and therefore it would be right for them to attend?


My Lords, as I said, they have been invited to participate at a working level. The noble Lord is right in saying that it is unlikely that there will be much voting, and for all practical purposes that will make little difference. My hope is that the Conference will be a full one, that East Germany will accept the invitation on this basis and that the rest of the Eastern bloc will decide to come on that understanding.

The noble Lord, Lord Vernon, quite rightly introduced the topic of the Blueprint for Survival. I should like to take this opportunity of confirming that my right honourable friend certainly does not ignore this document; nor do we feel it right to swallow all of it whole. We have, as the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, understood, embarked on discussions with some of the authors of the articles in the Ecologist and we have invited them to return for further discussions with us on particular topics of their choosing.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, for his tribute to the approach of my right honourable friend to this Conference, and for the measured terms of his own concern, and particularly grateful for that large dose of common sense, ending with the avocado pear, which he gave us. It is, as he said, a matter of selecting a common approach towards particular goals when and where they are relevant. I was also grateful for his recognition, coming from that particular source, of the fact that over a wide range of environmental issues the situation in the United Kingdom is in fact improving. It is not a case for complacency, but it is as well to have it on the record when there are exaggerated things being said indicating that the trends are otherwise. As the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, said, we do indeed have very useful lessons available for others to learn resulting from our early experience as an industrial nation, and I will say a little more about that in a moment. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, had a good deal to say about marine pollution, and rightly so. but I think my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal has said as much as can be said at this stage about our attitude towards that subject.

The noble Lord, Lord Burgh, concentrated very much on the human habitat, which is one of the issues on which the Working Party under Lady Dartmouth was asked to inquire, and the report under her name will bear the title, How would we like to live, a matter which the noble Lord, Lord Burgh, rightly thinks is one on which public opinion has strong views and which ought to be assessed. I was particularly grateful for the measured and balanced words used by my noble friend Lord Molton, particularly the final note on which he ended his remarks.

I was glad that we did not end the debate without anybody having said anything about the responsibility of industry. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for introducing this point because it lies at the heart of a great deal of the problems with which we have to deal. I should like to pay particular tribute to the international oil companies, having very recently been in the Pembrokeshire National Park and seen the remarkable skill and, I think it fair to say, success, with which not one but several refineries, amounting to the second largest oil refinery complex in Europe, have been fitted into a British National Park. It is a major achievement and a tribute to our planning procedures and the co-operation of the oil companies. I would also pay my tribute to the co-operation of industry with the Alkali Inspectorate and to the growing enlightenment and responsibility among a wide range of mineral operators, sand and gravel contractors and so on. We look forward very much to the publication of the Zuckerman Report on the studies the noble Lord has been conducting on behalf of the mineral industry. All these are instances of the changing and developing social attitudes, the necessity of which is so important, as the right reverend Prelate reminded us.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, mentioned institutions, and I will return to those in a moment. One particular institution he mentioned was the Nature Conservancy. He will not expect me to be drawn at two minutes' notice into saying anything at this stage about the future locus of the Nature Conservancy, but as he has mentioned it I cannot forbear to add my tribute to the work they do, and the fact that they do not happen to be part of our Department does not in any way detract from that.

The British delegation will go to Stockholm eager to learn and co-operate, but also noting that we have had and still have a very great deal to contribute in knowledge and experience. As many noble Lords have said, that is a tribute which has already been paid by the person best placed to judge it; namely, Mr. Maurice Strong, the Secretary General of the Conference itself. As my noble friend said, we were the first of the nations of the world to become industrialised, and, as a result, we were the first to experience pollution on a large scale. We inherited, as a result, a legacy of bad housing, urban obsolescence, and derelict land. We are affected by shortages of land resources and water resources, and with one of the highest densities of population in the world we are confronted with concentrations of population in huge towns and cities. These are all matters which we trust will be discussed at Stockholm, but they are not new problems to us and we shall be, I am sure, able to bring to the Conference a special expertise, coupled with a willingness to pass it on to others who are on the threshold of developments like these in which we have learnt many of our lessons by bitter experience. We hope very much that their experience will not have to be so bitter.

Over many years successive British Governments have taken action to manage and protect our national environment, and we have now established a legal and administrative framework, particularly of planning law, that will undoubtedly be envied by many at the Conference. As a result of a combination of all these measures, as the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, reminded us, our air is now much cleaner than it was, our rivers are less polluted, and we have learned that positive planning to ensure wise use of the environment is quite indispensable. This is especially true where, as in a small, densely populated country like ours, there are competing pressures for the use of limited natural resources. I believe that we can justly claim a high place among the world's nations in many of these respects.

It is not just a question of clearing up the effects of an uncontrolled, or insufficiently controlled, industrial revolution; it is also our duty—and our duty to posterity in particular—to protect the beautiful landscapes which the Almighty has given us, but which families like the Cokes have also enhanced so greatly by their wisdom and their stewardship over many centuries. We have the vast heritage of attractive towns, villages, and historic buildings and ancient monuments with which this country is endowed. Despite a great population density a large part, over a quarter, of our countryside is protected by green belts, and by being designated as National Parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty. I do not think that there is any doubt in people's minds that a signal contribution to this happy state of affairs was made, and is still being made, by the large, dedicated landowners, of whom the noble Earl, Lord Leicester, is one—and it is not just taking a Tory stance to pay tribute to that at this particular stage. I think, if I may say so, that the noble Earl chose exactly the right topic on which to break his silence, and as he spoke I felt he was picking up the threads almost exactly where his great-great-grandfather left them.

Another field in which we are making progress and in which we have useful lessons to share with others is in the reclamation of derelict land, which we are now clearing at the rate of 6,000 acres a year, compared with 3,600 a year previously. In this, and in other things, I share the optimism of the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton and Lord Zuckerman. Our rivers also are getting cleaner. Over three-quarters of them are unpolluted, and the proportion (which is quite a small one) of those that are grossly polluted has been cut by a half over the last ten years. The river pollution surveys—one volume of which has been published, and the second volume giving more details and analysing the particular pollutants that are causing the trouble is just about to be published—make available (I think for the first time in such detail), for all who want to study these matters, the techniques which need to be applied internationally in rivers such as the Rhine for getting down to the details which are necessary before action can be taken to clear river pollution. I think that these surveys also show—and this is a fact which we all know—that environmental improvement cannot be obtained without paying quite a price, and the cost of all the river management, water conservation, pollution control that we have to embark on is of the order of £1,300 million of capital investment over the next live years.

I believe that many in Stockholm will be interested to learn more about the organisation of the world's first single integrated Department of the Environment. In creating this Department in 1970 the Government brought together under one command responsibility in England for planning and land use, pollution control, transport, public building construction and many other things. Apart from grouping all those functions together what makes it unique is that, unlike any others that have been created since, the Department not only is responsible for co-ordinating policies, important as that is but possesses the necessary executive powers and financial resources for carrying the policies out.

Another thing that we have learned is that it is not possible to have effective pollution control if it is planned in and imposed from the isolation of an academic or an administrative centre. I am sure that this is something we need to watch as these United Nations structures develop. There has to be, and there has been—and this has been one of the classic features of the Alkali Inspectorate—a continuing dialogue with the industries which are the actual or potential polluters, and increasingly also with ordinary citizens whose attitudes towards these things are so important in getting things done.

Another lesson we have learned is that to succeed there must be administrative flexibility. It is essential to take into account the wide regional variations, and the wide variations in social and economic circumstances and the way in which these change. Several noble Lords have, I am glad to say, seen and made this point during the debate. Furthermore, we have long since recognised that central Government alone can determine national strategy and must retain a continuing oversight of surveys monitoring river pollution, and so on. In addition to that we have learned that so far as possible the actual work on these problems should be de-centralised to local authorities and then, so far as possible, to the man on the spot. These are lessons which have real application on the international plane.

There has been talk in this debate, and a good deal more talk outside, about economic growth and its relationship to all this. We know that we shall not cure the problems of the past, nor prevent new problems arising, without expanding our resources. Economic growth, in the sense of making more resources available for the ends that we desire, is therefore desirable if not indispensable. We reject the idea that solutions are to be found in deliberately creating less wealth in a hungry and illiterate world—and most of the Third World is hungry and illiterate. To do that would he immoral. As the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, reminded us, it is only thanks to technological advances that much of our progress on the environmental front has been made possible at all. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester reminded us, what we need is to create more of the right kind of wealth and to put it to use more wisely towards the right ends: to clean up effluents, to quieten engines, to renew our outworn towns, to get rid of poverty and squalor, and to conserve natural beauty. Furthermore, while doing all those things we need to foster and encourage and alert public opinion, and to adjust and mobilise new social attitudes and opinions which will press us forward, as they are doing at this moment, towards the achievement of aims such as the ones I have just mentioned.

We have only to look at two examples given to us by my noble friend Lord Molson to see how public opinion has changed and become more alert. It was in 1952 that we had the disastrous smog in London. As a result of that, a committee was set up, and gradually the clean air legislation came into force and became effective. Now, twenty years later, we are able to look to London and see it almost free from smoke. This spring we had the discoveries of cyanide drums at Nuneaton and in a matter of weeks we had new legislation on the Statute Book. This is a measure of the change in public attitudes and concern on environmental issues.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say what time expired between the receipt of the Key Report on the disposal of toxic wastes, and the finding of the cyanide drums?


Not off the cuff, my Lords.


Will the noble Lord accept that it was more than a year?


It may well have been, yes.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, all referred to the "Earth-watch" idea in various forms. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred to the proposal by Mr. Laurance Reed, in the debate in another place, that a "Doomwatch" agency be set up. He criticised my honourable friend Mr. Eldon Griffiths for brushing aside that suggestion and stressed the importance of the monitoring proposals and the so-called "Earth-watch" programme in the plans for Stockholm. If I may say so, I do not think the antithesis which he perhaps created in your Lordships' minds is totally valid. Mr. Reed's agency was to be a single global centre for collecting, processing and disseminating data to provide really up-to-date information about the state of our environment—to be more precise, a single surveillance agency. Mr. Griffiths's criticism was directed not so much at that idea as at the idea of a centralised data-gathering and storage apparatus, a global brain, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, would agree with most of us is not such a practical suggestion.

I do not think anybody disputes the need for better monitoring of what is going on in the world environment and, as my honourable friend Mr. Griffiths said in another place, Her Majesty's Government will use all their best efforts and offices to provide coherent, sensible, well co-ordinated schemes for international monitoring. So I do not think there is anything between us on that point. As many noble Lords have recognised, Her Majesty's Government have participated actively in the work of the Inter-Governmental Working Group on Monitoring under the Stockholm Conference, and we support improvements in the coverage and in the cohesion of our surveillance of what is going on in the world.


My Lords, although I did not put my name down on the list of speakers (because I have a particular interest) I have listened to most of the debate. I have noted the paucity of discussion and information about one of the most important points of monitoring. May I ask the noble Lord whether he will help to get rid of the reluctance which has existed, not only on the part of this Government but on the part of Labour Governments as well, to give information about the increase of radioactivity and its effect on the environment? If the noble Lord does not agree with me, will he look at the Lancet to see what that journal has thought about this over the years? I think it is important, and the public and the world should know the facts.


My Lords, the noble Lord will see from what I have said that I could not possibly agree with him more. I have just said that we agree, and that we intend to use our influence to secure that more coherent, sensible and well co-ordinated schemes of international monitoring are provided; and I did not exclude from my remarks radioactive pollution. In our approach to this problem of monitoring and surveillance, as to other matters, Her Majesty's Government are pursuing a pragmatic line which I think the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and others enjoined on us. We need to secure systems which will operate as efficiently as possible, in the sense that they will give us the results we want without consuming undue amounts of skilled scientific manpower or duplicating anybody's efforts. We must put our resources where the priorities are highest, not exerting ourselves where it is not particularly important to obtain results or to set things up just at the moment, and concentrate on those matters which are urgent and on those issues where there are reasonable prospects of getting early results.

We have learned from our experience that it is not so much declarations of intent or sweeping legislation which in themselves cure pollution or improve the environment; it is doing what is actually needed in the particular circumstances to protect the environment. That, in the end, nearly always comes down to hard slogging, unglamorous details and painstaking administration. I fear that there is always the temptation—and in this field it may grow—to neglect these rather humdrum activities in favour of attending spectacular conferences in exotic places all around the world; and this is a temptation which needs to be sternly controlled and resisted.


In Stockholm?


No: the Stockholm Conference is an important milestone, and Sweden is to be thanked and the United Nations congratulated on bringing together so many of the nations of the world to discuss these problems, some of which are common to us all, many of which are pressing, and each of which needs to be vigorously and thoroughly tackled in different ways in different circumstances by different combinations of the world's nations. So we need to ensure, in order that nothing important goes by default, that appropriate dispositions are made for tackling each particular problem, that proper priorities are discussed and if possible agreed, and that valuable skilled resources of manpower are not duplicated or wasted.

My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting debate. I am grateful for the tributes which have been paid to the approach of my right honourable friend and to the work of my Department. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for having introduced the debate and we leave it encouraged and assisted greatly by what noble Lords have said.

7.19 p.m.


My Lords, before coming to my pleasant and customary duty of expressing benedictions and thanks, I must voice my disappointment at the closing remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. They showed no comprehension of the current discussion about economic growth—the discussion on the question of the growth of what? I found his remarks domestic in scope, though we are discussing an international topic; historical in direction rather than looking towards the future; and complacent in tone. I do not believe that the record of any Government in this country is above reproach. Nor do I share the noble Lord's confidence in, for instance, the Alkali Inspectorate. He touched only briefly on the great question of West Germany, and evidently read out the Foreign Office brief which has been given him and which did not mention the World Health Organisation aspect, presumably because they thought it was too complicated for him.

I am glad to hear, though, that the noble Lord is going to meet the environment correspondent of La Stampa on Monday morning. I hope he will talk with him about the proposal of Commissioner Spinelli that, after the enlargement of the Community, there should be in Brussels a Commissioner exclusively for the environment. He might ask him whether it is the opinion on the Continent of Europe that the Commissioner could well be British.

Lastly, and most pleasantly, let me add my congratulations to all those which have already been offered to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, who I hope will keep to this field, along with his colleague the Bishop of Bristol, and to the noble Earl, Lord Leicester. I myself believe that, after that long gap, the soup will now benefit form stirring by more Cokes.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty minutes past seven o'clock.