HL Deb 20 October 1988 vol 500 cc1295-325

5.56 p.m.

The Earl of Cranbrook rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on The Ozone Layer—Implementing the Montreal Protocol (17th Report, 1987–88, HL Paper 94).

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this report deals with proposals for joint action by the international community, the European Community and member states to overcome a serious threat to the global environment posed by the release into the atmosphere of a group of synthetic chemicals commonly and conveniently known as CFCs and halons. The major uses of CFCs are in aerosols as propellants, as foam-blowing agents and as refrigerants in freezers and air conditioners. The main use of halons is in fire extinguishers.

The report before your Lordships has been prepared by sub-committee F which is the environment sub-committee of the Select Committee on the European Communities. The sub-committee is grateful to its specialist adviser, Mr. Nigel Haigh of the Institute for European Environmental Policy. I should also like to thank our witnesses who were of great assistance. I look forward this afternoon to hearing the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, make his maiden speech on this subject. It is my great regret that we cannot have with us today two Members of this House who took part in this committee; namely, my noble friend Lord Sandford, and the noble Baroness, Lady White. I am sure that your Lordships will join with me in wishing them a speedy recovery to good health.

There are two sets of issues, scientific and political. On the scientific issues the sub-committee accepted the specialist evidence that had been given to the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment a little earlier in the year. This was supplemented by the executive summary of the Stratospheric Ozone Review Group's second report which was released in advance of the full report and printed in the Select Committee's report on page 17. The scrutiny of the Select Committee therefore focused on the political processes both international and internal within the European Community. These are the points that I wish to emphasise in the main today.

First, I shall deal with the international background which is covered in paragraphs 7 to 12 of the report. The framework is the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer which was agreed in 1985. After this convention has been agreed there was a period of international dispute when the leading producers and users of CFCs fell into two camps. First, there was the Toronto group which included the United States, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Finland, that wished to see a ban on aerosol propellants. This was opposed initially by the European Community which felt that the best way to tackle the problem was by production controls. Ultimately a compromise was reached and this compromise appears as the Montreal Protocol under the convention which was agreed in September 1987.

Under the Montreal Protocol, production and consumption of designated CFCs and halons are to be frozen immediately at 1986 levels and subsequently reduced by stages to 50 per cent. by 1999. To come into force the Montreal Protocol must be ratified by at least 11 parties representing at least two-thirds of global consumption. These figures will both be achieved (as is made clear in Table 1 on page 6 of the report) if the United States and the member states of the European Community collectively ratify. The protocol, once ratified, includes mechanisms for periodic review of target reductions, but it must be ratified before the review process can begin.

Within the European Community developments have been as follows. On 16th June of this year the Environment Council adopted a resolution, which is printed on page 16 of the report, calling for further research into the subject and urging voluntary methods to achieve reduction in CFC use. Further steps had to be taken in order to achieve ratification of the Montreal Protocol, and the Commission proposes, first, a Council decision. This decision will enable the Community to become a contracting party to the convention and to the protocol. Secondly, the Commission has proposed a regulation to ensure consistency in the law in all member states. Details of the regulation are laid out in paragraphs 17 to 18 of the report.

Our witness, Mr. Patrick Szell, who is from the Legal Directorate, explained to the sub-committee that, in terms of treaty obligations, problems could arise if all member states do not ratify simultaneously. This is one of the declared objectives of the Commission's proposals. Certainly, in the case of the United Kingdom, and very likely in the case of other member states, were it not for the fact that a regulation is proposed, new legislation in some form would be needed. The regulation undoubtedly makes progress more rapid.

So much for the political nuts and bolts. Since our report was published there have been advances on several fronts. Since 3rd October the full version of the Stratospheric Ozone Review Group's second report has been available. In a covering press release my noble friend the Minister called for an accelerated review and a target reduction in emission of CFCs of at least 85 per cent., thereby carrying the target well beyond what at present is laid out in the Montreal Protocol. In view of news, as recent as October 1988, that ozone depletion in the Antarctic atmosphere this year has been less than predicted, does my noble friend feel that he needs to change his target for reduction? His press release also stated that the United Kingdom, together with its dependent territories, has completed the necessary formalities and is ready to ratify the protocol. In view of Mr. Szell's remarks, it is important to know whether all other member states are also ready. If they are not ready, will ratification be delayed beyond the expected date of 1st January 1989?

The third development in the United Kingdom and in the Community at large is widespread public recognition of the danger of damage to the ozone layer by CFCs and halons. Consumers are looking for substitutes for aerosols, and the United Kingdom aerosol industry has announced its intention to phase out harmful CFC propellents for non-essential uses by 1989. Some imaginative substitutes have also been brought on to the market. Similar moves are being made in other member states. As aerosol propellents account for about 60 per cent. of CFC use in the United Kingdom—and only slightly less in the European Community as a whole—these changes will have a considerable effect of consumption. Can by noble friend assure the House that CFC production will fall in step with consumption in the United Kingdom and in the European Community as a whole? It is important to note that if production is not reduced in this way, the prompt responses of consumers and of manufacturers will bring no environmental benefit.

In other countries, particulary those of the so-called Toronto group where aerosols have already effectively been phased out, the next stage in reduction is much harder. It will be equally hard in the United Kingdom and other member states of the European Community.

In the use of CFCs as blowing agents there has been work on substitute gases. It is also possible to devise methods of containing the gases so that they are not released to the atmosphere. The problem is probably also soluble by seeking substitute materials which do not involve the use of CFCs in their manfufacture.

The remaining major use of CFCs is in refrigerators and in air conditioners. Throughout the Western world and more widely refrigeration is indispensable for the food industry. We have come to depend on frozen food for economic reasons, and much more importantly perhaps, for reasons of public health. It would be wrong to dismiss air conditioning as a trivial use. In large areas of the world with seasonally or permanently hot climates modern architecture has created buildings which are uninhabitable without cooled atmospheres. Many car drivers now rely on air conditioning, which is standard in all but the most temperate parts of the world. The disposal of refrigerators and the breakdown of air conditioners in cars provides a major route by which CFCs are released into the atmosphere.

It is unfortunate that for these important uses CFCs are remarkably suitable. It is also unfortunate that developing countries naturally and understandably aspire to the standards of the Western world. The Montreal Protocol recognises such ' aspirations. Although the term "developing country" is not defined in the protocol, if it were to be applied to the Peoples' Republic of China the threshold allowance of 0.3kilogrammes per head within the next 10 years, which is considered necessary to meet basic domestic needs, would mean at least an additional 300,000 tonnes of CFCs. As Miss McConnell, the head of environmental protection of the international division of the Department of the Environment, said in answer to our question, "That would be very serious". Does my noble friend agree that the search for substitutes must be given high priority? How will he promote the necessary research.

A further fear must be aired. Certain countries may choose to remain outside the group of contracting parties and may deliberately enlarge their production of CFCs for export to other non-signatory developing countries. Does my noble friend anticipate such a development? Is Hong Kong, for instance, among the "dependent territories" that will be signatories along with the United Kingdom? If so, what will be the status of Hong Kong in this respect after 1997?

Finally, in looking at the scene more generally, it becomes increasing obvious that the most alarming threats to the environment are now global in their scope. This case will be the precursor of others. It is important to note again the view of Miss McConnell that the process of forming a consensus in the Community and subsequent action by the Community as a single negotiating body at Montreal was, extremely successful and profitable, not only for the Community but I would like to think for the environment".

It is vital that we should recognise the legitimate aspirations of developing countries. It is essential therefore that we contribute to the solution of a global problem by striving to find alternative and environmentally less damaging means by which those developing nations can catch up with the rest of the world in standards of living. In those key aspects, I believe that the action now being taken to protect the ozone layer will be a model for future international measures of environmental protection. It must succeed. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on The Ozone Layer—Implementing the Montreal Protocal(17th Report, 1987–88. HL Paper 94).—(The Earl of Cranbrook.)

6.11 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl, and the committee, for all the work that has been done and also for the most comprehensive way in which he introduced the report. Despite the decision of the House over a year ago that maiden speeches should not be trailed, which seems to be honoured more in the breach than in the observance, I should also like to say that I am looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges.

I should perhaps inform your Lordships that I have recently become associated with a major attempt at environmental rehabilitation in London Docklands. Those noble colleagues who attended the memorial service this morning for our dear late colleague Lord Peart will recall that during the address it was mentioned that he was one of the few science graduates in the other place. However, there is another science graduate there now; namely, the Prime Minister. She is not only a graduate in chemistry but had as a tutor a woman who won a Nobel Prize in X-ray crystallography and went on to become Chancellor of Bristol University.

I do not share the cynical remarks which were made when the Prime Minister made her seminal speech about the possibility of a global catastrophe. I believe that she assessed the available scientific evidence and realised that urgent action and awareness were necessary. Concern about the environment is on an exponential curve, not only in this country but in many other parts of the world. I believe that the problem is so serious that we must do our best to adopt a by-partisan approach towards it. It must not be regarded as a political football to be kicked about for temporary party advantage. Indeed, there may well be a temptation to do so because, on the face of it, there would appear to be a contradiction between the philosophies of the two sides of the House. There are those who tend towards the free market economy and those who prefer rather more planning in our affairs. That apparent difference on opposite sides of the House must not be allowed to cloud the issue.

We must also recognise that the solutions to such problems will be most expensive. They will be expensive in terms of the research required and also in terms of the counter-measures which will be needed. Therefore we must all be prepared to stand up and justify that fact whatever the position we are in. The effort will require a strong economy. It will also create a tremendous problem in identifying to the general public the problems which we are dealing with and the need for everyone not only to become interested in the matter but to make his own contribution towards the solutions. However the response of motorists to the availability of unleaded petrol has hardly been encouraging in this respect.

Many years ago I was not in the least enthusiastic about the prospect of this country joining the EC. In fact, I voted against it consistently. However, in the autumn of 1974 the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, sent me to the General Assembly of the United Nations—more for rest and rehabilitation than anything else, because I had been the pairing Whip in the other place during a time when we did not have a majority in the House. While I was there I learnt to appreciate the advantage that the EC, which was able to speak on issues with a common voice, had over a number of disparate voices issuing from separate countries.

While I recognise the difficulty, I feel that the point touched upon by the noble Earl towards the end of his address is one to which we must give serious thought; namely, the problems of the Third World. There is an enormous potential source of friction here, because the developed countries—I do not wish to be drawn into a definition of that—or the industrialised West, in fact all industrialised countries, have built up their economic strength by the use of resources from the Third World. Certainly in the case of a number of West European countries, including our own, a great deal of that was done during the colonial phase. The countries were exploited for their resources and our strength was built up on that basis, although I must say in this respect that the record of this country was far better than many others that I could name if tempted.

We now face the danger of lecturing such countries. They will say to us, "It is all very well for you because you have a standard of living where even your poorest people are living in conditions which our people would regard as luxurious. Now you tell us that we have to be careful about using this and that." Obviously, fossil fuel is one of the major problem here. We must recognise such problems and be sympathetic towards them, otherwise we shall enter a phase of stress with those countries which could be disastrous.

The debate is about the issue of CFCs. They are actually made in Bristol. When concern about the matter first arose I recieved a number of representations from people who worked in the manufacture of CFCs regarding their job prospects, and so on. That sort of problem must be faced and overcome. It is so serious that, while people must be looked after if their livelihood is affected, the overall concept is the one which we must embrace.

The question of production havens abroad is mentioned at page 10 of the Report. It is no good trying to cure the problem in countries where we have some say if it is only to be exported abroad. There is also the problem of exports themselves. It is not enough to say that the countries of the West must cut down on usage. We must be prepared to cut our usage far below a pro rata basis. We cannot expect the Third World to take us seriously unless we say, "We have reached a certain standard of living and therefore we are prepared to make a much more substantial sacrifice than people who have yet to catch up with us".

In conclusion I must say that with the problems we are now facing, together with other matters such as the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere, we are entering a phase which adds a new dimension to the whole concept of overseas aid and the need for planetary co-operation.

6.18 p.m.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, today we are debating a matter of great complexity but one which is of the utmost importance to each and every one of us. Therefore we should all be most grateful to the noble Earl for giving us the opportunity to debate such flatters. I am especially grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Cran brook, for giving so clear an exposition of the difference between the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol—matters which previously seemed to me to be somewhat obscure. He has certainly clarified the issue for me.

In his introductory remarks the noble Earl referred to the report and also to the matters which we are discussing. He said that there were two sets of issues involved: scientific and political. I shall deal briefly with both of them.

As regards the scientific aspect, let may say at once that I am no more a scientist than is any other medical doctor. That means of course that I am hardly a scientist at all. However, I do know scientists. Indeed, I have a brother who is by way of being a mad scientist and it is many years since he curdled my blood by telling me what might happen were the ozone layer to be seriously damaged. That was a long time ago.

Knowledge of the threat of damage to the ozone layer has been with us for much longer than some of us think. We had clear quantitative information in 1984 and further information this year with regard to the thinning, or the hole if it is indeed a hole, of the ozone layer over Antarctica and to a lesser extent over the Arctic. We were aware of the problem a long time ago.

I was once unwise enough to mention the possibility of damage to the ozone layer in a debate on the environment in another place way back in 1969. My words were not treated with derision, but they were regarded with great scepticism. I believe that I am right in saying that in another place at that time we did not have the benefit of outstanding scientists such as the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, and the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, who will speak to us later. Perhaps I may at once say how much I am looking forward to hearing what they have to say. Like all noble Lords, I am also looking forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges.

In the House we have an expertise which is a little different. There are those in the House who have perhaps been aware of the danger for much longer than have the public. I remember a long time ago that the late Lord Ritchie-Calder, when he was the president of the Conservation Society, gave a splendid address in which he referred to the possible dangers of damage to the ozone layer. It was a wonderful speech. I have read it several times since with, of course, proper attribution. It is worthy of reading.

I mention all that to demonstrate that here is a potential danger to the environment in which we hope to live of which some people have been aware for a long time, but that it has taken a very long time to achieve any real measure of public awareness of the threat, as indeed it took a long time to make the public aware of other types of threat to which we are exposed. I am talking about the greenhouse effect and other matters, but we do not want to talk about all of them now.

I shall move straight away to the second of the issues mentioned by the noble Earl; that is, the political aspect of the problem. This timely debate gives us an opportunity to discuss the problem in the present climate of opinion following the Prime Minister's recent statement, which, sitting where I do, I welcome most warmly and which I hope all will welcome warmly. Noble Lords will remember that it was only on Tuesday that a question was asked by my noble friend Lord Ezra and answered by the noble Earl who is to reply to the debate. It is possible that in the debate we may take a little further some of the matters which were discussed at Question Time.

It is my recollection that in the course of his replies the noble Earl was taken to task by some noble Lords for having said that these were the kind of matters which were the responsibility of everyone and not just government. I absolutely agree with him. However it is important that everyone should have an understanding of the fact that conservation costs money; and that one can do almost anything at a price. If we do not pay the price now, we shall all have to pay a much heavier price later on.

Looking at the political side of this matter, how often we have seen that happen in the past. I am straying from the subject, although the point is related, but perhaps I may mention the subject of clean air. As a Manchester man, I can speak with some pride. As many noble Lords will know, Manchester was the first city in the world to be covered entirely by smokeless zones. It made a dramatic change. As a boy at Manchester Grammar School I expected to walk home from school every night in November because of the thick black fog which made it impossible to see and impossible for trains, buses or anything else to run. After a few years when smokeless zones had been introduced one went through thick fog until one reached the city centre, where suddenly there was sunshine again. The atmosphere was clean.

I have mentioned that because it took a long time to make the British public understand that it was worth paying the price to have clean air. Once there was a general realisation by the public that it was worth paying that price, which was a high price that had to be paid not just by central government but by ordinary individuals, then it was easy to take effective action. It was easy for governments of whatever political complexion to take action, and they took action.

We are faced with a similar dilemma with regard to this matter. It undoubtedly costs money to pioneer and develop substances which are ozone-benign to replace CFCs and refrigeration gases. I understand that the only danger from those gases in a refrigerator is when the refrigerator is finally broken up. There is no threat when the refrigerator is in use. ICI has done a great deal of work on benign alternatives to CFCs for aerosols and into gases used in cooling plants and refrigeration. That work takes time, and it costs money.

Here I return to the exchange which we had at Question Time the other day. The noble Earl will remember that a pointed question was put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, who asked whether he was entitled to assume from the Prime Minister's words that there would be increased public expenditure on the general matter of environmental protection. I hope that at the end of the debate the noble Earl will be able to give a categorical "yes" to that question, which he did not have an opportunity to answer at Question Time on Tuesday.

In answering that "yes" we must all understand that there is a price to be paid not just by government but by each individual. That applies to almost everything in this field. We must take public opinion with us. We must get people to understand that it is worth paying the price and that unless they pay that price the long-term consequences could be absolutely catastrophic. I hope that a highly intelligent report such as that produced by the committee which we are discussing, and the publicity related to it, will have played a part in increasing public awareness of the problem.

There are many other problems. People are slowly becoming used to the idea of the greenhouse effect. At the moment that is not necessarily changing people's attitudes towards such things as nuclear power, but they will possibly have to change in the end as we realise the potential dangers of burning fossil fuels and so forth. There must be public awareness.

There must also be a slight change in industry's attitude. I do not wish to embark upon political matters such as those touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, in his interesting speech. Sitting where I do in your Lordships' House, I have no objections to profits, especially if I have an opportunity to share in them in any way, but we must realise that in many fields what is profitable in the short term can be desperately damaging in the long term. That is the kind of message which must be got over to industry. The kind of message which must be got over to ordinary people is that if they want a world fit for their children and grandchildren to live in, they will have to pay a price for the kind of steps which must be taken with regard to the matters which the noble Earl has brought to our attention today.

6.28 p.m.

Lord Bridges

My Lords, I begin by asking your Lordships to extend your customary indulgence to a maiden speaker. In my case the indulgence is perhaps rather greater than your Lordships realise; it was some 15 years ago that I took my seat in your Lordships' House, but I have not been able to make a speech until now, not because of any lack of respect to your Lordships' House or any lack of interest in its proceedings, but rather because of the rules and regulations that I had to observe as an employee of the Crown for nearly 40 years.

As the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, has said, I am a member of the sub-committee which produced the report. My purpose in speaking today is to endorse its conclusions and to support the Motion which stands in the noble Earl's name. It is a rather unusual report, dealing as it does with broad and difficult environmental questions, and it makes some precise and concrete suggestions. That is something which we can all welcome. I do not intend to follow the noble Earl in the more detailed and precise points which he made, but wish to raise some more general issues about environmental policy which should, I think, be in our minds when we consider the report.

The first observation I wish to make is that in general I think all governments, not only the British Government, find it difficult to deal with these environmental questions. They raise issues which are very large in extent, very far-reaching and very complicated. It is difficult to get a grip on the issues in the lifetime of an average government around the world; the remedies tend to be both partial and very expensive. Moreover, many governments may feel—and with reason—that the causes of these problems lie in the very distant past. When we consider the problems of the pollution of the atmosphere, for example, it is reasonable to suppose that the origins lie many decades ago, probably at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. These problems have come home to roost in our time because of the success of other government policies: governments in this country and elsewhere have for many years been committed to the expansion of industrial production, with growth in prosperity and improvement of transport and other means of communication. In all these causes we have registered some successes. However we have only lately come to realise that consumption of fossil fuels which has contributed to our success is also a cause of pollution.

Thus now we turn to governments around the world and expect them to accomplish another miracle; namely, that the pollution must be removed but the prosperity which has been created must be continued. That is a very hard task because it calls for a fundamental change in human attitudes. I think that it will take some considerable time before those attitudes can be changed. All of us can illustrate this from our own experience.

The point was made very graphically for me some 20 years ago when visiting the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow where there was on show at that time a picture which I suppose dated from the era of socialist realism. The picture portrayed in the foreground an elderly woman clad entirely in black, reaping corn with a scythe. In the background an enormous factory dominated the horizon. Above it stood a vast chimney belching smoke. I think that the attitude of many Russians at that time was very well compressed by this picture. They were looking for the abandonment of subsistence agriculture; they were looking for the prosperity which industrial life could bring. I do not think that they have the same opinions today; nor indeed do we. However the point I am making is that such basic notions cannot be changed quickly. Responsible governments will try to act as the agents of change but they do not find their task easy here or elsewhere.

Another cause of the difficulty we have in solving these international problems lies in the need for international action. It is fairly obvious that if we wish to reduce the scope of pollution, which extends well beyond national frontiers, it can only be done by international action. We might suppose that at least within the European family, and within the EC in particular, it should not be difficult to agree on programmes of joint activity. Experience shows, however, that this is not as easy as it might seem at first sight because the circumstances of national industries differ, as we have found, for example, in trying to deal with the motor-car exhaust. Also, the geographical circumstances of the member states are different when effluents are handled. Historically they would be dealt with in a different way depending on whether one is living in a continental country or whether one has, as we have in our country, an extensive coastline.

So although the urgency of the problems like the one we are considering today—the ozone layer—is there for all to see, the timetable is often slow. I think that that is particularly noticeable in this coutry. We have a distaste for hasty decision; we have a preference for extensive debate. We prefer convincing standards of proof. However that is not perhaps always the right approach. As a contrast, when I was living in the United States in the late 1970s, 10 years ago, a formal ban on the use of CFCs in aerosols was imposed. Perhaps it is a pity that we could not have moved more quickly on this side of the Atlantic.

That said, it is highly satisfactory to see that progress is being made on the ozone layer. As the report rightly says in paragraph 21, the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol represent milestones on the road to effective international cooperation, and the achievement deserves our support. There are of course a number of issues to be followed up and the questions put by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook seem to me to be very relevant. I look forward to hearing the Government's reply in due course. I shall also be interested to learn whether the Government feel able to follow the recommendation made in paragraph 26 of the report about the need to seek amendment to the protocol and the regulation so as to prevent diversion of CFCs to the export market. That would be a valuable reinforcement of the work already done.

In short, it is encouraging that some definite progress is now in train to limit the damage to the ozone layer. The growth of scientific opinion about the dangers facing us has been impressive. It is unusual that governments can make a contribution to so large a world problem by phasing out the production and use of an article—the CFC aerosol can—which we can all do without. But the next steps—the replacement of CFCs as refrigerants—will be much more difficult, as other speakers have observed.

I wish to make one other point about the effect of damage to the ozone layer on the population of this country. Those of us who live, as I do, in East Anglia are aware of the long, exposed coastline of Eastern England. It is a low coastline. I think that those of us living there are conscious of the dangers which this country faces if damage to the ozone layer continues at the current rate. As the Government know, I speak of a particular region of the nation where defences against the sea are already weak. They require further investment to protect them. Other major investments already made by the Government, such as the major investment in the Thames barrier, could be at risk if deterioration of the ozone layer continues. I say these things not to advance a particular interest of my own but to suggest to your Lordships that we have a strong national interest in accelerating the tempo of work on this subject, and that our interest is perhaps more marked and more evident than that of other European countries, with the possible exception of the Netherlands.

In conclusion, perhaps I may say how encouraged I am to have read the recent statements by the Prime Minister which underline the importance of our environmental issues. I am sure that she is right in thinking that these problems will assume increasing importance for the citizens of this country. I suggest to your Lordships that the measures described in the report are in the right direction and I hope that there will be more of them. I thank your Lordships for your attention.

6.38 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, it falls to me on behalf of the House to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, on an interesting and thoughtful maiden speech. I do so with particular pleasure, which we all share, that he has been able at last to break an enforced 15-year silence, although it was in a good cause. It is a personal pleasure to see that he is well, since we have shared for many years the membership of a distinguished but little known body, the governors of the British School in Florence, of which he was ex officio chairman while ambassador in Rome—and a very good chairman he was. The House must also be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, for introducing this debate so skilfully and in such a balanced way.

I wish to address myself for a moment to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, because about 19 or 20 years ago I sat in the chair he now occupies. I had the duty which the noble Earl now has of trying to co-ordinate government policy towards the environment in general from a non-Cabinet Ministerial post. It was not the easiest thing in the world then, and I do not suppose that it is now.

In 1969 and 1970 we created the plan which led to the formation of the Department of the Environment itself. We set up the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Central Pollution Control Unit, as I believe it was called, in Whitehall. Sir Martin Holdgate was able to report directly from that unit to the Secretary of State. That arrangement lasted for a long time.

In all that time, we relied heavily on the advice and skills of the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, who I am glad will shortly be speaking. We felt sometimes, and we were very glad of it, that we were being skilfully stage managed by him. Even then he had greater experience of Whitehall than any Minister in the Government. I believe we got it about right then. I am very glad that subsequent governments of both parties were for long able to use the structure that we devised, part of which was carried into effect by the succeeding Heath Government.

Perhaps it is partly due to all those factors that we have not had the trouble with militant Greens which has occurred in France and Germany over the past 20 years. To a certain degree, at least structurally, the British Government have been green enough to avoid that.

It is disquieting that the report states that no decision has yet been taken as regards the department which will take the lead in dealing with the ozone layer, and presumably the greenhouse effect also. These matters cannot be left to the interdepartmental reactions of civil servants, who generally wish to increase their turf. It is not fair to do so; it is not their duty. In any case interdepartmental divisions are part of the problem, and their adjustment cannot be part of the solution. I stray a little from the subject of this evening's debate when I say that the glaring example of that at the moment is the Ministry of Agriculture. That ministry cannot be allowed any longer to continue protecting the environment from the abuse of farm chemicals as it is so closely tied to the short-term economic advantage of farmers.

There are two basic doctrines here, the neglect of which will lead inevitably to the ruination of the human environment. One is the polluter-pays principle, which means that we have to identify the polluter and make sure that he does not offload the cost of his pollution on to either the taxpayer or the ordinary citizen, in so far as that is possible. We must make sure that provisions are always in place to ensure that if a polluter slips through the net he or his successors in the same industry will have to find the cost of posthumous cleaning-up operations.

The second doctrine is quite simply that a stitch in time saves nine. If the polluter does not want to make a stitch in time, he must be in no doubt that he will have to pay sooner or later. The polluter must realise that the later it is, the closer to nine times as much will be the bill.

These two cardinal laws are matters of politics and economics. This is not, as the Government have been inclined to say until recently, a matter of science. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is in a very happy position. Although he has held his present important position since January, he is now largely responsible for putting flesh on the bones of the Prime Minister's remarkable speech. After nine years, suddenly, for the first time, the Prime Minister has showed that she is aware of the global implications of these matters. She has demonstrated that she is aware of the general outline that solutions must have. That is a very major change. We wish the noble Earl the best of luck in his task. It gives him a remarkable opportunity to shift a lot of logjams.

This is a matter of politics and economics and not of science. The noble Earl in a Written Answer to me last week stated that the Government's, first priority is to improve our scientific understanding". With due respect, that has been for too long the theme-song of governments. Scientists do not, cannot and will not know all there is to be known about the causes of various pollutions, let alone about the best way of putting them right. They will advance their best hypotheses, and answer questions put to them about known facts. That is all they can do. This is a matter of political economy. Politics is the art of taking good decisions on insufficient evidence. The evidence will always be insufficient, and it is up to politicians to do the best they can with it. That is how they are judged, and will be judged later.

Let us take, for instance, the three-phase history of the ozone hole itself. When it first began to worry people 10 or 12 years ago, scientific opinion held that CFCs were indeed guilty. Then there was a change in that opinion. Now scientists have returned to the orginal opinion, with the difference that it is now believed the effect is achieved by the CFCs by another chemical path from that which was orginally surmised. As it turns out, it would have been good to do whatever could have been done 10 years ago. However, it is better to do something late than never to do it. Perhaps it is not too late. Having said that we should indeed carry out scientific research. But politicians must not wait for that to be perfect in every respect.

The Stratospheric Ozone Review Group has the initials SORG. What a wonderful name that is incidentally. Sorge in German means concern or worry. That is a happy acronym. The SORG report states about its field of study: Indeed the promotion and proper resourcing of fundamental research … has been quite inadequate. The majority of scientific initiatives since 1985 have been taken elsewhere. That means that they have been taken outside Britain. Let us hope that as a result of the Prime Minister's recent speech and the future efforts of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, such things will no longer be said in major British scientific reports.

Market forces do not help and will not help. By definition they operate within too small a time frame. The Treasury must lengthen its view. It must adjust its general concept of taxation, and what taxation is for, to encourage the stitch-in-time approach to these matters. Its economic analysis must now learn to cope with cost-benefit comparisons where the factors are not quantifiable. That is difficult, but it is not impossible. Its difficulty must not be allowed to prevent it. If the Treasury pleases, let it call that no longer cost-benefit analysis but cost-benefit topography, which implies an understanding of where the costs fall—whether now or later, whether on us or on others.

I now mention specifically the ozone layer which we are discussing. The exemption for low-use countries for 10 years strikes a chill into my heart, as does the.3 kilograms annually a head for China which has already been mentioned in the debate. The non-limitation of exports strikes another chill. The words: Satisfying the basic needs of developing countries strike a chill. What on earth is a basic need? How is it that both developing and developed countries got by very well without CFCs for the whole of human history minus 15 years? A bit of small print in the Community instrument which is very difficult to make out is that the report was considering that after a certain date exports are to be subtracted from our own consumption. Does that mean that if we export X tonnes of CFCs to the third world we are counted as having consumed it ourselves? How does it work? It is not at all clear from the documents we have before us.

The phrase "non-essential use" does not really strike a chill because it seems so ridiculous. What is an essential use for a CFC or a halon? I believe it was the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, who pointed out that public health depends to a certain extent on refrigeration. He also said that in certain countries driving around in an air-conditioned car has become quite normal. Indeed it has. That is not to say that the use of CFCs for that purpose is essential.

It would then be another step to prove that air-conditioning is essential; it would be another step to prove that driving around in an air-conditioned car is essential. It would be another step again—paceearlier speakers in the debate—to prove that even the largest, most centralised air-conditioned modern building is essential. If we are dealing with the future of the human race itself and the future of mammalian life on earth, which we are, then it might be thinkable to blow up those modern buildings and have others which would be habitable without air-conditioning, let alone CFC-based air-conditioning. The use of the word "essential" in a matter of this importance is truly ridiculous.

When the new substances come along—which the report tells us will cost four or five times as much—what will be the situation about commercial secrecy, intellectual property and all that? May we hope —I think that we ought to hope—that they will be in the public domain in order to hasten the spread of their manufacture and use throughout the world?

We are told in the report that the third world is even now building CFC plants. Who in the third world is doing that? It is obviously not financed by third world capital; it must be multi-national corporations. Are they American based or British based? Are pollution havens being set up in this respect, as in so many others before? How many plants are being built, and of what capacity? The report gives figures only up to 1986. What is the most recent figure?

A word to our own CFC industry. It has been kind enough to circulate, no doubt to many noble Lords, evidence of all the good things it is doing and the ways it is beating the gun over reductions and so on. That is all very much to be welcomed. However, it ought to avoid phrases such as CFCs which are "thought to damage" and "alleged to damage" the ozone layer. That is tobacco-industry language, and the CFC industry would be wise to avoid it. There are plenty of other ways to express that without using hackneyed and discredited language of that kind.

Lastly, our committee wants the protocol tightened up. That is the gist of the report. It is difficult to pick one's way through the international bureaucracy. Can it be done? How can it be done? Do the Government want it to be done, and have the Government identified how to do it and the timetable for doing it? I think that that is the answer which most of us would wish to hear from the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, at the end of the debate.

6.54 p.m.

The Earl of Liverpool

My Lords, I should like to join in thanking my noble friend Lord Cranbrook for enabling us to discuss this matter tonight and so clearly outlining the contents of the report. I should also like to say how much I enjoyed listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. It is apparent to me that he knows a great deal more about the subject than I do—and most of your Lordships also. As I say, I am not an expert in this matter. However, as I grow a little greyer, I grow a little greener. I am happy to find myself in such good company.

As we move towards the 21st century and beyond, it is apparent that the good management of our habitat and environment will become vital to us and more particularly perhaps to future generations. Whatever happens we must mount every effort to reduce pollution, which if allowed to go unchecked could literally asphyxiate us.

Unfortunately, in the case of the ozone layer the stratosphere has become polluted with chlorine and bromine from CFC and halon emissions, as we read in the report. We must try to redress the balance. However, the damaging qualities of those emissions are long lived and we cannot gather up what is already there. We must therefore take every possible step to reduce future emissions.

I am very much encouraged by the statement of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, that the Minister's efforts will be directed to seeking a faster reduction than that proposed by the Montreal Protocol. I believe he referred to an 85 per cent. reduction. That will be a great achievement. However, as I understand it, the current objectives of the Montreal Protocol are to freeze the manufacture of CFC gases at 1986 levels. Globally production in 1986 totalled just over 1 million tonnes of CFC gases. That figure will remain stable for four years and will then reduce by 20 per cent. in 1993 or 1994. Surely that is not good enough; it is a case of not even beginning to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted.

I want to be brief, but I should like to quote from Appendix 3 of the report which seems to me to be very worrying. Item 8 states: Models predict that, even with CFC emissions assumed to result from the Montreal Protocol, chlorine in the stratosphere will double within the next 50 years. To stabilise chlorine at present levels would require an 85 per cent. cutback on CFC emissions". I suppose that that is the origin of the figure which the Minister is seeking to achieve. I wish him the very best of luck in achieving it. I believe that it was widely felt by those who served on the committee with the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, that this was too slow but that the department advised that it would not be possible to revise the protocol until after it comes into effect.

The greatest area of concern lies with refrigerants and air-conditioning. CFC used in aerosols is apparently diminishing at quite a rapid rate. That is the most encouraging fact that I have learnt tonight. However, when one considers the number of refrigerators in use both in this country and globally, and then adds the number of refrigerators which may come into use in third world countries and China, the mind boggles. So far as I know there is no current control on methods of disposing of redundant refrigerators. Therefore presumably, as noble Lords have already observed, each time a refrigerator is destroyed its CFC gases are emitted into the atmosphere, adding to the problem.

I do not wish to detain noble Lords further tonight. I should just like to wish the Montreal Protocol well. I hope that it will come into effect, that the necessary signatures will be obtained and that it will have enough teeth to deal with the global pollution of the ozone layer.

6.58 p.m.

Lord Zuckerman

My Lords, perhaps I may add my word of thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, for bringing the attention of your Lordships' House to the problem of the ozone layer. I should also like to add my congratulations on the most statesmanlike maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges.

As we all know, the ozone layer is only the most recent of a series of environmental challenges which have suddenly become matters of general interest. They are also matters that intrude uncomfortably into the inventory of more immediate political problems with which the Government have to contend. What makes them even less welcome is the fact that they are problems which cross international boundaries, as previous speakers have pointed out.

The main editorial in this week's Economist opens with the sentence: "Green is the world's political colour". We are told that this is the second time in the course of 20 years that it has become "fashionable to worry about ecology"—as a scientist I find that a rather odd way of putting the problem. The first time was 20 years ago when a body calling itself "The Club of Rome" published a book entitled Limits of Growth, which foretold the imminent doom of mankind as a result of unrestrained population growth, the exhaustion of resources and environmental pollution. That particular doom has not come about. We have managed so far to get along with our resources. The market mechanism has been able to help deal with that problem. On the other hand, the underlying problems remain. There is the same unrestrained growth of population and, naturally enough, increasing worldwide demand for better standards of living, and ipso facto of course, for the use of more resources.

New problems of pollution, of which the ozone layer is only one, unfortunately keep revealing themselves. There is the question of the disposal of radioactive waste, about which your Lordships have heard a great deal but for which we have not yet heard a solution. There is the matter of the destruction of tropical forests, to which the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, drew attention toward the end of the last Session of your Lordships' House. There is the greenhouse effect, to which reference has been made in the course of this debate, with the threat of the flooding of vast coastal areas due to a rise in sea levels. That is a real threat because, strangely enough, in advanced industrial societies most people happen to prefer to live in areas which are threatened by the possible rise in sea levels. There are other problems also.

The editorial in the Economist tells us that the Government have three main weapons for dealing with these problems. The first is the imposition of regulations, the second the levying of pollution taxes and the third selling companies what they call tradable permits which allow them to pollute up to a certain aggregate level. The old, old story of making the polluter pay is merely allowing the polluter to engage in a certain level of pollution for which he can afford to pay but his competitor cannot.

We are told that the most effective anti-pollution programme is one that has both rules and charges and that these need not put a brake on economic growth. But we have heard references made to the third world. What is said in that editorial may well be true of specific issues like dumping toxic wastes in coastal waters, but I doubt whether the measures to which the article referred are adequate to deal with longer term dangers, such as the depletion of the ozone layer.

Diffuse long-term environmental problems are not matters that can be left to be decided by the forces of the marketplace. They demand governmental action. The question now is whether we can rely upon governments—not just our Government but governments—to display the courage to take action as rapidly as they can and should do. Previous speakers quite correctly have already said that any measures will cost money, by which is meant the use of resources which might otherwise be put to different purposes. One cannot have a no-risk world. One has to pay in order to eliminate any risks, whether they be short term or long term.

I have asked whether governments have the courage to take necessary actions. But past history provides no great cause for optimism. I recall that many years ago a member of the Central Electricity Generating Board came to me to tell me that an American concern was ready to put up money—I think it was half a million ounds—provided that the sum was matched pound for pound, in order to design scrubbing plants to extract sulphur from the flue gases in fossil-fuel power stations. Despite the most powerful advocacy I could bring to bear, I was unable to persuade the Treasury of those days to release the money to the then Department of Energy. It is only now that we hear about scrubbers being added to our power stations. We knew about them then, and know they are absolutely essential now.

The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, referred to the fogs of Manchester. That is another example. For years we knew the cause of the fogs and their deleterious effects upon health. But it took years, and a disastrous spell of fog in London over a period of about three days owing to an inversion which cost the lives of several thousand elderly people before real action was taken and a clean air Act was passed.

Governmental action to guard against possible environmental disaster has never turned out to be either premature or unnecessary. I can well remember hearing that there was no need for the costly Thames barrage. The chances against the kind of North Sea surge that would flood London that was spoken about then were infinitesimal. One could calculate them on the basis of the rises in water levels that had been measured at Tower Bridge for years and years. It is perfectly true that the barrage has not been called upon to prevent London from flooding. However, if the pace with which the greenhouse effect reveals itself increases and leads to a rise in sea levels, we certainly will not regret that the barrage was built.

The paper which the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, has brought before us leaves the impression that the Montreal Protocol, which was agreed only two years ago, is not stringent enough, as indicated by new information. One needs to ask therefore what action the Government propose to take to encourage stiffer and more urgent international action to prevent the situation from worsening. One has to ask: how much notice do we need to avert possible disaster? One might well ask how much notice Noah had before he started to build the Ark which allowed him and his cargo to ride the floods—and was he subject to discordant scientific advice about the likely dangers. We cannot afford any longer to stand back and wait for better scientific evidence than we already have about the dangers that now affect the biosphere.

Sometimes scientists have been able to see further than politicians when it comes to predicting the deleterious consequences of the application of new scientific knowledge. I shall not however go into that matter. There are one or two outstanding examples. After all, it is new scientific knowledge which has brought about the problems that we are now discussing: the problems of the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect—and we know their causes.

It is always possible to delay political action of the kind recommended in the report on the ozone layer on the excuse that we do not yet have all the scientific evidence that we need to decide what the best action should be. The major environmental concerns of today will not be changed as we wait for more scientific information to explain their nature. We need action now, not debate.

7.10 p.m.

Lord Reay

My Lords, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, had to say about himself and his brother and their evidently remarkable prescience in this matter, the committee records a date no earlier than 1974 for the discovery by scientists of the battle that was raging in the stratosphere between chlorine and ozone and the terrible danger of defeat that our good friend and protector, ozone, was in as a result of the reinforcements that we were sending to his mortal enemy chlorine.

This Miltonian conflict, with the fate of mankind hanging on its outcome, having been revealed to us by those prophets qualified to discern the truth and warn us in these obscure and distant matters, we on earth have been in a great state of anxiety, erecting partial bans in this group of countries and that, and eventually negotiating the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol. For so long as scientists have the same story to tell—as I have no reason to suppose that they will not—this is what we must continue to do, perhaps, as several noble Lords have warned, even more stringently than is currently proposed.

The Prime Minister, in her speech to the College of Europe at Bruges in September, said of the Community: I want to see us work more closely on the things we can do better together than alone". As the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, discovered in the United Nations, one thing we in the Community, normally speaking, can do better together than alone is to negotiate international agreements. The Community is a major weight in international negotiations; an equal party to the United States, for example. In this instance the Community succeeded in getting the United States to replace its own preferred principle of a ban on non-essential uses of CFCs with the principle of production control of all CFCs.

The Single Act gave the Community new powers, indeed new duties, so far as policies relating to the environment are concerned. Article 130, paragraphs 1 and 4, require the Community to take action "to preserve, protect and improve" the quality of the environment to the extent where this can be attained better at Community level than at the level of individual member states. This was the first introduction of environmental considerations and objectives into the Treaty of Rome.

Apart from the common sense of making use of the Community to try to reach a desirable international objective when it is more efficent to do so, there are economic reasons for tackling some of the issues at Community level. For one thing, all environmental restrictions impose costs on industry. It is contrary to the principle of a single market ruled by the spirit of fair competition, for an industry to suffer legally imposed restrictions and costs in one member state which it can escape in another.

In addition, industry must manufacture to a single specification throughout the Community. If different sets of requirements, deriving from national environmental legislation, were to apply to the same basic products in different member states, we would have fragmented markets in which none of the promised cost savings of a single market would hold good. Hence the Single Act, whose primary purpose was to assist in attaining the single market, introduced for the first time in treaty form environmental policies into Community competence, it having been recognised that increasingly environmental considerations were going to impinge on economic activity.

Incidentally, the Single Act deals with the question of environment quite soberly. It enjoins the Commission, in preparing any action it judges necessary, to take account of the potential benefits and costs of action or lack of action. It does not call for measures to be introduced regardless of expense. It is not a charter for blank cheques to be written for all those with bees in their bonnets—as the Prime Minister succinctly put it in her speech to the Royal Society.

As a final justification for many forms of action being taken on the environment at Community level, there is the fact that pollution knows no frontiers. Polluted air drifts from one member state to another; rivers and lakes, and even seas, are shared; and the interests of each demand action by all. International action above the level of the Community may often be preferable but Community action is generally more easily obtained, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, in his notable and wise speech made plain, even at Community level agreements on environmental legislation are not easy, so numerous and disparate are the interests involved.

Action to protect the ozone layer is a case where Community-wide action is both an important component of wider international action, and also a constructive and often an essential step towards it.

The Montreal Protocal envisages the progressive reduction of CFC production to 50 per cent. of current levels by the end of the century. However, the British Stratospheric Ozone Review Group hypothesises that CFC emissions would need to be reduced by 85 per cent. to stabilise the quantities of chlorine in the stratosphere and to be phased out altogether if the stratosphere is to be given a chance to recover.

This suggests that an eventual ban may be necessary. A ban may also be preferable for other reasons. Quotas are not satisfactory in the long term as they freeze patterns of production. They also foster the growth of bureaucracy. No limit is to be placed in this case on Community exports of CFC products but, in the words of the sub-committee: figures on exports (together with data on production, sales, imports, stocks and quantities destroyed) are to be given to the Commission. Separate figures are to be given for countries that are not parties to the Convention. This regime enables each producer to calculate exactly how much it can produce, sell or use within the Community". This sounds suspiciously like an example in miniature of that bureaucratic, over-centralised state which was correctly anathematised by the Prime Minister. Such arrangements for rationing production should surely therefore only be temporary.

As several noble Lords have pointed out, the convention contains a derogation in favour of so-called developing countries although no list or definition is provided. I find it unsatisfactory that a major derogation should be made in favour of unspecified countries although it is not surprising that no definition of "developing" countries was reached since "developing" in fact is a euphemism for "economically backward". Some, like China or India, are developing. Some are regressing. Others are static. Such lists in the past have included countries like Romania, or some in Africa, whose evil and/or incompetent policies are responsible for them being on the list in the first place.

I think that it is undesirable to excuse any group of countries, whether backward or distinguished in some other way, from having to adopt standards of international behaviour required of the remainder. The committee identifies a danger that "production havens"—in the words of the committee—might be established in certain countries which are not parties to the protocol, and which would cater for the demands of other countries not party to the protocol, and for the economically backward countries which are excused. It is to be hoped that this will not happen, but in any case there will be plenty of further tests for international co-operation in this field.

I should like to end with a question to the Minister who is to reply. The Stratospheric Ozone Review Group in its report calls for a co-ordinated European programme of further research into the ozone layer and the environmental Council of Ministers meeting last June also called for further research by the Community and member states in consultation with industry. Climatology evidently now calls for more of our resources.

Can the Minister say what the Government's research programme is and in particular what its principal effort is intended to be? Is it intended to be a national effort—and British research has produced some important results in Antarctica—or a contribution to a Community-wide effort that would have the advantage of avoiding costly duplication?

7.20 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, as I speak towards the end of a debate that began rather late, I shall be as brief as I can. I start with thanks and congratulations to the noble Earl for bringing the matter before your Lordships. I offer a double measure of congratulation to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, for participating in the work of the committee and for giving an excellent maiden speech.

The noble Earl took the words out of my mouth about the disposal of refrigerators. These are closed systems with the offending liquid inside, which cannot be removed unless the refrigerator is left to rot on a dump or heap. Refrigerators should be designed so that they can be decommissioned at the end of their useful life.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, in his commendation of the bi-partisan approach, which was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and other noble Lords.

As to the third world, I agree with everything that was said. In order to convice the third world, we have to confess our own sins, namely, greed and ignorance and that we left a lot of mess lying about. If third world countries want help to catch up with us now that we have become reformed characters, they have to agree to do this in terms of thinking that it is not right to leave things lying about.

The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, referred to the complexities of the matter. I know how complex they are. I had the pleasure of entertaining Sir John Mason over lunch yesterday. He was director general of the Metereological Office during the 12 years when I was chairman of the advisory council. He has retired. He is now the chairman of the organising committee for world climates research. He is director of the UK-Sweden-Norway acid rain research programme. He is chairman of the co-ordinating committee of marine science and technology, the chancellor of UMIST and the chairman of the Royal Society's national committee for world climatic research programmes. When he had given me a briefing, I realised that some of the expressions are complex, and total knowlege on a number of subjects is not yet with us.

There are things that we do not understand. I do not think that it helps to introduce what I would call journalistic over-simplifications into the discussions. It is fashionable, for instance, to talk about the hole in the atmosphere. There is no hole in the atmosphere. There is a depletion of ozone during the Antarctic winter. Ozone is synthesised in sunlight and is immediatly attacked by anything that can oxidise, so that it is depleted. When two processes work in opposition, of course, a working level of ozone is established in the atmosphere. It migrates to and fro. The circum-polar vortex on the South Pole is so strong that ozone generated in more temperate latitudes cannot reach the South Pole. That is why depletion occurs. It is wrong to talk of a hole in the atmosphere. It confuses the issue.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that militancy on these matters does not help. It gets the emphasis all wrong.

I end on this note. Cleanliness and tidiness are cultural acquisitions. They are not genetic endowments. We have no inherited instinct towards tidiness and cleanliness. One has to be brought up by a house-proud mum who keeps the house clean and then one learns to do the same: one cleans up one's own kitchen, desk or whatever. When I was young there was a little notice in every public lavatory saying, "Please leave this place as you would like to find it". That is what we should do with mother earth. We are born into it, we live on it and we depart on our way in due course. Let us leave it tidy.

7.25 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, for all its brevity this is probably one of the most important reports before the House, certainly in my time as a Member. We are grateful to the committee for its work and to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, for the way in which he presented the report.

I am aware that the noble Earl asked about the present status of the protocol; I am not clear whether he asked about the status of the convention. It was my understanding that the protocol could not be activated until the convention had been signed by 20 contracting parties. The last news I had was that only 19 have signed. If there has been a delay in signing the convention, can the Minister say whether that will hold up the starting date of the protocol? As we have heard, the protocol is of vital importance. It is now perhaps more an expression of acceptance of the existence of the problem than a blueprint for action. I know that we have to wait for it to be activated; I think that we are wise to look ahead of that. Events are moving with speed, as the noble Earl said, and later evidence proves the need for more urgent action.

I do not intend to be sidetracked about whether the Prime Minister had said anything about the environment at some earlier time or had a particular reason for saying what she did on 27th September; the fact is that she said it, and it was very important that she did. She is a lady of considerable influence in this country and elsewhere. We should all welcome the fact that an impetus—even if we choose to say that it is an added impetus—will now be given to what we are trying to do.

We welcome the positive statement of the Minister on 3rd October that he is convinced of the need for a reduction of at least 85 per cent. in the emissions of CFCs as a matter of urgency. We fully support his wish to speed up the first review of the Montreal measures. Can the Minister say what hope there is of that and how it can be done as an exercise?

In the last few days it has been suggested—I think that the noble Earl referred to it—that there is a lessening in the visible effects of ozone damage in Antarctica. I took informal advice yesterday from the department of physical chemistry in Cambridge. I am advised that fluctuations take place because of variations in the strength of anticyclones— this has happened before—but the trend continues to be downwards, and it is now very alarming that the holes are growing steadily deeper as well as wider. It is apparently considered that the fluctuations reported this week are not important.

Increasing awareness of the size of the problem is shown by public reaction to the use of aerosols and by industry's response to general concern. As the noble Earl mentioned, the British Aerosol Manufacturers Association reported this month that many manufacturers have moved in advance of the protocol. Many aerosols in use are already propelled by gases other than CFCs. By the end of 1989 the BAMA estimates that only 10 per cent. of aerosols will use CFCs. A new label will help customers to choose when they buy.

My noble friend Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe was concerned about the loss of employment in making CFCs. Alternatives will have to be found. These surely will create employment.

We welcome the moves by the aerosol industry and commend it for its efforts, but they will be wasted if the reduction in CFC use in aerosols simply allows increased uses in other ways. The protocol uses consumption as the control target. As can be seen in the report, consumption is defined as production plus imports minus exports. Savings on aerosols in this country therefore could be exported to be released elsewhere.

It seems that the availability of "surplus" from the aerosol industry may lessen the urgency of finding alternative chemicals for other industrial uses. We would welcome assurances about this. It would be wrong if so much public concern and co-operation were to be side-stepped.

We note with interest the new CFC recovery plant at Glossop. Can the Minister give an indication of the capacity of this new plant and say whether it represents an increased capacity within the recovery industry; or is it a replacement for existing facilities? I gave notice of this question and I hope that he has been able to find an answer. Can he tell me what the overall position on recovery is? Is he satisfied that disposal of residues from this industry after recovery is satisfactory?

These may seem to be small matters, but we have been talking about saving small quantities in aerosols and in other ways. It is important that every effort should be made to conserve waste within the industry.

Are there arrangements yet for small users of solvents to have their wastes collected? I understood as late as mid-1987 when I raised this question before that users below a certain level could not obtain the services of the waste disposal authority for special wastes. When one thinks of the enormous number of small technological firms that we have at present, this represents a considerable amount. I wonder whether the waste disposal authorities are now taking a more enlightened view than they did last year.

As we are trying to put our house in order, we hope that the United Kingdom Government will take a responsible line on exports and on advice to United Kingdom industries with foreign subsidiaries. We feel that the Government should use their considerable influence to persuade underdeveloped countries—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Reay, will find that a more acceptable description than "developing"—not to go in for inessential uses of CFCs such as aerosols and foams. However we recognise the importance of refrigeration both here and in other countries and the present lack of alternatives for that use.

As the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, explained so eloquently, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, and many others, there is a major job of persuasion to be done. We have to explain why we have been so long in putting our house in order. We have to persuade other countries that they cannot enjoy the advantages that we have enjoyed for so long, although this seems to be unjust. One can understand the difficulties of transitory governments, as the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, said, who have to face these long-term problems and persuade their people to make a restriction in their living conditions.

The protection of the ozone layer, as almost everyone has said, is a global problem. This, together with the emerging menace of the greenhouse effect, to which CFCs also contribute and which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, among others, may present the planet with a threat which transcends commercial, national and certainly party political considerations.

Others have asked for a bipartisan approach. We will encourage and support government measures to meet our national and international responsibilities. However, we will be forthright if we consider that the measures that are taken are inadequate or that the situation is being used for party political ends.

7.32 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that this has been a most stimulating and interesting debate. The expertise of your Lordships has again been demonstrated. I very much welcome this opportunity to debate the committee report on the Montreal Protocol. I should like to echo the point made by so many of your Lordships that the environment is too important to be treated as a political football. I am all for criticism at the right time when it is justified, but to use it for political purposes, as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, said, would be entirely inappropriate. I mentioned that point in a press interview the other day and the press reporter looked at me blankly as though I had come from a different planet.

The report quite rightly describes depletion of the ozone layer as a global environmental issue of the greatest seriousness—and matters are moving very fast indeed. The representatives of the scientific community. industry and governments, including the UK, are meeting in The Hague to take stock of the science, to study the development of alternatives to CFCs and halons and to begin work on the first review of the protocol, currently scheduled for 1990.

I fully share the committee's view that the protocol and its parent Vienna convention are milestones in environmental policy-making. The convention has now come into force—on 22nd September to be precise—and the number of signatories to the protocol now stands at over 40. The UK and the EC were of course among the initial signatories in Montreal last September. I welcome the committee's recognition of the key role played by the Community in the negotiation of the protocol and of the crucial importance of the member states acting together as a single bloc. I have no doubt that the Community's solidarity in negotiating the protocol, and indeed the convention before it, was a major factor in reaching global agreement.

In the relatively short time since Montreal we have seen much new scientific evidence about the damage to the ozone layer, including depletion in the Antarctic and the role of CFCs. The committee was able to take into account the executive summary of the second report of the department's stratospheric ozone review group. This made it clear that as an essential step to prevent further depletion of the ozone layer we must stabilise chlorine in the stratosphere, which itself requires an 85 per cent. cut in CFC emissions.

We have always believed in basing policy measures on sound science. Having studied the review group's full report, I announced earlier this month that the Government agreed that worldwide emissions of CFCs must be reduced by at least 85 per cent. as soon as possible.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, and indeed other noble Lords that the Montreal Protocol must be significantly strengthened. Indeed, ICI has called for an urgent review with a view to phasing out CFCs. We have proposed that in order to accelerate action the international community should consider bringing forward the timing of the protocol's 20 per cent. and 30 per cent. cuts. We should like the first review of the protocol to be speeded up so that work can be completed in 1989 rather than 1990. The report of our review group will be a major input to the review process. I have written to my fellow EC environment ministers commending the report and urging them to follow our lead. At my request there will be substantive discussion of this issue at the Environment Council in November.

Although we have taken the initiative, in line with the central recommendation in the committee's report, we must work with our EC partners. The challenge will be to maintain the momentum and to follow the initiative through in the months that lie ahead. But, as the committee observed, the resolution of the Environment Council on 16th June is a clear signal that the Community accepts the need to make reductions over and above those required by the Montreal Protocol.

There is the wider dimension of global warming, which cannot and must not be ignored, and to which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister referred in her speech to the Royal Society last month.

The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, in what I thought was an excellent maiden speech. said that we were suffering from a legacy of the past. He is absolutely right, and he was right to point out that we might also be inadvertently suffering from modern technology.

Your Lordships will be interested to know that molecule for molecule, CFC12, for example, is 10,000 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. If countries outside the protocol increase their emissions, CFCs could rival carbon dioxide as the dominant greenhouse gas in the next century. Climate change is potentially the greatest global environmental challenge of all and makes the further international action to control CFCs, for which we are all calling, doubly important. The UK is making an important contribution to international efforts to evaluate potential effects or ozone depletion and climate change. Our research on these two linked issues currently totals more than £6½ million.

The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said that it is going to cost a great deal of money to put right what has happened in the past. I can tell him that it is going to cost a lot of money because we are planning virtually to double the department's funding in the next year.

The Government's action on these recently recognised problems should be seen against a background of real progress on air pollution issues that have a longer history. We are taking extensive action on acid rain. We have a programme initiated domestically for a £billion 10-year power station clean-up programme to cut emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. On top of this we have agreed further substantial measures in the EC to reduce sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from large combustion plants and nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbons from vehicle emissions.

We should not forget that these major reductions in our output in atmosphere pollutants will have important knock-on effects in other environmental media. For instance, there will be corresponding reductions in the deposition of airborne contaminants in the North Sea. Such interactions between the environmental media and the transfers of pollutants between air, land and water underline the great environmental gains to be achieved by taking an integrated approach to pollution control. The proposals we published in July for giving Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution a cross-media role in pollution control make us the world leader in this field. And I trust that other countries—particulary in the EC—will be encouraged and guided by our example.

Our immediate priority on CFCs is to ensure that the Montreal Protocol enters into force at the beginning of January as planned. It is vital to have the widest possible participation, including Eastern Europe and developing countries with large populations like China and India. I ask noble Lords to pause and consider that China alone could neutralise the effect of a complete CFC phase-out in the EC. We have therefore, as the committee recommended, been encouraging other countries to join and to focus on alternatives to the Montreal substances.

That is why we believed that it was right to make derogations for developing countries and I know that that matter concerns some noble Lords. However. surely it was right to entice them into the protocol. At the meeting in The Hague this week we are working on a definition of all criteria for developing countries, but we must have them on board. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, was right to say that they are not to be lectured. If we do so they will turn round and say, "You are the developed part of Northern Europe. It is all right for you but it is not very good for us". Practical help is needed and we welcome ICI's plans to hold a seminar on substitutes in Peking in December, when my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be there to give government support.

On the commitee's other recommendations, I am afraid that we do not agree that the Commission should propose a Community-wide ban on nonessential use of CFCs in aerosols. The approach in the EC regulation to implement the protocol is to control consumption through the control of overall supply of CFCs (and halons) in the Community. The Government fully support this approach as the most efficient and effective method and I note that the committee's report considers this an efficient approach. We do not favour the control of specific uses of' CFCs—which leave other uses of CFCs uncontrolled—and prefer market forces to determine the use to which available supplies are put. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, reminded the House, the United States banned the non-essential use of CFCs in aerosols some 10 years ago. But I question whether that helped, as overall US per capita use of CFCs remains on a par with that in the EC. A ban is in any event simply not necessary. In the UK and some other EC member states action has already been taken on a voluntary basis to reduce use of CFCs in aerosols: the UK aerosol industry expects to phase out non-essential use of CFCs in aerosols by the end of 1989. Given that aerosols constitute over 60 per cent. of CFC use in the UK, this will give us a head start in achieving the Montreal reductions. I am sure that the House will join me in commending the efforts of UK industry generally and our aerosol industry in particular.

The committee also suggested that the Government should consider means for reducing emissions by industrial users in conjunction with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution. We are strongly encouraging CFC users to reduce use of CFCs to the maximum possible extent, and officials of my department and of the Department of Trade and Industry are discussing with them the steps they are taking. Chlorine and fluorine compounds are already included in the list of noxious and offensive gases in the Health and Safety at Work Act but before HMIP could set requirements on emission levels it would have to be satisfied that practicable and reliable abatement technology was available. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, reminded us that there are encouraging developments with regard to recovery and recycling of CFCs emitted during the production of polyurethane foam and, as the committee noted, the DTI has given a grant towards the cost of installing a large-scale activated carbon absorption unit in the UK. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs officially opened the first phase of the project in September. The company expect that when fully operational well over 90 per cent. of CFCs used in the plant will be recoverable for reuse. The Government will keep the overall situation under review in conjunction with HMIP.

My noble friend Lord Reay reminded us that the committee recommended that the Government should review the adequacy of their support for scientific research on the ozone layer. We are reviewing the situation in the light of the recommendations of the Stratospheric Ozone Review Group. Research must be carried out efficiently and effectively. It needs to be co-ordinated in both the UK and Europe to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort and to make the best use of research funds and expertise in the field of stratospheric ozone. The UK took the initiative almost one year ago in offering to act as a focus to co-ordinate research in EC and EFTA countries. That initiative matured last weekend in The Hague and the UK, Norway and the EC Commission agreed to fund and establish a coordinating unit which I am delighted to say will be located in the UK.

In addition, four UK members of our review group took part in The Hague in this week's first scientific meeting to review the protocol. I understand that our desire to speed up the review process was well received, as was the UK's offer to host further review meetings.

I should like to answer some of the questions which have been asked. I know that I shall be unable to answer them all and I shall write to noble Lords who have asked questions that I do not answer. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that the Department of the Environment is the lead department in terms of policy on both the ozone layer and climate change. The uncertainty in the report is merely about which department will implement the Montreal controls, such as the import and production licences. That is a decision for my department, DTI and Customs and Excise.

My noble friend Lord Cranbrook, who so brilliantly introduced the debate, referred to the recent report on what appears to be the less serious depletion of the Arctic ozone layer. It is true that according to some reports it appears to be slightly less deep this year than last. But scientists tell us that this is probably due to natural variability. Let there be no mistake: there is no cause for complacency or slowing down action. Indeed, quite the reverse, because some of the evidence from last weekend's meeting in The Hague was disquieting.

As regards entry into force of the protocol, I can tell the House that the United Kingdom and its dependent territories are ready; most member states are ready; procedural delays in France, Greece and Belgium are expected to be overcome very shortly; and the Community expects simultaneous ratification next month. This will enable the protocol to come into force as planned next January and then we can officially start the review process. I should like to say to my noble friend Lord Liverpool that the action that we have already taken has in its own way already started that review.

As regards the non-signatories taking up the production of CFC, I can offer no guarantees to your Lordships. However, I repeat that our independent territories, including Hong Kong, wish to be associated with the United Kingdom ratification. The Chinese have assured us that after 1997 the protocol will continue to be applied in Hong Kong.

I can appreciate the concern that reduced United Kingdom or Community consumption could leave more CFCs available for export. However, exports from one member state to another will count as Community consumption, as the Community consumption will be calculated in a block form. Exports to a country that is party to the protocol will count towards that country's consumption. From 1993 exports to non-parties will be added to the exporting country's consumption. In addition, the acceleration of the protocol's 20 per cent. and 30 per cent. cuts that we are seeking will be for both production and consumption.

As regards the search for substitutes, I am glad to say that British industry has already responded positively. The United Kingdom producers, ICI and ISC are expanding their research and development work to find substitutes and have joined international consortia of producers worldwide to hasten the process of commercial development. The Government are encouraging producers to bring substitutes on to the market as quickly as possible but it is essential that those are not only suitable but safe and that adequate time is given for toxicity and environmental testing. I am sure your Lordships would agree that it would be quite wrong to substitute for something which is causing damage something else which is equally, or more, damaging. It is important that producers maintain the dialogue with user industries, both to ensure that new chemicals meet their requirements and to assist the process of developing technology to use new substances as quickly as possible.

My department is holding regular meetings with representatives of all sectors of industry who are aware of the criteria for seeking funds from the Department of Trade and Industry. It is also important to stress the scope for replacing CFCs with existing substances, for switching to existing technology and for reducing unnecessary or wasteful use by better housekeeping, recovery and recycling. The protocol has given strong emphasis to developments in all those areas as well as to the search for substitutes. I am confident that British industry will continue to play a leading role stimulated by public concern and encouraged by the Government.

Finally, I should like to thank the committee both for producing such a concise and focused report and for having agreed in advance of the debate to the UK removing our parliamentary reserve on the Commission's proposals thus paving the way for their formal adoption by the Council. I should also like to thank the committee's scientific adviser for his work. I believe too that we owe a debt of gratitude to the department's officials. They have ploughed a lonely furrow in the lead for some time. They are thoroughly respected throughout the world: much of the work that has gone on over the last couple of years or so has now come to fruition and I am delighted at the lead that they have been able to take on Britain's behalf.

British scientists discovered the ozone depletion problem in the Antarctic. We have come a long way in a short time but we have a lot more to do.

The Earl of Cranbrook

My Lords, I welcome the way that this debate, which was initiated on a topic of fairly narrow scope, has been widened to cover so well and so broadly a field of great importance in environmental concern. I welcome the words from my noble friend the Minister and I commend the Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.