HL Deb 02 March 1981 vol 417 cc1272-309

6.35 p.m.

The Earl of Cranbrook rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on EEC Environment policy (5th Report, H.L. 40).

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this report has been produced by the Select Committee in response to a long and detailed document which was issued by the Commission. That document assessed progress made in connection with the Community's environment action programme. The Commission's document was presented to council in May of last year. It was then debated by the Council of Environment Ministers in June 1980 and I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the opening statement by the Minister, Mr. Tom King, is published in Annexe 2 to the report.

The Community's document has been further considered by the Commission and officials of member states on subsequent occasions. The topic that it concerns—that is, the third environment action programme—is likely to come forward for decision by council later this year, during the presidency of the United Kingdom which commences on 1st July. The Government are therefore in a very strong position to influence the progress of events, so I have particular interest this evening in listening to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Avon, in due course.

I remind your Lordships that at Brussels environmental matters are not a present incorporated into the system of directorates general but are tackled by the Environment and Consumer Protection Service. That service—it is referred to in the report for convenience by its initials, ECPS—was created in 1973 in direct response to a request of the heads of state meeting in Paris in October 1972. Following that, in November 1973, the council adopted a declaration which defined the objectives and principles of the Community environment policy. Your Lordships' Select Committee considers that this declaration is of fundamental importance, and for that reason the major and significant part of the text of that declaration is reprinted in Annexe I to our report. The declaration provides the guidelines for the first four years of environment action by the ECPS.

The next stage came in 1977 when a further resolution by council approved the continuation of action for a further four years. That, which can be called the second action programme, is now duly drawing to its close. The purpose of the Commission's document (which is referred to by its reference number as 7040/80 throughout the report) is to appraise the progress of the action programme to date and, at the same time, to assess the proper course of the direction of the action programme in future; that is, to map out the course of what can be called the third environment action programme.

The review of the document produced by the Commission was carried out by Sub-Committee G of the Select Committee. Oral evidence was received from representatives of the European Environmental Bureau, industrialists representing both national and European industrial groups, the National Water Council, the Institute for European Environmental Policy and from the Council of the Royal Society. Written submissions were also received from those sources and from nine other bodies, all of which are listed in the report. In all deliberations the sub-committee was assisted by Mr. R. E. Boote, former director of the Nature Conservancy Council, who acted as specialist adviser, and I wish to record the unanimous thanks of the members of the sub-committee for his advice and help in the preparation of the report.

As the Commission document shows, the action of the ECPS in connection with the first and second environment action programmes has been extremely diverse. The service's progress report is correspondingly wide-ranging and lengthy. The Select Committee's review, which is 134 pages long, is to some extent a contribution of commensurate weight. Committee members felt that, to be fair and also constructive, the review must respond to all the subjects covered, as far as possible in matching detail; and on those grounds we excuse the length of the report.

The main body of the report, which constitutes paragraphs 22 to 139, consists of a section by section commentary and evaluation of the Commission's document. I think that tonight it would be tedious and unnecessary if I were to lead your Lordships through the paragraphs one by one. So I shall be content to pick out one or two topics of particular significance, and I shall then turn to the main proposal which is contained in the report.

On the first of the topics that I should like to mention I would say that many witnesses saw a need for the Community both to improve the quality of the scientific data on which its environmental directives are based, and at the same time to be more open in making sure that all such data are available for public assessment and discussion. Similar sentiments have been expressed on several occasions during debates in this House, especially by the noble Lord, Lord Ashby. The idea of a Community-wide, independent consultative body of scientific experts is attractive, but it clearly needs refinement before it can be attained in practice.

At present it is probably more fruitful for the ECPS to concentrate on the improvement of links with existing national and international scientific bodies. At the same time, if they wish to be heard, members of the scientific community must come forward and must be available for consultation in an identifiably European Community form. The Royal Society has taken initiatives in this direction which are exemplified in the report, and is to be commended on that account. Open lines of communication must also be maintained between the Commission and Community-level bodies representing interests in land, industry and commercial concerns whose activities affect the environment. In the opinion of the Select Committee, it is also important that there should be with non-governmental organisations concerned with environmental conservation, again at the European level in particular.

Secondly, pollution control is obviously a topic of central importance. Select Committee members recognise that the terms of the EEC Directive 76/464 place the Commission under an obligation to eliminate pollution by the substances that are known as List I substances. But they are also concerned that the potential list now stands at some 1,500 substances, and they feel that rationalisation is imperative. A way must still be found to accommodate a system of compatible controls acceptable to those (such as the United Kingdom) who seek to work to environmental quality objectives, as much as to those who favour uniform emission standards—that is to say, most of the other member states. This controversy is another that has been well aired in your Lordships' House.

Thirdly, the sections of the Commission's document that deal with the protection and management of land, the environment, and natural resources illustrate very strikingly the enormous diversity of action that has been embarked upon by the ECPS. In fact few of the projects have yet progressed beyond their preliminary stages, and adverse criticism from the Select Committee may seem scarcely fair. All the same critical opinions must be registered. The plans for ecological mapping duplicate efforts of the Council for Europe—a body that some people might think more appropriate to undertake this task. The draft system of indicators of urban environmental quality is said by our witnesses to be superficial and likely to be of less value than a local initiative. Case studies on integrated planning in coastal areas are also being carried out in parallel to the Commission by national institutions such as the Countryside Commission for Scotland.

So there is a suggestion that the Community effort may in fact be wasting its time by reduplicating efforts that are being made at the same time by national or international institutions. The 1979 directive on the protection of birds has been widely welcomed, but again other initiatives in wildlife protection are liable to duplicate the activities of other international bodies, such as the Council for Europe. So this, too, is an area where the sub-committee feels that concern should be registered.

Fourthly, on a more hopeful note, the sub-committee feels that there is scope for a new Community fund for environmental objectives, and would welcome it. I remind your Lordships that last year the Budget Committee of the European Parliament approved proposals for an environmental fund of 4 million units of account, but that particular entry was dropped from the budget when it was finally published. But I think it relevant to note that on 26th February—a few days ago—the Commissioner who is responsible for environmental affairs, Mr. Narjes, gave an undertaking to the European Parliament's Environment Committee to press the other members of the European Commission that an item of between 5 million and 8 million units of account should be included in the draft 1982 European Community budget for the purposes of such a fund. That would be welcomed by your Lordships' Select Committee, although it felt somewhat less sanguine about the outcome of such a request and was not certain that the funds would in fact be available at this particular juncture.

At this point I want to stress that the ECPS and the general policy of the action programme receive firm support from the Committee. The Minister, the right honourable Mr. Tom King, in his statement at the Council of Environment Ministers (which is published in this report) has said that the United Kingdom wants a worthwhile environment programme. In my mind there is little doubt that in the Community at large all citizens are concerned to protect the environment and to improve conditions where these are at present unsatisfactory. The Select Committee believes that future progress is best assured through a Community environmental strategy and that now is the right time for the Commission to prepare such a strategy. That is the leading conclusion of the Select Committee and one to which I wish to give prominence.

Among the benefits that we could expect to flow from the formulation of such a strategy are the following. First, a strategy would identify areas of concern appropriate for attention by the Community. It would differentiate these from the problems that are soluble only in the wider international field or from problems that are more amenable to solution at national, regional or local level.

Secondly, a strategy would identify priorities in relation to the resources that are available in Europe, in the Commission and in other Community institutions. It would refer on the one hand to international bodies, and on the other hand to national or local resources, whether they be governmental or voluntary.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the strategy must take account of the activities of all other Directorates-General within the Commission that have environmental implications. When one looks at the list of the Directorates-General one realises that a very large number of them clearly have environmental implications arising out of their actions; examples are DG VI on agriculture, DG VII on transport, DG VIII on development, as well as others on fisheries, regional policy and energy. It is perfectly clear that there are many Directorates-General the activities of which have a powerful impact on environmental matters.

It is the opinion of the Select Committee that only through the formation of an environment strategy encompassing all relevant Directorates-General can there be harmonisation and integration of environment-related policies in the Community and in member states. The lack of integration or consistency is already a matter of concern. During the debate on the Wildlife and Countryside Bill we have heard repeated concern expressed over the conflict, for instance, of the Common Agricultural Policy and wildlife conservation.

It is in this area, in particular, that benefits are likely to arise most directly, even during the course of preparatory work for such a strategy. In our report, in paragraph 151, we refer briefly to experience gained in the United States of America in preparation of the report Global 2000. In amplification of the few lines in our report, I should like to read out a few brief abstracts from the preliminary statement of this report. It is discussing at this stage the capacity of the United States Government to formulate a strategy, and I quote: Overall, the Federal agencies have an impressive capability for long-term analyses of world trends in population, resources, and environment … Currently, the principal limitation in the Government's long-term global analytical capability is that the models for various sectors were not designed to be used together in a consistent and interactive manner. The agencies' models were created at different times using different methods, to meet different objectives. Little thought has been given to how the various sectoral models—and the institutions of which they are a part—can be related to each other to project a comprehensive, consistent image of the world".

It goes on to say that in the preparation of the global study Inconsistencies arose immediately from the fact that sequential projections are not as interactive as events in the real world…For example, the Global 2000 Study food projections assume that the catch from traditional fisheries will increase as fast as world population, while the fisheries projections indicate that this harvest will not increase over present levels on a sustainable basis… Difficulties also arise from multiple allocation of resources. Most of the quantitative projections simply assume that resource needs in the sector they cover—needs for capital, energy, land, water, minerals—will be met. Since the needs for each sector are not clearly identified, they cannot be summed up and compared with estimates of what might be available. It is very likely that the same resources have been allocated to more than one sector ". If these problems are encountered in a single advanced nation such as the United States of America, how much more are they encountered and are they creating obstacles to environmental planning, and to all planning, in Europe, where the European states and the European Community are drawing on environmental resources?

Community concern with environmental issues arises out of a 1972 Council initiative, as I have explained. This initiative came from the heads of member states meeting together and identifying an area of common concern. The Community has legislative capacity through the directive to act for the common good of all Europeans. I should like to urge the Government, through my noble friend on the Front Bench, to take a lead now in promoting a new Council initiative in 1981, during the presidency of the United Kingdom, to lead to the integration of all environmentally-related activities of the Community through the preparation of an environment strategy. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Communities Committee on EEC environment policy (5th Report, H.L. 40).—(The Earl of Cranbrook.)

6.54 p.m.

The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness White)

My Lords, I should like most warmly to congratulate the noble Earl opposite for the admirable way, if I might say so, in which he has introduced the report of his sub-committee. I must also, I am afraid, apologise both to him and to subsequent speakers, and not least to the noble Earl the Minister. Some of your Lordships will perhaps realise that yesterday was St. David's Day, and tonight we have the most important social gathering of the London Welsh, for which I shall have to leave, I am afraid, as soon as I have concluded my few remarks.

But I felt that this was an important occasion for those of us who are concerned with environmental matters, and I speak as one of a small band in your Lordships' House who have followed the work of the Environment and Consumer Protection Service of the European Community almost from its inception. Personally, I welcome the progress record of the ECPS, which is dealt with in the report of the Select Committee which the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, has introduced, and would congratulate M. Carpentier, the director of ECPS, and his colleagues, on the remarkable amount of work which has been undertaken by staff which has always been too small for the very wide remit with which it has had to deal. In the European context we should remember that the term "environment" covers a very wide area indeed, subsuming much of what we should call planning control as well as pollution control, conservation, waste management, clean technologies and the like.

The progress report takes sector by sector, under the headings of "Objectives", "Achievements", "Difficulties" and "Prospects", what it has been working on in this environment programme which comes to an end with the end of this year, 1981. I find much of this analysis most interesting and enlightening (obviously, one does not always agree with it) but, of course, it has been undertaken from the point of view of the Commission at the centre, rather than from the experience at the periphary of individual member states. Where particular states are referred to, they are not named; so the report does not provide a comparative evaluation of achievement, or lack of it, in attaining the Commission's objectives by the different member states in the various fields. To my mind, without some such evaluation it is difficult to judge how far the Commission's work is effective, or to compare activity in one's own country with that of one's partners, or to learn from their experience.

So far as I know, only one major comparative study has been published; namely, the ten-volume report on the quality of surface fresh water in the Community, based upon information supplied in 1976 by each state, together with a synthesis. It appeared only a few months ago—I think I am correct in saying that paragraph 100 of your Lordships' report has not caught up with it—but the delay in publication means that much of the information is now out of date and therefore of diminished value. Nevertheless, it is to my mind a useful and interesting exercise. Clearly, only specialists would wish to peruse all 10 volumes, but possibily wider publicity might be obtained for the synthesis, or for a summary of it, which could be aimed at the intelligent lay reader. After all, many of us who are not ourselves specialists are interested to know how we are doing, as well as knowing what is happening on the other side of our neighbours' fence.

I think this illustrates one of the underlying challenges of the work of ECPS. It has to operate at a political level, reasonably intelligible to the members of the European Parliament, for example, or of the legislatures of the various member states, and also members of the many interested organisations, as Lord Cranbrook mentioned, who follow closely the work of the European Commission in the environment field. But at the same time its work must be based on accurate and extensive scientific knowledge. The validity of this scientific basis has been strongly questioned from time to time, but as the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, mentioned, an encouraging development has been the recent efforts to bring together some of the most distinguished scientific workers in the member states with appropriate representatives of ECPS to ensure that the necessary scientific expertise is to hand.

Our own Royal Society has taken a leading part in this initiative, and I think that in his absence—I know he is sorry he cannot be here tonight—we should mention the debt that we owe in this respect in particular to Lord Ashby for his contribution, arising directly, I think, from his long experience on your Lordships' Select Committee. Meetings which started in London are now being held in other European capitals with the collaboration of the appropriate scientific organisations in the various countries.

At a different but important level, a more formally-structured organisation has been set up by the local authorities dealing with refuse and waste disposal including chemical and toxic wastes, energy conservation and the like. Known as STCELA—the Standing Technological Conference of European Local Auth orities—it has an ambitious programme of exchange of information on how best to carry out many of the EEC requirements at a practical, local level. Again, some of the initiatives came from the United Kingdom, not least in the person of Sir James Swaffield, chief executive of the Greater London Council, as first President of STCELA.

Among the various international bodies concerned with the environment, including OECD, UNEP and so on, the European Community is the only one with the power actually to legislate. This clearly gives its work a much sharper edge and emphasises the concern we must have for what it does and what it proposes to do. Our own report rightly emphasises one of the most outstanding problems—how to define one's priorities in so broad a field and how best to relate these priorities to the limited resources available.

The task is not made easier by the inherent conflict in the EEC approach. Without going into the vexed question of vires, which we have debated in this House, and which may or may not be ultimately resolved by amending the Treaty of Rome, there is clearly some incompatibility between protection of the environment for its own sake and efforts to use environmental regulation as a means of harmonising trade. This dichotomy makes the choice of priorities even more difficult but also even more important. A recurrent theme among our witnesses has been that the ECPS tries to do too much with too little, that it should be more selective in its efforts and should concentrate its resources on the subjects and areas which matter most in an international and a European context. Of course, this is much easier said than done. But, to give one of the most glaring examples already referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, on page 3 of Annexe I of the EEC progress report, we have the statement: the Commission, following up the studies it has conducted, has sent the Member States a list of 1,500 substances qualifying for inclusion in List I (the ' Black List ') of the Directive on the discharge of dangerous substances to the aquatic environment ". One would have supposed that even in Brussels they would have realised with what a shrugging of shoulders such a list would be received!

I am sure that other speakers will have much to say on this central theme of priorities so I will pass to one of the other major challenges to which the noble Earl also referred; namely, how to ensure that other EEC directorates take the environmental dimension into account. We are very far from solving this problem in our own national administration. But I am sure that if it is to prove successful and convincing in the future ECPS must find ways of persuading the directorate concerned with agriculture, energy, transport, industry and other fields to recognise that the environment matters? An outsider's impression of Brussels is that directorates there take even less account of one another than do departments in Whitehall.

Nevertheless, one must acknowledge that the energy and dedication of the ECPS staff, and, in particular, its director-general, must have made an impact on the Brussels scene. It has built up a strong position for itself in its relatively short existence. In spite of our many detailed criticisms and our one major difference of principle in the field of pollution control, we in this House who are concerned with environmental matters warmly acknowledge that things have been done which might have been ignored or postponed without some stimulus from ECPS in Brussels. One must assume that this must be true in other member states as well. The influence is there and with careful guidance it will grow. Without the discipline of such guidance, however, much effort and goodwill could be dissipated. I hope that the next Environment Programme, due to start in June 1982, will realistically focus on activities where this stimulus can most effectively be exercised and where its value will be increasingly accepted and acknowledged.

7.7 p.m.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, before my noble friend Lady White leaves for her dinner, those of us who have the privilege of attending Sub-Committee "G" would like to pay tribute to her leadership of this Sub-Committee in its earlier days. She is still a regular attender and a great contributor and now those of us who attend that committee benefit from her being chairman of the full parent committee, where I am sure she keeps a very favourable eye on all that happens in Sub-Committee G. We should like to thank her very much for this leadership that she gives and which has given this sub-committee a great deal of momentum in its studies. We should like also to thank the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, for he has slotted into the chairmanship of this committee with great distinction and dedication and it is certainly a pleasure to be able to attend such a workmanlike committee.

In taking part in this debate I declare an interest. I am a part-time adviser to the Commission in Brussels on draft directives concerning the environment. I am afraid that some of the drafts that come before your Lordships have a little imprint of mine somewhere on them and I accept my share of blame. I shall be speaking in as detached a way as I can. This is a very complicated document—a full review of six years' work and a look ahead at the content of what might be in the next programme. Like the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, I would not want to spend a great deal of time on the detail. It would, as he said, be tedious to do so.

Therefore, I shall not talk about pollution control in water, atmosphere, noise, chemical products, land areas, ecology, mapping, flora and fauna, waste management, pollution taxes and "the polluter pays" principle. All that I will leave on one side. I will mention only three relatively important points. First, there is concern about disagreement and incompleteness of scientific data. However, I take some exception to the remarks in parts of the document—and I do it as one who watches this from outside—to the effect that there is a tendency in the Commission to pick up any itinerant professor (as somebody said) and take his advice on delicate matters of science and measurement of pollution. This is not so. A great deal of trouble is taken by the Commission to find the right kind of people.

The difficulty is that they do not agree among themselves. When they meet, the British at the scientific level find that they take a different view from their colleagues in science in other countries. It is a fairly new science and disagreement is inevitable. I am sorry that this sort of disagreement tends to make people in this country feel that the advice taken by Brussels is taken lightly and without seeking out the right people. As my noble friend Lady White has said, a great deal of effort is now being put into getting agreement at a higher level among scientists about the work of the environment programme, particularly thanks to the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby.

Secondly, I should say that it is not true (as was hinted in some evidence) that the Commission does not consult enough with industry. It does so at the expert stage; it consults a great deal with industry; certainly in calling in experts from various countries it is entitled to believe that those experts have consulted the industry in their own country. One has to set a limit somewhere to the amount of consultation that can take place.

The third smaller point that I should like to mention is the idea of Green Papers suggested in the report. This is a good idea. In a sense it is being approached in one way that is unexpected; namely, we were on the (was it the 20th or 30th?) draft of the environmental impact assessment—in other words, subsequent drafts were amended in the light of public consultation of an informal kind—before a final draft was placed before the Council of Ministers on environment impact assessment. In a sense, a whole series of drafts became an approach to the idea of a Green Paper. Perhaps that can be developed.

I come to three or four of the main issues with which I should like to deal in my remarks this evening. Is it the case that the programme so far has been a success. It is important to look at that issue. All the witnesses that came before the sub-committee strongly supported the programme and were surprised that a small compliment of 70 staff—out of several thousand, after all, in the whole Commission—and not a fully-fledged directorate, could have such a great impact and achieve such a great deal.

No success can be judged simply by the number of legislative texts agreed by the Council and now in operation. After all, the number is impressive. About 60 are now agreed, 15 on water pollution, 10 on air pollution, seven on waste, eight on noise and several on the protection of the environment including such diverse things as birds and whales. This is a very impressive record in a small number of years for a small and dedicated staff.

There are other signs of success. Witnesses from the European Environmental Bureau put their finger on something when in talking to the committee they pointed out that the Treaty of Rome was formulated in the early-post war years when increased production almost without regard to environmental cost, was the goal. Now however with the Brandt Report, the World Conservation Strategy, Global 2000, and all these things mentioned in the report, we see that the Treaty of Rome is actually deficient and understand that present policies of industrial development are threatening the very ecological basis of the world's and Europe's economy. Moreover, we realise that it is desperately urgent to get the environment measurement and environment dimension written into all the work of the European Community.

The ECPS, the service in Brussels, has done a great deal to awaken us to this deficiency in the treaty and to give a focus as well for the voluntary bodies to put on their pressure for progress. Secondly, it is true to say—as comes out in the report—that the programme has led to action which otherwise would not have taken place. I suspect that witnesses were correct in saying, quite apart from the legislation, that the sheer pressure of the existence of this service has forced the United Kingdom into avoiding backsliding on the Control of Pollution Act. It is probably true that it made us issue the regulations under Section 17 of Part I of the Act relating to records on hazardous wastes. It made us for the first time work out our real water quality objectives for mercury. It focused attention on the problem of waste from disposable beverage containers whatever we may think of the final fate of that draft directive. It has given us "push" all the way towards dealing more effectively with problems of the environment.

Abroad—apart from this country—witnesses mentioned that Germany, for example, would not have had a chemical law so soon or so comprehensive without what is called the sixth amendment on dangerous chemicals, one of the directives. It mentions in the evidence that there is no environmental impact assessment system in half of the member states; but now they are all thinking about it thanks to the draft directive put forward by the Commission. The Environmental Bureau says that the Italian Bird Society thinks that the … whole attitude of the Italian Government"— presumably in this respect alone— has changed on these matters as a result of the Birds Directive". So one could draw all sorts of examples where it is the case that the activity of the service has forced a new momentum into environmental protection in Europe. It has done its share towards pressure for things like cleaner technology rather than pollution control, and many other new things which are coming now into active consideration. Therefore, we can claim that this service has been a success.

I turn to the second issue that I want to mention. There is concern about the overlapping of activity in international agencies. The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, mentioned this and he complained, as the committee is complaining to some extent, about the fact that some things are being done in the European Community or suggested by the Commission, which overlap with the work of the Council of Europe. This is a very difficult subject, and I speak after being rapporteur on this issue to the Council of Europe, so I have a delicate situation before me.

We should realise that before 1974 the field was clear for the Council of Europe, on the one hand, to concentrate on the natural environment; and for the OECD, on the other hand, to concentrate on the industrial problems of the environment, with some further activity in the Economic Commission for Europe dealing mainly with long-range air pollution, and to some extent also in NATO, but much less in the latter two. It was after 1974—when the EEC began their own environment programme—that the allegations of overlapping began to occur. I suggest that a great deal of it is inevitable and not to be deplored. First, you have varying membership. The OECD, after all, with Japan, the United States and Canada as members, must continue with its work on pollution and on certain pollution controls that are related to technical barriers to trade because they are worldwide problems.

At the same time, the EEC must concentrate on some of these issues at home in Europe. So the overlapping is inevitable. The EEC must get ahead because there is a binding treaty. The Commission, Parliament and the Council all have statutory force, and providing a driving force for binding legislation rather than the relatively pious recommendations and conventions that can come out of other bodies. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook: Why do we complain about the birds directive? It was not getting very far in terms of real immediate action until it became actual legislation in the European Community. One of the things that we must always bear in mind is that with a treaty as a background and a whole legislative process it is bound to be the case that the EEC must get ahead and often can bring quicker results, more definite results, by doing so.

There was a recommendation from the Council of Europe—and I have given the noble Earl some notice of this question—that despite what I have said, it may be a good thing for the extent of overlapping to be looked at. The Council of Europe have suggested that a detached expert from outside—and I mention the name of Dr. Von Moltke who would be very good at this—should have a look at this area of overlapping and make some recommendations about whether it could be reduced and what the different bodies should concentrate upon as their main work in the years ahead. I should like to know whether the Government have thought about this resolution of the Council of Europe and whether they favour it.

The second issue is the problem of whether the Community's programme should, in the years immediately ahead, switch to programmes which foster activities preventing pollution rather than dealing with it when it has occurred. It is interesting and instructive to look at the first policy in 1973. The first principle of that policy said that the best policy consists in preventing the creation of pollution at source rather than subsequently trying to counteract its effects. We have not done much about that in the Community so far. It has been mainly a case of curing pollution when it has occurred; and I agree very much with the noble Earl when he says, as the report says also, that there is now a need to integrate environment policy into all sectors of policy making.

Some small advances have occurred. Certain technical barriers to trade have been looked at in this respect, and there is a mention somewhere that in setting up these new programmes for the less favoured agricultural areas—the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will have seen this—the action in those less favoured areas with money provided by the Commission must be compatible with the protection of the environment. So there have been small beginnings of this, but the Committee is absolutely right. Looking at the evidence in this document before us as regards transport, would the transport policies that are emerging in Brussels on lorry noise, the road infrastructure and all those things really have been the same had the environmental considerations been in on the ground floor in the making of those policies?

The need is desperate, given the sorts of study we were talking about—Global 2000, the World Conservation Strategy, the Brandt Report—to get ahead with this and it must be soon that the Commission looks at this idea of how it itself sets an example by integrating the environment strategy into all the Directorates-General. I commend very strongly to your Lordships the paragraphs dealing with that in the report before us. It would be interesting to hear from the noble Earl, Lord Avon, whether Her Majesty's Government are also thinking along the same lines, because we must not expect to happen in Brussels what we do not do here, and I should like to think that environment considerations are in on the ground floor in a number of our own policies. I doubt very much whether they are.

Secondly, in this possible new idea of switching from tackling pollution to making pollution-free activity, we have to look, as the report suggests, at the whole area of clean technology and how we promote it. There is some evidence of this in our own national approach; we have voluntary agreements for sectors of industry. There are also the French Contrats de Branche, as they are called, originally with a subsidy. I have read with interest a paper by M. Potier of OECD, in which he cited an example in France where nitrate of ammonia in a particular plant led to a lot of ammonia in residues and where the company, with profit to its own concern, has now installed equipment which is paying off handsomely in recuperating that ammonia and saving it from harming the environment. And it is purely economic for it to have done so. So I hope that we and the Commission will look more and more, as the reports says, at how these clean technologies can be promoted in the years ahead.

Here again I ask a question of the noble Earl: would it not be a good thing, as evidence to the Committee suggests, if perhaps the proposed environment fund were able to help in promoting clean technology and in creating habitats for wildlife? That would reduce the need for agricultural production in those areas and would be a way of using imaginatively a small amount of money in an environmental fund. What would be Her Majesty's Government's view about such a fund?

My last point—a delicate one—is: should the programme in the years ahead switch from directives to recommendations? This is a perpetual complaint in Britain. In the hearings as I read them—I was not present at most of them—there were fascinating exchanges between my noble friend Lady White and the CBI which your Lordships can read on page 38. It was pointed out that our position on environment is evolutionary and based a great deal on common law, whereas the rest of Europe, as one witness said, is a dirigiste society, operating under the Napoleonic Code—and I quote: With them the King—the law giver—gives the law at the top and lays down the fixed emission standards, if you like, that must be met by everybody, whereas we proceed in a pragmatic way, doing what we can in the light of all the circumstances of the case". As the noble Baroness, Lady White, pointed out, we cannot transport our history and our approach to Europe. We must really stop being so insular about all this. We are one of 10 or 12; could we please try to behave in a little more communautaire fashion?

The CBI have, in common with the rest of us, a very great responsibility, as my noble friend Lady White said to them in evidence, to use a little more imagination when they appear in Brussels. I am sure that that is right. We must fight for our system but let us not block a procedure proposed in Europe when the others feel it is part of their historical approach to tackling a subject. Provided we can get along in our own way very much unhindered and safeguarding our traditions in these matters, let us try to be slightly less insular in the future.

That is the whole point about directives. This is the first issue: it is understood better in Europe, and recommendations are regarded as less important. Secondly, if you want things to be binding and really operated on then you must go for directives. Recommendations can be disregarded. I give the noble Earl, Lord Avon, one example. The OECD passed in 1973 a recommendation on mercury in the environment. Does anybody know what has been done as a result of that? Very little, I suspect. Certainly it would be hard to give chapter and verse about any tangible results. Probably only when there is a directive from Brussels will the tightening up take place.

Thirdly, it is inevitable that under ENV 131, the parent directive, we shall, unless the Council changes its mind, have to go on spending a lot of time eliminating the blacklist substances from our environment in directives in the years ahead. I think we must be more balanced about this idea of directives but I accept that there is a possible middle way.

Mr. Tom King, who is quoted in this report, talks about "less elaborate legislation". That may well be the way ahead, but I would see one great difficulty about this. Our European partners, if we go in for more outline legislation with less detail in it, will ask, "Who is going to enforce it? Who is going to stop backsliding countries, the recalcitrant ones and those who want to slip between the small print when it is not as definite and as binding?" I suspect that the price of more flexibility and more outline agreements in legislation will be that we shall have to increase the monitoring and policing force of the EEC environment service in order to check that these agreements and this less elaborate legislation are actually adhered to in all the countries. Otherwise—and one can think of the fisheries policy, where there is a similar issue at the moment—other countries will be saying, "We carry it out but we are never sure that anybody else does ". So there will be a price to pay in increased staff if we go for this less elaborate legislation. We have come back to staff, and I will ask my last question of the noble Earl: do the Government support the view of the European Parliament about a modest increase in the staff of the environment service?

This is a very interesting report that the Sub-Committee has drawn up. I would underline the main point which was made by the noble Earl in introducing it. Call for a strategy now. This service has grown up and gained great experience in the past six or seven years. In the next programme but one, as the report says, we must ask: what have we learned? What is really practicable? What can be attained in the years ahead through all the directives and through the Service, now that we have learned our way into a European Community Environment Service, and how are we to apply that strategy which takes into account resources as well as hopes and aims for the next programme but one? This would be a very worthwhile aim and, if nothing else were to come of this document here, it would have been worth doing the work for that one recommendation alone. I hope that it will be taken to heart in Brussels and that Her Majesty's Government will strongly support it.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I am speaking now because the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, has been kind enough to allow me to take her place; not because I shall be hurrying off to dinner somewhere but because I shall be succeeding my noble friend who is sitting on the Woolsack, and unless I do it fairly quickly I shall not be able to speak at all. So my warm thanks for her gracious act.

My late arrival on the sub-committee last year makes it possible for me to be very wholehearted in my praise to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, as chairman, and to the members, and our incredibly hard-working clerk, Mr. Beamish, on producing this report. It is a very good report. I know of the number of drafts, re-drafts and further re-drafts that were done, and I warmly congratulate my noble friends on the tremendous labour which they put in and at the end of the day, on the general soundness of the report.

To make a 10-minute speech on a report of this size is impossible and I can make only a fragmentary comment on it. But let me start by paying my respects to the Commission and to its very distinguished Commissioner, M. Carpentier. They have, indeed, given great impetus to environmental matters and conservation in Europe, as all noble Lords have said. I thank and praise them for it, and much valuable work has been done. Impetus has been talked about, but information has followed, discussion has followed, and there is no doubt that a great deal has been done which will benefit the lives of all of us in Europe.

I want to pick up only two points in this wide-ranging report. The first is one with which the report deals and the other is not really quite dealt with, but they actually interlock. The first point is the need to integrate the resource policies of the Commission with the environmental policies. Secondly, I want to suggest that when the Commission have identified a major environmental problem for attention, they should start by commissioning an inquiry in member states to discover, first, the precise incidence of the problem, in each state, and, secondly, the measures needed to solve it.

On the first point, the implementation of directives for improving the environment is invariably expensive—usually, very expensive. It is obvious that it would take member states a long time to implement some of these directives, and some states an extremely long time. While I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, with his great technical knowledge of the subject, talking about the value of directives as opposed to recommendations, I think it will be a long time before some of the directives we already have are implemented.

Each state has many demands on its limited resources. Priorities have to be established and, inevitably, some improvements, however desirable, get a low one and may wait so long as to make the EEC directive meaningless. I suggest that perhaps the Commission, in wishing to give impetus—which they have done—have given more thought to correcting environmental defects than to the resources available to do so; and let us not forget that the conservation of resources is part of the Treaty of Rome.

My second point is that, in the face of an environmental problem, the Commission should start with a technical inquiry in member countries; and here I am on to the theme which the noble Lord dealt with and dismissed, preferring to stick with the directives. Whether it is better to have a directive that is not observed, or a recommendation which might be paid attention to, is a matter of taste. Anyhow, I think this is something which should be considered, and considered very much in drawing a strategy for the future: first, to discover the precise incidence of the problem in each member country and, secondly, to decide on the measures needed to correct it.

I suggest that the Commission might engage professional consultants—probably it would have to be an international team—in order to carry out the inquiry. Certainly I do not favour the Commission setting up its own scientific staff. I am sure that that would cause more problems than it would solve. The report from such an inquiry would, of course, require very careful presentation, because it will show in all cases what our own backyards look like. But certainly it should be published with any comment that the Commission thought appropriate about future action to be taken. It might well indicate that a directive from the Commission should be made; but, on the other hand, it would often indicate that that would be premature. But the mere publication of this report, with perhaps some recommendations, would be stimulating and helpful to all member states; perhaps, after a sufficient preparatory period, a prelude to a directive later on.

I am familiar with the world of water and, in that connection, there have been eight or 10 directives in the last eight years. In my judgment, several of them would fall into this category and will take very many years before they are fully complied with. But I would take one example to illustrate my point, and that is the directive with regard to the pollution of sea and freshwater for bathing. A survey by professional consultants would certainly confirm that the Commission were shooting at the right target.

In the post-war era the pollution of the coastal waters of the Mediterranean has become increasingly serious. For the past 30 years I have usually spent my summer holiday somewhere on this attractive coastline and, as I enjoy long-distance swimming, I have first-hand and, one might say, first-body experience of the increasing pollution of these attractive coastal areas, mostly with urban sewage and, to some extent, with oil. It is now very bad in some areas and, since the directive, there is no sign of enforcement.

The pollution of coastal waters has grown with the rapid increase in waterborne sewage systems and bathrooms in coastal towns, but the outfalls have, in most cases, remained unchanged. Treatment works are unknown and the outfalls are just long enough to get the sewage into the sea. The Mediterranean is relatively tideless, so the tendency is for the organic matter to accumulate until eutrophication sets in in the worst places. There is no doubt that serious damage is being done to the environment and that it is worsening every year. So the Commission are to be congratulated on calling attention to this very serious problem.

But simply to prescribe by directive certain desirable standards of cleanliness of the water is to beg the major question. How on earth are the states concerned to find the resources to correct this major defect? In most cases where coastal population is at all heavy, major treatment works must be constructed so that the treated effluent can be discharged into the sea to an acceptable standard. In smaller communities, a long sea outfall would be sufficient to discharge the raw sewage far enough out to sea, so that it will dilute and, with the oxidation of the salt water, be rendered harmless. When I say "far enough out", I am talking of miles rather than metres in a tideless sea. The cost of building each one of these long sea outfalls would be several million pounds. Treatment works would cost several tens of millions of pounds to build. It is obvious that we are considering a programme which would cost many billions of pounds to complete. Such environmental improvements, however desirable, must take their turn in the long list of human and social objectives which every Government must consider when allocating funds.

It is, then, evident that this programme will take decades rather than years to complete. A technical survey would have revealed all this and also would have revealed that a directive establishing standards of cleanliness was much too optimistic and premature: that the states concerned cannot conform with it for years and years. Publication of a scientific report with recommendations would, in my judgment, have done all that was possible at present. Incidentally, a survey would also have shown that the effluent standards required to prevent the build-up of pollution round the coasts of Britain and the western coast of France, washed by the powerful Atlantic tides, are completely different from those in the tideless Mediterranean.

I believe that this example is not untypical and serves to illustrate the validity of the points I am making. first, that the Commission should be concerned with the conservation of the resources of the Community as well as with the conservation of the environment; secondly, that often the first step should be the setting up of a Community survey to judge just how action should be taken.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, I was very interested in the noble Lord's example and feel strongly about it, because I myself caught hepatitis when swimming in the Mediterranean. But is it not equally fair to say that a directive was needed to force the pace of countries which were being very slow in getting on with the job of cleaning up the Mediterranean and that a recommendation may never have got so far?

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I should like to debate this matter at length with the noble Lord; he obviously feels as keenly as I do about it. But time runs on. I would only say that it is a matter of judg ment and that my judgment is that it will take so very many years before anything happens in most of these cases that it is down-grading the value of Commission directives to issue a directive on a matter like this which will not be acted upon. It cannot be acted upon; with the best will in the world, the states concerned simply do not have the resources. I make the point—I think it is not untypical—because it is important that there should be the right balance between directives which have great value in the right cases and recommendations which will be better as a prelude, anyhow, in others and generally will be related to the absolute necessity to relate the conservation of resources to the conservation of the environment. Again I thank my noble friend for his admirable leadership in this report. I feel that it makes a valuable contribution and I have much pleasure in giving it my personal support.

7.43 p.m.

Lord Sandford

My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the debate so far, in particular to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, who was speaking from the Front Bench. I could not help comparing his own enthusiastic, not to say fulsome support for the Community, and the ECPS in particular, with his colleagues, not so very far away, who are so disillusioned with the whole thing as to want to withdraw completely from it. But it may be that we see opposite to us Social Democrats, not Members of the Labour Party.

To turn to the report, whatever the Treaty of Rome may once upon a time have said, there is no doubt now that we do want there to be in the Community a thorough EEC environment policy. I should like to add my voice to those of others who have welcomed the initiative taken by the Council of Ministers in 1972 and 1973 and who have thanked M. Michel Carpen tier for the achievements which he and his small staff have scored so far in implementing it. This fairly hefty report, 7040/80, is of course a review of their work. And our report—this red one—is, in one respect, a review of that review, sector by sector. As our chairman, my noble friend Lord Cranbrook, has said, it would be tedious to go through that review of a review sector by sector, though I think it is valuable to have got it all on the record. In another respect, our report is an attempt to judge the success or otherwise of the ECPS against the principles set them by the Ministers in 1972. My inclination, prompted by the time available, is to follow that second theme.

I start by noting that there is nothing in those original 11 principles, set out in Annex 1 to our report, which requires the ECPS to proceed by legislation alone, though I think this is what they have largely done. There is nothing in those principles which requires them to concentrate chiefly on the control of pollution, though again that is what they have done. And there is nothing in those principles which requires the ECPS to proceed merely by their own direct efforts at Community level, though this is largely what they have attempted to do.

First, I should like to stress from our report that there are many people, both individuals and organised in voluntary bodies, that there are many institutions, notably our own Royal Town Planning Institute and many others in all the 10 member states, that there are very many reputable firms, particularly the multinational firms, and that there are, as well, most of our Governments which make up the Community, all grappling with their environmental responsibilities. All these have daunting responsibilities to face as we live on this shrinking planet with its dwindling resources and its swelling populations. Everybody is now concerned to come to terms with these problems.

We see the EEC environmental policy—and we share this view very much in the terms in which the Minister expressed it last June—as providing a valuable framework for all those other activities: as a focus for them and as a drive for them. We feel that the ECPS is particularly well placed to ensure that the best brains in Europe are directed to the solution of these problems and that the problems are addressed by research of the very highest quality.

We are not concerned solely to proceed by legislation but by all the more enlightened influences at work in industry, by more foresight in planning—the forthcoming directive on environmental impact assessment will help here—and by more prudent husbandry of all resources. One has only to look at the problems of fishing, energy and timber in the Community to sec how necessary it is for other directorates to have regard to these environmental principles. More professional skills must be brought to bear, and in particular greater public awareness and alertness. So it is at least as much a matter of changing attitudes as it is of enacting legislation. I think our report has made that point abundantly clear.

This does not mean that M. Carpentier and his staff have no role in this different approach. Their ideas are of value; their influence will be of value; their advice is of value; their criticisms will be of value. And their support, particularly their financial support, will also be of value in speeding up and driving forward activities, of the kind I have just been describing, directed to changing attitudes. The upshot of all this is that we argue for a strategy, as my noble friend has said, which incorporates a more varied approach on a broader front than can be achieved by legislation alone, though of course with carefully selected priorities and in a more co-operative and less combative spirit.

I would add two further points. Every proposal for environmental control and protection has to have a price tag. A number of the directives which we have received have been lacking in that respect. Principle No. 1, set for this service by the Council of Ministers in 1973, was that they must seek the maximum environmental gain at the lowest possible cost. Unless a price tag is set to each of their directives, we shall not be able to see whether that is going to be capable of being achieved. In a number of directives its achievement has been hampered by confused objectives, by lack of proper consultative procedures beforehand—a point that my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford was making—and a certain access of haste and impatience to get these directives out.

The second point which I think should be added as an element in this new strategy—it has been mentioned by several speakers before me and it is stressed in the report—is that we must seek for some kind of progress report. The noble Baroness, Lady White, the chairman of the Select Committee, was the first person in this debate to make the point. We must have some form of succinct accounts called for from the member nations by which we can compare each other's performance and each other's stewardship of our own parts of the European environment, so that we may compare each other's performance in cleaning up our rivers, in suppressing fumes and noises and in protecting the best of our environment. Let us have a report, say, every three years whereby we can compare the progress we are making in enhancing and raising the quality of life of our populations.

7.52 p.m.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and his committee on the report which they have presented to us for debate. The moment one gets involved in environmental questions and becomes absorbed in them one realises that almost everything we do and everything that happens around us has to do with the environment in which we live. Although we have to start somewhere, the environment is not only a question of pollution and noise, and the ecological balance of nature, but it is to do with the whole habitat of the human race and our relationships to the community in which we live.

It took the Commission some time before they set up the Environment and Consumer Protection Service. It happened in 1973 and this body is still very small, as has been mentioned by most noble Lords—and it is not a directorate. The noble Baroness, Lady White, said that perhaps directorates and the Commission are talking less to each other than to departments in our own country, and I then began to wonder whether it should be a directorate or whether it should remain a service. It is difficult to decide which is more effective, because directorates by themselves tend to become isolated and to work in their own fields, and the essence of the environmental service, as is mentioned in the report, is that it is concerned with such a large number of resource directorates within the Commission and that it is important that its communication with those directorates is as close and as easy as possible. I would be in favour of the directorates concerned with resources having to have an environmental impact assessment made before they issue directives to the European Community. I agree with what has been said by other speakers about the need for a feedback.

As a member of Committee C, I know that some years ago we used to have quite a large number of environmental directives submitted to the committee for comment, and it was always very difficult to find out what was going on in our fellow Community countries; and the feedback on the impact of legislation and of directives was not adequate. So it is of the utmost importance that we should improve the feedback and the quality of information for member states. I also welcome enormously the proposal for improved environmental research and development. But surely one of the greatest problems is the lack of an environmental fund—financial support for this body.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

So long as we have an imbalance in the way we use the Community budget we shall never be able to get enough money into an environmental fund in order to deal effectively with many of the problems that we want to tackle. So long as the CAP takes such a large proportion of the Community's funds we shall not be able to achieve it. I know suggestions are being made that we should increase the percentage of VAT that goes into the Community fund, but I believe that it will not happen that way; so we must look at how we can change the balance of support for agriculture towards environmental policies.

At the moment in the CAP we pay farmers to produce mountains and lakes—there is no doubt about that—but the farmers themselves have to make a living out of their land, and certainly in this country they are not making a very good living, despite the amount of money that is going to the CAP fund. By nature, because they live on the land, farmers have an understanding of the land, and I do not think they want to destroy the ecological balance of the countryside; but they frequently have to because they have to make the utmost income from their land. I believe that we should look—and the Commission should look—at new systems of paying an environmental subsidy to the farming community to prevent them having to drain wetlands and to grub up hedges. This should be done on a European basis and the Environment and Consumer Protection Service should make propaganda within the Commission towards that end.

I find it interesting in the report that the first three aims in 1973 were largely the control of pollution, and enormous strides have been made in that direction. I believe there are two reasons for that: The average person understands and can see the results of the improvement, and there was tremendous public pressure in all counties towards the removal of pollution within our society. It is much more difficult to get the same co-operation for the additional aim, included in 1977, of the non-damaging use and rational management of land; the environment and natural resources. It is more difficult for the average person to see and understand the impact of the misuse of those resources than it is for them to see the effect of pollution. So the information and the pressure from the Commission will have to be much greater on this issue than it had to be on the issue of pollution. The action is needed on all three levels, internationally, within Europe and nationally; and every nation has a responsibility—within Europe and within the world, but particularly within Europe—to do the best it can within its own country, to begin with.

We have had a debate in this House, the Committee stage of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, going on for weeks, with many amendments of the utmost importance. One of the most vital ones, in my view, was related to the need to preserve sites of special scientific interest, so that we do not kill off part of our heritage in this country. I hope the noble Earl, Lord Avon, will be able to tell me that since the Committee stage finished the Government have had second thoughts on the subject and that we can put some of these things right on Report stage, because unless we preserve, and take reserve powers to preserve, these sites, we shall certainly damage the ecological balance in this country for good. If we do not after all achieve a change of heart on the part of the Government in this House there is always the possibility that it can be done in another place.

I said at the beginning that environment impinges on everything we do, on the whole of our lives. In the action programme for the next four years, Aim No. 4 is to look for international solutions for certain problems. That gives me the courage to talk about something which I believe we should concentrate on in Europe at this moment. Since the war we have largely satisfied consumer demand within Europe, large parts of Europe anyway, and we have become a consumer-orientated society. But what have we produced of lasting value to enhance the quality of life? Of course, we have raised the standard of living, but we have not produced anything, or very little, to beautify or enhance our environment.

If we look at our inner cities, if we look at the silted up canals of this country, we might ask: What have we done in an environmental sense ourselves, and what have they done in Europe? We have at the same time arrived at a state where we have 2½ million people unemployed. We have the chance, by using the labour force which everyone now admits is not going to be necessary for productive industry, to create a beautiful Britain and a beautiful Europe. I was, therefore, delighted when I read in the paper about the Government scheme for the unemployed young between 18 and 25, the scheme for £332 million, the prime target being environmental effort. There is one thing I do not agree with in what they have done. It is a small step in the right direction, but what worries me is that it has been created to solve the unemployment problem of the young people in this country. That is of course a right kind of aim, but it has been done primarily for that reason and not because we wanted to clean up the environment around us.

I find their figures very disconcerting, because it sounds as if it is a very expensive exercise to improve our environment. They claim that it costs £4,000 to put one man to work. The direct cost to the Exchequer is £1,600, but that direct cost is arrived at before one takes account of the improvement created by using the labour force which is otherwise idle. One's imagination does not have to be very vivid to realise what improvements in the environmental field we could make if, as a country and a Community, we concentrated on using labour we have idle at the moment. The reason I mention it is that I believe this will not happen unless we have capital creation within the Community—funds towards assisting nations to use their labour in this way, so that it is part of the environmental programme of the European Community. I believe that if we used our resources in that way we would go a long way towards making both Britain and Europe a more beautiful place.

Although I realise that this is a very young body and that it has a long way to go, I think as a nation our contribution should be to widen the influence of the Environment and Consumer Protection Service, to make it an environmental service for Europe, and that we should set an example both in our own legislation and in our advice to the Commission.

8.5 p.m.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, I would like to add my word of thanks to my noble friend Lord Cranbrook for chairing Sub-Committee G and for the preparation of his constructive and penetrating report. I would also like to thank him for his agreement to help the non-government organisations in this country by taking the chair at CoEnCo's Pollution Committee, which will act as a watchdog to see that its policies and instruments about pollution are being complied with.

Although the Treaty of Rome makes no mention of environment—and that is not for the want of trying on the part of some of us—the EEC Environmental Action Programmes have established an important area of Community policy. Now, as my noble friend said, the momentum must be maintained and followed up with a third programme. We can hope to make progress during our own presidency of the Council of Ministers later this year. I was very pleased to see the published statement produced by the CBI recognising the need for such a policy and wishing to play a full part. It is early, as the noble Baroness said, but the threads are gradually being gathered together.

Like nearly every other speaker, I, too, am concerned about the integration of conservation and other areas of policy. The Select Committee in its report makes this quite clear; environment policy still seems to be treated by the Commission as a separate subject. It is essential to treat it as an integral part of every other Community policy. To do this effectively the Environment and Consumer Protection Service, as the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, said, should perhaps have its staff strengthened and increased. It seems to me one of the ways out of the difficulty.

On the question of the protection of flora and fauna, the Wildlife and Countryside Bill implements in Britain the EEC birds' directive, the only non-pollution directive in the programme so far agreed, unless you take whales as well. This is greatly to be welcomed; a start at least has been made. The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, spoke of SSSIs. I did not think SSSIs were very appropriate for this debate, but my word! she has my entire, 100 per cent. support for her views on that matter, as my noble friend on the Front Bench knows only too well.

There is talk of a European Environmental Fund, and I was very heartened by what my noble friend Lord Cranbrook said. We hope this will soon be set up. CoEnCo can think of a lot of ways in which the money can be spent and have suggested some to the NCC already. My hope, which I add to the hope of others, is that the Government will support the whole idea of a European Environmental Fund.

I like, too, the suggestion—the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, was the first to say something about it—of a small percentage of the CAP fund being paid to farmers to recompense them for worthwhile protection of wild and beautiful habitats on their land. It would not interfere in any way with the profits of the farmers. It might even reduce the commodity surpluses, and it will certainly save many creatures and places from destruction.

I should like to raise a short point on education which has not so far been mentioned. The Council for Environmental Education (CEE), of which my noble friend Lord Sandford is president, and the Council for Environmental Conservation (CoEnCo) are both active about environmental education—the CEE in school and the CoEnCo Youth Unit out of school, and the members of the CoEnCo Youth Unit Committee are also active in out-of-school environmental education. In particular two members of CoEnCo are very much engaged in in-school education and I am speaking, of course, about the RSPB and the World Wildlife Fund. The start of public sympathy and understanding is in education, and I just wonder whether the Commission ought to think more about doing something for education as an ally to its cause.

Finally, CoEnCo very much supports the call for the Community to develop an environmental resources strategy, as required by the World Conservation Strategy. The harmonising of environment and development in a European-wide and comprehensive strategy is a task in which the Commission should take a lead. With reference to the World Conservation Strategy, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has announced that its governing council will, at their 10th session in May 1982, consider reports and information from member Governments about the activities of Governments and other organisations which contribute to the implementation of the strategy. There will be a report to UNEP in May 1982.

The World Conservation Strategy was launched a year ago this week. There is a little more than a year to go before we make the report to UNEP. I wish I could feel that the year already past had been used to the best advantage. What, in fact, has been done so far? All the CoEnCo members—and they comprise nearly every NGO in the country—took part in a "Plan for Britain". All took some positive action last year as their contribution to the World Conservation Strategy. A report on that action will be published by us this year. All of the Non-Government Organisations with the co-operation of the NCC plan a conference in autumn 1982; that is, after the report to UNEP. But that will, I hope, take the nation a step further.

So to complete my very short speech, I wish to ask the Minister a question. In view of the EEC's obvious support for the principles behind the World Conservation Strategy and its obvious intention to take account of it in its environment action programme, what action do Her Majesty's Government intend to take to implement the strategy?

8.14 p.m.

Lord Nathan

My Lords, I am particularly glad to take part in this debate on broad environmental matters within the EEC, both because in a professional capacity I have been concerned in some aspects of how the Commission works and because I have the honour to be Chairman of the Environment Committee of the Royal Society of Arts and a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.

It is indeed heartening to find that the Select Committee has come down so firmly in favour of a strategy in relation to the EEC environment policy, and that is more than welcome. But it is really not to the first but to the second of their recommendations in paragraph 153 that I should like first to refer. That is the recommendation concerning: a comprehensive approach throughout its Directorates-General to integrate environmental policy in other relevant policy sectors". That, after all, is crucial and, to my mind, is important above all else in the policy which should be pursued by the EEC both in relation to the environment and as to the organisation which it should have in order to implement that policy.

Obviously, in order to integrate environmental considerations it is necessary that they should be governed by a broad policy or strategy, which is the subject of the report. It has been suggested that the environmental service (ECPS) might better be constituted as a Directorate-General. That point has been touched upon in this debate, but has not really been examined, and I thought that a few remarks on that subject might be relevant. My experience of Directorates-General is that, due partly to their vertical structure, there is very little contact between them and they sometimes act in conflict with each other. For example, in this period of recession, contradictory policies have from time to time been pursued by those concerned with industry and those concerned with competition, and they appear to have been initiated without any consultation between those concerned. In the formulation of directives on company law there is no contact with those concerned in other fields such as industry, trade and economic and social affairs.

The legal service serves the whole Commission including all Directorates-General and it would seem desirable that the environmental service should maintain the same position and be concerned at all stages in the formulation, development and implementation of policy by all Directorates-General. I believe that only by such a means can the objects which are envisaged by the Select Committee in the second sub-paragraph of the paragraph which I have mentioned, be achieved. Therefore, the first point that I would make is that the environmental service should be maintained as a service and not be converted to a Directorate-General, albeit its devoted staff, whom many of us have met, should be somewhat strengthened.

The other matter to which I should like to refer is wholly distinct. In an admirable report, if I may say so, one of the matters which has not, I believe, been given its proper emphasis is the benefit arising from voluntary co-operation and voluntary effort. The point that I wish to make is distinct but obviously related to the reference which the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, made to contact with the NGOs.

In November last the Royal Society of Arts held a conference on the principles of pollution control, at which distinguished contributions were made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, and the noble Baroness, Lady White. One of the other speakers was Professor Moore of the Nature Conservancy Council, who outlined the Pesticide Safety Precautions Scheme which has achieved much by voluntary co-operation between Government and industry. I understand that to be a scheme under which standards are set by which the industry voluntarily abides. Those standards include agreement that pesticides shall not be sold until approved by agreed procedures and laboratory testing.

There are at least two great advantages in voluntary co-operation of that kind. First, there is no law and, therefore, there is no law to get round. Secondly, the standards set can be improved and varied by agreement between Government and industry, quickly and without elaborate formulation. Of course, such voluntary arrangements arc likely to be satisfactory only where there are comparatively few manufacturers or operators in the given field. I doubt, for instance, whether it could work in relation to restrictions on the quantity of pesticides used by farmers—they are too widely spread and do not fit into a scheme of this kind.

Voluntary co-operation, I suggest, is a fruitful means of progress and should be regarded as the best way forward where it can be applied. Its field of application is inevitably limited and one must recognise that. But I think that it would be a pity if the Commission, in considering, as I very much hope it will, with the greatest care the report of the Select Committee, did not give some consideration to this means of achieving the objects desired where it is practicable to do so.

I referred earlier to two matters: voluntary cooperation and voluntary effort. By voluntary effort I mean effort by voluntary organisations concerned with the environment. This relates to a further aim under paragraph 153, item (d) of which reads: promote the widest public awareness of the European environment and Community aims and measures …". A widespread membership has in itself an educational effect and the ripples move outward. Voluntary organisations of this kind are perhaps the most effective to promote public awareness in relation to the environment, and this has been proved over and over again. But such voluntary organisations can also act as pressure groups to improve environmental quality. It is in this context that they have a bearing on voluntary co-operation, to which I have referred. For the natural tendency of industry is to adopt the most economic standard which is acceptable environmentally. Improvement in that standard is likely to be best achieved by public pressure. Thus, the "best practical means" will constantly be improved by pressure of organisations such as these.

The difficulty about detailed regulations is that they are inclined to ossify and remain the standard required long after vast improvements have been, or could be made, and regulations are always difficult to alter. Therefore, detailed regulations tend to pull down standards shortly after they have been enacted.

As one of the few who have spoken in this debate who is not in any way connected with the Select Committee, may I say that it has established a reputation for being the most thorough body of its kind in any of the Parliaments of member states in scrutinising environmental legislation? I trust that the Commission will give to this report the consideration that it deserves.

8.23 p.m.

Lord Buxton of Alsa

My Lords, I intend to be very brief and to raise only one point which has not yet been mentioned. In thanking and congratulating my noble friend Lord Cranbrook and his committee for this very valuable and thorough report, I should like to add that I imply absolutely no criticism of him or of his committee in drawing attention to what I believe to be a very remarkable omission. But, of course, his committee was reporting on the Commission document, and that is where, in my view, the omission occurs.

It seems to me to be very extraordinary that in the whole of that document there is practically no reference, or only the scantiest reference, to the North Sea. In my view, and I believe in the view of every child at a primary school, the North Sea is surely an integral part of the European environment. I simply do not understand how it could be considered as anything else. Furthermore, for the United Kingdom it is even more than that. Apart from the atmosphere, it is the factor which relates us and joins us to Europe. Therefore, for it to be apparently of no very important consequence in the whole of their environmental policy and strategy is, I think, something that needs looking at very carefully in order to discover what the reason can possibly be.

In the Commission Document 7040/80 there are indeed references to the creation of an ad hoc committee as a permanent structure for the exchange of views and the establishment of an information system, and the means of combatting the discharge of oil, and so forth. We have heard all that before. It is very loose and does not go very far. Certainly the North Sea has not received the same very fundamental and important attention with which so many other aspects of environment are concerned. On many occasions in debates in this House I have urged that the North Sea must be treated as a special case; and there is a precedent for it, because, as I have previously said, the Mediterranean is treated as a special case.

The only reference of any significance in the documents about which we are talking is in the evidence submitted by the Nature Conservancy Council and contained in the report of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. In a passage under the heading "North Sea" they say: The Mediterranean is coming under closer attention from EEC and the North Sea should rank with this. The economy of the North Sea is necessarily based on its ecology and the failure of the existing fragmentary and ad hoc management of the North Sea to cope with growing conflicts of interest threatens both. There is a need for an intergovernmental agency, not limited to EEC countries, to create and supervise the essential co-ordinated management of the North Sea …", and so on. I could not put that better myself and I am glad to say that it is very close to what I have said on various occasions in debates here.

I wonder whether the reference to intergovernmental co-ordination not confined to EEC countries may possibly be at the root of the problem. For not all countries bordering the North Sea are members of the Commission. But, of course, as we all know, it is manifestly absurd in terms of nature and the environment for territorial boundaries to be the be-all and end-all of policy and strategy. There is no way that the Scandinavian countries—Norway and Sweden—can be said not to have problems which relate to the European coastline and the coastline of the British Isles. We are all in it together. Although I have been reminded once or twice in replies from the Government that the North Sea is not a private pond belonging to Britain, it is nevertheless a private pond shared by a great many countries; and other nations are, of course, allowed to use it.

But we have the very serious problem that although 85 per cent. of the world's tanker fleet is extremely reputable and very well run, the remaining 15 per cent. consists of what are sometimes called "rogues"—substandard tankers with substandard crews. Unless we combine together as a group—and I believe that somehow the Commission must take the initiative—there is no way that those offending parties will be contained or dealt with.

I should like to recommend that there should be a North Sea convention. The precedent already exists in the Rhine Convention. If the only problem about having a North Sea Convention is that all North Sea countries are not members of the Commission, surely it is not beyond our wit and imagination to find a way through that. I raise this tonight because, as this country will have the presidency of the Commission this year, we shall have an excellent opportunity to take the initiative and try to get something going through the Commission. I would urge my noble friend the Minister to convey to the relevant department or Secretary of State that this provides an opportunity for the Commission to take the initiative as one party; in other words, the Commission would act as a single party and try to form a group, including those countries that are not in the Commission and, of course, particularly Norway and Sweden. In that way, we might arrive at a North Sea convention similar to the Rhine Convention, with comparable momentum and impetus as is now developing in the Mediterranean.

I simply wish to avoid seeing the North Sea treated as if it were the same as any other part of the oceans. It manifestly is not. It is enclosed. It is contained. It is a shallow shelf. It has an appalling amount of usage, which is always increasing. Every time this subject is mentioned in this House something ghastly happens about a week afterwards, whatever is said in reply. I hope that that will not be the case on this occasion, but I have absolutely no doubt that within a matter of days, weeks or months something awful will happen. That does not mean something like an "Amoco Cadiz" or "Torrey Canyon". Things happen every day and they relate to the European environment, the policy and strategy, and somehow I should like to have it on the record that we have the opportunity this year to do something about it through the Commission.

8.31 p.m.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa. How glad I am to see him returned from his foreign travels in time to take an extremely active part, I hope, in the further stages of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill when it returns to your Lordships' House.

It will not have escaped your Lordships' notice that I was not able to be present in the Chamber in time to hear the earlier speeches in this interesting debate. Therefore, it would be both impolite and wholly inappropriate for me to say all the many things I should have liked to say about this important report. I would have withdrawn my name altogether had I not felt that as the recently retired chairman of the Countryside Commission, I perhaps have a duty to welcome this enlightened, imaginative, and immensely encouraging report, and also to thank the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, for the sympathetic and understanding way in which he and his colleagues have dealt with these many matters.

I shall be very brief indeed. I shall try to be as brief as the noble Lord, Lord Buxton. I should like to begin by underlining something he has already said; namely, that the EEC itself is not enough; that if we are to tackle effectively the immense problems of the protection and the conservation of our environment we need to look wider than the EEC. How right he is. For some time I have been connected with a body—not a wholly successful one, but an interesting one—the European Federation for Nature and Nature Parks. It is an interesting organisation in that it embraces countries from both sides of the Iron Curtain; Western European and Eastern European countries. Their representatives are able to sit down perfectly happily and harmoniously and talk about these important matters in total agreement. These are people who otherwise find it difficult to sit down together at all.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, is right, quite apart from the considerations of the immediate problems of the North Sea, to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that we can solve some of these immense problems only if we look at them not just on a national basis but on an international basis. As has already been said by my noble friend Lady Robson, in general this report perhaps points to a change of direction or perhaps a change of emphasis so far as the EEC's policies with regard to conservation are concerned.

Hitherto, for very understandable and proper reasons, the EEC has devoted its energies and resources in the main to immediate, narrowly-focused problems of pollution. That has been right and necessary. Indeed, we have had interesting debates in your Lordships' House on the subject of the EEC's activities so far as pollution is concerned, but this report seems to indicate that the time has come for a change in direction, or at least a change in emphasis towards conservation rather than purely dealing with pollution. How timely that that change of direction should occur at a time when your Lordships' House is dealing with the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, and also at a time when Great Britain may very well be playing a very important role indeed in the conservation and environmental activities of the EEC.

Noble Lords whom I have heard in this debate have already underlined the fact that if we wish to achieve any success in these various directions there is always a price to be paid. This was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, by my noble friend Lady Robson, and by the noble Lord, Lord Craigton. Of course there is a price. There is a price which has to be paid individually and nationally, but perhaps a price that can better be paid at the end of the day if it is done collectively in a larger grouping.

It was the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who made an immensely important speech to your Lordships' Committee on the Bill to which I referred, in which he directed your Lordships' attention to what the grant-aiding functions of the EEC and the Commission could possibly do in order to assist Britain in preserving moorland, and matters of that kind. That was a speech to which insufficient attention was paid. This report underlines many of the things which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, in fact said to the Committee on that occasion.

Not only is there a price to be paid, but there are always conflicts to be resolved. The problem is that so often these conflicts do not just exist between different groups of people—between farmers and ramblers; ramblers and pony trekkers; but they exist within one and the same person. So far as pollution is concerned, we all want cheap and plentiful goods and we also all want clean air. We are entirely right to want and demand both, but we can only have both if we pay the price.

This report deals, though not very lengthily, with noise pollution. I recall from my days years ago in another place when I represented a constituency in which was sited one of Britain's largest international airports, receiving a letter from a constituent complaining about the intolerable noise to which he was subjected from Manchester Airport at Ringway. It made it impossible for him to sleep or do any work at home at night. His wife was ill and constantly under medical attention. His children were failing their A-levels or their 0-levels, whatever levels it was: they just could not exist because of this intolerable nuisance of aircraft noise, and when were the Government going to do something about it?

I wrote back to this constituent and said that there is a price to be paid for siting airports away from centres of population; a price to be paid for pioneering and developing quieter aircraft engines. When enough people demonstrated that they were willing to pay that price, perhaps the Government would act. About a year later the same constituent wrote me another letter. This time it was from his business address in Stockport. I am quite sure that he wrote not with his tongue in his cheek but wholly sincerely. It was a letter complaining of the inadequacy of the flight schedules from Manchester to Düsseldorf, which were a very severe impediment to his important export business. I repeat, he was right both times. The conflict exists within us all. We can resolve those conflicts only if we pay the price. Sometimes it is a very heavy price indeed; a price which can only be paid on an international basis, and can certainly be better paid on an international basis than purely nationally.

I shall sit down now. I should merely like to say that, so far as the action programme for the next four years to which my noble friend has referred, is concerned, I honestly believe that Britain sets an admirable example in the kind of institutions which it has developed for dealing with these matters. Bodies such as the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission are unique in European terms. They have no real equivalent. I honestly doubt whether the voluntary conservation bodies, which command such enormous support in Britain, have an exact equivalent in Europe. I merely felt that it was right to say that I think Britain is uniquely placed to take a lead in the EEC in this new direction which the Commission may be taking, and I earnestly hope that Britain will take that lead.

8.39 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the Government are most grateful to the Select Committee for the work that they have done in producing this report. It is a very thorough analysis of the Commission document with many thoughtful recommendations. I should like to add my tribute to them for the high standing in which their reports on environmental matters are held, not only in this House but in the country and in the Community, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, so ably said. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Cranbrook for his clear and concise introduction, which has helped this debate this evening.

I believe that this is the first time that this House has had the opportunity of debating the Community Environmental Programme as a whole. People today look much more to the environment in all its fields, and this debate underlines that new interest. I should like to say that the Department of the Environment has many connections in this field. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, was worried about the Mediterranean. Only last week I greeted two delegates from the local legislature in Sicily who were being shown around a conducted tour of the full body of the Environment's departments.

The establishment of the Environment and Consumer Protection Service in 1973 was an extension of Community policy into an area not envisaged in the Treaty of Rome. As we approach the end of the second Community environment action programme, the Commission document which formed the basis of the committee's investigations attempts both to take stock of the experience of the past and to consider directions that future policy should take. I found the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, particularly helpful, especially his remarks about past works. But while we now have a much greater wealth of experience regarding the environmental needs of Europe, and the best ways of dealing with them at Community level than did the originators of the Community environment policy in 1973, we are less fortunate than them in other ways, as several noble Lords have pointed out; the current review of the environment action programme takes place in a rather bleak economic climate, at a time when the European Communities are facing the challenge of adapting to a worldwide recession.

It is vitally important that the environment programme should adapt itself to these new challenges. It must be organised in such a way as to make the most effective use of available resources. The Government therefore welcome many of the recommendations of the Select Committee which are aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the environment action programme. Before turning to the points raised by the committee's report, it may help the House if I describe the process by which the environment programme will be reviewed and the way in which the committee's views will be taken into account in the formulation of future policy.

Environmental Ministers had a preliminary discussion of the Commission's report at the Council on 30th June last year. They asked senior officials from member states to discuss the report in depth and three such senior level meetings, chaired by the Commission, have taken place, one quite recently. The next stage is for the Commission to prepare a formal proposal for the continuation of Community environment policy. We expect that a document will appear around the middle of the year, which will then be discussed in detail by member states with a view to its adoption by the Council of Environment Ministers. In that next stage of moving from general discussion to a concrete proposal, the committee's report can be expected to have an influence in two ways.

First, the Select Committee as well as noble Lords, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, have developed direct links with the European Commission; I know their report has been read with interest in Brussels and it will have a direct bearing on the Commission's thinking. Secondly, in the next stage the Government will be discussing a formal proposal from the Commission to the council. In that discussion we shall take full account of the Select Committee's report and what has been said in this debate. In many areas the report before us will greatly help the Government in the forthcoming talks.

The Select Committee's role in the formulation of the Community environment policy does not, however, end with this debate today. The formal proposal for a renewal of the Community environment programme, which we expect in the summer, will of course be subject to scrutiny by both Houses in the normal way. Your Select Committee will have the opportunity of examining both the Commission's proposals and the attitude of the Government towards them. It will be possible, therefore, for the committee to assess the impact their report has had on the Commission and to recommend what line they feel the Government should take in the discussions to which I have referred. All this is in the future, but it is important that we all appreciate that the committee's work will have a direct bearing on developments and that there will be further opportunity for comment in the future.

I return to the present and the report before us today. I shall deal first with the most striking point of the report—the suggestion that the Community should develop a comprehensive environment strategy —and then outline the Government's attitude towards future Community environment policy, and finally turn to some of the points raised on specific areas of policy. I do not, however, think it wise to devote much time to individual areas of action, and here I follow the advice of several noble Lords. The paramount need, as your committee have identified, is for strategy, and it is strategic thinking which should be the main consideration in evaluating what has been said. My noble friend Lord Cranbrook rightly attaches much importance to the committee's interesting suggestion that a wide-ranging environment strategy be prepared by the Commission, and that view is developed in the conclusions of the report in paragraphs 140 to 153.

In their discussion of a Community environment strategy, your Select Committee has drawn attention to the valuable insights afforded by the preparation of a World Conservation Strategy. My noble friend Lord Craigton also made direct reference to that, and asked if the Government were prepared to make a statement on the World Conservation Strategy. To digress from the subject of the European Community for a moment, I shall answer my noble friend. The Government welcome the World Conservation Strategy as a realistic and unemotive restatement of the evidence that conservation of our natural and living resources is essential to the economic and social welfare of society and is entirely compatible with sustainable development. This proposition has informed and will continue to inform the conduct of our policies. The European Community environment programme should take account of the World Conservation Strategy in a similar manner.

It is fair to say that in the past the Community programme has been long on detail but short on strategy. There has been little attempt to look over the whole field and consider relative priorities. The Environment and Consumer Protection Service itself now recognises there should be more emphasis on considering the environmental implications of other Community policies. This is a move we have welcomed. It would link with a general trend towards emphasising the collegiate nature of the Commission, which was one of the themes of the Spierenburg Report. Quite apart from the general arguments in favour of this approach, it would clearly be helpful if there were greater liaison between the various parts of the Commission in the environmental field. This should be a two-way process; environmental proposals should take account of economic factors and economic policies, which are the heart of the Commission's work, should take account of the environmental dimension.

A strategy of the kind advocated by the Select Committee would clearly help here. Whether it is necessary to go to the length of preparing a specifically Community strategy is a point on which the Government would like to suspend judgment for the present. The same objective might be achieved by encouraging the Commission to take account of work done by other bodies and to give greater emphasis to the development of a collegiate approach. But the concept of a Community strategy is certainly a challenging one which I am sure will stimulate thinking in Brussels.

The Government have also identified the need for a more strategic approach, and this ties in with some of the ideas put forward by the Select Committee. In our experience there are three main fields to which attention needs to be focused in order to increase the effectiveness of our environmental policy: the need to draw up priority aims; the consideration of the most effective forms and levels of action required to achieve those aims; and the need to ensure that proposals for action are soundly based and justified. I shall deal briefly with each of those and then comment on what is perhaps the most crucial question for the future, namely the relation between preventive and curative environment policy. First, the assessment of priorities. The committee identifies the need to reappraise the work on pollution control. It also recommends, in relation to action on dangerous substances, that the Commission should concentrate its efforts on a small, carefully chosen number of substances of pan-Community significance". The thinking behind that observation is of significance for the programme as a whole. Future policy must focus on clearly-defined priority areas. The Environment and Consumer Protection Service must be sure that the problems it is addressing are of real environmental significance, and—equally important—they must be appropriate for Community-level action. The Community should not be considering action which is better taken either by national and local authorities or by other international organisations.

That brings me to the appropriate forms of action, and here I am heartened by the committee's recommendations that links with industry, commercial bodies and non-governmental organisations should be strengthened, a point underlined by my noble friend Lord Sandford. There is an important role for non-legislative forms of action, such as voluntary agreements, in certain areas. And that is a point that we have made to the Commission on numerous occasions.

Where Community legislative action is needed, the committee recommends suitably flexible directives; and I very much take the warning of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, on this particular point. In the Government's view the emphasis should be on the word "flexible". A great deal of effort has been devoted to producing legislation which has sometimes been over-detailed and over-rigid. If the Community is to be successful in its environment policy, greater consideration must be given to the differences of practice and of philosophy among member states that require flexible treatment. Our aim must be environmental protection and environmental improvement, but that does no necessarily mean harmonisation.

In considering the form of action, the Commission's criterion must be, What will result in the greatest environmental benefit? It follows, incidentally, that in monitoring the implementation of legislation, attention should be directed at the actual environmental improvement which has resulted, as well as to the detailed legal instruments adopted by member states. This, too, was a point raised by other speakers.

Thirdly, I come to the justification for action. Here it is important that decisions on selected areas of action and proposals for individual measures are based on the best available information, and, in particular, taken on the strongest possible scientific grounds. It was no doubt with this in mind that the Committee recommends the strengthening of the ECPS. I should add however that in the present economic climate there would be some difficulty in obtaining such strengthening.

There are, moreover, other ways in which we could improve the scientific basis for our action. The Committee has identified one possibility when it recommends that the Commission should be assisted by an informal international panel of experts. Another possibility is that experts from member states could be consulted before the Commission engages research consultants, rather than being called in only after the research consultants have completed their work. We also endorse the Committee's recommendation that the Community research programme should be an important part of the scientific basis for the Environment Action Programme and its proposals.

Along with ensuring the best possible scientific justification for action, we must also ensure that the choice of action is itself judicious. Regard must be taken of the economic costs of proposed actions. It is difficult, perhaps even impossible, accurately to measure economic cost against environmental benefit. None the less, such an assessment should be attempted as part of the initial investigation of most individual measures. It is also important to ensure that the resources available are directed to the problems on which they can have the greatest effect.

Let me now turn to the other crucial issue for future Community environment policy—the movement from cure to prevention, particularly as regards environmental pollution. The Government agree with the Select Committee that the time has come to start to shift the emphasis away from pollution control towards preventative action. We must be careful, however, to avoid two risks inherent in such a change of emphasis. First, we must ensure that important pollution control problems of Community significance are still tackled, and, secondly, we must beware of directing Community policies into preventive areas which are not suited to Community action. As regards pollution control, the Select Committee recommend that this should occupy a smaller proportion of the total environmental effort and that it should alter in character and scale.

The Government agree that there is a case for shifting emphasis away from measures to combat pollution and towards more general action, particularly of a preventative kind. But controlling pollution will continue to be a major concern, and the Government would not want to see the existing programme commitments neglected in order to extend the programme into other areas. They would rather see a change of approach towards forms of action which would be more manageable than hitherto, thus allowing resources to be used for other areas of concern. We should, for example, like to see less legislation, and this we believe is a view shared by other member states.

I note with interest the suggestion in the report that industrialists should be encouraged by the Community to assume more responsibility for reduction and control of pollution themselves. There is much merit in this kind of approach, particularly if we are looking for a two-way flow between environmental and other concerns, about which I have already spoken. But we need to consider just how we would put this into effect at Community level. There is no doubt that a streamlined, more efficient, pollution control programme is needed. That would release resources and enable the Community to enter into other forms of action, particularly of a preventive nature. But here the scope for Community action becomes less clear. Much must be for the national Administrations, but there may still be a need for an agreed framework at Community level.

As noble Lords will know, preventive environment policy is not a totally new field for the Community. Member states have recognised the need for collective action in, for example, the Sixth Amendment to the Classification, Packaging, and Labelling of Dangerous Substances Directive, and the so-called "Seveso" proposals on major hazards from industrial activities. Both are early warning measures, the first being intended to reduce the danger of environmental damage from new chemicals, and the second designed to minimise the danger of accidents such as the Seveso and Flixborough catastrophes.

In those cases there was a clear justification for Community-wide preventive measures. In other areas in which the Commission envisage taking preventive action, such as rational land use, the justification is not perhaps so clear. As the Select Committee report points out, thorough consultation with member states will be needed to ensure that the Community does not undertake measures best carried out by local and national authorities. Once again, the keynote should be strategic thinking. The expansion of preventive policies must be carefully planned. It must take account of the priorities for action; it must seek, where possible, to integrate itself with the control of pollution programmes, and it must endeavour to maximise the effect of Community resources and deal with Community problems.

A number of noble Lords, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Robson of Kiddington, asked about an environment fund. The idea of using Community funds for environmental purposes is still very much in embryonic form. There is no provision for such use in the current budget, and the Commission now seem to be looking very much as to how best to make use of their existing funds. Certainly any proposal for a new means of financing would be tied up with the broader issues of the Community budget as a whole. Until we know more about the objectives of such a fund, how it might work, and the likely breakdown of expenditure between functions and between member states, I do not think that it is possible at the moment to express any firm view. I took particular note of the most interesting ideas of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, and I am sure that they will be read in Brussels with great interest.

The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, also raised the subject of the relationship between the OECD and the EEC. I think that this is a suggestion worthy of further exploration, and here again a two-way process of influence and information exchange exists at present. I think that it exists for environmental issues of any consequence, and I understand that the Community and the OECD have worked closely together in the past. The Government hope that the existing relationship between the EEC and the OECD will continue to develop effectively.

My noble friend Lord Buxton of Alsa—

Lord Northfield

My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves that point, may I say to him that the thinking behind the Council of Europe resolution on this matter was that the practitioners, the officials, in the OECD and the EEC, who meet frequently or regularly —as the noble Earl says—are, in a sense, the last people who can be detached from the work that they are doing and examine how much is overlapping, unnecessary and duplicating. Therefore, the suggestion was that an outsider, who nevertheless had considerable knowledge of the environmental problems of Europe, might look at this question in a better way than would the practitioners at their regular meetings. I hope that the noble Earl will have another look at the suggestion from the Council of Europe about having an outsider to look at the overlapping.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for clarifying his point. I must confess that I had an answer to that, but I seem to have missed the point. I know that his comments on that subject will be read with interest. My noble friend Lord Buxton of Alsa mentioned a North Sea convention. I am sure that this, too, will be taken on board, and I see no reason at all why such a convention should not be called.

A number of noble Lords spoke about information, and there is certainly much in what has been said on this subject. Perhaps in this regard I can couple information with education and say that the Government very much agree with the remarks that have been made in the House this evening. The Government have been saying so in discussions with the Commission. We believe that reports of the kind mentioned, such as those now being produced on water quality in the Community, deserve wider circulation, although they perhaps could be in summary. The Government would add that we would also appreciate wider availability of the reports on which the Commission bases its proposals. The Government would develop this thought further by arguing that information of this kind can first point to where action is needed, both nationally and at Community level, and, secondly, it can act as an incentive without recourse to legislation for further action.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the Wildlife and Countryside Bill. I think this is an example of something which this country is doing. The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, mentioned SSSIs. I think that perhaps we ought to wait until we rejoin the debate on that next week if we may, and not take it this afternoon. Similarly, the wise remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, on the Countryside Commission were very much taken aboard; and I did recall the remarks of my noble friend Lord Sandford very clearly when he spoke on moorlands some few days ago.

The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, mentioned the implications for the Common Agricultural Policy. In answer to the noble Baroness I would say that the Government recognise that there is concern that the formulation of Community agricultural policy should take environmental considerations into account, and it would appear that this has to an extent been recognised in Brussels as well. The less-favoured-areas directives, which provide special Community assistance to farmers in certain parts of member states, are an example of this, the need to conserve the countryside in such areas being covered, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, himself mentioned, by the directives themselves.

I have tried to keep my remarks not too long, but it was a fairly wide-ranging debate. I should like to conclude by saying, with the Select Committee, that the Government can confirm their belief in continuing a Community environment programme; but it must be a programme which, to quote from the original programme, will improve the setting and quality of life and the surroundings and living conditions of the peoples of the Community". It must have clear, limited priorities, dealing with problems of real environmental significance which justify Community-level action. The Government believe the way to do this more effectively is to concentrate less on legislation, and we support the Select Committee in looking for more preventative action.

In the longer term the Government see the value of a general strategy encompassing other policy areas, but we would hope that this would evolve as part of the greater integration and close co-operation within the Community which will be needed if the Community is to achieve its full potential. Much of the discussion of the proposal which comes from the Commission will, as the Committee record, be taking place during the United Kingdom presidency in the second half of 1981. I know that the Select Committee's Report which we have discussed tonight will be an important contribution to future discussions, and I am grateful for the opportunity it has given the Government to hear the views of the House.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down I wonder whether he could answer one other question about which I gave him notice and which I think has been raised by practically every noble Lord in the debate, and that is the problem of the very small number of staff of the environment service in Brussels. The position is that the European Parliament last year voted an increase of staff for this service, but in the subsequent rows over the budget in the Council the precise designation of funds for this purpose got lost, and nobody was clear whether it was going to be given to the environment service. The only question I am asking is whether Her Majesty's Government put some weight behind the recommendations of the European Parliament on this issue. I think it was only nine members, or only a small number which was involved, but that at least that sort of modest reinforcement ought to be given to this service.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I think I possibly rather purposely skated round the noble Lord's point when I said that the current review of the environment action programme takes place in a rather bleak economic climate. However, I am aware of his question on this and I will find out what the correct answer is and let him know.

9.4 p.m.

The Earl of Cranbrook

My Lords, the European Community was founded on great ideals. If we look at the map we may not consider that it is a natural geographical unit for environmental concern, but it is a natural political unit for environmental concern because it has, as has been emphasised by noble Lords in the debate this evening, the legislative teeth to implement its directives. Speaking personally, I should like to associate myself with the thanks that the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, expressed to the noble Baroness, Lady White, who unfortunately has had to leave us this evening, for her past chairmanship of this sub-committee, and express my own personal gratitude for the considerate way in which she eased me into the chair as her successor.

Speaking for my sub-committee, if I may be so bold, I thank those noble Lords whose wide range of interests has brought them to take part in the debate tonight. The contributions of those noble Lords who are not members of our sub-committee have greatly enriched our thinking on the whole topic. I think I probably speak for the whole House when I emphasise with what great interest I listened to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Avon, and how very much I shall enjoy reading them at leisure, at a slower pace, tomorrow morning, when I see them in print.

On Question, Motion agreed to.