§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Baroness Stedman rose to call attention, in the European Year of the Environment, to the case for measures to protect the countryside and environment and to the case for all-party support for environmental protection; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I spent most of the Easter recess in the Lake District. Sitting high up 665 on the fells watching a buzzard soaring overhead, I wondered if it realised that this was European Year of the Environment, and if, during all its travels over the years, it had noted the continuing decline in our environment. Had it registered how the hedgerows have been pulled out; how the broadleaved woodlands have been reduced; and how the vital wild life reserves and habitat used by birds and other species have been destroyed or become smaller?
§ We have seen our ground water polluted by nitrates and pesticides. Our rivers have become polluted. Any success in reducing pollution has been slowed down or reversed by public spending cuts and the fact that the powers of water authorities in relation to pollution control are still too vague. One sometimes has the feeling that environmental considerations come a long way down the queue in relation to their operational requirements. That includes the discharge of sewage effluent into watercourses.
§ We believe that the Secretary of State should have more power to control water pollution and marine pollution caused by the discharge of aldrin, dieldrin and endrin. These chemicals have a totally disastrous effect on wildlife, and the Secretary of State ought to be able to set emission standards and national quality objectives that the water authorities would be required to enforce. Change is never easy to contemplate or to manage. But the difficulties will be much greater if we always cling to the past and to what we know and understand, and try to defend that past because we are afraid of what the future might hold.
§ We, on these Benches, believe that we have that vision of the future. We recognise that environmental strategies are an essential part of our economic strategy. For far too long, the way in which environmental decisions are tackled within government has been unsatisfactory. The department mainly responsible is the Department of the Environment which is purely a department of local government and housing. Even if the Secretary of State wanted to give more prominence to environmental issues, then, of necessity, local government and housing must be his major concern.
§ The environmental responsibilities also spill over into other departments like MAFF, Trade and Industry, Education and Science, and Transport. There has been an imbalance between environmental and other considerations in reaching policy decisions because individual departments of government are not required to consider the environmental consequences of their own policies and also because, in some ways, the DoE has lacked clout in promoting environmental issues throughout government. Therefore, agricultural policy has tended to be decided rather more in the interests of the farmer than of the conservationist. The benefits of energy conservation are given less prominence than the interests of the energy producers. Nor do we take account of environmental considerations when we formulate government policy on foreign aid.
§ That is why we are proposing a new Department of Environmental Protection which would be responsible for planning, conservation, pollution control, leisure and recreation, and animal welfare. It would also be responsible for promoting and co-ordinating environ 666 ment policies in government in general. The secretary of state of this new department would be a full member of Cabinet, giving environmental protection an effective voice at the conference table for the first time.
§ We would want to foster co-operative attitudes and institutions which bring people together to share in the decisions which affect them. to identify our common objectives, pool our resources and work together to make a really integrated rural society. And what better time to begin than in the European Year of the Environment?
§ We believe in a flourishing rural economy based on a less intensive form of agriculture than we have known until now; but the recent circulars and the £25 million package have not been well-received by farmers, rural dwellers or environmentalists. They do little or nothing to stem the fall in farm incomes or to relieve the fears of totally unplanned growth in industry, housing and forestry in the countryside.
§ Even so, we believe that we have been given a great opportunity to take advantage of the need to restrain over-production. It would be a tragedy to throw away that opportunity on ribbon development, blanket forests of conifers and unrestricted housing development. Yet the Government's proposals for alternative land use and the rural economy to me look little more than a policy to buy off farmers for the losses that they have sustained through the shift in CAP. We need the conifers and the broadleaved woodlands, but in the right locations.
§ Why cannot the local authorities be more involved in preparing a strategic plan for forestry, as proposed in the latest report from the Countryside Commission, New Opportunities 'Or the Countryside? Why indeed can there not be some kind of landscape conservation order as a reserve power when voluntary agreements cannot secure the protection of valuable countryside features, such as the Association of County Councils has suggested? We believe that we have to balance our economy and our ecology. We want to encourage economic growth that is environmentally beneficial or, in today's jargon, "green growth".
§ We see energy conservation, housing rehabilitation and improvements in public transport as being environmentally beneficial. All public policies have some impact on the quality of life and all nations ultimately share the same environment, as was so graphically illustrated by the results of Chernobyl.
§ A good environment pays dividends in improved health, welfare and personal fulfilment, if not immediately then certainly in the long-term. Our countryside is of crucial interest to all of us because of its wildlife, its beauty and its ability to meet the growing recreational needs, and because it is still primarily a source of our food and other raw materials. A healthy agriculture is necessary for the management and preservation of the countryside. Much of the natural beauty, some of the wildlife and most of the footpaths and open spaces would disappear if the farmers were not there to manage our land. We want to work towards a developing consensus between the conservationists and the farming community. I believe that most farmers would share our view that the maintenance of healthy agriculture, the conservation 667 of the environment and the sustaining of balanced rural communities must be the objective of any integrated countryside policy.
§ That will mean looking at grants, subsidies and price incentives both here and in Europe. It will mean guaranteed protection for our most important landscapes and wildlife habitats. However, beauty needs the protection of the SSSIs, of the nature reserves, the national parks, the areas of outstanding natural beauty, the environmentally sensitive areas, the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council. It also means that our farmers must be adequately rewarded for their share in the management of such areas. I see the farmer as the front-line guardian of the countryside, its landscape and much of our rural environment; so let him have a just reward from the taxpayer for playing that role. Incidentally, how many projects have been put forward for European Year of the Environment grants and how many have been agreed so far?
§ We believe that we need to look at the Wildlife and Countryside Act to make it better able to protect our most valuable features and the wildlife habitats. We need much more research into soil erosion and into the link between fertilisers and nitrates in our water supplies. We need much more research into organic fertilisers and their uses. We want to be able to enhance the rich diversity of our landscape and its wildlife.
§ We welcome attempts to provide alternative sources of energy and we believe there should be serious and well-funded research into tidal power. However, at the same time we need parallel research into how to retain marshland and mud flats for the wildlife and plant life which depend upon them. For example, we have to find out if tidal energy is feasible and, if so, if it is also feasible to build up the levels of mud flats to ensure that bird life can be maintained. We ought to know the consequences of our actions before we embark on using tidal waves and estuaries for an alternative source of power.
§ We also need to look at our towns and cities, many of them with areas of dilapidation and dereliction. Townspeople need the freedom to move around in pleasant surroundings in the fringe areas; and it ought to be possible to protect the environment—natural and man made—in the course of development.
§ We have to learn to manage our waste properly, to use recycling wherever possible and to control much more carefully where noxious waste will be disposed and by what methods. We have to do more about cleaning up our sewers and sewage outfalls so that our lakes and rivers will be unpolluted and our seas fit to swim in, and so that our bathing beaches will be cleansed and purged of the despoliation of today.
§ I believe that the time has come to act on the principle that the polluter should pay. We should be planning much more research into the physical and biological sciences, into ozone levels and estuarial problems, into new forms of energy, marine conservation and so on—sciences which explain the natural processes of the environments. Yet organisations associated with the Natural Environment Research Council are being starved of funds and 668 the Freshwater Biological Association is facing a cutback of 30 in its staff of 100. Surely we do not want research scientists just to run a high-quality consultancy. We ought to be encouraging much more multi-disciplinary research.
§ A green environment and growth do not necessarily have to be in conflict. It is possible to have economic and housing growth while still conserving and enhancing our environment. What we must do is to recognise the interdependence of economic and ecological priorities and the need to bring environmental issues much closer to the heart of economic policy to achieve a real balance.
§ There has to be greater interplay between environmental policies and other key policy areas such as agriculture, energy, transport, housing renewal, and so on. We believe that a properly conceived public investment programme could achieve more jobs in Britain and that projects for energy conservation, the repair and renewal of water and sewage systems, improved public transport and rehabilitation of our housing stock would all bring significant environmental gains. We could also add to job creation if we were to do more in connection with tree planting, derelict land reclamation and the restoration of wildlife habitats, on the scale that was being achieved by the Greater Manchester Council before it was abolished.
§ Before concluding, I should like to pay tribute to the Minister's right honourable friend Mr. William Waldegrave, for the efforts which he has made to bring environmental policies to the fore. Many more people in this country are environmentally aware of, and take an interest in, issues such as pollution, acid rain, erosion of the ozone level, conservation and changes in land use. More and more people are learning a greater understanding of our flora and fauna. Surely now is the time in the European Year of the Environment to set aside any party differences, to get round the table all the political parties, and the voluntary and statutory organisations who are concerned about conservation and environmental decisions.
§ As the recent Bruntland Report asserts, only if governments reform their decision-making can sustainable development be achieved. Economic objectives have been built into the national systems of administration. We want to see a new understanding that "economic" also means "environmentally sound".
§ I ask: why can we not try to hammer out an agreed programme for the protection of our environment and, having agreed a basic programme that is acceptable to all political parties as well as to environmental and other groups, have that conservation and environmental protection policy honoured and funded by successive governments with periodic recall to the conference table to update the priorities? I believe that my suggestion is a practical way forward and one that would be acceptable to most of the voluntary and statutory organisations and certainly to the public at large. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Lord Craigton
My Lords, I have to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for giving us an opportunity 669 to debate this important subject. I have happy memories of the time when she was a Front Bench spokesman for the Department of the Environment. In my speech I hope to give a background to her emphasis on the importance of the environment.
In 1983, the United Nations formed the World Commission on Environment and Development to report on the problems of protecting and enhancing the environment. That is the Bruntland Report to which the noble Baroness has referred. It was published last month and consists of 383 pages convering virtually the whole globe and all its conservation problems. It was produced in the European Year of the Environment. It is the latest of many such reports. There is a surfeit of such reports and we must ask ourselves how serious is the situation.
There are two increasingly dangerous problems, both of which are of mankind's own making and of recent origin. First, there is the growing shortage of living space. Already the world population of 2½ billion people in 1950 has nearly doubled, and will double again in the early years of the next century. Many life forms as we know them now will not survive.
Secondly, for little over 100 years man has been feeding back into the atmosphere the fossil fuels that have accumulated over the past 500 million years, and in the past 50 years we have added the waste products of the chemical era. The records show that carbon dioxide levels in today's atmosphere have increased by 27 per cent. since the mid-19th century. Carbon dioxide holds heat close to the earth and has the potential for melting the polar icecaps and raising the levels of the oceans. Now that methane and chloro-fluoro carbons have been added, it means that we are not just polluting the atmosphere but that we are tampering with our basic weather-making components. We do not know the outcome. The risks are a warmer, flooded earth or a world seared by the sun.
In the meantime, those extractions and additions are causing the pollution and destruction of many life forms with which we have evolved. In Britain since the turn of the century there has been some public awareness of the damage that is being done and the dangers that lie ahead. The RSPB was started in 1889; the National Trust in 1895; Flora and Fauna Preservation in 1903; the CPRE in 1926; the BTCV (British Trust for Conservation Volunteers) and Youth Education in Conservation in 1959; and the World Wildlife Fund in 1961. Those are all voluntary bodies.
The first world gathering of governments was the Stockholm Conference in 1972. At last fears were being turned into world action. That was the year that the All-Party Conservation Group of both Houses of Parliament was formed. In those early years—only 16 years ago—the group was worried about badgers, seals, whales, mining in national parks, how little use was being made of SSSIs and the iniquity of transferring nature conservancy to the Department of the Environment. Today the impetus has changed from protecting endangered species to protecting their habitats, which includes our own.
As the noble Baroness has said, the problems and dangers are so great that governments are forced to take responsibility for their solution or diminution. In 670 this they must have the support of the few—some of whom are in this Chamber today—but whose numbers are increasing, who know and care about those problems and dangers. As that growing minority of people who are actively aware of the dangers come from all walks of life and hold varying shades of opinion and belief, I can see no merit, as the noble Baroness has said, in turning any particular danger into a party political problem. If one does that, it alienates a large number of potential supporters and encourages those who have points of view other than conservation to jump on the bandwaggon, as it were.
One basic fact is that critics, both constructive and destructive, must have a much better chance of success with their governments if they are fully and correctly informed. It is at this point that an all-party group such as ours comes into its own. The group seeks to give Members of both Houses an opportunity to hear and question the men and women who are personally answerable for an activity or policy. Thus are so many misunderstandings clarified and answered. Common sense imposes limitations on the choice of subjects for discussion. If the Member or the Government are to do something about the problem there must be some degree of ministerial responsibility. In that case, should the Minister or his responsible official take part and if there is some difference of opinion should someone of weight attend to give the opposite view?
All that must happen before the Government have made up their mind to act. Once a Bill or order is tabled the discussions, which one hopes are better informed, fall within party debate. The all-party group is there to provide the correct information and not to influence Members, who will make their own decisions on how to act. The group meetings are attended by Members who have a special interest in the subject under discussion. The debates are circulated among some 160 Members of both Houses and that ensures that those who are interested but were not able to attend the meeting are nevertheless kept fully informed. The subjects have changed over the years but the need to keep Members of Parliament fully and correctly informed remains the same.
I should like to think that our group has helped to keep conservation out of party politics, but the credit is due to the Ministers and the ministry, especially the Department of the Environment whose publications and many meetings that have been so willingly arranged have disclosed the facts, thoughts and conclusions behind the evidence on which decisions will be based.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, I welcome the Motion that has been put down by the noble Baroness and I thank her for giving us an opportunity to speak on 'a subject on which I have both spoken and written for well over 20 years. However, I wish to make one reservation in that welcome.
When the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, asks why it cannot be the case that all-party support is given to the environmental decisions that must be made for the survival of mankind, I can give her the answer, which is very straightforward. Since election fever has hit the country, we have already seen the Government make 671 one abject withdrawal on the question of burying nuclear: waste. That was clearly designed solely for electoral purposes.
But the important issue is what reason the Government gave for changing their mind—changing their mind against what their scientific advisers had advised them to do—about burying nuclear waste in shallow trenches. The reason given was that they had now discovered that the cost of burying in deep trenches was no more than that for burying in shallow trenches. In other words, it was the cost factor which dominated the decision according to the Government. This Government measure everything by the cost factor. That is the reason why it is fantasy, and indeed dangerous fantasy, which may well dilute the conservationists' case simply to try to smooth over the differences of philosophy between the parties.
I want to concentrate on one issue, which the noble Lord who preceded me raised briefly during his speech, and that is the question of the ozone layer, because this again is an illustration of the central point that I want to make. Presumably everybody knows now that the layer of ozone which covers this planet absorbs the sun's ultra-violet radiation and if it is removed or weakened then, on the best prescription we get an increase in skin cancers, while on the worst, if it is really removed, the human race is extinguished through burning.
As the noble Lord mentioned, the emission of chloro-fluoro carbons (CFCs as they are commonly known) has in the opinion of many scientists already begun to damage that ozone layer through the use of aerosols, the use of fridges, fast food production, plastic foam and other commodities of that kind; and the CFCs, we are told by the scientists, once emitted can last for 75 to 100 years. So we are talking about the future of humanity as well as the present.
Already there have been seen through satellites seasonal holes in that ozone layer over the Antarctic—interestingly enough, missed by the computers. But what are the Government doing, what is this country doing, in the face of this grave menace to the human race? Though I could not contact the Minister who is to reply, I have contacted her staff so I hope that she will be able to give me some specific reply to this issue and the Government's stand upon it.
In 1985, we had the Vienna Convention with 30 countries approving a vague set of measures. What measures were they? The United States, Canada and Scandinavia have already banned aerosols. What have our Government done? As recently as December 1986, the United States proposed a freeze on the production of CFCs and a 50 per cent. reduction within 10 to 15 years. They were supported by the Canadians, the Scandinavians and the Soviet Union—not by the British Government.
Only two weeks ago in Geneva it was hoped that a treaty would be ready by September, but next week, on 21st May, the EC Environmental Committee meets. Our Government have a veto, every government has a veto, on that decision. What will the Government do at that meeting in Brussels next week? The record of this Government has been to oppose the cuts that have been suggested by other countries in the production of 672 CFCs. Why? It is because of the cost that would be involved, because ICI is British and believes that American Dupont is in advance of British companies in the research for replacements for CFCs.
I pay tribute, as has already been paid, to William Waldegrave for the partial U-turn that he led in March in suggesting a 20 per cent. cut in six years. I wonder how long William Waldegrave will last in this Government. But that was the suggestion in March. We do not have time to wait for this bickering, for this guesswork. Between 1978 and 1986, that ozone cover was decreased by 4 per cent. and today, if four out of five of the industrial countries were to freeze their production of CFCs, the ozone layer would be reduced by 16 per cent. by the year 2060. Can we afford this kind of risk?
I know that we are talking, and I am talking, of scientific uncertainties, but the human race cannot afford to wait for proven certainties. If this issue is to be judged, as it apparently has been in the past by this Government, on the test of profit and loss, then the probability is that the verdict on the human species will be that it made 100 per cent. profit but that in doing so it incinerated itself into extinction.
§ 5.36 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, I also should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, on her choice of subject and also on the splendid speech with which she introduced this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, indicated, questions of the environment are of very great gravity indeed and they call for an all-party approach.
There are encouraging signs. I am reminded of this every morning, especially on a lovely day like this when I look out from the house where I live in Salford down below to the environmental improvement scheme of the Croall-Irwell valley. This was a threefold partnership scheme between the Department of the Environment, the lamented GMC, which played a predominant role, and also the four local authorities through which the River Irwell and the River Croall pass.
Clean air and new technology are giving marvellous possibilities for cleaning up the environment and protecting the countryside in new ways. However, I believe that we should appreciate that pressures on the environment come both from the rich and from the poor. The pressures are very great indeed—pressures to create wealth, pressures of those already possessing wealth to enjoy it in the way in which they would wish and particularly pressures from the poor. I expect we are thinking particularly in this debate of the countryside in our own country, and yet already I am glad to see that an international note has crept in, because all of us realise that we are concerned with the management of a very small planet and that these environmental issues run into each other all the time.
Pressures on the environment by the poor come in many parts of the world and they are contributed to in various ways by those in wealthier countries. You think, for example, of landless people of Brazil being ordered by their government to clear forests in order to secure more areas for cultivation for schemes which are sometimes supported by money from western 673 countries, or for cash crops which are damaging the environment. Or you can think of the search for wood as the only source of energy for cooking in many parts of Africa, which is causing devastating results.
To succeed, environmental policies surely have to have at home and abroad a great weight of public opinion behind them and that is the point to which I should like to address myself in these few moments. It is very difficult to get public opinion fully behind environmental causes, whether here in Britain or overseas. In this connection, the traditions that we have had from the past and the outlook that we have on theworld in which we live and on our environment around us are of great importance. Religious traditions have a value here. I am bound to confess that the Judeo-Christian tradition has been under very severe criticism in the past from environmentalists.
I shall read a few words from The Environmental Revolution by Max Nicholson in which he goes for the churches with no holes barred. He writes:The adherents of the church have, with few exceptions, persisted in behaving as rampant Old Testament tribes, now terrifyingly endowed with modern technological knowledge and equipment, and making mischief for the world on a corresponding scale … In South America, giant crucifixes stand proudly on summits overlooking deforested hillsides and dried up stream beds. In Spain, Italy and in many other lands, the extent of erosion and of wanton destruction of wild life is closely co-related with the proportion of regular churchgoers".I read those words in penitence. However, things are changing in the churches, as elsewhere. For example, the World Council of Churches has promoted a major study under the heading Faith, Science and the Future, which culminated in a conference in Boston in 1979. Some of the conclusions of that conference were very important for the subject with which we are concerned. The churches were called on to:foster the exploration of less consumptive and wasteful styles of life, and promote programmes which restrain governments and private enterprises from depleting non-renewable resources".The conference delegates backed the idea of "world commons", namely things held in common such as the oceans, the Antarctic, the atmosphere and space, and called on the scientific and technological communities to:abide by and implement the principles of justice, sustainability and participation in dealing with each other".They called on the churches to do what they could to:promote education and awareness of the nature and injustices of environmental damage".Therefore, I believe that things are changing. We are all very familiar with the concept of loving our neighbour, but the concept which is now being promoted is that our neighbour includes future generations. That is very hard to get across when people are faced with the short-term commercial pressures which are experienced in every country. They are much more excusable in countries where people are very poor and desperate to live.
If policies to protect the countryside and the environment are to succeed nationally and internationally, we must act as though the earth's resources are for all and share them much more equally than we have ever done in the past.
I was very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, refer to the dangers of overpopulation. He 674 was absolutely right to do so as it is one of the gravest pressures of all on the environment on a world scale. However, people often forget that efforts to deal with overpopulation must go along with development. A simple illustration of that may make my point. I remember that when I was in Kenya two posters were produced. One showed a man and his wife, who was very badly dressed, sitting on packing cases outside a dilapidated hut with a crowd of children. The other showed a nice neat hut with a man his beautifully dressed wife and two children sitting outside. The latter poster was to promote the idea of family limitation and birth control.
They had to withdraw the poster because too many people were going around saying: "Look at that poor man. He has only got two children". It is clear that unless one gets away from the idea that security lies in the number of children that people have, it is very difficult to promote the concept of reducing population and reducing pressures on the environment.
Let us not be naive and suppose that in our country we can meet pressures on the environment without very difficult political questions being raised. I am thinking particularly of the planning applications for huge super shopping "cities" which are being submitted at the moment in a number of areas. They could gravely damage our environment, although I have no time to develop that theme.
I conclude that care of the environment must have a very high priority, but changing attitudes is absolutely crucial. Attitudes can only be changed by promoting concepts of the fairer sharing of resources both at home and abroad.
§ 5.44 p.m.
My Lords, I do not know whether it lies with me formally to thank the noble Baroness for giving us an opportunity to discuss this subject. She already knows how grateful I am personally.
In the few minutes at my disposal I thought it best to narrow the focus from the broad range of topics that have been raised so far and speak for a few moments about our national parks. I declare an interest, having had the delectable experience for the past six years of being president of the Council for National Parks.
Last year marked the launch by the Countryside Commission of a three-year campaign to increase public awareness of our 10 national parks. Here I follow the right reverend Prelate in stressing the importance of that. Public interest is there already. Last year, nearly 100 million people visited our 10 national parks, but relatively few people know much about them. A Countryside Commission survey conducted recently found that under half of those questioned could name more than two of our national parks, which must perhaps partly account for the overcrowding which occurs in Snowdonia, in the Lake District and in the Peak Park during the year.
The year 1986 also marked 50 years since a Standing Committee on national parks launched a movement to establish parks in England and Wales which culminated, a quarter of a century later, in the designation of the first of our national parks. Our national parks embrace under 10 per cent. of the land 675 surface of England and Wales, but they represent a great deal more than that in terms of values which bear on the quality of life, especially for city dwellers. The parks, as I see it, are standard setters for the countryside in general. They help to create public concern for the rural scene as a whole.
We do well to remember that, unlike national parks in many other countries, our national parks are areas where a quarter of a million people live and very many work—principally of course on the land. Our parks contain few of what might be properly called wilderness areas. Indeed, most of their traditional landscapes are manmade. They continue to depend on human skills and human labour to preserve and develop in ways that are sensitive to landscape and wildlife. One essential condition for the future of the parks is the continuing commitment and co-operation of local communities in maintaining a national asset for the public at large.
Over the past 20 years or so, one of the problems has been the conflict in the needs of agriculture—encouraged by MAFF grants and aided by modern technology and chemistry—in contrast to those of the national parks, where now attitudes are changing under the painful necessity to cut back on food production. There is now a new prospect of working together in a common interest of land management in the parks.
There is a great deal more I should like to say if time permitted. However, I shall limit myself to a few of the things which need to be done to defend the purposes of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. I am presenting them as statements or matters of opinion, but I should be grateful if the Minister could find time to comment on one or two at least of them when she replies.
First, there is a strong case for elevating the status of the committees, which are entirely accountable to county councils, to that of the boards which operate in the Lake District and in the Peak Park. All national park authorities should also have statutory authority for their own development plans in the context of the Government's new proposals for development planning.
Secondly, the national park authorities need greater financial resources, and that notwithstanding a most welcome increase which has been made for the national park supplementary grant in the current year. There is a strong case for grant-aiding all national parks at the same 90 per cent. level as Exmoor receives for making management agreements, instead of the 75 per cent. which all other parks receive at present.
Thirdly, I wish to stress that the Government are to be commended on their insistence on the voluntary principle in regard to their policies in the parks. However, in one respect, powers of last resort are needed to prevent damaging developments which a very small minority of farmers can and have carried out, despite the withholding of MAFF grants. Landscape conservation orders, which my noble friend has mentioned, have now been proposed by the Government. However, they will be needed over the whole designated areas of the parks and not simply in key areas within them.
676 Fourthly, broadleaved farm woodland schemes, which the Government propose to encourage in their consultative document, ALURE, are welcomed; the planting of more conifer forests as alternatives for the cutback in food production are not. All forestry should be brought within the ambit of planning control in the national parks. We cannot afford more disfigurement of the uplands by blanket conifer plantations as has happened over the years in the Lake district, in the Brecon Beacons, in Northumberland and in Snowdonia.
Last but perhaps most important of all, we need an example from government. Changing attitudes on the ground should surely be matched by a policy at the centre which upgrades the value and importance of the countryside to that of food and industrial production. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will be able to confirm that it can be said on impeccable authority that man shall not live by bread alone.
We need a strategy by government which integrates all relevant interests in the uses of rural land. That is the policy of the parties represented on these Benches and it would hopefully be the strategy which we would pursue. The national parks have fully proved their worth since they were dreamt of some 50 years ago. They exert their influence upon and they are influenced by policies which bear on the countryside in general. With greater leisure, affluence and mobility the need for and the role of the parks in the next 50 years cannot fail to assume greater importance to the quality of life in Britain. For the sake of posterity, we must make that asset secure for future generations.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity of saying a word in the debate and of thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for the opportunity of debating this attractive subject. I join her in her generous tribute to William Waldegrave for his work, especially in the Council of Ministers in Brussels.
A related subject to that of national parks, on which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt spoke with such authority after his splendid service, is the preservation of green belts in this country. That is a good test of government soundness on conservation of the environment because it affects most town dwellers. All governments want more houses built and some past governments have fallen for the temptation of taking a slice of green belt land for quick and attractive development of new houses.
This Government's record is good. Not only have they significantly extended the green belts in various parts of the country but they have also resisted the tempting proposal of a powerful consortium of builders to take 750 acres of farmland in Kent and build on it a new community of 5,000 houses at Tillingham Hall. The Government rejected that scheme on the ground, first, that it breached the green belt and, secondly, that there was enough land with planning consent within the boroughs of Greater London.
Consent would have created a precedent, opening a flood of similar applications which would soon have obliterated the green belt not only around London but 677 around other cities and would have deprived Londoners and other city dwellers of what are literally the lungs of their cities. The financial incentive to crack the boundaries of green belts is so huge—a factor of at least 10 times—that the developers' continuous attack, using every ingenuity, is ever pursued. Only the vigilance of government and of local authorities safeguards them.
Conversely, the Government have given a splendid lead in developing alternative unused urban land with the massive redevelopment of the eight square miles of London's derelict docklands. That area was evidently beyond the capacity of the London boroughs to revive it; it has now been transformed by the Government's urban development corporation into a hive of new building and activity with some 10,000 houses already built or being built and 8,000 new jobs, with the prospect of four times that number in the next four years. It has been financed mainly by private money, in that for every £1 of Government money there are £6 of private money. That has been a spectacular success and shows what can be done in the area of urban renewal. It was interesting to hear, before this debate started, the Minister moving that further urban development corporations should be set up so that some six corporations will cover the country. The Government get full marks from me for conserving the green belts, and that of London in particular, while they have, at the same time, renewed housing stocks.
I turn briefly to my old friends in the water industry. The Government have achieved some good things in that area. Despite the ambivalent attitude of the Government to their legitimate child—the 1973 Act—they tend to treat the water industry rather like a father in ancient Rome who had the power of life and death over his children—with death too often uppermost in his mind! Fortunately, a period of reprieve now obtains.
In the meantime, great credit should be given to the regional water authorities for the clean-up of estuaries and coastal waters. They inherited a shocking condition from local authorities 13 years ago; all sewage outfalls from towns and cities round our coasts were no more than pipes discharging raw sewage on the tidal edge of the beaches. In the past five years, all regional water authorities have given top priority to curing the pollution by constructing long sea outfalls or new treatment works. They have devoted some hundreds of millions of pounds to that important expenditure. Now we have a report that two-thirds of all our beaches conform with the EC standard and that the remainder will soon follow. Even the murky old Mersey will eventually be cleaned to the standard of the Thames and the Tyne.
A similar story of progress in cleaning up our rivers is also going forward. However, I say with all seriousness to my noble friend that the Government must restrain their zeal for financial stringency which limits the strength of monitoring. They will never keep rivers clean without sufficient monitoring. That is essential for maintaining river quality standards. To the Government goes the credit for unified water management, which they or their predecessors brought about in 1973 and which has made progress possible. I hope that my noble friend will take on 678 board the message that whatever is done in the future, that will never be changed.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Lord Gibson
My Lords, I have listened with the greatest interest to the speeches made in your Lordships' House this afternoon. Some have referred to the environment on a global scale. However, I should like to return in the few minutes that are permitted to me in a short debate to the way in which agricultural and planning policies affect our countryside. I am very glad that this debate is taking place before the end of this Parliament. I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for introducing the debate.
There was anxiety earlier this year when the Government indicated some relaxation of planning control. I think that that was largely unjustified anxiety. All we were being told was that, except in land of the highest quality, agricultural production should cease to be the paramount factor in deciding planning applications. Protected areas were to be protected as before. I hardly think that that is equivalent to treating special areas as land museums, as has been claimed, while letting all other land take its chance. To my mind, it is simply a recognition that economic pressures are already changing the countryside and that if we are to combine protection with furtherance of national economic and social interests, some changes in planning assumptions are necessary.
So far as agriculture is concerned, as has often been said, it is the victim of its own success. There is now an abundance of food and unless European taxpayers are prepared to underwrite the export of food at uneconomic cost to the hungry parts of the world, which in any case is not a long-term solution, agriculture must adapt to the new situation and the countryside will change accordingly—but not I think necessarily for the worse. The ideas now being canvassed—such as a return in some places to low input/low output farming, the Minister's scheme for fallowing, suggestions for, in effect, paying farmers to manage the countryside in places where farming without subsidy would be uneconomic, the farm woodlands scheme, and the various diversifications of the rural economy that have been suggested—all these ideas, whether practical or not, (and I expect some of them are not) are not ideas which would harm the countryside. They may even do more for the beauty of the countryside than an ever-more productive agriculture would be likely to do.
On the other hand, there are economic pressures which do threaten it. Here the problem is how to ensure that planning controls effectively minimise the damage, and how to reconcile our love of the countryside with the need for some changes in land use. I yield to no one in my love of our countryside. I think I care about it almost more than anything else. I have spent much of my lifetime trying to protect and preserve it, having been the chairman of the National Trust for nine years and closely involved with it for nearly 25 years.
Moreover, I am now chairing the Royal Society of Arts Environment Committee, so I think that I can lay some claim to being an environmentalist at heart. I am 679 totally behind the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, in urging the importance of environmental protection and a reconsideration of the present administrative set-up within government to achieve it.
The fact is that if we cannot generate the resources to afford to maintain the countryside it will, in any case, disappear as we know it. We must therefore have regard to economics; and moreover people's livelihoods are at stake, and with them the stability of society
To illustrate what I mean I should like to talk for a moment about the South-East of England, where I live. Although I should hate to see the view changed—whether from my garden or anyone else's—we have to consider what is our paramount national interest. One element in the matter is to do everything we can to reduce unemployment. So far as concerns planning land use, this means recognising that the south-east quarter of England is where most of the unfilled vacancies are. If we build the Channel Tunnel, this will increasingly be the case.
From the national point of view, therefore, it does not make sense to maintain present restrictive policies in an area of England which can help relieve unemployment. Everyone knows that people seeking work often find it in the South-East and then find that they cannot afford to buy or rent a house there. My belief is that a future government ought to insist that the South-East does rather more to help the country as a whole by accommodating more low-cost housing than it is doing now.
What planning procedures will best ensure that encouraging economic growth, and jobs where they are most likely to be available, does the minimum damage to the countryside? Can we find a way to prevent development from ruining it? I believe that we can. As the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, pointed out in your Lordships' House last February, we do not want housing estates tagged on to our existing villages.
What we shall need are new villages, not in green belts—I hasten to support the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, on that matter—but there are places where new villages can be sited without doing any harm. As architects are now more responsive to traditional values and popular taste, why should these villages not be attractive? Why should we not add to their attraction by planting trees, as has been done in Milton Keynes—not little trees, but big trees which will grow in a way that will give scale and dignity to their surroundings.
However, these are points of detail, and although details are critical to the appearance of the countryside, before we can get those details right what we surely need is a strategic plan, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for land use over the whole country, drawn up in the light of the changing situation.
I am not clear what strategic planning the Government contemplate. I know that they propose to replace the county structure plans and local plans with a single system of district plans, but districts will need to operate within an overall plan. Perhaps the Minister will expand that point, for the nature of the broad 680 framework within which districts would work is crucial.
If the next government set up the machinery for deciding at national level the broad lines on which public resources are to be allocated between different forms of land use—for example, industry, farming, housing, conservation, forestry and all new kinds of activity within the rural economy—then district authorities can be left to make planning decisions within that framework.
What we shall still need—and this is my last point—is a sufficient number of planning officers with the training to do the job really well. The planners have saved us from many visual atrocities, but we can all give examples of planning absurdities which have sometimes been due quite simply to a lack of proper education in visual matters. I believe we could do infinitely more by careful training to produce a larger body of planning officers with a sensitivity which is now sometimes missing.
When local government was reorganised in 1974 the number of planning authorities was greatly increased without a corresponding increase in well-trained planners and there was a constant dilution during the ’seventies in the quality of planning officials. If the inevitable changes in our countryside are to be managed without detriment to its beauty we need a strategic plan for land use and more well-trained people to implement it on the ground.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ The Earl of Swinton
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for instigating this debate. I am delighted that it is not one of the victims of one of the Government's cuts and that we still have it. I should like to follow up what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, and welcome the Government's initiative on the alternative uses of farm buildings and farmland. I was delighted particularly about the alternative uses for farm buildings. Last week I went to see a snail farm in our local area which has taken over a derelict farm building, and is actually exporting snails for consumption in France, which I thought was rather good news.
I echo the noble Lord when he said that there was unjustified criticism concerning the restriction on planning controls. However, I go further and say that there was a lot of nonsense talked about it, particularly in the local press where there were headlines to the effect that farmland was to be covered with rashes of new housing, and that farmers would go mad and sell every acre for building. I also echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said, but I feel very strongly, as the noble Baroness said, that farmers and landlords in this country are the front line guardians in the battle for conservation. Many of them have lived for generations on the land and the one thing they want to enjoy is an attractive countryside. Of course there are exceptions but I do not believe they are the rule.
I have mixed feelings about planners. We live in a lovely part of the world. I am lucky enough to live on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. We have many visitors now, especially since Mr. Herriot made his money from writing his "vets" books. The most attractive and popular place on my estate is known as 681 Druids Circle, which is wonderful. It is on the edge of the moor. It is perfect in every way. There is even a stow with a channel down which the Virgin's blood was supposed to run. It may strike you that there is nothing very strange about this. However, visitors come and say it is better than Stonehenge—so it ought to be; it was built only 150 years ago! It was built by the then owner of the estate at a time of high unemployment. He could indulge his fantasy in Victorian folly and also produce some wages for the locals at a time of high unemployment.
I was thinking about this matter the other day and I thought that if I had wanted to do that sort of thing I would never have got planning permission. To put forward a folly in this day and age would be a folly.
I am not suggesting for a moment that planners should be abolished, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, that some of them could reconsider their ideas. In case I am being too complacent and too kind to the Government, I should like to put out a marker for the next government—I am quite sure that a member of that government will be the noble Baroness who is sitting on the Front Bench and will be answering this debate—on the question of the common land forum and any future legislation on the lines suggested. I know that this was a unanimous decision by those in the common land forum. Unfortunately, there was a North-South divide. Those who gave evidence and the members of the forum could not spot the difference between common land, especially in the South of England, and the large heather commons of the North, which are a very different proposition.
I hope that any government will consider seriously the evidence recently put forward by the moorland association, which has gone into some detail about the heather commons of the North of England and produced a cogent and well informed report. I hope that whatever government look at it will take advice about the matter. In case your Lordships suspect that I should declare an interest, perhaps I should say that none of my moorland is common land, so I do not gain anything from what I say.
A short debate like this is not the right time for me to go into the arguments. There are good arguments. The report has been submitted to the department; it makes interesting reading and I hope that it will be well considered—I rather enjoyed it.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness not only for a vigorous survey of the problems of the European Year of the Environment—I sit on the United Kingdom committee—but for the wording of the Motion, because it enables me to deal with a specific case for special measures. That is the subject of afforestation in the far North; that is, the wild wilderness in Sutherland and Caithness known as the flow country. Before anyone thinks that I am against forestry or afforestation, let me say that I regard this particular case as a specific political, social and environmental problem. I am entirely in favour of forestry and indulge in it myself.
682 The blanketing of this area with coniferous plantations is doing irreversible damage to a unique and delicately evolved wild habitat. It will eliminate many fascinating natural species, especially birds and plants. Once it has gone, it will probably never recover, even in centuries.
I believe that it is immoral to eliminate and perhaps even exterminate highly specialised species of birds and plants, unless it is absolutely essential for mankind's economic survival. Even then it may still be immoral, but in that case it would proably be inevitable; in this case—the flow country—it is not even necessary.
The Government have initiated new forestry policies, and prospects for the forestry industry are bright. Henceforth large areas of the country will be available for forestry. There is no excuse therefore for eliminating a unique wilderness. It is like saying that agriculture is threatened because we do not plough up medieval mounds, forts and barrows or stands of ancient oaks. People have gone to prison or been fined for that, yet in the case of the flows there is not only no discouragement but the Government are compounding the crime and encouraging it by subsidies and even more by substantial tax benefits for only a very few shareholders.
The public interest has simply been ignored. It has been ignored because a sort of gold rush has been discovered, a way of making a quick killing, which is not even consistent with sound forestry practice. I say this having been a business man all my life. In this instance there is a clear case for making a quick killing.
The reasons why this valuable ecological heritage is being destroyed are simple. First, the land is cheap for the forestry industry to buy. Secondly, it is available, because if an owner needs the cash he may find there is only one potential purchaser, a forestry company. Thirdly, the shareholders of the forestry companies gain substantial tax concessions. Forestry schemes are put to clients in the City simply as tax effective investments with no concern for the local issues. In many cases the shareholders do not even know where their land or plantation is.
I do not blame the people involved. As my noble friend Lord Onslow so frequently says, if the Government provide a nice trough, we are all tempted to put our snouts in it. Therefore, I do not blame the people involved. The Government have to intervene in the public interest and for future generations.
If an owner has to sell, nobody will benefit from forestry in this area other than the vendor of the land and the few shareholders of the forestry company—the local inhabitants least of all. How can it possibly be to the advantage of the next generation of locals and their successors to have the area sterilised by blanket forestry? If a few hands during draining, ploughing and planting are employed today, there will be nothing for their children and their grandchildren to do. The area will be no more than a dark green desert.
The cycle here should be recognised. Some hands are employed now but then there will be a 30-year blank period, after which some people will be brought back, probably from outside; that will be followed by another 30 years of blight. That cannot be in the interests of the local communities.
683 The traditional pursuits of tourism, open air life and sport provide stable and consistent employment. Leisure is the in-thing in the City. Tourism is high on the Government's agenda. The future prosperity of the flow country and its people is bright if the prospects and the natural resources are not extinguished now. In leisure and amenity terms, with the associated employment opportunities, one can even argue that the long-term consequences of blanket forestry in this wilderness will have longer term negative results than Chernobyl.
There are, I believe, some 5,000 people employed in forestry in the UK, but there are hundreds of thousands—perhaps in due course millions—with a mounting interest in birds, botany and this type of wild wilderness. That means in Sutherland and Caithness that if the resources are preserved the visitors and tourists would have to be housed; they would need bed-and-breakfast and hotels. They would need gillies, wardens, stalkers, guides, petrol services, garages, shopping centres and so on. None of these rewarding and attractive occupations will exist once the coniferous forest has blanketed the moorland. Nobody will drive hundreds of miles to see row upon row of furrows and lines of conifers. The future of employment in the flow country should be as bright as it is in the Norfolk Broads, where the Government have taken such keen interest, if it is given equal priority.
I therefore ask my noble friend the Minister to take into account the serious problem which concerns not simply wildlife and the environment; it is a social community problem in the far North of Scotland. Government measures take time and maybe no instant action is likely. Since the situation is critical and the deprivation is proceeding, perhaps my noble friend can express concern about it and consider reviewing the question of subsidies in that area, especially tax concessions. I myself like tax concessions, if I can find them. However, these are unjustified because they are against the public interest and the local interest.
The Government have shown commendable concern in the Norfolk Broads. The wild country of Sutherland and Caithness is just as important for the recreation and employment of future generations. The area needs comparable protection now.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Lord Henniker
My Lords, I want to join the chorus of thanks to my noble friend Lady Stedman for introducing this important subject and doing it so very well. She soared like a lakeland buzzard over the whole scene. I shall approach it from another angle, a more earthbound position of the toad beneath the harrow.
For the last 10 or 12 years—and I should declare an interest because I have been involved in all matters connected with the environment in my area—we have tried to conduct what a visitor called a controlled experiment in seeing how we can improve the environment, open it to the public and prevent the countryside in a very rural area of Suffolk becoming a museum, with little employment and a small amount of housing.
684 I have followed all the speeches and concur with nearly all of them. From my worm's eye view, on a small scale, I think that I can say something optimistic. What we have done at home is totally unimportant. But we have been trying to show farmers and landowners that what we have done can be achieved without threat, without ruining the countryside and without any really serious problem.
When we started 10 years ago we had a lot of obsolete farm buildings and we converted them. We now have 14 separate industries working in them, some trading abroad. I hate saying that we have created jobs because people get jobs if they want them, but we have provided a foothold for about 40 jobs. We have also opened a place for helping handicapped people to start their own industries.
We have heard things said about planners. All I can say is that the planners considered me to be a zany diplomat when I returned, but they let me perform one job that I wished to do. They were pleased and since then we have become total allies. They are ahead of me most of the time and it is an extremely satisfactory partnership.
If we are going to do this, we must have housing for rent. This is one of our big problems. Suffolk is becoming a commuter county. I am all for the sale of council houses. I think it has done good. But we have now to get on to providing houses for young and old people. The young are starting their work; the old are finishing and wish to stay in their villages. We are very much homebound in Suffolk. We have to provide houses. I have managed to provide five out of my converted farm buildings. We have also made, with the assistance of the National Agricultural Centre Housing Association, a small scheme in the village. I am chairman of the Suffolk Rural Housing Association. We are trying to go ahead with what villages want; that is, small housing schemes. We have no wish to be ripped apart by large developments.
It is very sad, in a way, that we go so slowly. We started about three years ago. We are getting our first bricks on the ground this year. The Housing Corporation that will fund us spends 87 per cent. but, of course, its priority consideration is the inner cities and we recognise that. However, it spends less than 1 per cent. of what it receives on small villages and the need is getting urgent. Our houses now cost up to four times what they cost about two years ago and the people there cannot possibly buy them.
Another matter that worries me is that as we try to provide work, the infrastructure shrinks. For example, just as we got going the doors of the post office clanged shut. The number of children in the village having risen in six years from three to 49, we were treated to an argument that the local school must be closed on the grounds of a demographic trend which we thought we had bucked. We are also trying to develop access to bridle paths and to create walks in woods and in areas around ponds, providing recreation for our locals and also for London children. We have a big camp to which children from less happy homes come in the summer and throughout the year. We have reached a figure of 20,000 people a year and can prove to our peers that there is no threat. We are very vulnerable. We sit in the middle. The context is that we have no 685 particular house to show and no particular site to display, but we have beautiful countryside. Unfortunately, we have no large capital sums that we can spend. We have shown our farming colleagues what can be done without threat. We turned our cow house into a school for environmental studies, and last year we had 6,000 children visitors.
My experience is that militant people on both sides create most of the trouble between conservationists and countrymen. Most people do not understand, and one has to help any educational project. We urge the Government to adopt this approach, perhaps by exchange rural and urban studies between urban and rural schools. We find that even with country children—we had 75 in on Saturday from Bury St. Edmunds—some have never been in a green field in their lives. The problem, of course, is finance. One needs to be very experienced or very clever to find where one can get money. We have been greatly helped by the Countryside Commission which has provided a warden. My wife and I did all the work at the start with the local council. I am glad to see that the development commission—Cosira—has more resources now and it has also been of great help.
The MSC has been absolutely invaluable in country districts, particuarly in connection with the community programme. We hear that the programme is going to be cut., and the enormous problem is trying to get labour to do the things that need to be done. Rural people have at their fingertips, when they start, all the things which the MSC has to do; for example the ability to dig, saw, cut ditches and so on. I hope that instead of unemployment schemes there can be provided subsidised jobs in a rural craft, such as forestry. I am sorry that I have exceeded my time and I apologise.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Lord Gibson-Watt
My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, is happy with the result of the debate which she initiated. I have been very interested in all the contributions which have been made. It is a pity that the television cameras are not here today when we are discussing a matter of far greater importance than some of the issues upon which we normally spend much of our time.
Conservation takes many forms, both in creating and preserving what is fine and beautiful and in improving the environment. I take, for example, old buildings. For some years I was a member of the Historic Buildings Council in Wales. We inspected castles, great houses, cottages, churches and even dovecots. Of course, we gave grants to deserving cases where we could afford it. As a result, part of our heritage is the richer today. This is going on in England and in Scotland, too.
In the sphere of archaeology, for example, last month the Offa's Dyke Society, of which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was once a notable president, and of which I myself have the honour to be president at the moment, heard a lecture on the action being taken to maintain and preserve Offa's Dyke. As its current president I should like publicly to thank English Heritage for the work it has done in renewing and improving the Dyke at Sedbury. The present use of the Dyke and the care taken of it by the society and by 686 others again adds to our heritage. However, like other remains, if it is not repaired it can be damaged.
As regards nature conservancy, in the past few years care by the RSPB has safeguarded the existence of many bird species. I remember inquiring in 1972 from Mr. Lovegrove, the head of the RSPB in Wales, how many peregrines there were and he told me there were six pairs. Today the position is very different because there are now a great number of hawks around. For people in some areas there are perhaps rather too many—and for some small birds! Indeed, the picture has changed greatly. I only wish that other countries, like Italy, would stop this needless slaying of uccellini and the netting and shooting which goes on. In time, education may teach them.
It is reported that the RSPB has lately had a report from an expert committee on the "edge effect"—the effect of forestry on bird populations at the edge of plantations. Press reports say that the report casts great doubt on the RSPB's former understanding of this matter, and it would be as well if the report were to be published by it. If its former understanding of that point were found to be inaccurate, the RSPB would gain great kudos from admitting that its views had changed. We should base all these value judgments on the evidence of expert and scientific research.
Let us take acidification, which has been mentioned. It is a huge problem. The latest research, which I and other Members of your Lordships' House were privileged to see the other day portrayed by the Welsh Water Authority, shows that the water run-off from conifer forests is more acid than the run-off from bare moorland. To alleviate the problem, the Forestry Commission has issued instructions about keeping such planting away from watercourses. Other steps have also been taken.
Timber Growers (UK), of which I am at present chairman, has also issued a code of practice to achieve the same improvements in the private sector. The real cause of acid rain, as others of your Lordships have said, is the sulphur and other muck which for years has been gushing from the timbers of industry. Very few people have criticised that. I welcome the start that the Government have made in finding money to improve that matter. However, it is a long-term problem and it is heavy industry, rather than forestry, which is the prime cause. Here again, the efforts which must be made could over a long time eventually improve our heritage.
I say on behalf of the timber growers that we have created the Minet award for the best woodland managed for commercial and conservation objectives. It is rewarded by the presentation of the Dulverton Flagon as its first prize. I do not see the noble Lord in his place, but I am sure that he is here in spirit.
Let us take the work of the national parks, which has already been referred to. Country parks, camping sites, chalets in the forests, nature trails, footpaths, bridle paths and paths in the woods for the blind all add, as other noble Lords have said, to a continual improvement in our heritage. Let us not forget the great contribution made by voluntary organisations.
Being a forester, I must also talk about the work of foresters, both state and private. Since 1919, not only have they created a viable industry that is attracting 687 investment from overseas, but over 40,000 jobs in the countryside are now found in that industry. I welcome the recent policy statement on forestry targets and farm forestry as sensible guidelines for the future, although I think that the Treasury will have to cough up a good deal more money if the target is to be reached.
Forestry has made a great contribution to our heritage, and by co-operating with the NCC and other bodies in many areas it must be admitted that advance has been made. The noble Lord, Lord Buxton, talked about the flow country. I shall not go into the details of the problem which I readily admit exists, but the action of the Secretary of State for Scotland who has said that any planting in the flow country will take place now only after discussions between the Forestry Commission and the NCC is a great step forward. That should complete what the noble Lord told us today about that area.
Finally, I wish to say a word for those who live and work in the countryside and who have cared for it for generations. I quote from the Countryside Commission for Scotland:It behoves those who seek to promote conservation policies to bear in mind all the time that, without the conviction and practical support of those who earn their living on the land and are directly responsible for it, no conservation policies are likely to succeed.".How true! Without the willing co-operation of those people, none of the improvements in the quality of our heritage can be achieved. That voluntary principle was recognised when the Wildlife and Countryside Act was debated in both Houses and became law.
We all have a part to play in conservation—to make Britain a better place. Only then can we hope to influence those other countries which lag behind.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my former colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Henniker, and my neighbour, the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, in this debate. I too would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for giving us this timely opportunity to debate the environment.
It has taken a long time for the present consensus on the importance of the environment to be reached. In 1962 when I was in Washington, I got to know Stewart Udall who was President Kennedy's Secretary of the Interior. He was then one of the few politicians who took a real interest in the environment. I remember at dinner in my house that we spent a great deal of the night trying to persuade the late Hugh Gaitskell that there was political mileage in conservation. Nowadays I think that everyone knows that there is.
The other day I received, as other noble Lords will have done, a glossy pamphlet from Shell, extolling what the oil industry has done in the field of conservation. I contrasted that with a visit that I paid to Shell with some of my colleagues in the early 1960s when Shell Chemicals' executives sought to persuade us that Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was nonsense. Well, it was not. But happily, attitudes have changed in politics and in industry.
In the 25 years since then, as we all know, immense damage has been done to our environment in Britain.
688 But, if we go about it in a common sense way, we now have a chance of reversing the trend, not only in this country but throughout Europe.
We have reached the point where there is general agreement in Europe that we cannot go on generating vast agricultural surpluses at enormous cost. All the talk now, as the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, pointed out, is of set-aside, low-input farming, alternative crops or what is known as the policy of 'conifers and caravans'.
What is important is to ensure that, now that radical changes in the pattern of agriculture are being forced upon us, environmental considerations should at last be given their full weight, and that we should no longer merely subsidise overproduction but link grants to environmental and social needs. Environmentally sensitive areas are a modest but useful start. But it is the whole countryside which needs sensitive handling, not just a few special sites.
There should be no more taking of chalk downs, wetlands, moorlands and old broadleaved woodlands to grow food which no one needs. Not only that; we must not merely halt but should reverse the process. We should put back the chalk downs to grass, re-flood some of the wetlands and plant more native, broadleaved trees. We must also take a much stronger line over agricultural pollution. Silage and slurry effluent are damaging our streams and the life in them. I hope that Her Majesty's new Inspectorate of Pollution and the water authorities will pay attention and that offenders will be prosecuted.
We need an end to the excessive use of chemicals. I was very much struck by what the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said about nitrogen in this House on 21st January. I am sorry that what seemed to me to be his sensible suggestions were dismissed by the Government.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food now has a responsibility to consider environmental aspects. Indeed, it has acknowledged that. But not everyone in that great empire has caught up. I have a high regard for ADAS and for its work in our part of Wales. But the latest ADAS Powys Digest, which we have received this month, has an article called:Sulphuric acid—the cheap silage additive".It says that the number of brands sold has increased to 17 and that the cheapest is waste acid from industry, such as battery acid, which is extremely corrosive and dangerous to handle. That type of thing puts off consumers of agricultural products just as they are put off by what they read about growth hormones and the misuse of antibiotics. There has been a sharp reduction in the consumption of red meat. At big supermarkets, like Waitrose, organically-grown vegetables are now specially labelled in response to public demand.
Agriculture is not the only culprit. There are developments that gives cause for concern. For instance, there are over 30 threatened barrages on rivers such as the Severn, the Mersey, the Taff and the Humber, which may have a devastating effect on birds and possible migrant fish. Ski developments in the Highlands, although very desirable in some places, may, if not carefully watched, affect bird life there. The case for protecting the countryside and the environment is overwhelming. However, we can only put 689 things right if we tackle the problem more vigorously and with a greater sense of urgency, first and foremost here at home, but also in Europe, and wherever we can make our influence felt in the world.
We are on the eve of a general election. I should therefore like to end by quoting a leading article which appeared in the Financial Times on 29th August last year, which was entitled "Politics of conservation". It said:If 'green' issues play a large role in the next election the Labour and Alliance parties will have to convince voters that their substantial programmes are not just vote-catching rhetoric but could and would be implemented; the Conservatives will have to explain their very late interest in the subject …On one set of issues … all parties would need to be resolutely convincing: their determination to control agriculture, conifer forestry and land drainage".That is the end of the quotation but I might add that at the end of the leading article the Financial Times pointed out that the Conservative Party had more individual members than the individual members of the other three major parties put together but that their numbers were still less than those belonging to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, I should also like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. I was driving, I think last Friday, on the Surrey-Sussex borders. I was looking at the surrounding green trees and thinking that there was absolutely nothing wrong with England; it was so mind-blowingly beautiful. I had to draw myself up short and remind myself that there were, as my noble friend Lord Buxton said, issues such as The Flows of Sutherland, the ruined Dorset Downs, and the hedges and ditches which have been removed from the finest hunting country in England.
It seems to me that the greatest threat to our environment at the moment is the problem of surpluses. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, spoke about this issue just now. By using chemical and plant-breeding methods I believe that we can double yields of corn per acre from what we have at the moment. Saudi Arabians are exporting wheat. I did not know this fact until the other day when I met someone who is in the wheat business. They exported a large tonnage of wheat. It cost them about £800 a tonne to grow. They sell it at £36 a tonne but they like to do so because it is a way of spending some of their oil money. Anyone can grow wheat now, given the right financial support and the correct tools to do so. We are in danger of churning out infinitely large amounts of feed grain which nobody knows what to do with.
I shudder to think what will happen if Mr. Gorbachev manages to turn Russia back into what it was in the days of Tsar Nicholas II: a grain exporting nation. At the moment they are the only buyers of surplus wheat on the world market. Not only are these surpluses threatening everyone's environment but they are ruining third world agriculture. As I have said, anyone can grow wheat but there must be some price that one has to be paid for it. If the Community and the United States of America are dumping wheat on the market which has a subsidy of approximately £86 a tonne we shall ruin third world agriculture. Third world agriculture can easily pull itself up by its 690 bootstraps. It does not need aid. It has only to be shown what can be done in the Punjab. The green Punjab area of India is now flourishing. In the Punjab area of Pakistan they are still being incompetent and are not growing wheat properly. Anyone can grow wheat; it is a question of getting their act together. I suggest that the famines in East Africa are helped by God and made certain by man.
This brings me back to the damage that these surpluses can do to the countryside of Great Britain. Unless we plan for the rundown of food production in the United Kingdom and Europe—and I am afraid that this then goes on to link not only with Europe, but with the United States of America and Australia—it also means opening up the Japanese food market. Your Lordships may have seen an article in the Economist about two weeks ago on the question of Japanese land use. Their governing party is based on small farmers who are subsidised. One can buy rice in America f.o.b. at 136 dollars a tonne and it costs 2,000 dollars a tonne in Japan. This is how to ruin things. This is a global problem and has to be attacked globally.
However, we return to this question. What do we do with England's green and pleasant land?—because, by golly, it is still green and pleasant in England especially at this time of the year. I suggest that the way we do this—it is perhaps a hobby-horse of mine—is that we pay farmers to be gardeners and gamekeepers instead of producing food. What the farming or land-owning world has done is exactly what the public and Parliament have asked them to do. Because there were U-boats in the Channel and because we thought the world was going to starve we were told to go and produce food, and we did so. We did it superbly efficiently and superby well. What I would hope that the Government will say to us now is, "Thank you, farmers. You have done absolutely splendidly. We now want to change your remit. The countryside of England is marvellous. We want you to grow food, not by having grants to cut out hedges, but in a way that is attractive and we shall pay you to manage the landscape".
It seems to me that there are two uses for grants. One is to create wealth. I am not convinced about the value of grants to create wealth; but I am convinced about the value of grants with which to do nice things. Most of us like the idea of going out to earn money; that is a good thing. We then like to spend our money on something that is pleasant and civilised. I suggest that it is reasonable, with the growth economy that we have in this country, with the surplus in FEOGA funds, to say, "We have created the wealth and now let us use some of that wealth to look after this very precious asset—the European, English, Scottish and Welsh countryside."
There have been methods put forward to start this process. One may say to a farmer, "We want you to keep your dry-stone walls. We want you to plant small copses, hedges and cut and ley them. We want you to grow old meadow grasses." Let us take some of those Dorset Downs which have all been ploughed up—perfectly reasonably, because the U-boats were in the Channel and we needed the food and wheat. One might say, "Instead of paying you £86 a tonne subsidy on feed wheat to grow 2½ to 3 tonnes of wheat on 691 Dorset Downs" (because that is the net subsidy on feed grain) "we shall pay you to put 2½ sheep per acre on that land and to put it down to an old ley with lots of wild flowers and so on." The country would save money, the countryside would be prettier and we should hit at surpluses. That seems a very good combination.
There is one matter on conservation about which we have to worry. I am president of a canal preservation society in Surrey and Hampshire. After 19 years' hard work we have practically re-opened this 18th century canal. Lo and behold, the Nature Conservancy Council has said that if we put any boats on it we shall ruin all the water life. This is an interesting example of a clash between two totally legitimate conservation interests.
That is outside the remit of my speech and I have gone slightly over time. I shall finish with the delicious thought of the cure for unemployment of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, which is reproduction troughs for virgins' blood.
§ 6.50 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, on arranging for the subject to be debated this evening. I should like to contribute a word or two about the marine environment. To mark the European Year of the Environment, an international organisation, the Advisory Committee on Pollution of the Sea, known generally by the acronym ACOPS, is organising an international conference later this year. The organisation started in Britain. Its headquarters is still here though it is now widespread and has members in many countries. I should explain that I am speaking on this matter because I have suddenly become the acting chairman again for unexpected and sad reasons. I was acting chairman for a year and a half before the late John Silkin became chairman. His untimely death has deprived us not only of a friend and able parliamentarian but also of his leadership in ACOPS. I was asked to become acting chairman again as the time for the conference was approaching.
There are some achievements to record in the progress of reducing marine pollution. It has been steady but not as rapid as some of us would have wished. Regarding oil, the international conventions, combined with practice and policing which have improved, have had this effect. Deliberate operational creation of oil slicks through cleaning oily ballast out of tanks at sea is now much less common. For accidental and casual spills, vigilance and discipline are essential and must be sustained. Of course navigational disasters like the "Amoco Cadiz" could still occur but in Britain we are much better prepared and our neighbours are also.
Other causes of marine pollution such as toxic chemicals must have our attention. In this area, part of what is known as the MARPOL Convention has recently come into force. It is not enough, however, to conclude international agreements; it is necessary to have the facilities at ports to put the intentions in the agreements into effect, such as facilities for disposing of chemical waste. Two other sources of pollution 692 must be controlled, effluents from rivers and refuse from shipping thrown overboard which makes unpleasant litter on the coastline and spoils beaches.
Turning from the marine to other parts of our environment, there are some measures on which there is general agreement but they cost money. There is the conversion to unleaded petrol by stages and reducing pollution emissions from coal-fired power stations. I am glad to see that there has recently been an announcement from the Central Electricity Generating Board which operates in England and Wales that it is to spend £170 million over the next 10 years. No one wants to make electricity more expensive but the control of pollution is a common end. Then there is control of the effects of the use of nitrates and other substances in agriculture. Here the aim must be to avoid penalising particular farmers or adding to the price of food.
The Motion calls attention to the case for all-party support. It comes at a time when, unfortunately, for the next four weeks the areas where the political parties disagree are likely to be more emphasised than the ones on which they agree. Some months ago the SDP announced that it was proposing that there should be a new Ministry for environmental protection. The noble Baroness mentioned it again today. I have a question here as well as a word of caution. Will its scope include Scotland? It appeared from everything the noble Baroness said—and I did not want to interrupt her in a limited debate—that she was speaking about England and Wales.
The word of caution I have is that a similar Ministry was announced before the 1964 general election and was set up by the Labour Party when it became the Labour Government. That was the Ministry for Land and natural Resources. Many people will now have forgotten about it. The Ministry lasted for only two years and was then wound up. During 1964–65 when I was in another place I was questioning the Prime Minister of the day and other Ministers with a number of points. I asked in particular whether it covered Scotland. At first the answers were not at all clear. Then the answer eventually came through, no. That meant that more than one-third of all the land resources in Britain were not included, although the intention had been that this Ministry should exercise overall supervision in Britain.
I am not suggesting that Scotland should be included in the scope of such a Ministry. I am simply pointing out the difficulties. The Scottish Office and its Ministers have these responsibilities, the equivalent of those exercised for England and Wales by the Department of the Environment. It would be reversing about 60 years of administrative devolution to take them away from the Secretary of State for Scotland, and this is unlikely to appeal to any incoming government. I took the proposal in 1964 and its carrying into effect seriously but I recognised when it disappeared after two years that the role and functions of the new Ministry had not been properly thought out beforehand.
There are international problems which we should be considering in this year—acid rain; the damage to the ozone layer of the atmosphere, the layer which protects us from dangerous radiation; possible damage 693 to life from what is known as the greenhouse effect. Noble Lords will remember that I have put these points at Question Time in recent months. None of these problems seems to have obvious solutions yet and we shall have to co-operate with other countries in trying to find them.
There are also international problems which fall within the sovereign territories of particular countries where we cannot interfere. I refer, first, to the spreading of deserts, with the Sahara the particular one in mind, and, secondly, to the clearing on a massive scale of forests in Latin America. Here I applaud the recent statement by the World Bank that in future it will include some conditions in loans to countries concerned, with the object of protecting the environment.
§ 6.58 p.m.
My Lords, there seems to be a certain irony in the fact that we are devoting these last hours of a dying Parliament to debating what is perhaps the most important issue of all facing this nation and the world today. We should all be deeply indebted to my noble friend Lady Stedman for enabling us so to do.
When winding up a debate of this kind in a short time, about which I make no complaint—I am as anxious to get away as everybody else—it is impossible to comment on earlier speeches, which is very sad indeed. The speeches have been of the highest possible quality. Every one has been important and they have all been made by experts in a particular field. Each has shown great credit to the noble Lord or Baroness who made it, and all the speeches collectively have done great credit to your Lordships' House.
It is also perhaps unwise at this stage to try to introduce any new themes. I shall therefore content myself merely with trying to underline and emphasise what I believe to be the basic assumptions from the recognition of which policies on these matters should be derived.
We face three parallel, related and menacing trends. They are, first, an increasing rate of depletion of the basic, irreplaceable raw materials on which we depend for our lives and for our continued existence on the planet; secondly, an increasing rate of contamination, pollution and destruction of the environment in which we live; and, thirdly, an ever-increasing world population which itself adds to the rate of consumption of scarce resources and the rate of destruction of a fragile environment. I shall say a brief word about each of those trends.
On depletion of resources, I point merely to energy and say that our energy resources are at least finite, which means that sooner or later they will run out. It behoves us all to husband and cherish the resources we now have with great care so as to give ourselves enough time to pioneer and develop safe and adequate alternatives.
On pollution of the environment I shall look only, as did the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, at our atmosphere and what we are doing to it. There is the phenomenon of acid rain; the problem of lead in the atmosphere from exhaust fumes; the problem of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere resulting 694 in the greenhouse effect, to which the noble Lord referred; the problems of fluorocarbons from aerosols and their effect on the ozone layer which, along with the greenhouse effect, is perhaps resulting in a measurable, gradual and steady increase in the mean average world temperature. I am not predicting that the seas will boil or the rocks will melt; nor am I saying that the Polar icecaps will melt tomorrow; but I do not advise my friends to pay a lot of money for properties at sea level.
On population, I can do no better than merely quote from an excellent address given in a committee room here in the Palace of Westminster by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh to a joint meeting of the all-party group on population and development, at which I was present as president of the Birth Control Campaign (a job that I took over from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner), and also to the all-party conservation committee of which the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, is the chairman.
His Royal Highness said:I believe that human population pressure—the sheer number of people on this planet—is the single most important cause of the degradation of the natural environment, of the progressive extinction of wild species of plants and animals, and of the destabilisation of the world's climatic and atmospheric systems".I believe that, not for the first time, His Royal Highness was absolutely right. He went on to give some startling figures. I shall not repeat them. I shall just give two more of my own. On my calculations, at the moment the world population is growing by 8,000 an hour, which means that by the end of this debate we shall have added considerably to the burdens that the world has to carry.
On recent figures it appears that 50 per cent. of the world's present total population consists of people who are under the age of 15, which is an indication of the potential for explosive growth in population. To those noble Lords who say that this is a matter for the undeveloped world and not for us, I would merely say that the United States of America, with 6 per cent. of the world's population, now consumes more than 50 per cent. of the world's irreplaceable raw materials.
In Britain we have special problems. We certainly have a population which is too big for England, and also perhaps too big for Scotland and Wales. We also have a population with an increasing amount of leisure time, with an increasing number of people choosing to spend that leisure in what they call countryside activities.
One of the principle challenges facing us at the moment is the provision of opportunities for the constructive and fulfilling use of leisure in ways which are not consumptive of scarce resources and which are not destructive of a fragile environment. We are not doing that. Noble Lords who doubt me should merely pay a visit to the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads during a hot day in the middle of the season to see part of our national and natural heritage being slowly destroyed by the people who love it.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to the pressure on the National Parks. When I was chairman of the Countryside Commission we had a visit from the director of the Yellowstone National Park. He told us about his problems and the number of people for 695 whom his staff had to provide in a year. I was able to tell him that the figure he quoted was almost precisely the figure of the number of people who move into the Peak District National Park on a hot Sunday in August, and he thought that he had problems!
I have not spelt out remedies and I do not expect the noble Baroness to spell out the remedies. I am not recommending draconian steps like dissolving the pill in water supplies. I am merely concerned that we recognise the problem. So far as population is concerned, if we could ensure that no children are born who were not wanted at the time of conception, we would solve the population problem.
I am not expecting the noble Baroness to give all the answers, but I hope that she will tell us that she recognises the problem. I was much impressed years ago by some words of Senator Fulbright. I wrote them down and I shall quote them. He said:When our perceptions fail to keep pace with events; when we refuse to believe something because it displeases or frightens us, or is simply startlingly unfamiliar, then the gap between fact and perception becomes a chasm. Action becomes irrelevant and irrational".We are in danger of being in that position.
If the noble Baroness can tell us that she recognises all these problems, we shall have partly solved the problem. I hope that in years to come our successors in this Chamber will not be saying, "What on earth were they doing? Didn't they know? Couldn't they see what was happening? Did nobody tell them?" My Lords, we are being told. We should listen, heed, and take action.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, seven minutes is not enough time to deal with what has been an excellent debate, but I happily devote 15 seconds or so to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, in order to thank her for the opportunity to have the debate. Perhaps I may be forgiven if I single out just one or two things for which I have a particular feeling, particularly Lord Buxton's passionate plea for The Flow country, which I think we should all heed. I should like to add too to Lord Moran's statistics on the RSPB, which were quite telling. I understand that this year they are attracting new members at the rate of 1,000 every week. That should make the political parties think, if nothing else does.
I should also like to support the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, in his plea that the water industry be left alone. I know that we had a hectic time over it last year, and it was mainly because of the environmental aspects of it that people got so upset and uptight. The solution to these problems will not be found in the direction that the Government have proposed to go.
With what is left of the time I can deal only with perhaps the least interesting but also the most essential part of the debate, which is how we organise the undoubted concern that everyone has for the environment and its protection. How can we translate that concern into action? I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, that the present system will no longer do. We have to face the fact that without exception all government policies have environmental implications. Almost all departmental activities have environ 696 mental effects. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, mentioned the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and I am sure she would also include the Department of Agriculture in Scotland, the Department of Energy and the Department of Transport. There is no way that anything they do does not affect the environment.
We must try to achieve better co-ordination of the whole range of environmental protection measures. Environmental considerations must be built into the system. We believe, with the noble Baroness, that there must be a ministry of environmental protection and we have created this post in the Shadow Cabinet. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said about the short life of the last one, but that was a more limited brief. Public perception and individual perceptions have changed since then. I have hope that this will be a longer lasting ministry.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, it is a limited debate. If I can finish within seven minutes perhaps we can return to that point. In addition, there must be a requirement that environmental considerations should be part of every activity. Every significant action of government or local government—because we must not forget the impact that local government has on the environment—must be automatically examined for possible environmental consequences to the best of the knowledge which prevails at the time. All major development applications, whether publicly or privately funded, should be required to be accompanied by an environmental impact assessment. I believe that this requirement should be introduced now. It is being introduced in 1988 as a result of European Community requirement. But I hope that whichever government are in power after the election will realise that this matter is most important and will introduce it now. Some big developments where this has not been done are going ahead.
The Minister who is to reply—I do not envy her, except that I should like her 15 minutes—will no doubt produce a list of the Government's achievements. At this point I should like to add to the commendations that have been given to the Minister, Mr. Waldegrave. He has done a splendid job and I believe that his heart is in the right place. I do not believe that he has his own way as often as he should but I support his attempts.
No doubt the noble Baroness will produce a list of the Government's achievements; for example, the first marine nature reserve, the environmentally sensitive areas and the other designations which have been mentioned. While we welcome what has been achieved and do not wish to take away from it in any way, I emphasise yet again that if the facts are taken in isolation from a more general, positive approach to environmental detection their value is greatly reduced.
Past and present policies of this Government—I hope not future—show a disregard for the generality of protection. We are faced with a programme which would in the long run leave us with a few isolated museums of the countryside in a landscape of commercial development. It could even be argued, 697 given the lack of sympathy in other policies, that creation of these special areas diverts public pressure and in the end defeats what should be our main objective.
Finally, we must remember, as has been said by other noble Lords this evening, that we are part of a very small planet which is at risk. Though this evening we may have been talking primarily about our own environmental protection, we must remember that everything we do affects our neighbours. We do not have the best reputation in European terms, but as the years go on I hope that we shall do something to improve that situation. I leave your Lordships with a less exalted quotation than others which have been given this evening. It comes from my grandmother who, after all, was a Victorian. She quoted often to us as children a Victorian tract which showed a picture of chubby faced Victorian children sweeping the village street. Underneath it read:If each before his own door swept the village would be clean".This applies in environmental protection more than in anything else.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, I begin by saying that as always on these occasions this has been a wide-ranging and most fascinating debate. I should like to emphasise that protection of our environment is a continuing government commitment. We are keen that the nations of Europe should put into practice the policies which we collectively develop. I believe that we need not be ashamed of our record. Alone among member states—apart from those most recently joined—the United Kingdom has never been taken to the European Court of Justice for failing to implement a European Community directive on the environment.
Your Lordships will be aware, I am sure, that the European Year of the Environment has two principal aims. The first is to raise awareness of the importance of environmental protection so that better progress can be made in conserving and improving the environment. The fact that this debate is taking place today is an example of such a raising of awareness. We are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedmen, for both introducing the debate and emphasising this point, admittedly in relation to government departments. I can assure her and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that in addition to the commitment of the Department of Environment to the European Year of the Environment, other departments are also making contributions.
For example, the Overseas Development Administration has produced a booklet entitled The Environment and the British Aid Programme. The Department of Transport is preparing a booklet entitled Transport and the Environment. The Ministry of Defence is involved with the army training areas clean-up week in July and the Department of Education and Science is organising a project on the use of school grounds for environmental teaching. The Scottish, Northern Ireland and Welsh Offices are supporting financially the organisation of the European Year of the Environment. We are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly, and I hope that that reassures all noble Lords who have had qualms on the subject.
698 The other main aim of the EYE is to carry out projects in support of an awareness campaign which will have lasting effects. The personal support given to the year by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is a great encouragement to all involved. The year enjoys the support of all political parties, a fact that has been welcomed in the course of this debate. I understand that the committee has already heard of nearly 1,000 events and projects which are taking place under the EYE banner. They involve schools, youth organisations, local authorities, industry, business and voluntary groups of all kinds, and of course government departments. That is exactly the kind of all-sector involvement called for by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman.
The Department of the Environment, for instance, is sponsoring a number of events, including the new better environment awards for industry and a handbook on community environmental policy. We were also a major sponsor of the recent and very successful International Pollution Abatement Fair and Conference at Birmingham. Other departments are also making contributions, some of which I have already enumerated.
I should like to draw attention to the Government's commitment to the protection of the countryside and the environment which has perhaps been the main topic of the debate. In so doing I hope that I shall be responding to a number of points which have been raised. We remain firmly committed to protecting green belt land from inappropriate development. It is worth remembering that since 1979 the area of approved green belt in England has more than doubled. I have noted the request made by my noble friend Lord Nugent in this respect. In another place we have introduced the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Bill, which has been referred to. This aims to create for the first time a properly integrated authority with powers and functions for the management by both the waterways and the land space. The Bill will be coming to your Lordships' House in due course. In view of his remarks, I feel sure that it will be particularly welcomed by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley.
The Government fully recognise the need to protect the countryside for its own sake. We firmly believe that a strong and efficient rural economy is the best protection. The farming and rural enterprise package which we launched in March has been genuinely welcomed for achieving a reasonable balance among farming, economic and social needs, conservation and enjoyment by the public.
I noted the suggestion for further action made by my noble friend Lord Onslow. My noble friend Lord Swinton referred to the common land forum. We have recently reached the end of the consultation period on the recommendations of the forum. I know that the Moorland Association in particular has expressed concern about the effect of the access proposals on heather moorland and the lack of restriction for game purposes in the proposed model scheme for management. I can assure my noble friend that the Government are well aware of those concerns. My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale has already discussed their worries with the delegation. My honourable friend William Waldegrave agreed at a meeting at 699 Bolton Abbey last week that there should be further detailed meetings at official levels.
Turning to the question of adequate funding, a concern expressed by a number of your Lordships, the Government's commitment to the countryside is clear from the increased resources which they have made available to the agencies charged with its protection. Grant in aid to the Countryside Commission, for example, has risen from £11.2 million in 1982–83 to £19.5 million for the current financial year. The supplementary grant to national parks in England has increased from £5 million to £7.3 million in the same period and perhaps I might particularly draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to that fact. These are both very substantial increases in real terms.
The Department of the Environment also has a £1.3 million programme of research on countryside affairs and the Nature Conservancy Council funding has increased from £8 million in 1979–80 to £36.5 million in the current year. Therefore I trust your Lordships will not feel quite as anxious on this particular aspect as appeared in the course of the debate.
As has been said, without wildlife in its many forms our countryside, and our cities and towns too, would be poorer and meaner places. The Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 now protects many hundreds of our animals, birds and plants. It also gave the Nature Conservancy Council new powers to protect habitat through the creation of national nature reserves and sites of special scientific interest which have already been referred to. The Act is based on the principle of voluntary co-operation and partnership in the countryside between the statutory agencies, farmers and the voluntary conservation movement. We designated Britain's first statutory marine nature reserve at Lundy last November. I have to say that to satisfy the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol! Several more such reserves are expected to be designated over the next few years. I recognise the points made, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, in this respect. I can also reassure the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that the Government are well aware of calls from some quarters for a change in the status of the national park committees. This would require legislation and could not be considered without recourse to a detailed review of the administration in national parks. The Government decided against such a review in 1981 and do not feel that decision should be reversed as yet.
The noble Lord also considered that national parks should be the statutory authority for development plans. We see no reason for a change in this system, but in any case it would not be considered without an administrative review to which I referred earlier.
The noble Lord, Lord Buxton, and others, spoke about the problems of blanket conifer afforestation. The Government share this concern, which stems from policies of earlier years. Certainly we are in total agreement when it comes to the development and adoption of sylvicultural practices which minimise the adverse impacts of forestry on the environment. We already have well-established guidelines and mechanisms in place to ensure that forestry developments take place in harmony with nature conservation. I can assure the House that efforts are 700 now being made to ensure that all new forestry schemes are designed not only to fit in with the landscape but to ensure that planting schemes do not harm the surrounding environment and that a balance is reached with other land-use interests. However, I have taken careful note of my noble friend's remarks and those of all the other speakers who have referred to this. I shall particularly bring them to the attention of my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale.
Turning now to other aspects of environmental protection, we are aware of the particular problems posed by chloro-fluorocarbons and this is one of the matters which will be discussed in Brussels at the Council of Ministers' meeting scheduled for the 21st May. I can assure the House that the United Kingdom is by no means holding back the development of a European Community policy; nor are we isolated within the Community on this complex issue, as seemed to be suggested perhaps by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby. The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, also referred to this point. We are also contributing to international efforts such as the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Climate Programme in considering the implications of CFCs and the ozone layer for national policies.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, I am afraid there is very little time and I cannot give way: there may be time at the end of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Gibson, asked what will replace structure plans. Our proposals for replacement of the cumbersome process of structure planning were established last year. I cannot describe them in detail now because of time constraints, but I can assure the noble Lord that district councils will not be left without guidance from the county councils on the key issue of planning.
The formation of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution on 1st April presented a concentration of resources which will be deployed as the organisation develops in a co-ordinated approach to pollution control. I hope this will reassure those noble Lords who have expressed concern about monitoring and implementation. In particular, I am addressing the anxiety of my noble friend Lord Nugent. I can assure him that the Government's firm objective is to maintain and improve water policy and the HMIP will discuss the performance of individual sewage treatment works with the authorities concerned. The Government take compliance very seriously and expect all works to meet their consent conditions.
At the International Pollution Abatement Fair in Birmingham, my honourable friend William Waldegrave—and I am most grateful to all those who have paid tribute to his undoubted commitment in this area—launched the environmental protection technology scheme. This will aim to encourage innovation in the field of pollution abatement and cleaner technologies generally. We are committed to ensuring the widespread availability of unleaded petrol well before the European Communities' deadline in 1989 and we intend that newly registered cars should be capable of running on unleaded petrol by October 1990.
701 Some further matters are worth mentioning, particularly since we, as a country, are taking a lead in this area. I feel that this should be recognised. Next month our agreement with the Paintmakers' Association will reach full fruition when lead will cease to be added to all decorative paints made by its members. We have also taken strong action to control the use of anti-fouling paints for boats based on tributyl tin. That has been shown to damage shellfish and other sensitive marine organisms—a concern which has been expressed in the course of this debate. We are taking the initiative on this particular matter within the European Community to ensure that we carry our partners with us in both these actions on paint.
My noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt referred to the problems of acidity, and others also referred to this point. The Government fully share the widespread concern about acid rain and accept the need for action to tackle the problem. Emissions of air pollutants from the United Kingdom have already fallen substantially since 1970 and the Government are aiming to achieve a 30 per cent. reduction on the 1980 levels by the end of the 1990s. Emissions will fall even more dramatically after the turn of the century as new "low-acid" technology comes into play. Last September the Government authorised the CEGB to instal flue gas desulphurisation equipment at three major power stations and announced that all new coal-fired stations would require to be fitted with appropriate technology to remove sulphur emissions.
My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy welcomed the fact that last week the Government took a further significant step in authorising the CEGB to begin a major 10-year programme to instal low nitrogen oxide burners at the board's 12 largest power stations. Low NOx burner technology will also be a requirement for all future fossil-fuel fired power stations. These measures mean that we are now in the forefront of European countries taking positive action to reduce emissions. The Government have a substantial research programme and will be guided by the research work in considering further policy options.
Every one of these topics deserves treatment at much greater length than has been possible today. I have not even got on to the points on villages which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Henniker, nor the specific schemes referred to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, that the Government recognise the problems and will take note of the many points that have been made in the course of this important debate. We believe that care for the environment transcends regional and political divisions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, indicated in the wording of her Motion.
I am sure that your Lordships will join me in applauding and supporting the aims and activities of the European Year of the Environment, which I have no doubt will make a major impact, raising further the public's awareness and their concern for our common environment and our common heritage of the future.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, will she please answer the specific question that I asked? What will be the Government's 702 attitude in Brussels on 21st May to the cut in production of CFCs?
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, I am not at liberty to reveal what the Government will do at that point but I believe I answered the noble Lord when I said that we were in no way holding up the development of European Community policy in this respect.
§ Baroness Stedman
My Lords, it only remains for me to bring this debate to a close. I think that we are very fortunate that it has survived the turmoil of the past couple of days and we have been able to discuss this topic. The justification for the debate is the number of people who have taken part. It is not for me to wind up on the occasion of a short debate. I should just like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that the Alliance would not dare take anything away from the Scottish Office. I shall let him have a note about how we see it working there, but I shall not bore the House with those details now.
I am most grateful to all those who have taken part in the debate, and to the noble Baroness for the replies that she has given and the care that she has taken in dealing with them. I beg leave to to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.