HL Deb 20 December 1989 vol 514 cc290-323

4.40 p.m.

Debate resumed.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

My Lords, perhaps we may now continue with the debate on the environment. I must admit that, alas, my emotions have gone from anxiety about Hong Kong and other matters, and they now centre upon the Doorkeepers' Christmas dinner. Therefore I think that we must be swift in our speeches.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, ended his speech by asking whether I would comment upon the fact that his great grandfather in his will wanted to order the affairs of the family for umpteen years ahead. All I can say is that I think the Victorians had one great quality and that was confidence, though they lacked self-criticism. I believe that there is also a saying from the wisdom literature which reads: He who studies the rain shall not sow and he who regards the clouds shall not reap". In the face of the horrific facts which have been put forward in the debate about the crisis concerning ecological and environmental matters, we must not panic. The religion which we hold does not save us from trouble; but it will take us through trouble if we face head on the challenges of the time. We can then look beyond an otherwise overwhelming today to a future.

In the time available I do not intend to quote too many figures; nor do I intend to mention matters in which other noble Lords are more qualified. However, from these Benches I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that the Christian churches, and indeed the ancient world faiths, are strong allies with him in his cause. I am only too sorry that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York is unable to speak in the debate as he intended to. He has, unfortunately, succumbed to influenza.

Noble Lords will know that the Judaeo-Christian tradition has for centuries affirmed that human beings exercise a stewardship of the earth. It has to be agreed that the word "dominion" has sometimes been interpreted in an exploitative way. However, there is always the phrase, "to replenish the earth". Moreover, as has been said recently, "We are tenants of the world with a full repairing lease". Further, there is in the Bible a constant refrain that the living environment, the fish in the sea, the birds of the air and the cattle on a thousand hills have an intrinsic value: Behold, they are very good". All that has informed the thinking of Europe and countries of European settlement from Basil to Montefiore.

Perhaps I may now speak for the Church of England with this philosophy or theology as our background. We are prepared to work with all others who have a concern to keep ecology and economy together. I consider it a matter greatly to be welcomed that 10 people under the convenership of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, met in Cambridge last autumn to work out a code of environmental ethics for an economic summit. Arguments may range to and fro about whether women can bear the character of priesthood, whether Canterbury is in Communion with Rome or whether the language of modern liturgies is pedestrian. However, there remain one or two primary questions. One of them is whether we shall sustain or destroy life on this planet.

Initiatives taken by the Churches on matters concerning ecology and the environment have been many and they have been carefully researched. I shall mention, for example, the Lambeth Conference and the World Council of Churches. The council convened a meeting in Seoul in 1990 on the theme of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Moreover, as has already been mentioned, in Basle last summer a European regional conference of the Churches took place, including for the first time the Roman Catholic Church, which concentrated on ecological and environmental themes.

There was a massive call for a green crusade by His Holiness the Pope only last week. Moreover, beyond the Judaeo-Christian tradition there are allies in the world's ancient faiths, leaders of which gathered at Assisi in 1986. They all have one thing in common: they regard the natural world as a gift to be cherished.

In turn perhaps I may say that it is time we had a system of accounting which estimates the cost of any industrial enterprise in terms of irreplaceable natural resources. Opinions may differ as to the facts; but few people would deny the scale of the environmental crisis. I think that we are beginning to know the technicalities of solving some of the problems. However, do we realise the immense change of attitude at a deep level which will also be required?

It will also be necessary to gain social acceptance of the solutions we may offer. But I believe that it is the art of government to make self-interest coincide with duty. All Members of this House, from whatever side, may have to face radical changes either in their personal or in their collective lifestyles and expectations. A massive educational exercise will be required. Voluntary acceptance and self-regulation by industry and commerce will be the best methods.

I am told that to promote ecologically acceptable enterprises is not necessarily to curb adventure, risk and profitability. It is rather to challenge resource and imagination and to go for a long-term gain rather than for short-termism; in other words, the fast buck or the mega-profit. Profitable, however, we must make industry if the necessary safeguards are to be afforded. That is where third world industry and indeed the industry of Eastern Europe will be at a disadvantage and will need help. The cost of change, even for the better, will tend to fall on poor people the world over. The basics of food, heat and water may well cost more.

As always, wealth brings corresponding obligations. It will be necessary for the rich nations to take a lead. All are obligated. I quote from the Pope's recent encyclical. In fact, it was his annual letter of peace. He said: The entire human community —individuals, countries and international bodies —must seriously take up the responsibility that is theirs". Self-regulation, yes. Least government is best government, yes. But there will have to be some sanctions. Central government of whatever colour will have to give a lead and provide resources. Yet more than that will be needed and here is the rub. World government does not exist and may not be feasible. We have no supra-national authorities. Yet there must be regulation at a high level; the polluter must pay. In the last resort there must be punishments. There will have to be an internationally co-ordinated approach to the management of the earth's heritage. We have a common future or we have none.

I think that we must consider the effect of all our enterprises on other people. The difficulty is that the enforcement of the common good suffers because areas of political jurisdiction and areas of impact do not coincide. For example, energy policies in one jurisdiction cause acid rain in another. Upon whom can we place the responsibility for change —the United Nations, multi-national companies or national government? The question is much easier than the answer. All we know is that concerted egotism will not suffice.

As the main task of the Churches is not to take political, economic or social decisions but to stir and form human consciences, I believe that they are now on the front line in the struggle. The crisis is real, but danger is often coupled with opportunity. We have to summon the political will. We need to provide ourselves with a telescopic lens for the long-term view.

I hope that I am no more naive than anyone else in your Lordships' House. When those words came from the Malta Summit —that is, "The Cold War is over" —cautious though I am I believed that they placed us in a position of opportunity such as we have not had for a hundred years. We now have the chance to wage peace with an equal energy and with the commitment of equal resources as we have waged war.

4.49 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, the speech just made by the right reverend Prelate has encouraged me to begin at a somewhat lower level by quoting a once much quoted negro spiritual: Everybody talks about heaven, ain't goin' there". It is appropriate to say that when I read of the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, my feeling was that everybody now talks about the environment and very few people intend to do much about it. My reason for that pessimism is not wholly distrust of human nature but rather the reflection, which has already been illustrated this afternoon and which I am sure will be illustrated in later speeches, that everyone who acknowledges the importance attached to the environment at the same time has other considerations in mind. As the right reverend Prelate suggested, they may be wholly those of economic greed. Particularly in the Third World, they may be questions of survival. We cannot expect someone to take much notice of sermons about deforestation if the forest is his only source of fuel. However, there may also be a lack of imagination about the extent to which we must change the pattern of our lives. In some respects in this country —and I am sure in other countries one can find parallels —we persist in going the wrong way.

Perhaps I may take a subject alluded to in Question Time —our transport policy. It seems to me —and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, admitted this —that the private motor car is one of the principal causes of pollution, particularly of the atmosphere. One would have thought that if the environment is now top of our considerations we should say that all our efforts must be directed to public transport in order to minimise the use of the private motor car. Although we may not do it now, I believe that the advanced industrial countries will, in one form or another, come round to that view. A century later, if humanity survives that long —and I am not confident —people will think that it is absurd to go to their daily work in a great city, one person in each motor car and that car belching out whatever fumes scientists have not yet succeeded in controlling. We would regard it as just as absurd if we heard that the Ministry of Defence had decided to withdraw tanks from the British Army of the Rhine and to issue a set of Boadicea's chariots. We must make enormous jumps in the way in which we see our society, its communications and its industry.

The second reason why I take this somewhat pessimistic view is that we may underestimate the cost. It is true —and I think that the right reverend Prelate made this clear —that one could, through a suitable mixture of taxes, regulations and other forms of government initiative, produce in this country a less wasteful, less polluting industrial system. I dare say that this is also true of countries which are administered and taxed with the degree of efficiency which can be attained in the countries of the European Community, Japan or the United States.

Even when we come to relatively advanced countries like those of Eastern Europe, we face absolutely enormous problems. Many of us heard my noble friend Lady Cox give an account of conditions in Poland, with a rapidly falling expectation of life and rapidly rising infant mortality because of large-scale pollution which can probably only be tackled by the closing down of major industrial plants. When we talk glibly about a Marshall Plan for Eastern Europe, have we faced what it would cost to transfer to other employment those who would then be thrown out of work?

The problems of Poland —those of Czechoslavakia are less dramatic, but they exist —are probably much less than the problems of the Soviet Union. I am not an expert but the opinion that I have received is that the most appalling area of ecological damage in the world is around the Aral Sea. It is difficult to understand how the Soviet Union, with all its other problems, can now seriously tackle the kind of environmental damage that comes from unrestrained one-crop production in parts of that country and industrial over-development without massive aid.

What we are really saying is that if we take the environment seriously we need transfers of technical and other aid, including material assistance, between countries on a scale which none of the institutions and none of the conferences that have been tackling the subject in the last few years has been prepared to face.

It is helpful to recall that this is not a new feature. The business of man in developing the landscape, nature's resources, to his own uses has gone on for millennia. We know of many examples of the depredation of natural resources centuries ago. Why are there no trees in Anatolia? Because the goats ate them. That could be repeated ad nauseam. Therefore we must look for a new balance between human needs and the natural environment. We may have to tackle places where this balance is obviously completely out of hand. That tends to be in countries with bad or inefficient governments, of which I suppose Brazil is the key example. We must tackle that, but we have also to accept that there must in the end be some limitation on population growth. We cannot have an indefinitely expanding population and hope to maintain a balance between population and nature.

I am not a member of the faith of the right reverend Prelate, but I respectfully disagree with the encomia pronounced by him on His Holiness the Pope. We know that one way of encouraging some countries which are faced with enormous problems of population control is to tie economic aid to the establishment of forms of family planning. The Roman Catholic lobby in the United States has made it impossible for the American Government to attach these conditions.

It seems to me that if we place our religious beliefs, or possible interpretatons of them, before the environment, if we place the convenience of driving up and down the M.11 before the environment, if we place our dislike, for understandable reasons, of nuclear power and our preference for fossil fuels before the needs of the environment, if we simply say, "The environment? Yes, but —", I fear that there will be no one around in 100 years' time to look back on this generation.

4.58 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, sincerely for introducing this debate. I should like to add, if it does not embarrass him with his colleagues, my own appreciation of the number of times when he intervenes on this subject at Question Time and in debates.

He made one or two points in his opening speech with which I am bound to disagree or to question. The first is a small point: I should like the environmental institute to be in Cambridge, but I should prefer it in Norwich which I consider to be the centre of environmental studies in this country.

The second point I raise with him is perhaps on a more serious note. He did not tackle the issue of how he wants this to be done. I agree with virtually everything that the noble Lord wanted but he did not tackle the issue of how it could be done within the framework of Conservative Party philosophy, nor did he tackle how it could be done within the framework of market forces, the philosophy of profit and loss or within the framework of the capitalist system. Is it not that system which has produced this problem, and is it not that system which is resisting any soluton to it? Does it not need an interventionist philosophy, international and national, if the planet is going to be saved? However, there was one point that the noble Lord made with which I agreed.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that capitalism ceased to exist in the Soviet Union in 1917 and in Poland in 1945, or does he deny that those countries present some of the worst examples of environmental pollution in the world?

Lord Hatch of Lusby

No, my Lords I do not agree that capitalism ceased to exist in 1917. It was simply transformed into state capitalism. I and many other noble Lords have always made a sharp distinction and a critical distinction between Stalinism or state capitalism and what we consider to be socialism. I think that is now being discovered in Eastern Europe.

I was saying that I agreed strongly with one point that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, made in his opening speech. We need international action if the environment is to be saved; but this must not be an excuse, although it is used as one, for the absence of national action, even if we cannot get all other nations to associate with us. That latter point has been made too often by this Government as an excuse for doing nothing.

I made a wide-ranging speech during the debate on the Queen's Speech, and I do not intend to do that again this afternoon. But I wish to concentrate on one issue alone which seems to me to be fundamental to our consideration, particularly in this country, of all the environmental problems that we face. I suggest that this country is faced with two stark options. The first is whether we continue along the nuclear path. I agree that nuclear energy is comparatively clean regarding the greenhouse effect, but —and there are very many buts —those who support the continuation of the nuclear production of energy have never answered our questions on what will happen to nuclear waste and to the whole decommissioning process. We have never had an answer to that. While that may not add to the greenhouse effect, surely those processes constitute a pollutant which is as serious as that of the greenhouse and which is endemic to the nuclear option.

In both Houses the Government have continually hidden behind the CEGB whenever they have been questioned. The Government always say they will ask the chairman of the CEGB to answer questions. However, that is the Government's responsibility. I hope that the Minister will not again repeat the excuse that the Government cannot answer questions because that is the responsibility of the CEGB. It has now been admitted, for example, in a Written Answer in another place that the CEGB has submitted cost estimates for decommissioning. However, we have not been told what they are. When we have asked what they are, we have been told that is the responsibility of the CEGB. It is admitted that those cost estimates have been submitted to the Government. What are they? I hope the noble Lord can answer that question because it has been estimated by independent analysts that the decommissioning costs of Magnox will be in the region of £15 billion, and that the decommissioning costs of the AGRs will be in the region of £50 billion to £60 billion. Do the Government contest those figures; and, if so, what are their own figures?

It has also be estimated, on the figures already released by the CEGB, that the cost of the building of Sizewell is already 25 per cent. over the original estimate in real terms. Will the Government either confirm those figures or give the figures that they themselves have, which state that Sizewell is estimated to cost £1 million a day for the 35 years of its existence? I give those figures because I want the Government to tell the House the true cost of the production of nuclear energy. The Government have never revealed that.

One must remember that the Sizewell B plant will supply less than 1 per cent. of United Kingdom energy requirements. Is that cost-effective? Will it be cost-effective as regards the price of nuclear produced electricity to the consumer, which is already admitted to be double that of coal fired nuclear stations, and for which the Government have introduced a nuclear levy into their electricity legislation? It is not just a matter of cost, there are also the dangers to consider. The public in this country has been alerted to those dangers not only by the disasters at Chernobyl and at Three Mile Island, but also by the disaster at Windscale before and during the fire in 1957. Those are social costs and they must come into the equation in the whole argument on nuclear energy.

I have been advised in this House several times to consider the example of France. I have done so, and I know that there is already a fear on the east coast of Britain of contamination from the French nuclear stations. There is also evidence that those stations are suffering from corrosion and that the decommissioning costs have never been included in assessments. Yet France has now become the third debtor state in the world after Mexico and Brazil because of the borrowing it had to undertake to build its nuclear power stations. I should like to discuss the dangers posed to workers in nuclear plants and to the people, in surrounding areas, particularly in relation to leukaemia, but I shall simply make that point as another matter for consideration.

If the Government want to do something positive about the environment, they have that in their power. They should cancel the continuation of the building of Sizewell B. They could use the resources they would save for much more constructive and positive efforts to produce the energy which is needed and to produce it without the dangers and without the astronomical costs of nuclear power.

The second option that faces this country is one that I have been over many times in this House. Therefore, I shall not repeat it except to draw attention to the fact that from the Government's own figures investment in energy efficiency could cut United Kingdom energy use by nearly 20 per cent. It could also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 per cent. and save consumers £12 billion a year. That could be achieved for an investment of £3.8 billion compared with £2 billion to build a nuclear power station which would produce only 1 per cent. of energy used.

As I have said, time after time, energy efficiency has proved to be seven times as efficient in terms of cost and the effect on the environment as nuclear energy. Yet again the Government have cut the budget of the Energy Efficiency Office from £24.5 million a year to £15 million. Why? Is that not a cut in spending on methods of conserving energy which could have an immediate and lasting effect on our environment?

According to the Government's own figures, 40 per cent. of per capita energy consumption in this country could be saved by the year 2025 by energy efficiency. I suggest that the second option, using the resources saved from the first option, would put into action in a positive way the words that have been used, producing the energy required, reducing the energy needed and helping to preserve the environment.

Finally, mention has been made of the third world. Who believes that the energy required for development in the third world will come from nuclear energy? Surely it will come from renewable resources and the techniques of energy efficiency. That is the technology that we should now be exporting to the third world. I am glad to say that a solar energy council has been set up in Africa. That is the kind of initiative which the Government should be supporting if they are genuine in their concern for the environment. They have a job to do here at home; and a job to do abroad.

The Government have to drop the fantasy, which the Prime Minister maintained at the United Nations only the day before her Energy Minister had to declare that nuclear energy was to be kept out of the electricity privatisation scheme, that nuclear energy is the answer to environmental pollution. It is not. It makes that pollution worse by the misuse of resources. I hope that the Minister will recognise that argument and tell us how the Government are now going to put their fine rhetoric into practical action.

5.13 p.m.

Baroness Stedman

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for presenting his Motion in such a competent way this afternoon.

I believe that government and intergovernment action can become a positive force rather than a reactive one if environmental considerations are integrated into all areas of policy. In this country we have become more environmentally positive in recent years. Internationally, all nations are now beginning to realise the damage that can be done to the environment everywhere. We have to continue to recognise that environmental policies are an essential part of economic strategy.

We need to use our land much more creatively. The diversity of our land and landscape is one of our greatest assets. We need to stop thinking of land in terms of commodities such as beef, minerals or softwoods or in terms of projects such as roads, nuclear power stations or reservoirs. Future investment in such projects may 'very well be essential, but the projects ought to be designed so as to serve the environment and not to spoil it.

Until recently the care of the environment has been seen as a cost rather than as a financial benefit. We need incentives to encourage and reward shrewd management, new ways of doing things, new husbandry methods, more use of recycling, more effort put into waste management and more investigation of the commercial use of tidal and wind power. In this country we ought to aim at taking the lead in setting environmental standards in Europe.

It seem to me that Ministers and government departments always appear to divide up territory and then set about defending their frontiers. Life and the environment cannot be divided up like that. Collaboration and co-operation are needed. We should look for a European and international environmental policy for energy, to conserve heat and use less fossil fuel.

Research is going on into the greenhouse effect, but the evidence of global warming so far is itself sufficient for governments to act, and to act promptly, as well as to commission more research. The Brundtland Report helped to bring this issue into prominence. It stated that: A four track strategy is needed, combining improved monitoring and assessment of the evolving phenomena; increased research to improve knowledge about the origins, mechanisms and effects of the phenomena; the development of internationally agreed polcies for the reduction of the causative gases and the adoption of strategies needed to minimise damage and cope with the climatic changes and rising sea level". That report continued: No nation has either the political mandate or the economic power to combat climatic change alone". Our Government ought to be seeking a more collaborative approach to world issues affecting the environment, such as seeking an international agreement on the exploitation of hardwoods to preserve the tropical forests or to protect the unique environment of Antarctica.

The rain forests contain at least 50 per cent. of the world's species. Recent research has suggested that there may be as many as 30 million insect species in the canopy of the tropical forests alone. Those forests are also the source of many new medicines and industrial products. Seventy per cent. of the 3,000 plants that have been identified by the United States National Cancer Institute as having anti-cancer properties have come from the rain forests. The protection of the rain forests is also essential to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The destruction and the burning of the forests is the second largest cause of those emissions, and 72 per cent. of that destruction is for more cattle ranching.

The CFCs that we have heard about this afternoon have been the most potent of all the greenhouse gases. Steps have already been taken to reduce their emission. However, even the Montreal Protocol could and ought to be tightened up. We have to accept that environmental policies that affect the third world cannot be separated from the need for the economic development of the countries concerned. So long as people are dependent on wood for fuel, deserts will spread. So long as the population increases and slash-and-burn methods of agriculture persist the tropical forests will continue to shrink. Western countries could help by increasing and concentrating their aid on rural development in the third world —on environmentally sustainable uses of resources and on projects to encourage self-sufficiency in food production.

I believe that we have a duty to try to leave this world a better place when we go. There is so much that we can all do as individuals. There is even more that governments can do —working together, pooling resources, exchanging technical information, directing aid to the right projects —given the will to work together and produce a better environment for those who follow us. I should hope that it would be our Government giving the lead.

5.19 p.m.

Lord Carver

My Lords, I shall speak briefly in the debate in order to remind noble Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has done, that the Select Committee on Science and Technology has recently published a report on the greenhouse effect. I chaired the sub-committee which produced it.

The greenhouse effect is clearly an important aspect of the subject of the Motion that we are debating. However, I do not intend to discuss it in any detail as I hope that the House will have an opportunity to debate our report before long. I shall confine my remarks to underlining the principal conclusions and recommendations at which we arrived and say something about the international aspect which is the main emphasis of the noble Lord's Motion.

The issue which impressed us most was the great range of uncertainty in almost every field which affects the subject. There is no doubt that greenhouse gases have increased and global mean temperature has risen in the past hundred years or so. We concluded that it was likely, but not proven, that the latter has been due to the former. It is clear that, unless drastic steps are taken, concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to increase. That could bring about climatic changes, both globally and regionally, which could have severe effects on human, animal and plant life. But, in the present state of knowledge, forecasts of what they will be and what their impacts will be, are highly speculative and unreliable. They are certainly not good enough to form the basis of policy decisions which could have severe economic and social consequences.

There is therefore an urgent need to improve our knowledge in that field. In our report, we have suggested ways by which this country should contribute, including the establishment of a national climate modelling centre, based on the Meteorological Office, which the Government have already announced that they have approved. But the field in which scientific and technical effort is needed is much wider than that. Very little is known about what goes on inside the oceans and the interaction between them and the atmosphere. There is an urgent need for continuous, scientific observations in the whole field on a global basis.

International co-operation is essential in the field of improving our knowledge of the basic science of the gases themselves; of climate change; of its possible impacts, and of the responses which should be made either to mitigate the impacts or to adapt to them. The effort must be international because the scale of effort required is beyond the scientific resources of any one nation; because both the causes of climate change and the possible impacts affect every nation, large or small; and because the steps to control emissions, to mitigate the impacts or to adapt to them will require action by the whole world, developed and less developed.

While the former —the developed world —at present contributes most to greenhouse gas emissions, the most difficult problem will undoubtedly be how to prevent the development of the less developed countries, the population of which is expanding rapidly, from leading to a great increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Somehow or other they will have to be persuaded that it will be in their own interests to do so, and they must therefore be brought into participation in the international effort from the start.

In our report we sounded a warning note against proliferation of international organisations to co-ordinate study or action in that field. We concluded that the existing institutions —the World Meteorological Organisation's world climate research programme for climate research and the United Nations Environment Programme for responses—should not be duplicated. Together they have set up the important Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, the three working groups of which are due to produce interim reports next year, respectively on the science, impacts and responses.

There are not many scientists worldwide working in that field. They have already been called upon to attend a great number of meetings. To increase the number of conferences or meetings would only be at the expense of their scientific research, but we concluded that a major international review of the state of knowledge, and of the responses which should be made to it, should be held every four or five years, but not more often. We supported the proposal for a United Nations convention, protocols to which would be negotiated, as has been approved by the Government.

The work of our Meteorological Office in that field is highly regarded and it makes an essential contribution. But there is a need to spread research more widely, not only in climatology, but in many other affected fields which hitherto have not made the contribution that they could have done. At present there is a danger that all those working in the field are using the same data and similar methods. Much of the data is extremely sparse and the methods are crude. The fact that they generally come up with much the same answer —there are only five mathematical models in the world, four in the United States and one in this country —does not necessarily mean that they are correct. But governments cannot wait until they can be more certain that science is giving the right answers. By that time, which is not likely to be nearer than the early years of the next century, it will be too late, if present forecasts of likely effects turn out to be right.

Governments must therefore begin now to adopt policies such as energy efficiency and conservation which can be put into effect without causing drastic economic or social difficulties. Insurance policies have also been called "no regrets" policies because, if they turn out not to have been necessary, they will have produced other benefits and there will be no regrets. But, as the Motion emphasises, they must be adopted on an international basis.

The problem for the Government is whether to take the lead and set an example, with the danger that we shall suffer economically by being stuck out in front, or to put all their efforts into persuading everyone to step forward together. I accept that it is not an easy judgment to make, no easier than it is to strike the right balance between panic and complacency. We hope that our report will help noble Lords to do that.

5.28 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for tabling this debate. He certainly gave us a vast area to cover —the whole world —but I shall bear in mind the doorkeepers' dance or party and be reasonably brief.

We all know that these environment troubles are the human race's fault, resulting from its greed. It was not so hundreds of years ago; but in present times it is also the fault —if one can call it a fault —of over-population. I used to speak on the subject in the House quite a few years ago. Perhaps I rather shocked Members of your Lordships' House when I spoke of irresponsible spawning, but in my opinion that is the problem.

On the subject of man's greed and irresponsibility, I believe that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy mentioned the burning of the Amazon forest and the behaviour of the Brazilians. That is the most monstrous thing to do against the environment. A vast area is being burnt, although it is admittedly rather poor land, and millions of hectares will be destroyed. It has been done only for the purpose of grazing cattle on the rather poor land which will result.

I should like to say a few more words about the irresponsibility of man and move for a moment to North America. My grandfather—my father's father —went out to North America with the intention, among other things, of trying to something to stop the destruction of the red indians. He was not powerful enough to do anything about it of course; but he was aware of that appalling episode in the latter part of America's history. When he was out there, he had the amazing experience of being held up in a train for four or five hours while hundreds of thousands of buffaloes were migrating northwards. It was an extraordinary sight. Perhaps that was a little off the point, but without going back too far there are episodes in America's history which illustrate the greed of man.

Let us move to North Africa which, as noble Lords will know, was the great granary of the Roman Empire. The Sahara is now a desert. It is another instance of the appalling behaviour of man. I do not want to inveigh against the Arabs, but it was the Arabs and their goats who turned that area into desert.

What about the British? I remember that I used to become extremely angry with those few GIs who had been to India and told us how disgraceful it was that we should rule India's many millions of people. I said, "How about you and the red indians?" They had no answer to that. "At least," I said, "we increased the population and gave them very good administration". However, I must not go on in that vein because I am somewhat off the point again.

Today we have the great advantage of being able to do something useful to control the environment. A number of noble Lords have observed that we are far more in touch with other countries than we used to be. We have the great advantage that many countries now realise that there is a problem, and I believe that the environment will be brought under control.

The only experience that I have had of the changes in the environment is that over the past 50 or 60 years I have noticed that even in this country the habitat has altered. No doubt that is a result of the pollution from industry, among various other reasons, including the motor car. I remember the Great West Road when it was first made into a major route —not a motorway but a very good road. Either side of that road for about 50 or 70 yards into the countryside was a great place for growing vegetables. But as the volume of traffic built up on the road all that had to stop because of the fumes and pollution. That sort of thing is happening all over the country and it is very difficult to deal with.

To try to stop the volume of traffic building up would be a very unpopular move for any government to make. It would be very popular with me of course; but I suppose that it is impossible to prevent cars becoming more and more numerous. It could be done by additional taxation but not very satisfactorily. It would also harm our motor car industry.

Our agricultural land also has deteriorated. It is compacted by tractors. One cannot of course return to the era of the horse, but when the horse ploughed the land it did not compact it. There are also many other things that have done damage to the land which are the fault of men.

It is mysterious that some of the natural grasses, the wild grasses found on the hills in the north and other parts of Britain, have also deteriorated. I am not quite sure why that has happened, but it is a fact in parts of east Yorkshire. When I drive North I usually go via the A.1 which is a more pleasant drive than the M.6, although no motorway is pleasant. I cannot understand why it is happening, but the heather is gradually deteriorating. At first I thought it was because of the overgrazing of sheep; but apparently that is not so. In fact, sheep are fairly sparse in that part of the world. It must have something to do with the atmosphere.

I should like to say that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy has introduced a most useful debate. I only wish that we could have discussed this topic at another time when the House was full and the doorkeepers' dance was not in the offing. I hope that my noble friend will again bring up this question in the not too far distant future.

5.37 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, a debate referring to international action for the environment is a very suitable one. The environment is not merely an international problem; it is a global one. To a greater or less degree it involves everyone—every single person who makes a decision on this planet. One cannot have a truly national action on the environment. The reason is simple: whatever is done, be it with regard to waste or energy production that produces some form of noxious waste, it is bound to affect not only the individual in the immediate term but one's neighbours and possibly everyone in the entire world.

If gases are pumped into the atmosphere the wind currents will carry them ultimately all over the globe. No matter what boundaries are raised or barriers placed upon the borders of the rest of mankind, the whole world is affected. So the idea of international action should be applauded. However, we should not overlook our national duties and the obligations we owe to ourselves and to the rest of the planet.

As I have just said, everything that we do has some form of consequences. It is worth noting that even when waste is buried in the ground the residue of chemical run-off from it will ultimately find its way into the water system and into the oceans. When there is a sufficiently high build-up of waste —and added to that are such things as chemical fertilisers and toxic pesticides —one pollutes the ocean, which everyone has to use.

I think that the Government should make sure that energy efficiency and recycling are of the highest order because it is only through the better use of our scarce resources that we can realistically hope to slow down the rate of damage. We cannot cure the problem —certainly not in the foreseeable future —but we can limit the damage that has already been done and is constantly being done. That is the magnitude of the problem.

It has been said that we must make decisions between economic growth and protecting the environment. I suggest that ultimately we have to make some very radical decisions about protecting the environment to allow economic growth to continue. One of the easiest ways to do so would be merely to impose certain ground rules within existing technological limits upon those who are taking part in economic activity. The best example of that is probably in the field of electronic gadgetry and the amount of power that it uses.

I give an example. The average fridge that is available in Europe at the moment uses 270 kilowatts of power per annum. A standard has been proposed by the EC that a limit of 170 kilowatts of power per annum should be imposed on any model of fridge. The best model available for economy of power uses 80 kilowatts per annum. We should make sure that these standards are imposed as soon as possible. Once we have imposed one set of standards we should immediately propose the next set of standards that any form of appliance must meet. Therefore we would have a series of progressions within existing technical limitations. We would thus have a way of reducing power. We would know that we could reach those objectives.

It has been suggested that up to a 70 per cent. saving of power is possible with today's technology.

I am not sure whether that figure is accurate but if we were to achieve about 30 per cent. in the foreseeable future we should have made great steps towards reducing the amount of damage that is being done. The technology is available. The Government should think very clearly about making that technology available to those in developing economies, or who have industrialised economies which are not so efficient as ours.

As has already been mentioned in the debate, Eastern European industrial plant tends to be incredibly environment-unfriendly and aggressive in a most noxious manner. We should not make such economies clamber up a ladder hand over fist to try to reach the level of technology that we have achieved. We should help them by giving technical aid. When they renew their plant, they could then use the best technical standards available. In that way we are protecting ourselves. That should be remembered.

If we insist on a series of high environmental standards we are not hurting our own industries. If we can force the EC, for example, to make sure that these standards are adopted, because within the Community we would all be trading on the same basis, competition would not be affected.

Ultimately we have to make sure that environmental considerations are a vital, integrated part of any decision in our economic activity. The number of people on this planet means that man completely dominates the planet in every activity. The ecosystems of this planet were not designed to have man completely dominating them. That is equally clear. We must take on the responsibility that we have given ourselves if we are to continue to have a world to live in.

5.44 p.m.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, like many other speakers I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. In the late 'seventies the subject was greeted as science fiction. I looked at my notes. On 30th November 1978 I asked an Unstarred Question on the subject. At the time the reaction of noble Lords on the then Labour Government Benches was one of bewilderment. From the Conservative Benches, it was of unrecorded merriment. As a result I did not go too far with the subject because I had begun to doubt the whole issue myself by the time I reached the end of the Unstarred Question.

It is obviously a very different situation now. "Greenhouse" is almost the flavour of the month. I support everything that has been said about reducing pollutant gases, and about the dangers that they can induce. But no one has so far stated that nature herself may be one of the greatest polluters which, in the form of volcanoes or other such great natural forces, reduces almost to a minute scale the best that the combined efforts of man can do.

Many noble Lords who fly great distances may look out of the window at night and see absolutely nothing below. Two-thirds of the world is ocean and the majority of the great continents of Africa and India do not have electric light. The same applies to China. We have to be very careful in what we say in pretending that we know better, having taken the best of what the planet has to offer. To say that they have more expensive or second-rate refrigerators does not seem either correct or right.

I should like to go further. I have thought about this for a number of years. It is perhaps arrogant of mankind to imagine that our efforts may have triggered off what is now known as the greenhouse effect. Whether or not those efforts are the cause is a matter that has to be considered with a certain amount of urgency. But what if the greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon which is simply one of the earth's great climatic cycles? It has occurred before when there was no industrial pollution, no motor cars, no refrigerators, and no under-arm fresheners for our ancient Stone Age ancestors. It happened then and is happening again now. That is a key question that has yet to be answered. I have looked through the noble and gallant Lord's report. Perhaps when we debate the issue at some future date some light may be thrown on the question.

There is another factor. I worked with Sir John Mason before I asked the Question in the House. In his paper to the Royal Society, The Carbon Dioxide Problem —Global Implications, given in 1982, he stated in his conclusion: An increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is also likely to lead to a cooling of the atmosphere and an increase in ozone at these levels which may largely offset the destruction of ozone by the continued release of chlorofluorocarbons from aerosol cans and refrigerators. Things have happened since then which may have changed that. But the encouraging factor that Sir John Mason told me then was that by doubling the CO2 effect it would cool the lower regions of the stratosphere and therefore offset to a certain extent the damage by CFCs. It will be interesting to discuss that matter when the issue comes before your Lordships.

I wonder whether the rise in world sea levels may have been over-estimated, when increased precipitation in the Antarctic is fully taken into account. I note from the latest edition of the New Scientist that a Professor Charles Bentley of the University of Winsconsin is quoted as saying at the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco that increased precipitation in Antarctica would permanently increase the size of the ice sheet, which is "more likely to remove water from the ocean". There would also be a progressive growth in the weight of the ice cap of "between 100 and 400 billion tons per year".

The long-term implications of that statement may need to be studied a little more carefully at another opportunity. It may be of interest to noble Lords meanwhile to note that 10 millimetres of rain falling over five square kilometres will weigh approximately 250,000 tonnes. According to the British Antarctic Survey the annual rainfall over the ice cap has increased by 25 per cent. over the past 10 years. I understand that it is anticipated to rise to 50 per cent. over the next 10 years. The present rainfall in Antarctica apparently ranges from a few centimetres inland to as much as a metre at the coasts. The total area concerned is 8.5 million square kilometres. That is about the size of the United States.

It is therefore possible that the maximum figure of 400 billion tonnes a year could be an underestimate if there is a very large increase in snowfall, say, at the coastline of the Antarctic icecap. I had intended to use a figure of 800 billion tonnes for 1978 but I could not obtain verification. That may be another interesting point to clarify in a debate on the greenhouse effect because the question is appropriate.

During the 1970s I also wished to ask whether there could be a link between the world's climate and geomagnetic reversal of the earth's magnetic field. That is a subject of its own but it is relevant and could be worthy of discussion in a later debate.

Can the Minister say whether the British geological survey, and in particular the Geomagnetism Research Unit which is carrying out work on geomagnetism and climate, can be considered for further funds for research? If the British Antarctic Survey requires funds it should be given them in order to work out the increased precipitation on the Antarctic icecap and its major implications, if they exist. The matter should be looked at urgently and carefully in the light of some of the factors which are now emerging.

The point of my intervention is that, by logic, the greenhouse effect leads to something far greater and more dangerous than merely a rise in sea levels leading to the flooding of Mauritius or the Sundarbans in Bengal. The factors should be worked on and argued out by the scientists, as was said by the noble and gallant Lord, with some urgency before the turn of the century, rather than waiting for further events to happen when it will be too late to do anything about it.

5.52 p.m.

Lord Layton

My Lords, the current level of our environmental awareness has been brought about by the long overdue realisation of the potential dangers of our type of industrialised civilisation. We have now had enough crises to force us to sit up and take a good hard look at our seemingly destructive tendencies. Although we have been conscious of the problems of pollution of one kind or another for many years, most countries have done very little. That is because the solution to those problems has relied too much on those with vested interests, with their attention focused on the marketplace, who in their own short term have found it more economical or expedient to circumvent the regulations or ignore them.

However, today, as always, would they but know it, the public is the strongest market force of all. It is the public as a market force —whether for a friendly product, clean energy, a less-polluted world or a government that can be seen to be giving them a better quality of life —that is the most important factor in the movement towards "greenness". The public are not always aware of the background to problems that cause pollution but it always has to suffer the consequences. The public is fed up with those consequences so those in government have been forced to take heed.

I am happy that the international community is taking such an interest in global environment problems at such a high level. I am pleased that we can have international conventions and the like. But all conventions are worthless in dealing with problems if they are not suitably enacted within the individual signatory countries and if there are significant absences among those party to the agreement.

My noble friend Lord Ferrers voiced the Government's position on this point of enactment during his summing up of the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill on 12th December. The subject of the Bill is irrelevant to the point that I wish to make. He said: The United Kingdom takes the view that there is no point in ratifying a convention until there is in place all the legislation and procedures which are necessary to implement it fully. The convention was signed last December; therefore this is the first parliamentary session in which we are able to introduce a programmed Bill". —(0fficial Report, 12/12/89; col. 1232.) The Basle Convention concerning the trans-frontier shipment of toxic waste was ratified on 6th October this year. Therefore, I assume that the Government have taken the necessary steps to enact the provisions in the Environmental Protection Bill. Perhaps the Minister can reassure me on that point. The only problems that would then lie with the Basle Convention would be that another 18 countries would have to enact it and that the absence from the agreement of the United States, the Soviet Union and Japan among others should also be changed.

The point that I am trying to make is that the only way to have any effect on the global environment is for individual nations to clean up their own backyard. That appears to me to be the collective belief of your Lordships' House.

There are several benefits inherent in the concept of cleaning up your own backyard. The first and most obvious is that not only is the quality of life improved at home but also that any nation which causes less pollution improves the global situation. Secondly, in the case of developed nations such as the United Kingdom, leading from the front by having a strong policy that is diligently implemented not only for our own benefit but for the benefit of all, increases one's credibility and sets a good example. We should be seen by all to have "state of the art" integrated pollution control, as the Government call their new policy, that works as well if not better than anything anywhere else.

The third factor, which I have mentioned before in this House, is that if one has a strong home environmental policy that is properly implemented and regulated by a highly competent inspectorate, it will compel research and development and investment in the pollution control industries. That will inevitably lead to a healthy export trade in pollution control equipment and services which will also contribute positively at international level.

Without going into great detail, it can be said that we have three major problems with environmental policy in the United Kingdom. The first is that, through years of domination of the practice, we put far too much emphasis on landfill as the main answer to pollution control. Apart from the fact that we live on an island and there are limits to the number of suitable sites, there are many widely recognised better solutions for many of the waste products that are disposed of to landfill. We have been very backward in developing alternative methods of disposal or alternative uses for all types of waste. We have managed so far to avoid any great disaster but we have created a legacy of contaminated land. A lower reliance on that one particular method of disposal, which is hardly an exact science, would be an important step in the right direction. Anything less would set once more that fateful poor example.

The second problem is that our regulations have always tended to be far too discretionary. That leads to large differences in the standards applied to waste disposal. That could also be applied internationally. Hopefully, the lack of clarity will be corrected by the Environmental Protection Bill. The Government must introduce stringent statutory regulations not only as a code that protects the environment but which allows those who implement the regulations to do so in a consistent manner. As to the degree of stringency, I believe that as we are fighting a battle the rules must necessarily be strict. The sanctions applied to those circumventing those rules should be heavy enough to encourage automatic compliance and not just a financial slap on the wrist that is all too easily absorbed.

That leads me to the third problem which is the most difficult of all. It is the problem of financial and human resources for the body that must implement the regulations. There is no point in having laws if you do not have a police force.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution was set up in 1987 as a start to the streamlining of pollution control in the United Kingdom. It was set up to be the lynchpin around which integrated polluton control was to grow, with the Environmental Protection Bill being the great leap forward. As we all know, the inspectorate has not worked out as well as expected. As I said in a previous debate, there has been a haemorrhage of senior personnel from the inspectorate and old and newly created posts at higher pay scales have failed to attract candidates to that most central part of environmental policy in the United Kingdom.

The Environmental Protection Bill will put new powers in the hands of the inspectorate and will thus increase the burden of responsibility and the workload of an already grossly undermanned and underfunded department. What are the Government going to do to make the inspectorate viable?

We must have a strong, well-manned, well-funded, highly skilled inspectorate if the measures that are hopefully in the Bill are to be competently carried out together with the tasks that it already has. This is purely a question of financial backing. If that is not forthcoming we shall seriously fail in our endeavours to protect the environment for ourselves and for future generations. The predictions about the Bill which I hear from all sides are sadly pessimistic and the general belief seems to be that, although well intentioned, it will be an inadequate piece of legislation. I hope that that is not the case.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for straying somewhat from the international aspects, but I feel most strongly that if we fail at home, we fail internationally. A stringent national environmental policy, suitably funded and ably enforced, to work within international conventions is the best contribution which any country can make to solving global pollution problems.

6 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I must first declare an interest as I am a director of Marie Stopes International, and I intend primarily to deal with the population aspect of the environmental question. Before doing that, I should like to say that while I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Layton, that we must set a good example and put our own house in order, and each before our own door sweep, and all the other good advice which we have given, it surely is of the very essence of this problem that it is both a national and an international problem. It must be dealt with on an international and, to some extent, a supranational basis if it is going to be dealt with at all.

If there is any subject about which it is quite plain that national boundaries have almost no relevance, it must surely be in the sphere of the environment. The wind bloweth where it listeth and the very bad air which it blows about crosses national boundaries with the greatest ease. We know that the problem needs to be tackled supranationally, at the national level and at local level at the same time.

What concerns me about this debate and particularly about the specific aspects with which I wish to deal is that we have talked about this question quite often and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has very usefully introduced it again today. What I do not get from these debates —and this impression is strengthened by the frequency with which we talk about the subject —is any real sense of urgency. The need for a sense of urgency becomes particularly clear when you are looking at the population issue and its relationship to the environment.

At one stage I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, gave the figure for the changes in the size of the world population. I do not apologise for repeating that because I think one needs to underline this in red if there is to be the real sense of urgency which there must be in dealing with this problem. The figures for world population were 2 billion in the 1920s, 5 billion by 1987 and fairly soon into the 21st century, it will be 10 billion. It does not take very long to say that, but those are absolutely horrendous figures. We did not reach the figure of 2 billion in world history until the early 20th century and this is what we or our descendants must face in the next century.

To bring the matter right up to date, perhaps I may give World Health Organisation statistics for 1988. The population increase in the world as a whole is 17 per 1,000 but is 41 per 1,000 in Kenya, 30 per 1,000 in the Eastern Mediterranean, including the Middle East —a figure to ponder especially when we consider the significance of this issue for the status of women —27 per 1,000 for Africa, 21 per 1,000 for South-East Asia as a whole, seven per 1,000 for the USA, minus 1.7 per 1,000 West Germany and for some strange reason, minus 3.8 per 1,000 for the Isle of Man. I do not know how that curious figure has come about. I merely introduce those figures to give the picture of the enormous developments which are going on and the range and difference between different areas. I know your Lordships' House knows, but it must be stressed that 96 per cent. of the increase which we are facing will come in the developing countries. It is that point which should give us very great cause for alarm.

In the industrialised world we cannot possibly tell the developing countries that they should reduce their population unless we can persuade them that it is in their interests so to do. It is in their interests so to do, and it is very much in our interests that they should do so —and do so quickly. We have been talking since 3 o'clock this afternoon —although I cannot remember how long was spent on the Statements —and every hour adds 16,000 to the world population. Therefore there has been a substantial increase while we have been talking about this subject.

We get accustomed to that thought but it is extremely alarming. Because 96 per cent. comes in the developing countries, of course they will cut down their forests for fuel and in order to make possible grazing. It may be very poor grazing indeed but if it is all there is, you will take it. Therefore, our problem is intimately linked with the question of the standard of living in the developing countries.

We can preach control of family size unendingly, but we shall not be listened to by people whose only security lies in their children. In a country where there is no old age pension, no National Health Service and no unemployment insurance, the only security which the individual has when he becomes old or ill is that his children will look after him. As long as that is true, and as long as the level of poverty is such that these countries cannot provide any of that basic security to the inhabitants of those countries, they will go on having children, and so would we if we were in that situation.

It is literally true that in the seeds of their poverty lies the possible destruction of ourselves. Therefore, the need to do something about the standard of living of the developing world is not just something whereby we have a moral obligation to be decent to the poorer people of the world. It is the only way in which we shall have population control —or, rather, a reasonable reduction in the inevitable and still very alarming increase in the scale of population in the world as a whole.

The relief of poverty in those countries in the whole variety of ways in which that can be done —and it must be done very knowledgeably and skilfully because you can easily make things worse than making them better as some attempts have shown again and again —is an urgent issue to be tackled internationally because it cannot be tackled any other way. Perhaps I may underline —and not just because this is a feminine issue —one very important way in which we can (in the slightly more long term but which has undoubted lasting benefit) contribute to the voluntary reduction of the population explosion especially in the developing countries —that is, through the education of the women and girls in those countries. There is abundant evidence that the willingness to restrict population and family size correlates with the level of education of the female population in the country. There are a whole variety of reasons for that, quite obviously. As other speakers have said, a very great many women want to restrict their families but simply do not know how to do it.

When I was in India for Marie Stopes International earlier this year, I visited clinics in the slums of Delhi. Women were queueing along the streets in order to be sterilised. I know that approach is not acceptable to many in your Lordships' House. However, I produce that as one small piece of evidence to show that if women can get information on how they can restrict the size of their families, then they will do that.

Totally illiterate women —a great mass of women in developing countries —cannot read the literature. They cannot find out how to get advice about family planning, sterilisation, buying condoms or whatever the particular device is which they choose to use. They must be given all the various options because some are acceptable and some are unacceptable. It is not for us to say which are the right ways of approaching family reduction.

I know the Minister, the right honourable lady, Mrs. Lynda Chalker, who deals with overseas development, is very much seized of this issue. Is it not in the Minister's interests as a matter of urgency, to get together with other countries to have a programme for the relief of poverty and in particular for the education of women in developing countries? I suggest that this should not only be done at the level of governments. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, I do not believe that even Conservative governments are incapable of intervening once they have it in their heads that intervention is necessary. I do not think anybody seriously suggests that market forces will control the population explosion in the time that is available. The issue is simply whether the Government will find the right way to intervene. Governments do intervene; but in our view they do not intervene in many cases where they ought to. However, they are perfectly capable of intervening. The intervention has to be right. We have had plenty of intervention in the socialist state countries. It may have been better if there had not been intervention because it was done so badly. We have perhaps not had enough intervention in this country, but we want it done in the right way.

The matter does not only concern governments. We talk a great deal about collaboration between public, private and voluntary organisations at all levels. Can we not stir up people so that the various voluntary organisations, schools, colleges, trade unions, chapels and churches collaborate with their opposite numbers in developing countries and start working on some of these problems before it is too late? It is very nearly too late already.

6.12 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I join in the congratulations offered to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, on choosing this issue for debate today. In particular I want to concentrate on what seems to me the most important word in his Motion; that is, the word "international". We have debated our own policies for environmental protection at some length, most recently in the debate on the Queen's Speech, and we shall undoubtedly be doing so at even greater length when we come to the Environmental Protection Bill which will presumably reach your Lordships' House in the summer. However, the international issues are of such gravity and have received so little detailed attention —plenty of public relations attention has been given to them —that the noble Lord deserves the congratulations of the House on raising them.

I concentrate on international issues because it is not just in the environment that we find that the great political and social issues of today are no longer capable of being discussed on a nation-state basis. One can take any of the issues which concern us in public life. Inflation is no longer a national issue because throughout the developed world it follows a trend. Even though there are variations between one country and another the international influences are very great. The same could be said of interest rates. It so happens that this Government on both of these issues have mismanaged the economy more than any other Western country, but it is still true to say that the influences on major economic change in one country are largely international.

We have the issue of weapon control —whether it is nuclear weapons, chemical weapons or biological weapons. It is no longer realistic to say (and I am glad that my party now recognises this) that the policies of a single country have a very great influence on the control of weaponry or on the prospects for world peace. These are international issues and not local issues. In considering any of the scourges which affect our society —at random I could pick on the terrorism of the IRA, drugs, or the control and prevention of AIDS —all of them are international issues rather than local nation-state issues. The same is true of the environment.

A number of noble Lords, who are much better qualified than I am, have talked about the issues of global warming, the ozone layer, acid rain and the pollution of the seas. We look forward to the debate which will follow on the report so tantalisingly introduced by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver.

I was somewhat taken aback by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, who appeared to suggest that many of the things which, in all my reading, seemed to be getting considerably worse, might in fact be getting better. I am not capable of questioning his scientific judgment, but it is curious that everybody else is saying that the ozone layer is getting thinner, not thicker, and that the world is getting warmer, not colder.

There is now a much greater consensus about the risks in front of us. They are not even risks; they now appear quite clearly to be projections, but not on any probabilistic basis. The only doubt is the speed with which things are happening. There is no question but that things in all these respects are going in the wrong direction. There is also not much doubt about the major causes —the destruction of the rain forests, the increase in the emission of carbon dioxide, of CFCs, of methane, of nitrous oxide and so on. We still find ourselves in the position where scientific forecasts of the damage being done to our environment are by no means matched by changes in public policy. For example, the United Kingdom still talks about stabilising emissions of damaging chemicals, whereas what is required is not stabilisation of emissions, but stabilisation of the damage done by those emissions. That is a very much graver problem.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that if we are even to slow down, let alone halt, the damage done to the global environment we should need reductions in CFCs of between 75 per cent. and 100 per cent.; of CO2 between 50 per cent. and 80 per cent.; of methane between 10 per cent. and 20 per cent.; and of nitrous oxide between 80 per cent. and 85 per cent. The director of the Environmental Protection Agency, William Reilly, says rather sadly that he does not think that the world is yet ready for reductions of that kind. I am afraid that that is true.

I have said that the focus of this debate is rightly on international action. As a number of noble Lords have said, we cannot approach international action without looking at our own policies and the likelihood of the success of our own policies, however briefly. The difficulty that we have and the difficulty we will have with the Environmental Protection Bill when it appears is that there is no overall control by Government of environmental policy.

It is all very well for the Department of the Environment to produce an Environmental Protection Bill. Within the rather limited terms of reference which were indicated by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, when she introduced it in trailer form during the debate on the Queen's Speech, I am sure it will be good of its kind. I have faith, as I have already said, in the good will of the new Secretary of State. However, the pattern will be that in the fable of Beauty and the Beast; it is Patten who is the beauty and Ridley who is the beast. It is not enough for the Department of the Environment to have these policies. It is also necessary in particular for the Departments of Transport, Energy and Agriculture to have policies which are not in conflict and which actually increase the prospect of improvement in the environment.

In a very impressive and realistic speech the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, spoke about the sheer folly of assuming that the gain which we have in personal mobility from the private car in this century can continue beyond the end of it. He did not use those words, but he was very clearly pointing up the damage which is done to the environment by private transport. He also spoke of the very urgent need for additional support for public transport and a lessening of the tax support which is given both to road-building and the ownership of private cars. As the noble Lord said, politically it is not an easy thing to say. But there is no doubt that in any comprehensive programme of improvement to the environment those are issues that will have to be tackled.

Sadly, even within the last week, in a consultation document concerning traffic in London, the Secretary of State for Transport appears to have no concept of the danger or of what has to be done in financial or policy terms in order to put matters right. It is a similar situation with energy conservation. A number of noble Lords have spoken about the need for it and my noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby was one of them. The Secretary of State for Energy is new in his job, but he is showing no understanding of the primacy which must be given to energy conservation in so many of the aspects of public policy, whether it is new building, taxation, pricing policies, or in any of the tasks which should be the responsibility of the Department of Energy.

It is even suggested that with the final privatisation of the energy industry the Department of Energy can be wound up. That seems an extraordinarily foolish and short-sighted suggestion. It is a public responsibility to see that we have an effective energy policy which actually reduces the use of non-renewable fuels and in particular fossil fuels which cause so much damage to our environment.

There is a debate taking place and it is a matter which I wish to touch on very briefly. It is the issue between taxation or regulation as a way of dealing with environmental problems. It is a debate which is clearly high on the agenda at the Department of Energy because their adviser, Dr. David Pearce, appears to think that primacy should be given to taxation in dealing with environmental problems. There is a respectable history of worldwide support for the idea of anti-pollution taxes. In the Netherlands there is a tax on manure and river effluent. Germany has taxes on lubricating oils to encourage them to be recycled rather than thrown out with the swarf. In Norway a deposit is imposed on car bodies to prevent them being abandoned. In Japan and Switzerland there are higher landing fees at airports for noisy or environmentally damaging aircraft.

All these measures appear to me to be valuable. In the United States there is a further provision for marketable permits which is another of the roles of the Environmental Protection Agency. Since 1944 the EPA has issued permits in order to control air pollution. These can be sold between one company and another. In that way protection will be provided. The permits will be used by those with the most need and by those who are most likely to cause damage which cannot be avoided.

The test of the taxation policy for dealing with pollution is really whether this Government can frame an adequate energy tax which puts the right balance between different kinds of fuel and which also deals with the issue of energy conservation. In all the talk that is going on I see no indication that the Government have recognised this challenge or that they are prepared to do anything about it.

All these local issues are important because they lead us back to thinking what international funding and organisation is required in order to deal with global problems. I agree with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, that it will be undesirable to set up new ad hoc controlling organisations. We have plenty of those at the moment. At the same time we have to look at the capability of the EC, the OECD, the United Nations and the Commonwealth to deal with the problems. However, this country's reputation on environmental issues declined when the Prime Minister at Kuala Lumpur was the only person to reject the planet protection fund which Mr. Rajiv Gandhi proposed at the time.

In the EC many good things are being done which are not particularly highly regarded by this Government. For example, there are the directives on the quality of drinking water which are being comprehensively flouted by the Government in the interests of water privatisation. On the other hand, the common agricultural policy seems to put more emphasis on the guarantee fund, which is not particularly environmentally good, and less on the guidance fund which would support environmentally sensitive areas.

It seems to me that the OECD has a very heavy responsibility to the third world, being the representative of the better-off countries. A number of noble Lords have said what needs to be done about the effect on the third world of the vast burden of debt which they now hold and its redemption which now exceeds the total amount of support being given to them. Perhaps it should be an OECD objective to consider a programme of debt forgiveness, with environmental conditions, notably to Brazil, for the protection of the rain forests.

Without going over the ground covered so effectively by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and others about the absolute necessity for population control, in the end we must turn to the impossibility of survival of the planet if we leave it to the nation states and market forces which have contributed so much to our economic growth and also to the growth of environmental damage. I repeat the words of William Reilly of the United States Environmental Protection Agency: The world, I am afraid, is not yet ready for it". But if we have seen the death of so much of public policy in one country, so we must anticipate that there is no future for the survival of the planet if we retreat again to nation states.

6.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Hesketh)

My Lords, we have seen huge changes in recent months in Eastern Europe, many of which have indeed been welcome to those of us who defend democracy. I suggest that the environment has made as great an impact on international policies over the past year. The environment is at the top of the world's political agenda. It was a major theme of this year's economic summit and one of the substantive outcomes of the recent summit at Malta has been the proposal for the United States to host a conference next year to begin negotiations on a climate change convention.

The environment is nothing new to the House. The quality of today's speeches has again shown the depth and breadth of your Lordships' understanding of environmental issues. I shall respond in a few moments to the many interesting points which have been made. This House also has a fine record in producing reports on the environment. I should like to pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lord Cranbrook and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, will continue the tradition of authoritative reports from the Science and Technology Committee. The most recent report from that committee was on the greenhouse effect —perhaps the greatest threat to man at the present time. It was produced by a sub-committee chaired by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, and I am sure that it will be a very helpful contribution to the debate on global warming. The Government hope to produce a full response shortly. I am also looking forward to the next report from the Science and Technology Committee on Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment.

The threat to the global environment is one of the greatest problems faced by the world community today. I say "world community" because, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, pointed out, this is an entirely international problem. Sometimes it seems that we are overcoming traditional problems of conflict and hostility only to become aware of the possibility of causing irretrievable damage to life on earth by pollution. The people of Eastern Europe are sending us a message of hope, a lesson in the triumph of the human spirit and an example of what it is possible to do with a will to succeed. It is a message of hope which we must bear in mind when we approach the immense problems of pollution of our atmosphere, our oceans and our soils.

The Government will continue to play a leading role. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister demonstrated the importance we attach to the environment by making it the subject of her recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly. That speech has been welcomed by almost everyone, including the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, when we discussed the environment a few weeks ago in the debate on the Address. I am glad that the noble Lord was able to share some of the thoughts in that speech because the environment is an issue where we cannot afford traditional political divisions.

Britain also took the lead in March this year when we hosted a major conference on Saving the Ozone Layer which was attended by 123 countries. For many years British scientists have been at the forefront of vital work on issues such as climate change and they recently helped to discover the hole in the ozone layer. The Government will continue to support them, for example, through the setting up of a new climate change centre to work alongside the Meteorological Office to which we will be contributing £5.5 million next year, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, pointed out.

We are also ready to support developing countries which need help to phase out CFCs. The first step is to conduct studies to determine what further assistance is required. The Government have offered to finance a study for India and a team will be leaving next month to begin this work.

Noble Lords will be aware of the seriousness with which the Government view tropical deforestation, a problem drawn to the attention of the House by my noble friend, Lord Massereene and Ferrard.

Forests are an economic resource for the countries which house them, a resource which must be managed in a sustainable way. They play a crucial role in maintaining our global and local climate and as a bank of plant and animal resources, a point to which the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, drew our attention. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced in October 1988 that we would commit more resources under our aid programme to forestry. She gave this initiative a major boost in her speech to the United Nations on 8th November with a pledge that we would commit a further £100 million in tropical forestry assistance over the next three years. Much of this will be committed within the framework of the tropical forestry action plan which reviews forestry programmes on a country by country basis and co-ordinates donor assistance.

I do not want to burden your Lordships with statistics but perhaps I may give one. A year ago the ODA was financing some 80 forestry projects with a total value of £45 million. Now we have ongoing or in preparation more than 165 projects with a value of more than £150 million. The Government are prepared to follow up words with action. A further example is the increase of more than 100 per cent. in our contribution to the United Nations environment programme.

Before answering points in detail I should like briefly to outline some of the principles which guide our actions on the international environment. First, we are guided by science and we are prepared to sponsor new research where existing knowledge is incomplete.

Secondly, we do not give promises we cannot keep. That is why we only sign agreements which we know we can honour. I for one will be extremely interested to see how the Swedish Government will meet their commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions while phasing out nuclear power and refusing to expand hydro-electricity production.

Thirdly, we respect the sovereignty of nations and we are not arrogant enough to think that we can lecture, or even blackmail, developing countries on the management of their natural resources. What we offer instead is partnership and co-operation.

Fourthly, we believe in the power of market forces to influence people's actions. As Dr. David Bellamy, one of our most ferocious defenders of the environment, recently said: The destruction of the world has been market driven. The solution has to be market driven too". This does not mean that we are not prepared to regulate where necessary, only that we have an open mind to the most efficient ways of achieving environmental objectives. The staggering increase in the use of unleaded petrol from 2 per cent. to 29 per cent. of the market in one year demonstrates the success of market mechanisms.

Fifthly, we are prepared to back up our international action with domestic initiatives. We have today introduced our Environmental Protection Bill which is a major step forward in our fight to tackle pollution. The provisions in the Bill have for the most part been the subject of considerable public debate, and have been broadly welcomed. We are bringing in an entirely new approach to controlling emissions from the most polluting industrial and commercial processes. We are overhauling our wastes disposal regime from top to bottom to ensure tighter controls, better enforcement and clearer responsibilities. We are encouraging recycling by local authorities.

We are streamlining the existing regimes for dealing with nuisance and radioactive substances. We are introducing tough new measures to deal with litter and litterers. We are providing brand new powers to deal with genetically manipulated organisms. And we are restructuring our conservation agencies to provide greater responsiveness to national needs in England, Scotland and Wales, while ensuring arrangements for co-operation on matters of common concern. We have responded positively to the many constructive comments that we have received on these proposals. We have already guaranteed jobs in the new agencies to every existing NCC scientist, and last month we announced our intention to establish a statutory joint committee to deal with issues concerning the whole of Great Britain. I am pleased to say that today, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has announced that the Government have decided that there should be an independent chairman for the committee. We hope to be in a position early in the New Year to say who should be appointed to that post. The necessary amendments to the Bill will be introduced at Committee stage, and when they are agreed this will mean that all the NCC's main requests have been met.

The proposals in the Bill cover a good deal of ground, but there are some important themes which bind them together. Controls are tightened, while procedures are made simpler and more consistent. Responsibilities are clarified. Public access to information is made easier. Together, the various parts of the Bill add up to a considerable and consistent overhauling of our domestic pollution control framework.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, inquired of the expected progress of the Bergen Conference. The Government will be playing a major part in the conference next year on sustainable development. In September we hosted a workshop on raising awareness and public participation which forms part of the preparatory process for the Bergen Conference. We hope that the conference will increase international understanding and support for sustainable development.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and my noble friend Lord Layton inquired of progress on the Basle Convention. Some 39 countries plus the European Community have now signed the convention. The United Kingdom is urging concerted action by the Community to bring it into force. We are also encouraging all developed countries to be self-sufficient, as we already are, in waste treatment and disposal facilities.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, inquired of progress to be expected at the third North Sea Conference. The conference will be held in The Hague in March 1990. It will review progress at a halfway stage since the first North Sea Conference in 1984. It will also consider some important additional initiatives in areas such as the inputs of dangerous substances, shipping and wildlife.

The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy —and I am certain the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, would also have mentioned it —referred to the matter of the European Environment Agency. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, indicated a preference for Norwich. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy asked about the Government's commitment to the possible acquisition of this important agency by Cambridge, and I thought the noble Baroness, with her great interest in Cambridge, would have asked the question. I can assure your Lordships' House that my right honourable friend has written to the Environment Commissioner expressing our strong support for the location of the new agency at Cambridge. Other members of the European Community have also made bids to host the agency. If the United Kingdom is successful, the Government are likely to offer an attractive financial package.

The noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Beloff, and others drew attention to Eastern Europe. My noble friend asked an important question and the Government are working actively to encourage the adoption of environmentally sound and sustainable policies in Eastern Europe. We are working through the Group of 24 and the European Community, and we are urging that our first step should be to undertake a pollution survey to establish a basis of environmentally sustainable aid to Eastern Europe.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester and many other noble Lords drew attention to aid to developing countries. I listened with great interest to the points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester and he several times made the point that we all have a common responsibility to safeguard this planet. The co-operation between Churches is an example to us all. The Government accept that developing countries need additional resources if they are to tackle global and local environmental problems effectively. We shall continue to give attention to the actions which are beneficial to the environment and which produce economic returns in their own right, such as energy efficiency and the improved management of forests.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, drew your Lordships' attention to recycling. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, suggested that the Government's target was to recycle 25 per cent. of household waste by the end of the century. But I am pleased to tell her that our aim is, in fact, to recycle 50 per cent. of reclaimable household waste by the end of the century, which I hope she will find an acceptable improvement.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Seear and Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, all drew attention to the problems of population increases in developing countries, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, was extremely forceful in the points she made. The Government share the brunt of the report's recognition of the links between rapid population growth and environmental degradation. The help in addressing these links that is most effective is in the context of primary health care and improvements in the status of women. The British Overseas Development Administration spent £16.5 million on population assistance in 1988 and has drawn up a comprehensive policy for women in development.

The noble Lord, Lord Layton, drew your Lordships' attention to the matter of resources for Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution. Additional posts have been approved and, more importantly, an exceptional salary increase is being offered in the current round. I am pleased to report to your Lordships' House, since this matter was brought up in the debate on the Loyal Address, that the level of interest in the advertisements is so far very encouraging.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, drew your Lordships' attention to the disturbing possibility of an increase in benzine with the introduction of unleaded fuel. We believe that this is not so. The benzine content of both leaded and unleaded petrol is limited by regulation to 5 per cent. and, in practice, the average level in both types of fuel is likely to be closer to 3 per cent.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and many other noble Lords drew your Lordships' attention to the relationship of the motor car in the first world and the residents in the first world. We had interesting comparisons, from the ravages of the goats and the destruction of the Anatolian forest to the fact of the vulnerability of the forests in the third world; and in a way, the difficulty that the car is to the first world what the forest is to the third world. It is presumed to be an indispensable object.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that it is not an illegitimate aspiration for people to own a motor car, and it is not the Government's present intention to limit freedom to own and use cars. But we cannot rule out the possibility of a vehicle or fuel tax increase to encourage more efficiency in the use of fuel and thus the reduction of emissions. That touches in a way on the last point that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, raised and I shall be returning to it a little later on.

The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, has always provided interesting new ground for your Lordships to consider, particularly in his statement that capitalism never died in the Soviet Union after 1917. I am sure that even Joe Stalin would have been amazed if he had been accused of being a capitalist running dog, even of a corporate nature. But I have to say, as a committed capitalist myself, that I have always found it a great mystery how one can attach capitalism to the period between 1917 and more recent times.

The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, said, with the true and consistent confidence that he always has, that market forces were so much bunkum as regards the environment. I would draw his attention to one object of modern science which is the subject of market forces; that is, the aviation gas turbine. Operating costs of an aircraft, the highest part of which is fuel, have forced technology to produce vast increases in efficiency over the last 30 years, and that is market forces operating as they should.

If I were to go on to nuclear power, I would say that the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, should perhaps be demanding that market forces are retained, because, if there were an environmental consideration attached in the form of cost or taxation to fossil fuels, it is quite possible that the roles would be reversed and in 40 years' time the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, would be unable to acquire a battery that was charged by anything other than the atom.

The noble Lord, Lord Layton, referred to the subject of landfill. If I may give one example, only yesterday I was in Blackburn looking at an old gas and coking works. The interesting thing was that until this year the whole site would have had to be dug up, loaded up, put on the highways and taken and thrown into the ground somewhere else in North-East Lancashire. The fascinating thing that happened there was that some 250,000 cubic yards of toxic ground had by biodegradation been cured on the premises and thus was able to be redeveloped without being moved off the site.

Finally, if I may return to our old friend drinking water quality, I was rather surprised that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, should still trot out this favoured old preoccupation of the last six or nine months. The fact of the matter is that the recent successful flotation of the water companies has resulted in this country having the only fully funded programme in Europe —a programme of some £17.5 billion. That is another example of action rather than words.

I hope that I have been able to answer most of the points that have been raised, but, as noble Lords are well aware, there is an important and great event that follows after this debate in the House and I shall certainly write to noble Lords about those points which I have not covered. I hope that the points that I have made show that the Government's commitment to protecting the environment is second to none and that we are committed to making a safe and better world for the children who come after us.

6.48 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all those who have taken part in this debate, and I should like to add my congratulations to them on the succinct manner in which they deployed their points in observing the Chief Whip's advice. I cannot do more in the time available than make two or three comments. I should like to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester for his account of the meetings of Churches here and abroad, and of their determination to add support to protection of the environment. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, said he thought a lot depended upon political philosophy. This is not the time for me to go into that; but he will not be surprised that I do not altogether agree with him.

But in the meantime my noble friend Lord Hesketh referred to Dr. Bellamy saying that solutions must be market driven. Perhaps the noble Lord could reflect on that when he says it is impossible for a market economy to make the necessary changes.

When speaking about the greenhouse effect, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, and the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, confirmed that much research is still needed. Indeed, it is not yet possible to foresee with any precision what the dangers may be. However, that research is as necessary, as is preparing for counter measures.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and to others, who spoke about the increases in the world's population. I have not embarked upon that subject because I had to be strictly selective in the interests of brevity. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who took up the emphasis contained in the Motion on the international efforts which will be necessary if we are to fulfil the expectations of those who will follow US.

I am especially grateful to my noble friend Lord Hesketh for his winding up speech in which he gave a comprehensive reply on a very wide subject. In fact, I think that he dealt with every point which I raised, in particular the one on the tropical forests. Moreover, during his speech he made an announcement —an unexpected one, from my point of view —to the effect that the Government have decided to appoint an independent chairman for the new committee when the NCC is divided. Perhaps I may say straightaway that I am sure many of us who have been involved in the matter will regard this as an improvement, because we have been worried about how the co-ordinating committee was to function without such a chairman. The announcement was of special interest to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, and to me, because we are both members of the sub-committee of the Select Committee on Science and Technology which is at present looking into the Government's proposals for changes in the Nature Conservancy Council.

I am grateful that the announcement was made at this time. However, perhaps I may be a little light-hearted and express the hope that if there are to be any more such changes—especially welcome ones like this—perhaps they will be announced shortly. In that way we shall be able to consider them rather than the unamended plans which are now before us. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.