HL Deb 13 January 1988 vol 491 cc1276-313

5.47 p.m.

Baroness Nicol rose to call attention to the growing problem of environmental pollution; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, before I address the subject of the debate this afternoon I should like to say how much I look forward to the two maiden speeches we are to hear: those from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding and the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin. I am sure that they will both contribute well to the debate. Perhaps I may also welcome the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, to his first environmental debate. I cannot promise that he will not have some critical questions to answer, but I promise to put them as nicely as I can.

It is generally accepted that environmental pollution is increasing. What I hope to do in the short time available is to sketch the range of problems with which we are faced, to consider attitudes to those problems and, where possible, to suggest solutions or some alleviations. It may be helpful at this stage to define what we mean by "pollution". For this, I turn to the tenth report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution with which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, will be very familiar. It defines pollution as: The introduction by man into the environment of substances or energy liable to cause hazards to human health. harm to living resources and ecological systems, damage to structures or amenity, or interference with legitimate uses of the environment".

The commission described that as a useful working definition. I believe that is still true.

There can be little doubt that world-wide public concern about environmental pollution is growing. Scarcely a day passes without some evidence of new problems or some report about action on old problems. Only yesterday we heard of the setting up in Sweden of an international team of scientists to look at threats to the ozone layer. Today there is a large article in the Independent newspaper on the situation of environmental pollution—and this goes on almost daily.

Here at home there is evidence that more and more people are beginning to identify environmental pollution as a personal concern. The Nature Conservancy Council commissioned a poll in 1987 to examine attitudes in the United Kingdom towards nature conservation. The findings are published in their magazine Topical Issues of November last year. They make interesting reading. I shall quote, if I may, from the results of the poll. It was a poll carried out by MORI on a sample of 2,043 adults, which is a quite normal sample for this sort of poll.

People were asked what they regarded as major national problems, and more than two out of three cited unemployment. That is 70 per cent. of those asked. Other perceived major problems included nuclear waste, 49 per cent.; pollution of the environment, 48 per cent. One in three said it affected him personally. This showed a considerable increase over the last Nature Conservancy Council poll, which was taken one or two years previously.

The European Year of the Environment activities have proved of great public interest. What appears to be lacking is government action to match. So let us now look at some of the main problem areas. I pick out a few which attract most attention. The list is not complete and I do not offer it in any order of priority. I mention particularly air pollution, water pollution, marine pollution, acid deposition, noise, litter and waste disposal, because those are the things about which people seem to be most concerned. All those were identified in the Royal Commission's tenth report, and they are still with us.

We have an unhappy record on air pollution. For example, we have been very slow to introduce unleaded petrol and are still doing nothing to encourage its use. Until unleaded petrol is being used, progress on the use of catalytic converters is delayed. The number of cars in the world has increased from 38 million to 350 million over the past 40 years. The United States leads the world in emission control. Canada, Japan and Australia are following its lead, and even South Korea and Brazil are introducing emission limits. In Europe, some countries, notably West Germany, offer financial incentives for the sale of clean catalytic cars.

Where is Britain in all this? The impression is that we are to delay until it is forced upon us. Perhaps the Minister can correct this impression today. I hope he can.

There is evidence that the general improvement in water quality up to 1980 has ceased, and indeed is now reducing. We need to redefine our parameters. For example, should not nature conservation be included as a separate water quality objective? This single act would have an enormous effect on the water quality objectives, and I think would be a very helpful move.

Total pollution incidents have increased from 10,797 in 1980–81 to a staggering 20,414 in 1986–87 in England and Wales. They have nearly doubled in six years, suggesting that all potential polluters—water authorities, industrialists and farmers—are still not taking sufficient care in controlling toxic waste. Although water authorities have the power to prosecute offenders, only 232 prosecutions were taken on in 1986–87. This is 1 per cent. of the total reported incidents. It is an indication that water authorities could pursue a greater number of prosecutions if they wished. Perhaps their reluctance to prosecute is influenced by the fact that they are so often themselves the guilty party in these incidents.

I welcome the news given to us in November that the Government are to adopt a positive attitude towards the discharge of dangerous substances to water. I look forward to seeing the detailed proposals in due course, and perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us when we can expect to see them.

A more difficult problem perhaps is the question of nitrates which come from diffuse and unidentifiable sources. The Water Authorities Association has recently published a useful summary of views on water quality. It is interesting to see one of its suggested ways of reducing nitrate levels, about which it is very concerned. In The Water Briefing, which came out a few weeks ago, it says: One solution is the designation of water protection zones in which agricultural activity would be restricted in order to keep nitrate levels in source water within acceptable levels. This now requires action by Government.". The question of water protection zones has been raised in this House on many occasions. Can the Minister say what the present government thinking is and whether they are taking any positive steps in that direction?

Marine pollution problems have tended to focus on the North Sea, and rightly so because that is at the moment the most pressing problem. While welcoming the fact that we are now, however slowly and painfully, working towards some action, we hope that in taking measures to protect the North Sea it will not be supposed that problems can simply be transferred to the Irish Sea. We should surely be seeking ways of dealing with problems nearer to the source.

With regard to acid deposition, there is very much to say, but I will shorten it this afternoon. The ongoing saga has been discussed in this House on many occasions and I do not propose to enter the arguments about the 30 per cent. club. However, I should like to ask whether the Government are aware of the new data available to the Nordic Council, which seems to require not 30 per cent. reductions but 80 per cent. reductions in current sulphur emissions and 75 per cent. reductions in nitrogen oxide emissions if further environmental damage is to be prevented. It would appear that the argument about the 30 per cent. club will very shortly be academic.

I know that the Observer newspaper is not the flavour of the month in government circles, but there was an interesting article at the end of December by a Mr. Geoffrey Lean, who is an excellent environmental correspondent. I am grateful to him for drawing our attention to the fact that a report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe shows that our Government accept that emissions may rise by another 500,000 tonnes a year by 1990. I wonder whether the Minister is able to make any comment on that.

Noise pollution is one of the most difficult issues to deal with and yet it is one about which many people complain. The Institute of Environmental Health Officers has produced a draft of complaints between 1971 and 1986. It shows a rise in domestic complaints from fewer than 100 per million population in 1971 to over 1,200 per million population in 1986. Blame must fall to a large extent on the overenthusiastic use of audio equipment. But basic to the problem are inadequate building regulations and frequent failure to comply even with those that exist. I know that other speakers mean to enlarge on the noise pollution problem and I shall not say any more on that subject.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, will be dealing in depth with the question of waste disposal, but I have one important question to put to the Minister. Are the Government aware of the problems being caused by imported waste? The quantity of waste imported has gone up from 5,000 tonnes in 1983–84 to 180,000 tonnes last year. Those figures were given to me in a question at the Environmental Health Congress last year. It was answered by an official of the Minister's department, so I am sure that they are reliable figures. The speaker went on to say that not all of the 180,000 tonnes will be special waste. The vast bulk will be contaminated soil, principally from Holland, coming into the country for landfill.

When we first began to import waste the arguments in favour of doing so were that we had the technology to deal with special waste and that it was better that it should come into this country and be dealt with properly than pollute the environment elsewhere. The same cannot be said of less hazardous waste which is simply being used for landfill in this country. We are short of landfill for our own waste. There is a problem in knowing exactly what is coming in. There is a problem at the point of shipping and there is a problem in identifying the waste when it comes into the country. I think this is not something that we should encourage. I should like to ask the Minister whether there are any plans to regulate, in view of the difficulties which we are experiencing. What has happened to regulation on the trans-frontier shipment of hazardous waste, about which we appear to have heard nothing for some time?

Finally, in my last two minutes I should like to deal with the question of whether there are any positive steps that we can take to reduce the size of the problem. At the top of the list must come energy conservation, coupled, I hope, with a more energetic appraisal of combined heat and power, which some time ago the Government said they were undertaking. Next must come recycling. We are behind most European countries in our efforts to recycle. The CBI extols the savings that can be made and recently exhorted its members to increase their efforts.

There is one other important activity which we can undertake in order to prevent local pollution; that is, to get on with the environmental impact assessments. We have had three years in which to implement the directive from Europe, and so far as I know we still have not done so. Shall we be in a position to meet the due date of 3rd July 1988, the date by which we are obliged to do so?

Attempting to summarise the whole field of environmental pollution in 15 minutes precludes discussing anything in depth. There are many important areas into which I have not entered, but with so many distinguished speakers in the list this afternoon I am sure that an opportunity to debate this vital subject will prove to be valuable. I look forward to the debate with great interest. I beg to move for Papers.

6.2 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, I certainly join with the noble Baroness in the welcome that she gave to my noble friend on the Front Bench. He has joined the department over which I had the honour to preside for some two-and-a-quarter years, and if he finds it to be as fascinating and as testing as I did, I am sure that he will be all the better for it.

I do not propose to pursue the noble Baroness in all the subjects upon which she touched, mainly for want of time. However, I should like to offer the House one or two comments based on my experience at the department and to ask my noble friend one or two questions. I think it is right to state the fact that the record of the Government on environment is a great deal better than some of their more strident critics would have us believe. It is sometimes quite difficult to get that across. One can understand that the television producer or the features editor will regard it as much more fun and newsworthy to make the flesh creep with stories of desolation, destruction and death than to point out the dramatic improvements that have taken place over recent decades in the quality of our environment.

In this country smoke has been reduced by 85 per cent. over the past 30 years. The noble Baroness mentioned sulphur dioxide; no other industrial nation can match this nation's record of reducing SO2 emissions by 42 per cent. since 1970. Winter sunshine in London and in our major cities is virtually identical to that in the surrounding countryside because of the much cleaner air that we now enjoy.

The noble Baroness used lead in petrol as a source of criticism of the Government. I must ask whether she has forgotten that it was my right honourable friend Tom King who went to Brussels and actually persuaded the Community to bring forward the date on which unleaded petrol must be available. We now have more stations offering unleaded petrol than do France and Germany put together. There has been a dramatic reduction in the amount of lead being emitted because of the tightening of the standard. Within 10 years lead from petrol will be virtually unknown in this country.

In 1979 the emission of radioactive waste from Sellafield was six times what it is today. As a result of the major investment which is going ahead, in 10 years' time it will be one-tenth of the level that it is now.

It is right to draw attention to the key step of establishing Her Majesty's Pollution Inspectorate. I take some pride in that I initiated the moves that led to that important development and it fell to my successors to implement them. I believe that it has been universally welcomed.

It is sometimes argued that pollution is the inevitable price which we pay for economic growth. I profoundly disagree with that argument. Environmental improvement and economic development are indivisible. In today's world, unless one can show that development can take place without unacceptable environmental risks, it will be severely hampered or frustrated altogether. Unless we generate the wealth necessary we cannot afford to protect and improve the environment.

In the Government's response to the world conservation strategy there is mention of an organisation called the UK Centre for Economic and Environmental Development. CEED, as it is known, exists to promote those central propositions and bring together scientists, environmentalists and industrialists to demonstrate that sustainable growth can be achieved only if it is accompanied by the conservation of the environment.

I hope that I may be forgiven for a moment or two of reminiscences. At the 1984 London summit of the seven Heads of Government and State that central proposition was broadly endorsed by the seven leaders and they called for further study. It fell to me, as Environment Minister for this country, to convene and chair the first ever environmental summit of those seven nations, which took place in Lancaster House in December 1984. We submitted our report to the Bonn Summit the following year and in it we said: The mechanisms of the market economy and the forces of competition should be harnessed to solve environmental problems effectively … The 'polluter pays' principle is of key importance in ensuring that environmentally correct price and market signals are given, and should be developed and applied more widely.". The "polluter pays" principle is something with which I think everybody agrees and it is now well established. But the wider use of price and market signals falls somewhat uneasily on some ears more used to a system of regulation and administrative enforcement. Yet the seven environment Ministers meant what they said at that summit. Therefore, with my encouragement, my honourable friend William Waldegrave asked UK CEED if it would commission a study into a system of pollution charges and marketable permits.

The study was carried out by the National Economic Research Associates, of which I have since become an adviser. On the basis of American experience, where there has been a good deal of legislation in this direction, it showed conclusively that limiting the emission of pollutants by imposing charges and by allowing emitters to trade in pollution permits is a much more cost-effective way of reducing pollution than trying to impose universal standards and forcing compliance.

There are well-documented case studies in the United States which demonstrate that for any given level of pollution reduction costs are orders of magnitude less if the system used is charging emitters and allowing them to trade in permits. Putting it much more attractively, I would say that for any given higher quality of environment one can achieve that more quickly by using the market mechanisms than by using a more conventional route of regulations, standards, controls and enforcements.

A maiden speech is perhaps not the occasion to try to spell out the argument in detail. It is available and has been published in a booklet, The Use of Marketing Mechanisms in the Regulation of Air Pollution. UK CEED presented that report to the Government, of whom I was by then no longer a member, in the hope that perhaps its economic logic and its evidence of experience elsewhere, as well as its market philosophy, would give it some attraction for Ministers.

Of course in the UK charging polluters is a novel idea and novel ideas always take some time to gain acceptance. I have to say that some of our larger industrial firms which find that they can live quite happily with the present system of administrative control are looking somewhat cautiously at the move to a more open market system. However, the board of UK CEED remains quite convinced. I remind noble Lords that scientists, industrialists and some of our leading environmentalists remain convinced that there is real merit in the concept.

It is now nearly two years since that report was presented to the Government. My noble friend who is to reply has of course been in his department for only two days and it would be most unfair of me to expect him to give me a full response. However, if he can shed any light on the fate of that report I think that those who worked hard to prepare it would be very grateful.

I end on this note. We all want to see continuing progress in the reduction of pollution and in the improvement of our environment. Much science, many measures and a great deal of expenditure will be involved, but I must say to the House that the group of hard-headed industrialists and environmentalists who responded to the Government's invitation and who commissioned this report remain convinced that the wider use of market mechanisms has some part to play in that process and I suggest that they deserve an answer.

6.12 p.m.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, first, perhaps I may thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for introducing this debate today. I consider it a great privilege and honour to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, on his maiden speech on behalf of all the members of this House. He has had a distinguished career in the other place, having been Secretary of State in three different state departments. I knew him in the days when he was Secretary of State for Health and Social Security and I found that he was a man who listened and who then took decisions. I must admit that I did not always agree with the decisions but we appreciated the fact that he listened. I assure him that in this House we shall all be looking forward to hearing him on many occasions when he takes part in our deliberations so that we may benefit from his long experience and advice.

We only have a few minutes to deal with the problem. I want to confine myself to river quality, to waste recycling and to the ozone layer. On the quality of our rivers, between 1980 and 1985 over 900 kilometres of river were downgraded in quality by the River Quality Survey. That is the first such decline since records began. This decline in quality has been due principally to the discharge of farm and sewage effluents and, to a lesser extent, industrial effluents. There are currently no effective powers to control farm pollution, with the result that pollution incidence from this source has more than doubled since 1980.

The situation is such that the improvements forecast in the 1985 survey will be difficult to achieve. To meet the target suggested for 1990 would require the water authorities to improve their performance almost twice as fast as it has deteriorated since 1980. The prospect of privatisation of the water industry has already introduced a prolonged period of uncertainty. We welcome the new National Rivers Authority as a positive step, but it will be some time before it has an impact and one must welcome the action of the Welsh Water Authority, which has taken the precaution of putting in place a shadow NRA to do the job for the 18 months until the privatisation proposals are implemented. Perhaps the Minister ought to suggest that other water authorities should follow suit.

On the question of waste and recycling, I shall not deal with the problem of dangerous waste but our society has for too long seemed almost to measure the wealth of a nation by the amount of waste it produces. We have to decide that we can no longer afford so much waste without improved methods of recycling.

According to an EC Energy and Research Committee report, one person produces about 550 pounds of waste a year, a great proportion of which is recoverable and valuable material. The Control of Pollution Act 1974 charged local authorities with the duty of producing waste disposal plans, and I should like to know how many of them did and what action has been taken on those plans. In 1984 the Commons Trade and Industry Committee produced a report entitled The Wealth of Waste and in 1985 a further report was produced. As a result, a Minister with special responsibility for recycling was appointed. Will the Minister please tell us what improvements have occurred as a result of this appointment?

Other countries in Europe take recycling much more seriously. If one looks at a country like Sweden, we all know what enormous amounts of forest are cut down to produce our newspapers. In Sweden 68 per cent. of the country is covered in forest. In this country it is only 10 per cent. However on one day a week every local authority in Sweden specially collects paper for recycling in order to save their forests. We in this country should do that too.

It is impossible to make a reasoned speech in six minutes. On the question of the ozone layer, I am very sad that the Government resist the labelling of aerosols containing CFC. Some industries have voluntarily stopped using CFCs and are labelling them "ozone friendly". That is much to their credit. In the US and Holland 95 per cent. of all aerosols are sold containing no CFC. There is no technical difficulty in production; as a matter of fact, it is cheaper. This is not a record of which we should be proud. This Government have a well deserved reputation for vigour and determination in pursuing their chosen goals. On this record, no one could justly claim that environmental improvement has been one of those goals.

6.18 p.m.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, I am glad of the chance to take part in this debate in my maiden speech because I regard environmental pollution as one of the really big issues of our time and one which should claim the unbiased attention of all in authority everywhere.

When one thinks of pollution I suppose what mainly springs to mind are the belching chimneys of industrial zones and the effluence that can make such a hostile environment of our beaches and rivers. I am well aware that much good work has been done in these areas, although considerably more remains to be achieved. In the short time available I should like to concentrate on some of the less obvious aspects of environmental pollution because I believe that this will serve to illustrate the breadth of the problem and at the same time draw attention to its insidious nature. I want to look at it chiefly from the point of view of human health.

The list of substances that can be harmful to health in certain doses is a very long one: lead, which we have already heard referred to, aluminium, mercury and other toxic metals; pesticides and insecticides of all kinds, of which DDT, (once much favoured) is a notable example; cigarette smoke; asbestos, nuclear radiation and drugs. With many of these I have been struck by a pattern which has shown itself time and again. Let me sketch a kind of composite example.

At first one is assured by experts that there is no danger to human health at concentrations of less than 100 parts per million, After some years doubts begin to grow as it appears that some people may indeed be harmed at lesser concentrations. There is a lively debate, in which it is pointed out that the Russians have for some time been worried by any concentrations over 20 parts per million. Some time later—I am skipping years of debate here—a new safety limit emerges at 15 parts. At this point a few researchers, more thoroughly alerted to the dangers and with better measuring techniques at their disposal, begin to question whether in some cases as little as 10 parts per million can cause harm to the population.

Just recently this pattern has been well illustrated in newspaper reports of the dangers of nuclear radiation. In November I read: Radiation is two to three times more dangerous than was previously thought, the National Radiological Protection Board said yesterday". Last week I read: Nuclear radiation may be between five and 15 times as dangerous as previously thought". How can we tell at any given point where the truth lies? I do not believe we can, and I think the lesson to be drawn from recent history is that we need to be very cautious indeed in our approach to known and potential pollutants and their safety levels. I believe we need to be cautious even beyond the boundaries of those areas where the mechanisms of pollution are already familiar.

The evidence is that environmental dangers have consistently been underestimated, not the reverse. The reasons are understandable. Scientific medicine is at its best in isolating direct cause-and-effect mechanisms where obvious pathological change (in the worst cases, death) takes place within a reasonable timescale. What we are looking at here, with microquantities of a host of pollutants in varied combinations in our daily lives, is something rather different. Let me take one example.

I express no view here on the safety or otherwise of food additives, colourings and preservatives. I would merely say that, with over 3,000 of them in use, interacting on each other and with each person's individual biochemistry, in varying degrees of sickness and health, there is no research project on earth that is going to pinpoint the exact cause of any ill-effects—if ill-effects there are—even in the short term, let alone over a 30- or 40-year period. The scale of the problem is already too vast.

In terms of chronic illness, as it is often said, Western civilisation is a sick society. Many people like to point to psychological stress as a culprit. I think it is arguable that the fundamental and pervasive change which has taken place during this century, and which in many cases is accelerating, is in the environment. It is not far-fetched to link the upward curve in degenerative disease and possibly also in anti-social behaviour with the increase in hostile substances with which we are cumulatively bombarded. Many studies have indicated as much. That is why I plead for a greater degree of caution in this whole field than has sometimes been evident so far. The situation is more serious than we realise.

Historians of public health tell us that the big advances in conquering disease came about through environmental rather than purely medical measures—housing, sanitation and so on. It would be ironical if we threw away these hard-won advances through failure to heed the environmental message.

I am grateful to your Lordships for your indulgence.

6.25 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, it is with a pleasure far beyond convention that on behalf of the whole House I congratulate the noble Earl on his speech. As one of those who frequently raises environmental issues we welcome him with open arms and we hope that we shall hear him frequently on this and other subjects. With his own particular experience we look forward to hearing him speak on the Education Bill later this Session.

It has been a temptation to deal with issues that I have raised before—for example, on CFCs, acid rain and the destruction of the tropical rain forests—but I have chosen instead to concentrate upon the disposal of nuclear waste, because it seems to me that that issue is more fundamental than any of the others.

I confess that I am not omniscient. Like many other people I believed that with the discovery of nuclear energy, we had a limitless supply of energy which was cheap, clean and safe. How wrong we were! We now know that the production of nuclear energy has become a menace to the whole of society and it is a menace to all the people of this country.

The problem of nuclear waste disposal, its security and the dangers of transportation, is a considerable one. If you go to Hampstead Heath you will see a constant succession of trains going along that northern line laden with nuclear waste. We are now told that it is to be flown to Japan. The nature of all these issues is direct and menacing to the population of this country.

The noble Earl who has just spoken mentioned that only last week Professor Rotblat of St. Bartholomew's Hospital stated that, according to his research, the estimated safe exposure to radiation was five to 15 times greater than it should be. We also heard last week how, in 1958, the danger of the Windscale fire was concealed by the Government although at the time it was said that a full report had been published. We hardly need to refer to the effects felt throughout the world of the disaster at Chernobyl.

This is a growing problem. What is the future to be? Surely it is now clear that the only safe way of preventing the current problem from escalating is to make sure and to state categorically (as the Labour Party does) that there will be no new commissioning of nuclear power stations and that the existing ones will be phased out.

We are not alone: in Sweden, where 50 per cent. of electricity is produced by nuclear power, there are specific plans—pledged plans—to phase out all nuclear energy by the year 2010. Yet we are told by a House of Commons Committee that the present British Government are contemplating postponing for up to 100 years the decommissioning of nuclear power stations. I hope that the noble Earl who is to reply—I congratulate him particularly as he is an ex-rebel on those Benches—will say whether that report is correct and how it has been received by the Government.

I have a particular and personal connection with the issue of the disposal of nuclear waste. After the NIREX report was published last October I visited the North East to examine the situation in the Whitby and Cleveland area. I found intense public concern over the proposal that nuclear waste should be buried under the North Sea off the Cleveland coast. Now we hear that not only is the coast endangered by the prospect of nuclear waste being buried under it, but the old mines in the Whitby, Scarborough, Cleveland area are also being considered as dumping grounds for nuclear waste.

As an inhabitant of Lincolnshire I had the privilege of being connected with the protest at Fulbeck, which was successful. It was successful, according to the Government, because they found that it was less costly than they had thought to bury deeply than to bury shallowly. Is cost to be the criterion for the safety of the British people? I would suggest that in the present circumstances when we have to face the reality of the existence of nuclear waste the only comparatively safe method is to bury that waste on its present site—and that only as an interim measure.

I would ask the noble Earl to answer two related questions when he winds up the debate. First, what research into the safe disposal of nuclear waste is being done in this country today? Secondly and connected with that, what responsibility do the Government accept for the research which is essential to find a safe way of disposal and what help are the Government giving to that research?

6.31 p.m.

The Earl of Cork and Orrery

My Lords, this is developing into an enormously useful and authoritative debate. I wish there were more time for speakers to express themselves. It seems a great pity that the authoritative speech which we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, should be left hanging in the air. I am certainly not capable of following it. Indeed, I wish to speak about a comparatively minute aspect of pollution, that of the sea round our coasts.

In this I am helped by the example that has been given to me by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, in his excellent maiden speech. This is not a purely congratulatory remark, although congratulations are deserved. He referred to the unknown magnitude of pollution, if I may condense it in that way. What I might also say about his speech and that of my noble friend Lord Jenkin is that it is a great pity from the point of view of the entire House that they should have chosen to make their maiden speeches in the course of a debate of restricted length such as this.

If we have to have laws against pollution, as we do, it is essential that those laws should be observed, as are any other laws. There are areas in which very little attempt is made to obey the law. I take as a typical example in this fairly restricted field that of the pollution round our shores which is caused by sewage being discharged into the sea. The example I have in mind—I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, will have it in hers also—was brought to your Lordships' notice by the Swanage Yacht Haven Bill just before Christmas. Following your Lordships' decision, that Bill is now a thing of the past and I do not wish to resurrect it. However, there was mention in that debate of essential reliance upon the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which was to be observed and strengthened by the Swanage Bill.

The Act says in Section 31(1): a person shall he guilty of an offence if he causes or knowingly permits—

  1. (a) any poisonous, noxious or polluting matter to enter any stream or controlled waters".
"Controlled waters" means any part of the sea within three nautical miles of the coast below low water. That is quite a lot of water a long way out.

The Swanage Yacht Haven Bill itself repeated that in almost the same words by saying: a person who within the yacht haven knowingly discharges or causes or permits to be discharged into the waters thereof any toxic, noxious or offensive matter…shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale". This presupposes that some steps are going to be taken to prevent the discharge of sewage into the yacht haven or into the sea round about it or to bring the offenders to book if it occurs.

As I ventured to point out in the course of the debate before Christmas, sewage is not something that comes out of the sea like fish. It is something that comes out of boats, and it certainly comes out of boats that are moored permanently or semi-permanently in yacht havens or marinas with people living in them. Therefore, we might reasonably ask what is going to be done to enforce the law embodied in the 1974 Act.

On inquiry, it was elicited from the promoters of the Bill that if sewage appeared in harbours or in the waters round about they would take steps either to sweep it away with booms or to cause it to sink to the bottom of the sea and become invisible. Here is a suggestion that when the law has been broken to the extent of actually polluting the sea all that is required of the people in charge of that situation is that they should push sewage under water and out of sight.

This is probably occurring everywhere. There are concentrations of boats lying on moorings all over the place, and they are proliferating round our coasts. The Swanage yacht haven was planned to be a haven for some 250 boats, but others hold thousands. Where is any attempt being made to prevent the pollution that these boats cause? I do not know of anywhere in the United Kingdom. In some states of the United States, and even possibly somewhere in this country, there are regulations calling for the use of container tanks in yachts which would be emptied, presumably, by the local authority. The use of those cannot be enforced in boats which do not have them.

This is a subject which I do not particularly want to pursue, and I am sure your Lordships would be happier if I did not, but I wish to draw the attention of your Lordships and of the Government to the fact that this is an area of extreme pollution which is increasing. As the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, said, we do not know how dangerous it is. All I hope is that soon we may be able to refer once again to, This precious stone set in the silver sea".

6.37 p.m.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to discuss the vitally important subject. It is vital because it bears on the health in more than one sense both of individual people and of the nation as a whole.

My purpose in the short time that I have is to speak about two manifestations of pollution which both impair and, I believe, reveal our mental state of health rather than our physical state of health. My first point concerns the plague of pollution at the level of individual people. I am referring to litter disposal. I certainly do not want to strike a holier than thou attitude because I have not been blameless myself in this matter, but I have no hesitation in describing this aspect of pollution as a national disease in Britain.

The random ejection of litter at any time and place is largely mindless. It is an ingrained habit to the point of having almost become part of our culture. Millions of people throw away their cartons, paper bags, plastic material, cans and bottles at the place and point in time when they no longer need them in our towns, cities and, perhaps most distressing of all, anywhere in the countryside and along our public highways. It is convenient to dump the larger categories of unwanted goods such as household furniture and machinery in some field or on some piece of woodland. Nor are town dwellers the only addicts in this matter. Farmers cast away their empty fertiliser bags over their fields.

My second point is that there is also the form of personal pollution to which attention has recently been drawn in your Lordships' House, and that is the graffiti which desecrate our public places and public transport. That is different from the negative rejection of litter in that it appears to be a positive means of expression of self-identity or group identity in our inner cities in the absence of a sense of purpose and opportunity, which so many young people are experiencing at the present time.

As regards litter, it is only fair to say that some blame must attach to those public authorities which fail to provide sufficient litter bins and so on and which fail to clear regularly and frequently enough those conveniences that they provide. I am not one of the strident critics of the Government referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, whose speech I so much enjoyed, but I doubt whether a sufficiently high priority is being accorded to this plague of pollution on the part of either central or local government.

The Prime Minister herself was so concerned on returning from various European countries some time ago that she appointed a well-known and charismatic personality in the person of Mr. Richard Branson to head a clean-up Britain campaign. That was a welcome lead, but has it worked? We know that previous propaganda and publicity campaigns have had little effect. We know that by-laws, with the imposition of fines, are difficult to enforce. What has Mr. Branson succeeded in achieving?

I mean no disrespect to him. We have heard a great deal about his expertise in balloons and speed boats, but we seem to have heard remarkably little about what he has achieved to clean up Britain. If there are promising moves on his behalf, why have we not heard more about them? Is there not a place for more publicity? Perhaps the Minister—who I am so glad has moved from one department in which I had interests to another in which I currently have an interest—will have something to say about that when he comes to reply.

Action is called for more fundamental than post facto cleaning-up operations. It involves tackling the disease at its source. I reckon that the Department of Education and Science and the LEAs have been doing a good job with publicity during this Year of the Environment in seeking to create a national conscience on cleanliness and tidiness.

There is another point. I am one of those who have long believed that many of our troubles, including this one, would be solved or diminished if there was a national obligation to serve in one of a variety of ways—without the sole connotation of serving in the armed forces—required of young people in national service. It is relevant to this because tidiness, a feeling of respect for other people and self-respect are part and parcel of service, and the self-discipline required of service helps tidiness.

A great opportunity was missed when the youth training scheme was extended from one to two years. I remember suggesting to the Secretary of State for Employment at the time that he included as an obligation an element of training for service in that second year. Nothing came of that, and the more is the pity. It is interesting that national opinion polls among young people have since shown a remarkable majority—I seem to remember the figure of 69 per cent.—in favour of some form of national service. It provides the self-discipline which, if it is lacking, gives rise to the kinds of pollution to which I have referred.

I must finish. I had hoped to say something about other forms of pollution which bear on our mental state of health such as the pollution of noise referred to by the noble Baroness and the visual pollution of certain developments on beautiful landscapes. I shall in conclusion just say that it is fundamental to the question of addressing all the forms of pollution I have touched on that those values which have to do with caring, with responsibility and with concern for our environment should be weighed equally with those material values which the Government, understandably, so strongly encourage as a way of promoting enterprise and initiative.

6.46 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, has raised this important problem this afternoon. Few in this House do more than she does to promote the cause of enlightened and sensible conservation.

Last night, to my great surprise, I found myself alone in defending our native broadleaved trees against what I might perhaps rather unfairly call the serried ranks of the sitka spruce lobby. But this afternoon I want to say a word about a different matter—the quality of our rivers, estuaries and coastal waters.

During my service overseas I found that many people I talked to were enormously impressed by the success of our Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968, which were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. They really sat up when I told them that as a child I had repeatedly seen pea-soup fogs in London but that my children had never seen one. Later on they were equally impressed by the vast improvement made in our rivers after the 1950s, with now 100 species of fish in the Thames and 300 or 400 salmon running up past our Terrace outside each year, and equally dramatic improvements in the Tyne, Tees, Trent, Tame, Taff and even the worst of all, the Mersey. All this has been a tremendous and inevitably costly achievement.

But I am concerned that the prodigious improvements in the 30 years from 1950 to 1980 appear to have lost some momentum. The facts have been thoroughly documented—in the Department of the Environment's 1985 Report on River Quality in England and Wales, the Water Authorities Association's report of the same year on Water Pollution from Farm Waste, and last year's admirable third report from the environment committee of another place on Pollution of Rivers and Estuaries.

I understand that the Government are encouraging the water authorities to speed up expenditure on improving sewage treatment and long sea outfalls, and that all 10 are increasing their capital expenditure. But there has been a worrying decrease in the lengths of good quality rivers (Classes 1 and 2) since 1980. Ten per cent. of our rivers and canals cannot now be used for drinking water supplies and cannot support coarse fish. There is a disturbing increase in agricultural pollution, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, largely in dairy farming areas. This can be lethal. Yard washings are 10 times as polluting as domestic sewage, cattle slurry 100 times, and silage effluent 200 times. Incidents of gross organic pollution kill thousands of fish.

There are other problems; the run-off of pesticides, sheep dips and the leaching of nitrates, which were mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and which have already forced the water authorities to close some boreholes, not only in East Anglia but, for example, in Herefordshire. This calls for changes in farming practice, as was recommended by the DoE's own Nitrate Co-ordination Group report in 1986, and perhaps for fiscal measures to restrict the use of nitrogen on the land, as urged recently in this House by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley.

I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that the water authorities ought to take a tougher line in prosecuting polluters of all sorts, for the cost of a clean-up and the economic costs of the destruction of fisheries can be prodigious. We need to spend more on replacing old sewage works and building new ones to cope with increased housing. We need more preventives to curb agricultural pollution. The techniques are known and are available.

I feel a little uneasy about the long sea outfalls, which will only push the pollution out a few miles from our coasts. Are we sure that they do not carry damaging substances like heavy metals out to sea? Who will monitor and control them after privatisation of the water authorities? Will it be the National Rivers Authority?

Lastly, when may we expect the Government's response to the report from the environment committee of another place published seven months ago? I greatly hope that it will be a positive response.

6.50 p.m.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Moran, my first concern is the constant poisoning of lakes, rivers and forests, at home and abroad, by emissions of sulphur dioxide from our power stations; the persistent fallout of acid rain. I understand from a statement by a junior minister in the Department of the Environment that emissions have shown a tendency to rise as a result of increasing demand for energy and that our power stations released many more tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere last year than the year before. I fear that we may be seen by Europeans and the Scandinavians as the most guilty and dirtiest polluter in Europe.

Why is it that Her Majesty's Government will not sign the protocol to the international convention on long-range transboundary air pollution on the reduction of sulphur emissions and will not join the 30 per cent. club, the group of nations which has pledged to cut back sulphur dioxide atmospheric poisoning by 30 per cent. by 1993? Twenty-one countries in Europe have pledged to do so. They have signed. I ask, therefore, why not Britain?

Secondly, when the Flowers Commission on coal and the environment reported in 1981 it made mention of the development of the fluidised bed for power stations. The commission asked the Government to stimulate the commercialism of fluidised bed technology and called for the National Coal Board and the Departments of Energy and Industry to formulate a programme for its commercialisation and export.

I have a personal interest. As Minister of Power in 1968 and recognising the importance of the research into fluidised bed techniques at the National Coal Board's research station at Leatherhead, I kept it alive with an infusion of American money. There was the possibility of a breakthrough on two fronts, more efficient coal-fired stations and cleaner air—an environmental breakthrough. I should like to ask the Minister what has happened. Grimethorpe near Barnsley was chosen as the testbed site for a commercial power station. Foreign countries were involved. Why has it not progressed as we all hoped it would? In view of the fact that we have had 20 years of research and development and government investment, I hope that the Minister will give us a progress report on fluidised bed technology.

I turn now to what I deem to be the greatest despoiler of our countryside and the worst environmental polluter in the land. I refer to opencast coal mining. Opencast coal mining can make many lives a misery every day for up to seven years. Choking clouds of dust drift into homes and gardens. There is constant noise and vibration from machinery, including the stream of coal lorries rumbling through the villages, and the ruination of the landscape for years. Fishing ponds, footpaths, sites of rare plants and other wildlife are ruined. Thousands of people petition and protest every time, but permission to mine is invariably given.

The profit motive, not the need for a cleaner environment, determines opencast operations. In many of the villages severely suffering from this ghastly form of pollution, people suspect collusion between the Department of Energy and British Coal. British Coal wants the profits. The Government want British Coal to break even in their given timescale. I know that the opencast executive will argue improved landscaping after restoration. However, some schemes last seven years. That is seven years of awful misery and unhappiness of all degrees of environmental pollution. Offering a better environment thereafter is not the answer; it is just not good enough.

Opencast coal mining is not totally necessary. It is one of the worst environmental polluters. It could be drastically reduced with quick environmental results because an alternative—deep-mined coal—is available. Why are the Government encouraging the expansion of this environmental polluter? One is bound to question whether they are really serious about improving our environment. Opencast coal mining blights a vast land area well outside the operation itself. There is a loss of hedgerows and trees and a loss of food production for years if agricultural land is involved. It devalues all property. Old people in retirement have their remaining few years of life ruined. Schoolchildren and students are constantly disturbed. Secondary roads are ruined by the incessant patrols of coal lorries. There is an increase in accidents. Houses are structurally damaged, the economic expansion of industry is halted and new investment in the area is deterred. No investor is prepared to accept such environmental conditions. And, of course, any tourist potential is ruined.

The Coalfield Communities Campaign has pleaded with Her Majesty's Government to cut back this major polluter of its areas. Let us remember that the problem is in the North and not in the South, the South-East or the South-West. I believe that now is the time. We should reduce output to 5 million tonnes from the present 15 million tonnes. Let that output satisfy the market demand for anthracite and the blending for power stations. If the Government seriously wish to make advances in improving our environment and in areas where it is sorely needed, the curtailment of opencast coal mining can give t hem a guarantee of success, faster and surer than any other environmental measure.

6.57 p.m.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, this short speech is motivated by my search for some way to make the general public more concerned and better informed about pollution. The Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986—and specifically Regulation 4(5)(b)(i)—have been in force since 1st January this year. They are a welcome new helping hand for gardeners. Gardening is probably the most popular activity in which the whole family can take an active or passive interest. For some, our shrubs, trees, flowers and vegetables give a unique pleasure. For some, what is important is the overall appearance of the garden, perhaps in comparison with the one next door. But for all, our gardens give the pleasure of the birds, butterflies and the many life-forms whose only refuge may be those gardens.

To enjoy these worthwhile delights, at least one person will have had to spend time and money on the garden, which, taken with all the other domestic gardens in the country, is part of a total covering, I am told, about 10 million acres. I am in no position to calculate what those 10 million acres are now receiving in quantities of fertilisers and weed- and pest-killers, but one may wonder whether that money has all been wisely spent and whether many of our garden lovers realise that they themselves are often unwittingly major polluters of our wildlife and countryside.

Our sources of supply are the containers and bottles on the shelves at the garden centres and the shops which carry garden chemicals. The regulations to which I have referred at last require the giving of information on how the products should be used and handled. The dangers and effects of incorrect use may not be so clearly stated. The ideal would be for us to rely on home-made compost and soft soap, but many of us must fall back on bought products.

Shops and garden centres should now display goods in natural and chemical sections, thus separating for us the natural pesticides, fertilisers and deterrents from the artificially made products. From the discussions I have had with very big garden centres, I believe that many will be pleased to do this. It would then be an easy job to stop using the artificial and to continue with the natural products. There should be just a red or a green light—stop or go. For many gardeners that is all we want to know.

But the problem for some domestic gardeners is not quite so straightforward. There is, as it were, an amber light, an amber label, between the red and the green. If suppliers would adopt this colour coding, much good would come of it. I refer to those chemicals, not natural products, that are short-lived and, if used as instructed for their specific purpose, do the job well and very often safely.

However, these same chemicals are dangerous, some highly dangerous, if used to excess. Used to excess, the amber label chemicals can be just as dangerous as that other group of products described as multi-purpose, systemic, total weedkillers and fungicides. These are now laying down a slow accumulation of non-degradable chemicals which can only do permanent damage to our garden plots and to the minute organisms which should be providing the natural structure and nutrient content of the soil.

Finally—and I hope that the Minister can help me here—there is a growing realisation that for many wild creatures our domestic gardens are an essential haven. But there is too little information, much of it conflicting, on the effect on those creatures of what we use in our gardens and how best we can protect our little haven for their survival and our pleasure.

7.2 p.m.

Lord Nathan

My Lords, I. too, should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for enabling us to debate this very important subject. She was quite right in thinking that I had intended to speak about waste and, in particular, about the eleventh report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on which I had the privilege to serve when it dealt with the subject of managing waste and the duty of care. However, within the very close time limits available today, that seemed too large a subject to embark upon. It occurred to me that a narrower subject might be more suitable; namely, the very radical changes for the better made in systems of environmental pollution control over the past year or so which have received very little attention. I congratulate the noble Earl on the new position he has taken up. I hope that what I say may come in a friendly way to his ear.

The radical changes in pollution control policy introduced over the past year indicate a real advance towards a coherent strategy which will, when fully implemented, make a real contribution to reducing the environmental pollution which worries us all. It would be churlish of me not to mention first the radical changes in policy relating to discharges of dangerous substances to water, announced to Parliament (at col. 403 of Hansard of 19th November) just before the International Conference on the North Sea. The changes adopted proposals made in the dangerous substances report prepared by a sub-committee, which I had the honour to chair, of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities. That was the fifteenth report of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities.

Those changes related to unifying the approach to controlling discharges of dangerous substances involving both meeting prescribed quality standards in the receiving waters and minimising discharges from point sources. They also extended to controls of such substances entering the aquatic environment from diffuse sources such as the run-off from agricultural land or leachate from landfill sites. These were also incorporated in the ministerial declaration of the Conference on the North Sea which, as your Lordships will remember, was held in November last and which, in turn, embodied with the full concurrence of the British Government the precautionary approach which has so often been urged upon it.

Much publicity was given to the further decisions of the conference; namely, to phase out marine incineration of waste and greatly to restrict dumping of waste in the North Sea. These provisions will apply to the Irish Sea as well. That becomes clear from the ministerial declaration. So the implications of the conference go far beyond protection of the North Sea and will radically affect pollution control policy generally.

More waste will have to be disposed of to landfill or incinerated on land. It becomes urgent therefore to develop practices akin to those applicable to air pollution in relation to disposal of waste to land and indeed to water. It has always struck me as odd that, in the case of air pollution from particularly difficult wastes, HM Inspectorate of Pollution—formerly the Alkali Inspectorate—concerns itself with the plant and its operation with a view to reducing emissions and rendering them harmless. But waste going to land or water is not subject to any such controls. It is, I suggest, essential that the same principles are applied to disposals to all media, if for no other reason than that reduction in the waste stream and pollution derived from it becomes even more important when disposal to sea ceases to be an option. To apply the same principles and practices to air, land and water will be easier to contemplate since the unified Inspectorate of Pollution was created in April 1987.

The consultation paper on air pollution, published by the Department of the Environment in December 1986, paved the way for extension of responsibilities for pollution control—by means of addition of Part B to the list of scheduled processes—to local authorities. These Part B processes require less technical expertise than those under HMIP. Taking into account the real improvement in the quality and qualifications of environmental health officers, who would be the responsible officers, this proposal is not only welcome but practical.

The suggestions I have made are merely a gloss on the far-reaching proposals made by government which await legislation. It is a pity that the proposals made in December 1986 have not been given the priority in legislative time which they deserve and which indeed government at the time envisaged for them. Implementation is urgent and important to create a coherent pollution control strategy.

It gives me rare pleasure to speak with enthusiasm about environmental policy initiatives taken by government. The enormous contribution to them made by the Chief Scientist to the Department of the Environment, Dr. Martin Holdgate, is well-known among those who are particularly concerned in these matters. On his retirement to take up the very important responsibilities of director general of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, it is not out of place I believe, on this occasion, to pay my tribute to him.

7.8 p.m.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, there are two basic approaches to environmental pollution issues current in this country at the moment. The first is the Government's, which in practice means that they take no action until there is overwhelming scientific proof that a problem has actually been caused. They have adopted this approach in the numerous examples which have been quoted in the debate so far—nitrates leaching into water supplies, the problems of acid deposition from power station chimneys, so-called acceptable levels of radioactive discharges, and so on.

There is a second approach which was set out by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in opening the North Sea Ministers Conference two months ago, to which the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, has just referred. In opening that conference His Royal Highness said: Some argue that we do not have enough proof of danger to justify stricter controls on dumping. or to warrant the extra expenditure involved. They say that we must wait for science to provide the proof". His Royal Highness also said: It makes no sense to test it to destruction. While we wait for the doctor's diagnosis, the patient may die". That directly contradicts what was said by two Government Ministers in opening at the North Sea Ministers Conference and the line taken by the British Government in the negotiations during that conference. It is no thanks to the British Government that the result of the conference led to some benefits to the environment, as the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, has just said.

In pursuing their own approach to environmental pollution, the Government seem to me to have developed three recognisable techniques, the first of which is the longer tube technique. It is based on the dubious scientific principle that if you fill your bath not through a tap but through a tube of the same diameter as the tap, it will not only take much longer to fill up but will never overflow.

This is the technique which has led to ridding London of smog. It has led also to our dumping acid deposition on West Germany and Scandinavia, killing Scandinavian lakes and forests. It is a technique used in the disposal of sewage at sea. We are having longer tubes which remove the problem from people swimming just off the beach, but they dump it in the same body of sea. It is also being used for much more dangerous substances like titanium dioxide waste, for example, where to try to get round the really desperate environmental problem the Government favour a longer pipe out into the same body of water.

There are two other techniques which the Government favour. One I think is called, appropriately enough, the Sellafield technique, where there have been genuine reductions in radioactive discharges, as we heard. But the problem is that science has moved rather faster than successive British Governments in that field. International standards governing radioactive discharges have fallen far faster than the level of radioactive discharge has fallen from Sellafield, which is why the Irish Sea is the most radioactive in the world, why Sellafield discharges more radioactivity than all other nuclear installations put together. It is an international disgrace.

The fact that discharges have fallen is of no comfort to anybody, least of all to the young children who are dying around the Irish Sea because of the discharges from that plant—the so-called acceptable levels of radioactive discharge.

There is a third technique which is also being used at Sellafield; namely, rewriting history or being economical with the truth, at least until the 30-year rule catches you out and the truth eventually has to be told, as it has about one incident. One of the most serious radioactive accidents in the world was at Sellafield, but the truth is not told, I suspect, about many other accidents at that plant. This has been used on a number of occasions, most astonishingly about a rather minor incident but a serious one for those involved in environmental issues. It is the use of tributyl tin paints for pleasure craft and other boats. For many years the Government fiercely resisted pressure from environmental pressure groups to ban TBT paint from boats and insisted they would only do so when there was scientific evidence to show that it was harmful to the marine environment.

The scientific evidence was eventually produced, particularly that shellfish were shown to be not reproducing and dying because of the use of the paint. Then TBT was banned by the Government. This action is now being trumpeted, not as an example of the Government's actual approach, which was to wait until scientific proof was available. It is being trumpeted as an example of the precautionary approach of the Government in banning things to make sure the environment is safe. In fact, it is an example of exactly the reverse.

In ending, I should like to return to the North Sea Ministers' Conference and ask the noble Lord one question after congratulating him on his new duties. It is well known by all the governments who attended that Ministers' meeting that the UK Government were the main stumbling block to making progress in a number of areas. It is known that some decisions, in particular the decision drastically to reduce ocean incineration by 1991 and terminate the practice by 1995, were fiercely resisted by the UK. I wonder if the noble Lord can tell me whether the British Government will continue with that resistance in meetings of the Paris and Oslo conventions which will be necessary to implement the ban, or whether they will now accept the decision which has been taken and argue strongly in its favour when the Paris and Oslo convention meetings take place.

7.14 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, whenever the subject of pollution is mentioned either the Government are blamed or the farmer. I am pleased to note that most noble Lords who have taken part in the debate tonight realise that such a simplification of the problem is rubbish, for it is man and nature who are and always have been the main cause of pollution. It is not in the Government's nor the farmer's power totally to control either. That is not to say that both should not try to minimise the problem.

I shall confine my remarks to water, both fresh and sea, where improvements can and are being made by both the Government and the farmer. I give two examples. The nitrification of water is often laid at the door of modern farming and its use of pesticides and fertilisers. I think the noble Lord, Lord Moran, suggested this. As your Lordships will know, this is far too simple a view, for the release of nitrates from the soil is caused by any form of cultivation. As a result these nitrates may percolate through the soil into the water unless there is a growing crop to take the nitrate up. This is one of the reasons why I so strongly support the practice of stubble burning, minimal cultivations and the planting immediately of a winter crop. If my memory serves me right, some noble Lords, perhaps including the noble Baroness, did not much approve of my defence of such a habit. I must therefore assume that they are in favour of a higher nitrate level in our water.

I mention this example not just to tease the noble Baroness but to emphasise the importance of careful research before we jump to conclusions, conclusions often reached by what I call the precious see the countryside by courtesy of the television by the fireside fraternity. So I repeat my plea to the Government for adequate research funding, although I add that because of research and the dissemination of that research to farmers a great improvement in how to deal with farm effluent has been achieved since 1980. We are aware of the problem of our farm effluents and that is the reason for an increase in prosecutions which the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, raised. I believe that the reason for the increased prosecutions is that the problem is now realised and we are trying to do something about it.

Most farmers enjoy their surroundings; most fish, sail or shoot. We do not wish to destroy our environment and I know that the great majority will follow sound, unbiased advice.

My other plea to the Government concerns the future privatisation of water. In the past water authorities have been obliged to connect new development onto the sewerage system, which has resulted in overloading. In the case of Anglesey, there is not one single chemical treatment works. This results in foul pollution of our beaches, a disgrace either to the planning authority for allowing such developments or the water authority for inadequate sewerage. I make a special plea to the Government to make sure that when water privatisation happens this stupidity is corrected.

Finally—I think I am repeating the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Jenkin—I ask noble Lords not to exaggerate the pollution trouble. We now have better health, safer and relatively cheaper food and water than ever before and we now live longer. Perhaps that is a mistake. I do not want to sound complacent, but should we not sometimes count our blessings?

7.19 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, in listening to the remarks made by my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, I was sorely tempted to use my limited ration of time to talk about coal. However as there are other things that I wish to talk about I shall limit what I have to say about coal to a few short sentences. First, I agree with what the noble Lord said about the fluidised combustion process. I think that it holds out great promise not only of improving the efficiency of combustion but also of reducing emissions in the atmosphere. I, like the noble Lord, would like to know what progress has been made in that area.

However when it comes to opencast coal, with which I have been much connected in my time and which I have always regarded as an integral part of the mining operation, I believe, as I think the noble Lord more or less admitted, that the opencast coal operators have achieved a great deal in minimising the impact of their operations while they take place and in restoring the land afterwards.

However I wish to turn to other matters connected with this important debate and deal with some of the things which the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in her very important opening speech included in the definition of pollution. First, I wish to remind your Lordships of what I consider to be the most important legislative measure ever taken in the history of dealing with pollution that is on our statute book; namely, the Clean Air Act 1956. I wish to pay tribute to that Act because at a stroke it removed from the atmosphere of Britain the visible pollution.

Those who are old enough—I presume I must exempt the noble Lords sitting on the Front Bench opposite—to have experienced the smog of 1952 will have known what a killer that was. As a result of that smog 4,000 people died. I remember having to go home that evening. I had to walk two miles. It took me three hours and I had to walk in the gutter. My problem was linking up with the gutter in the next street when I came to the end of the street in which I was walking. We shall never see that again, thank goodness.

However as regards atmospheric pollution we now have a battle against the invisible pollutants. We have won the battle against the visible pollutants. Nobody should minimise the difficulty of winning the battle against the invisible pollutants. I presume that an invisible foe is always more difficult to grapple with than a visible foe. But I hope that it will not be many years before we have a debate here on a new measure, perhaps a second clean air Act, which will deal with this problem. Regrettably the Control of Pollution Act 1974 did not deal with the problem for the simple reason that many of the issues arising from invisible pollution had not then been fully identified, so no fault lies with those who formulated the Act.

Furthermore although the Act contains a number of useful provisions, some of the provisions have not yet been brought into operation. That Act was an example of a very peculiar form of legislation which I hope will not be too often repeated. I am talking of an Act that contains good and sound measures but where they are subject to the responsible Minister deciding when they should come into operation.

I wish to refer specifically to one of those particular issues which could have been dealt with by now, I believe in a very effective manner, but which due to the way in which the provisions in these two bits of legislation—that is not only the Control of Pollution Act 1974 but the Litter Act 1983—were dealt with has not been brought into effect. I refer to litter which has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hunt.

There are provisions in both the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and the Litter Act 1983 for dealing effectively with the litter problem by enjoining local authorities and other relevant bodies to prepare a plan for so doing, to review that plan from time to time and to bring within the scope of it voluntary and other bodies which could achieve the desired result. So far that measure, in spite of the fact that it has lain on the statute book since 1974, has not been implemented.

Now much has been said and written about litter. No doubt it is a very good thing that people in high places should make speeches about it and remind us of the problem. But speeches alone in this particular sector at any rate do not solve the problem. It must be resolved by firm, clearly defined, continuous action. That action should involve not only government, not only local authorities, not only the people who live in the towns and the villages, not only the voluntary bodies, but everybody. But a lead has to be taken officially. I can quite understand why the Government have been reluctant to bring into operation that particular provision because it could no doubt be thought to add substantially to the cost of local government. But I should like a reply from the noble Earl to the question: would it not be possible in regard to that provision which has lain dormant for so long to try to apply it on a pilot scheme basis?

Would it not be possible in close conjunction with the Keep Britain Tidy Group, with which the noble Lord, Lord Parry, and I have had much to do, to try out one or two schemes in one or two chosen local authority areas to see how they work? I believe that we should persevere along this line. I believe that unless we take some action of that kind we shall find it very difficult to deal with this problem of litter. As this is the time of year when one should be making resolutions I wish to make a resolution that well before the end of this century Britain becomes a litter-free zone.

7.26 p.m.

Lord Broadbridge

My Lords, there used to be an expression to the effect that: the poor are ever with us". It is not much in vogue now but it seems that a successor might be that pollution is ever with us. For if, as I did, we consult The Times newspaper index we find a main heading "Pollution" and a veritable raft of subsidiary headings: Atmospheric, Exhaust Fumes, Ozone Layer Depletion, Noise, Radioactivity, Water, Marine and Coastal and finally Policy and Legislation. There are very many references under each heading, all of which must indicate—and this very well subscribed debate is further proof—that the subject is one which is at the forefront of the minds of a majority. I shall say more about that later.

The year from 21st March 1987 to 21st March 1988 is European Year of the Environment or EYE for short. EYE is based on two premises, fact and opinion. First I shall discuss facts. I am sure that each of your Lordships has his own personal portfolio of horrors, as we have heard, so I shall not delay the House by spending my very limited time listing them individually. I have already mentioned the broad categories. But I should as an exception like to highlight one: it is that last October scientists from Surrey University reported that lead contamination of vegetation and dust along the M.25 motorway is: near a level that mining companies would consider a worthwhile deposit for recovering the metal and, on the Surrey section, has in two years overtaken that on the M.l. Some pollution is insidious and continuous, some a spectacular disaster as at Chernobyl and Sandoz, the one irradiating the entire continent of Europe and the other shattering the ecosystem of the EC's largest river.

I said that EYE was based on facts and opinion. As regards opinion I should like to refer once or twice to a paper delivered by Mr. Stanley Clinton Davis, the European Communities Commissioner responsible for environment and transport, which was given to the Royal Society of Arts in February last.

In 1986 the Commission organised a Europe wide poll to test attitudes well before the start of EYE in order to compare them with a similar poll taken in 1982. Mr. Clinton Davis summarised the results of the poll as indicating: First, and most important, public awareness of, and concern about, environmental issues continues to grow. The poll shows that, since 1982, this has been the case in all member states of the Community. Chernobyl and Sandoz can only have accentuated this trend. Secondly, the problem causing the deepest public worry is chemical pollution. Fifty-nine per cent. of respondents named chemical plant as the pollution source that most worried them. And forty-eight per cent. placed chemical products first on the list of names about which they felt the need for greater information. Thirdly, in most countries of the Community the public feels that the authorities are not doing enough to tackle the problems of the environment. In several countries more than half the respondents felt that public authorities were doing too little; the Community average was forty-seven per cent. Another sixteen per cent. were even more gloomy—they did not believe that the public authorities were doing anything at all. In other words, a sample sixty-three per cent. of Europeans are dissatisfied with official measures taken to protect the environment. Mr. Clinton Davis's European bird's-eye view is that the environment is a very democratic issue, in the sense that people are often more in tune with what is needed than are their governments and that constant vigilance is necessary because it is a sad fact that the producers of pollution are better presenters of issues that influence government decisions than are those who have to live with the consequences.

I should like briefly to indicate that there is another side to the coin and selectively mention a few positive initiatives that are being taken. The CEGB announced last October proposals to spend £600 million on flue gas desulphurisation at Drax and Fiddler's Ferry power stations to reduce all CEGB power stations' total sulphur emissions by 15 per cent. Can the Minister confirm that that plan has run into difficulties, as I have read recently?

Secondly, perhaps I may ask the Minister, as did the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, why this country resolutely refuses to join the so-called "30 per cent. club" of 21 nations committed to reducing emissions by almost one-third by 1993?

As regards the atmosphere, 60 NASA scientists have reported that last September the ozone shield over Antarctica thinned to the lowest level since recording began, with a 55 per cent. overall loss since 1979. They said that it was conclusively established that chlorofluorocarbons, known as CFCs, are mainly to blame, although extreme weather also contributed. Constructively, an international agreement to halve world consumption of CFCs by early in the next century has been reported as reaching tentative approval. Will the Minister state this country's position on that accord?

Finally, as well as EYE, we have in this country several pollution-reducing initiatives. First, there is the Pollution Abatement Technology Award, which is the UK arm of the EEC's Clean Technology Award. Secondly, there is the Green Product Design Award, which aims to encourage the incorporation of environmental considerations into the design stage of new processes. Thirdly, there is the Good Environment Management Award to reward company staff at all levels who have achieved better environmental awareness in the workforce or in the local community. Finally, there is the Award for the Export of Appropriate Environmental Technologies, which speaks for itself. Within each of those four categories, awards are made first at the national level in each member state of the EC and then the overall European award winners will be announced in Brussels in March. There is some good news; we need a lot more.

In conclusion, I can hardly do better than to paraphrase the well-known words used by Mr. Clinton Davis in ending his address to the RSA, which were mentioned earlier: And so, when the meek come to inherit the earth, let us hope that there will be something worthwhile for them to inherit".

7.35 p.m.

Lord Parry

My Lords, perhaps the House will accept that my compliments to my noble friend Lady Nicol and to the two maiden speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, and the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, are as warm as they are short.

When the Minister took over the diary of his predecessor, our new Leader of the House, he will have found in it a date which was earmarked for a meeting with the leaders of the cleaning industry of Great Britain. It may well be that pressures on his time will lead to a necessary postponement of that meeting. However, he will know that it is a very important date and one to which the cleaning industry has been looking forward for some time.

The House will know from the remarks of the president of "Tidy Britain", which is the new name of "Keep Britain Tidy", that I am its chairman. I am also the chairman of the British Cleaning Council and the British Institute of Cleaning Science. In case the Minister is tempted to ask me to declare my interests, as one Minister once was, I declare that they are honourary appointments.

I take great pride in them because I believe that those organisations perform an important service in the cleansing of the environment of Great Britain and that progress is being made. It is absolutely essential that the voluntary bodies understand that they are appreciated. Some confusion was caused when a rearrangement of impetus caused a slackening of pace in some of the contributions that were being made by the long-established voluntary bodies. When new personalities and organisations are introduced, it is essential that what they are about to do is understood by them and by those benefiting from their obvious initiative.

There is a very important cleaning industry in this country. It is professional and it contributes possibly as much as £9 billion to the economy. Waste disposal is one aspect of the problem; the casting down and cleaning up of litter is another aspect. Those matters fuse naturally into one of my other interests, which was for 10 years or so that of promoting tourism in Wales and Great Britain. It is essential that we understand that a major contribution is made to our economy by tourism. The cleaning industry is basic to tourism, in the same way that hotels are. Great damage was done to the economy when, because of other influences and reasons which might or might not have been avoidable, a rat was seen sitting on some uncollected rubbish in the centre of London. The photograph of that rat went around the world. In terms of tourism, that rat is infamous. It cut across the efforts to promote Britain and its earnings from tourism.

I do not want to confuse the issue. We know that it is difficult to grapple with changing society. I shall quote something which I have quoted to the House before: Let us educate, educate, educate and then we can legislate, legislate, legislate". Part of the problem is that we sometimes introduce legislation without having educated people as to the true purpose of the legislation. Those things are fundamentally important and if we add the product of tourism, which can be as much as £6 billion, to the product of the cleaning industry, we are talking about big money in a shrinking economy.

I wish to draw attention to the bodies representing the professional side of the cleaning business. One of the things that is not often underlined in our discussions is the fact that the collection and disposal of waste clears one problem and creates another.

Disposal of waste in tips and litter in bins about the country creates small areas of intense difficulty.

Perhaps I may say a word about the fact that many lorries are streaming up and down the motorways and the rural roads of Britain with insecure loads, scattering rubbish as they go. When the Minister meets with the cleaning industry and hears from it of its plans to contribute to the effort which he can sustain with his leadership, I should like him to understand that those professionals in the industry also contribute to the voluntary bodies which I have mentioned.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, has done us all a favour in introducing this debate. We do not do ourselves much of a favour in limiting speaking time so strictly. However, I shall not abuse the privilege.

7.39 p.m.

Lord Colwyn

My Lords, I am both delighted and disappointed to be taking part in the debate this evening. I am delighted that so many noble Lords have taken part; I am disappointed that because there are so many speakers I shall have such a short time to speak about a subject of primary concern to our health. It has been a factor in the past and will remain a major influence on the nation's health in the future.

A very large number of refined and synthetic toxins exist in the environment today, with the activities of man being either direct or indirect sources of those poisons. People are affected on an individual basis with apparently a wide range of susceptibility being exhibited among individuals. Although the body has mechanisms to eliminate these toxins, changes in lifestyle in modern civilisation, with less exercise, have resulted in poorer excretion of these toxins, with the result that they tend to accumulate in the body.

It is important that your Lordships understand that a normal, healthy individual can cope with small amounts of these toxins but when the amount retained becomes a stress, in combination with the other stresses of life, it becomes too much for the body's defence mechanisms and symptons such as the appearance of allergic reactions, headaches or other unexplained illnesses start to appear.

Many of these pollutants eventually reach us via the water supply and the food we eat. I should be grateful if the Minister could comment on or confirm that our water supplies in this country are in line with EC regulations in terms of purity.

I had intended to say a few words about the presence of nitrates and pesticides in our water supplies but, as is ever the case when you are one of the last speakers on the list, the subject has already been covered and I shall move on. However, I should be interested to hear whether there has been any change of attitude to the use of antibiotics and steroids in animal foodstuffs, which again are increasingly present in drinking water and food and must be regarded as serious pollutants.

Another major pollutant, not generally recognised, relates to the harmful effect of artificial electromagnetic fields on public health. During the course of this century there has been a massive increase in electromagnetic fields ranging from ionising frequencies such as radioactivity to extremely low non-ionising frequencies used in military communications.

These low frequencies are mostly associated with the electrical power system. They are very pervasive and it is only in the remotest parts of the world that the intensity of these low frequencies is not several orders of magnitude above the natural level present on our planet. Readings taken on human subjects using an oscilloscope have shown that the mains power supply and the television time base frequency induced are the dominent wave forms in the human body. Significant harmful electric and magnetic fields can be set up with the use of everyday domestic electrical equipment.

There is considerable international variation in safety exposure standards to non-ionising electromagnetic radiations. Exposure limits to microwave radiation have received considerable attention since the safety limit set by the USSR compared to that set by the USA differed by a thousandfold. The regulatory bodies in the US have set the limit at the threshold to thermal effects produced by microwave radiation, while the Soviet limit has been determined on the evidence of non-thermal effects.

These electromagnetic fields work in two ways. Actively the waves penetrate the body setting up disturbance fields resulting in metabolic changes, adverse reactions and the possible triggering of allergies. Passively these fields jam natural beneficial electromagnetic signals, affecting health.

Modern building techniques also shield natural electromagnetic fields and contain artificial fields generated by ring mains power supply and much of the electrically powered paraphernalia found in offices and workshops. Possible effects of these artificial fields have been largely ignored in the West but data have been accumulating which implicate the effects of electromagnetic fields in a wide range of physiological processes and behaviour.

The general conclusion from studies is that there is a correlation between artificial environmental electromagnetic fields and a broad spectrum of ills as opposed to specific illnesses and that these ills are a reaction to the stressor wave form. An example of that is the disturbed sleep or behavioural patterns caused by the ring circuit at home. It is referred to as geopathic stress. If any of your Lordships or your families have difficulty sleeping try changing the position of the bed, turning off the LED electric alarm clock and making sure that the power to the television set in the bedroom is completely turned off. It does have an effect.

There is a growing body of opinion that exposure to the pollutant effect of artificial electromagnetic fields is a serious potential risk to public health. Regulatory bodies have been slow to respond to this risk and since the sources of the artificial fields are so much a part of 20th century living, it is difficult to see how any legislation can be imposed to control the situation. However, it should be possible in the future, for example, to avoid siting intense sources of artificial electromagnetic fields near centres of population in order to decrease the risk of exposure. A re-evaluation of these risks is necessary in the near future.

My noble friend the Minister has my sympathy. This is a vast subject with vital influence on our future health and existence. I hope that the Government will feel able to give due consideration to all the points raised in our interesting debate this evening.

7.46 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I readily devote the first of my allotted six minutes to giving sincere thanks to the two maiden speakers and also a welcome to the Minister with his new responsibilities.

I think that noble Lords would generally agree that the growing problem of environmental pollution has been highlighted by my noble friend. Instead of piecemeal legislation on these matters, I wonder whether consideration might be given to the introduction of an environmental protection Bill—I hastily say not in this Session, please! Have the Government any intention of taking such a course of action? There is no lack of information. Reports of all kinds have been mentioned today, not least the reports of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which has already submitted 12 reports since 1971. I was sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, did not refer to the eleventh report, which was on managing waste and for which he had considerable responsibility, although I understand why he did not do so.

I had the privilege of reading that report during the recess in readiness for this debate, and I noted that the commission said: All forms of waste have one feature in common: waste, being no longer required by the owner, is consigned to the environment". This particular report on waste contains 112 recommendations. I shall not ask the Minister to comment on each of them. However, what steps are being or have been taken by the Government on the recommendations that do not require legislation? Similarly, what consideration has been given to any of the recommendations that require legislation? Frankly, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that the problem of litter is a national disgrace; there is not the slightest doubt about it. It must be linked to the question of recycling of waste and the work of local authorities.

How far are local authorities constrained by financial considerations when dealing with waste? We have heard that the extent of recycling, particularly of glass, is well below that in other Western European countries. Local authority amenity points are a great boon. I have one in my own area. However, are the number, siting and opening hours of such points constrained because of the financial position of local authorities? What happens when they are closed? The one in my own area is situated in a lane leading almost nowhere. Because the amenity point is closed at 5 o'clock, litter is simply dumped, because not everyone finds those sort of hours convenient.

Is the Minister satisfied that the European Year of the Environment has made the impact that was desired? The November Journal of the Environmental Health Officers quotes the chairman of the UK's European Year of the Environment Committee, who said that the UK had a good record on enacting EC law but was rather less good on enforcing it.

That leads me to echo the question asked by my noble friend Lady Nicol regarding the European Community directive on the Environmental Impact Analysis. Will the Government be able to indicate by 3rd July 1988 their plans for the assessment of the effects of development projects on the environment?

Reference has been made to the conference in November on the protection of the North Sea. As a result of the decisions taken there, what steps will the Government now be taking? The conference was held only a month and a half ago. We still have the problem of the dumping of industrial waste. We still have the dumping of sewage sludge in the North Sea. We are the only country in Europe that does this. Will the Government be in a position to make clear statements to the third conference on the North Sea? I understand that it is to be held in the Netherlands in the early 1990s to review the position.

I must pass over other points and conclude with a comment from the report by the Royal Commission to which I have referred. The report states: By waste management we mean management of waste at all levels of responsibility and at all stages, from production, through handling and transport, to its ultimate disposal". This means education by all possible means, through the media. It means legislation on all aspects of pollution, and enforcement. It also means adequate financial resources for the environmental officers in local authorities, and for the general work of local authorities on the question of waste and other aspects of pollution. I believe we must insist that market forces must not dominate over environmental needs.

7.53 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we have considered today important illustrations of the pollution which man makes and which man must acknowledge, deal with and best of all prevent. It is an important and very wide-ranging subject. We are all indebted to the noble Baroness for raising the debate today.

The noble Baroness and others in your Lordships' House have argued that the problems of pollution are growing. Your Lordships have identified some indicators which are at present going the wrong way. I acknowledge those, although the overall picture remains encouraging. Our debate today illustrates above all a growing perception of pollution problems among the general public. I find that encouraging. Grass roots conservation organisations have undoubtedly raised levels of awareness. That is growing. There is an expectation of action. Action is expected from industry, from government at local, national and international levels and from us all as individuals. My noble friend Lord Craigton forcibly reminded us of one aspect today, which was as gardeners. I was interested in his suggestion of a red, amber and green labelling system, because simplified labelling is one of our objectives.

Let me first say a word about the role of industry. Industry is responsive to public opinion. There is an ever-growing awareness of industry's dependence on an environment which is nurtured, not degraded, and of a practical understanding of clean technology. Thinking green can make financial sense.

Many partnerships between industry and conservation have been forged since the introduction of our Conservation and Business Sponsorship Initiative in 1983 and I am sure that more will follow. Our pollution abatement industry, however, is fragmented. Technological development pioneered in one sector can fail to realise wider applications. This is an important loss in commercial and environmental terms. We must succeed with a broad-based, aggressive pollution technology industry. To this end we have set up an environmental protection technology scheme through which the Government will take the initiative in concert with industry to identify market opportunities, publicise priority areas where new technologies are needed and part fund research and development.

The Government have taken vigorous action to protect the environment. There is a long way to go but we should remember the important achievements. We hear much today about the problems caused by acid rain. It is right that concern should be widespread. What is perhaps less widespread is an appreciation of the scale of action that we are taking. As part of a £1 billion clean-up programme we have agreed that three of the largest coal-fired power stations be fitted with flue gas desulphurisation equipment at a cost of over £600 million. I believe that the CEGB expects to submit its applications for consent for the first FGD plant at Drax power station later this month. I can therefore say to the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, that there is no reason to believe at this stage that the timescale will slip and that the commissioning of the plant in 1993 will be delayed.

These measures should help to ensure that our emissions of sulphur dioxide, which have been on a downward trend since 1970 but are now beginning to rise in consequence of increased industrial activity, will be kept in check and should be further reduced during the remainder of the century. From then on the dismantling of the existing plant and its replacement with new low acid technology and with nuclear power will bring rapid and more substantial reductions in emissions.

I should like to dwell on that. The downward trend was a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley. The recent indications buck the trend of the past 15 years or so, which, as noble Lords know well, has been in a strongly downward direction. It is some 40 per cent. down since the 1970 peak. I have no wish to deny that this is happening. It is a feature of our strongly buoyant economy. There seems to have been some overreaction to the news.

First, the upward trend in the 1986 figures is exaggerated because the previous emission figures with which they are compared—those of 1984–85—are artificially low as a result of the miners' strike. Secondly, if we look at the figures in terms of the effect on acid deposition in Scandinavia—the point about which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, was concerned—according to the latest UN modelling results, Britain is responsible for about 9 per cent. of sulphur deposited upon Norway. An increase therefore in the UK emissions of the kind about which we are talking—which was about 5 per cent. between 1984 and 1986—means an increase of about a half of 1 per cent. in the total deposition upon Norway. That is not insignificant. I appreciate that it is not insignificant, in particular when viewed from the Scandinavian perspective, but I suggest that it is not a signal to panic at this stage. Indeed, some upward movements in emissions had been expected because of higher economic growth. The CEGB's major power station action programme, to which I have just referred, was introduced in anticipation of trends that we are now seeing.

The noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, was joined by the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, in asking about the 30 per cent. I can only repeat what has been said before in this House. The reason we did not join is that the dates are so arbitrary, 1980 to 1993. The 1980 date is a long way from the beginning of our programme, which was 1970. Once again we showed the way.

This brings me to the memorable maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. I am grateful to him and to the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, for reminding the House that the Government's record is extremely good. Far from doing nothing to introduce unleaded petrol, the UK initiated the move in the EC to low lead and unleaded petrol. The Government have reduced lead content in petrol to the minimum level to be safe for all cars on the road today. There are now some 550 filling stations throughout the country selling unleaded petrol. The availability of unleaded petrol has made great strides, but the problem, as with so many matters to do with pollution, as I have discovered in the very short time I have been in the department. is the need to educate and persuade people either to use it or to take action on it.

The major 25-year programme to clean up the Mersey Basin, begun in 1984, has not been an isolated initiative. The £300 million spent on the Thames has rendered it the cleanest metropolitan river in Europe. Similar projects continue on the Tyne, the Humber, the Tees and other rivers, improving the water quality significantly. Last September the United Kingdom, together with the EC and most other member states, signed the international agreement on measures to control chemicals, notably CFCs, which have a potential to damage the ozone layer. I refer to the Montreal Protocol, which was a major environmental achievement in which the UK played a full part in support of the European Commission. We are following very closely the work that was undertaken and the agreement that was signed and are actively considering implementation. The department has held preliminary talks with industry representatives on the extent to which implementation might be self-regulatory. We shall also be considering measures with the European Commission and other member states.

We accept that the global aspects of air pollution, which the noble Baroness, Lady Robson of Kiddington, mentioned, are of high importance. I can assure her that the UK plays a leading role in international research into climate change. The Government do not underestimate the threats to the environment. They will not shrink from the evidence, and they will continue to co-operate fully across national frontiers where the environmental threat is international.

Our new initiatives to enhance environmental protection are wide and comprehensive. On water there are proposals to create a new system to manage and protect our national water courses under a new agency, the National Rivers Authority. Additional measures have been announced to bring new strict controls over the discharge of potentially hazardous substances from industry.

I believe that what I have said will be welcomed not only by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley but by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, and the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who raised in particular the question of long sea outfalls. I can assure him that the NRA will monitor the outfalls which, as he knows better than I, are an approved method (provided that they are constructed properly) for the disposal of waste.

I turn now, if I may, to matters dealing with the air. We are extending special controls over industrial processes and giving more effective powers of control to local authorities. On land waste, we have proposals which we hope to finalise shortly to overhaul the current control systems to provide more effective enforcement. These include the introduction of a duty of care on waste producers to ensure that their waste is properly disposed of and also the registration of waste carriers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, raised the question of waste imports. I acknowledge that the trade in waste is growing and that the United Kingdom is taking its share of growth. As she said, last year we estimated that around 180,000 tonnes came to the United Kingdom. But we cannot be classed, because we are importing that waste, as the dustbin of Europe. In 1983, which is the latest date for which I have figures, some 2.5 million tonnes of waste crossed the frontiers of EC member states alone. But the importation of waste into this country and how it is treated is no different from how we treat waste generated in the United Kingdom. It is dealt with in precisely the same manner. Neither is this waste swamping the United Kingdom disposal industry. It is a minute proportion of the waste generated in the country every year and adds only 2 ounces to the 80 pounds generated per capita in the United Kingdom every week of the year.

At sea we have agreed new measures to protect and enhance the quality of the North Sea, including the end of incineration of waste at sea, the dumping of harmful industrial waste and the jettisoning of garbage from ships. More generally our policy is to take an integrated approach to pollution control in order to protect the environment as a whole. We took an important step in this direction in April last year when we combined the various pollution inspectorates into the unified HM Inspectorate of Pollution.

I welcome the support from the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, for the proposals in the consultation paper issued by the department in 1986 reviewing the air pollution control systems. These were in general widely supported and indicated a major consensus on the way ahead. The Government regret that it is not possible in the very full parliamentary timetable in the opening Session to find a place for new air pollution legislation; but in order to progress changes as quickly as possible we are now in detailed consultation with the interested bodies about proposals which we plan to lay before your Lordships and another place within the next few months.

I hope your Lordships will understand if I return for a moment to the reference to the North Sea. I should like to take this opportunity to pay a tribute to my distinguished predecessor, my noble friend Lord Belstead. He is already sorely missed in the department and by all those associated with the environment. But it was my noble friend who was responsible for the arrangements for the Second North Sea Conference in November and he represented the United Kingdom at it. The success of the conference was in no small measure the results of his efforts and those of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who chaired it. The final declaration represents unanimous agreement on actions to be taken to protect and enhance the North Sea environment. It was signed by all eight North Sea states and the commissioner of the European Communities responsible for environmental protection. A copy of that declaration has been placed in the Library of the House.

My noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery will be pleased that the principal changes in the policy resulting from the declaration concern the input of dangerous substances to rivers and estuaries and sea disposal of waste. It is particularly pleasing to note that a task force is to be set up to ensure better coordination of North Sea research and monitoring. The United Kingdom will be hosting the inaugural meeting of the task force before Easter.

I propose now to deal with some of the other points raised. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned the eleventh report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which dealt with waste. The recommendations concerning legislation have been adopted almost in their entirety by the Government in their 1986 consultation paper. We hope to be able to announce the results of the consultations very soon. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked about the date of 3rd July. That is the correct date and we hope to meet it. It is our intention to bring the necessary regulations into force by then.

My noble friend Lord Jenkin of Boding asked about the value of market mechanisms. We continue to assess the potential of market mechanisms in the control of pollution. The CEED report, to which my noble friend referred in his distinguished speech, has been a useful and most welcome contribution to our thinking on this matter.

Environmental policy must evolve on the basis of sound science, informed debate, foresight and a proper balance between development and conservation. We accept the precautionary principle. Although it is nice after a spell of six years or so to debate these matters once again with the noble Lord. Lord Melchett, I fear that we are as wide apart as ever and disagree as we have done before. I cannot let him get away with some of his remarks. As he knows, we have led the way in promptly eliminating the hazards of TBT and are currently engaged in persuading other EC countries to take the same action. I am sure that he knows that since 1979 the liquid waste discharged from Sellafield has been reduced by 85 per cent. and further reductions will take place in the early 1990s.

I would also remind the House that the United Kingdom hosted and chaired the successful North Sea Conference and fully subscribed to its unanimous conclusions. I am sure that the noble Lord has read the report from it with diligence.

I can assure the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, who gave what I thought was a forceful and apt maiden speech, that we do not wait for incontrovertible evidence of cost and damage before we take action. We act instead to prevent releases to the environment of substances which we can reasonably expect to pose a threat to it. In that manner we shall achieve practical solutions to pollution problems. Having tackled those, which may now appear easy, we shall be better equipped to disentangle the newest, more insidious and most intractable problems, including some of those which have been so eloquently described today.

Let me conclude with a reference to the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, the Brundtland Report. I was rather surprised that none of your Lordships raised it today, because this is a truly comprehensive and balanced assessment of the formidable problems facing the world, and yet it is essentially optimistic. It does not offer doom and gloom but a way forward by means of economic growth sustained by integration of the environment and development. We have already given the report a warm welcome in the UN General Assembly. Our domestic policies are based on a belief that protection of the environment and encouragement of economic growth are interlinked and mutually reinforcing. The commission's report sets the world a difficult agenda but one which we cannot afford to ignore. Its recommendations must be followed up on national, regional and global levels so that periodic reviews of progress can he made in achieving sustainable development in order to safeguard our common future.

I know I have not answered all the points that have been raised. I undertake to write to those noble Lords whom I have not answered. I know that I have an awful lot to learn. I look forward to working with your Lordships in this area.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, the noble Earl has another five minutes still to speak. How is it that he has not mentioned anything about nuclear waste disposal? Is the Government not concerned about it!

The Earl of Caithness

I have, my Lords. I have not mentioned a lot of other things which your Lordships would have liked me to mention.

Baroness Nicol

I should like to compliment the Minister on his first appearance dealing with environmental matters, on the agility with which he answered all the questions and on the comprehensive way he dealt with them. I know that he will be writing perhaps concerning the voluntary organisations about which people are very concerned.

It remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in what has been a very interesting debate. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.