HL Deb 01 February 1989 vol 503 cc1091-166

3.13 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos rose to call attention to the case for enhancing the quality of life by protecting the environment from increasing pollution; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Motion should have been proposed by my noble friend Lady Nicol, but because she is indisposed she invited me to take her place. I regret my noble friend's absence because she speaks with knowledge and with conviction on this subject. I know that the House will look forward to seeing her back on this Bench very soon.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, the issues of the environment and of pollution are numerous and complex; land, sea and atmosphere are involved. In recent years scientists worldwide have been warning us that all is not well and that if governments, and especially industry, here and elsewhere fail to comprehend the dangers and to take appropriate action, catastrophe— that, apparently, is not too strong a word—lies just over the horizon. We are thinking, therefore, of the kind of world which our grandchildren and future generations will inherit from us. On all the evidence, there is no doubting that our responsibility is daunting. In this country the general public seems to be aware of the dangers. A recent poll indicated that 81 per cent. of the people of Britain believe that the Government should be doing much more to protect the environment.

The right honourable Lady the Prime Minister, who is herself a scientist, has recently appreciated this. I was greatly encouraged to read the report of her speech to the Royal Society last September. She described the protection of the environment and the balance of nature as one of the great challenges of the late 20th century. The Prime Minister also touched on a number of other problems which have caused acute concern; the greenhouse effect and CFCs, the depletion of the ozone layer and acid rain. She also spent some time on—I quote— the need to spend science budgets wisely There we come to another problem—whether the Government have spent and intend to spend the money which is necessary to begin to deal with the impending menace. I shall come back to the Government's record in a moment.

I know the House will be grateful to the Minister if he will inform us of the action the Government are taking following the Prime Minister's encouraging speech. We hear that a report is in hand based on papers prepared by all relevant government departments and that this will deal in part with the fight against the greenhouse effect. Can he say whether it is now the Government's view that some warming of the climate due to the greenhouse effect is inevitable? I have read that scientists believe that the world will heat up by 1.5 to 4.5 degrees centigrade in the first half of the next century, producing the warmest climate for 125,000 years, raising sea levels and seriously disrupting harvests. If this change is not anticipated, and if the necessary action is not taken, areas such as the east coast of England will face enormous problems and will suffer as a result.

The United Nations Environment Programme Report describes this development as, the greatest challenge lacing the international community'". The report also draws attention to other matters about which we have all read. I refer to the felling of tropical rain forests, especially in Brazil, and the destruction of the ozone layer. It says that the burning of forests is second only to the use of fossil fuels as the biggest source of carbon dioxide, the main gas that causes the greenhouse effect. The burning of fossil fuels is of course a point which concerns this country very much.

NERC scientists have been carrying out some significant work. They have shown that the Atlantic Ocean has become stormier over the past 20 years and they think that this may be related to climate change and the greenhouse effect. Another group is monitoring the growth of ocean plankton. In both cases it is essential to maintain continuity of measurements, but I understand that the project will end on 1st April unless the council wins new contracts from industry and from the Government. It is relevant to note that over the past six years government commissioned research expenditure has fallen from £46 million to about £22 million. The future of the council must be in some doubt.

But there arc signs that the Government are becoming aware of the dangers. We welcome warmly the Prime Minister's decision to join with the United Nations Environment Programme to call a special meeting of governments here in London next month to try to speed up the measures aimed at protecting the ozone layer. We greatly hope that the conference will be successful. No doubt the Minister will tell us more about it when he comes to reply. But government policies must be clarified. They must he carefully formulated and realistic before the public or this House can begin to be satisfied. It is one area where reliance on market forces could be disastrous. We have learnt over a period of 175 years that market forces on their own are no respecters of the environment or of the people.

My worst and most tragic experience over 40 years of political life was the Aberfan disaster, in which I was involved as Secretary of State for Wales, as indeed were my noble and learned friends Lord Edmund-Davies and Lord Elwyn-Jones in their legal capacities. Market forces left a scar there which will never be erased. There must be effective planning and control over the use of natural resources and over the exploitation of land, water, energy, the sea and the atmosphere. Without that organisation both nationally and internationally, the environmental and ecological problems will continue and they will grow.

All developed countries have contributed to a greater or lesser degree to the problems which I have mentioned. However, today we are mainly concerned with our own country and with the record of our own governments. We know that we led the world in the Industrial Revolution and the balance sheet no doubt shows credits and debits. I have already referred to one of the debits. Successive governments must bear some of the responsibility for neglecting the environment. The present Government have had the advantage of a volume of new scientific evidence and advice which has emerged over the past few years. I must say, although I much regret having to do so, that on the material which I have read over the past few days, after 10 years during which the evidence of environmental damage has become graver and more precise, the Government have failed to take that evidence sufficiently seriously and to act upon it.

The result of that neglect is difficult to calculate with any precision, but it will certainly have grave, and possibly disastrous, consequences. What does the record tell us? First, that we have one of the worst records for pollution in Europe and, it seems, the dirtiest beaches in Europe. That is really disgraceful. We pride ourselves on our tourist industry and we need the revenue which it brings, but the Government must not turn their back on this state of affairs. As I understand it, the European Commission is taking legal action against the Government over five of the worst cases of beach pollution. We shall be grateful to the Minister if he will tell the House how that action is proceeding and what is the Government's response.

Then, we have yet another example of this neglect which relates to our drinking water. We arc told that nearly 11 million people in Britain drink water which is below the standard set by the European Community and that there are excessive nitrate levels in water in many areas of the country. Here also the Community is taking legal action against Britain in respect of six serious breaches. Perhaps the Minister will also tell us how that matter is proceeding. Are those breaches, as we believe, due to the failure to modernise water treatment works? If that is the case, then governments must take responsibility because they forced water undertakings to limit their borrowing, with those serious results.

Perhaps I may give the House another example which is well known to noble Lords. It relates to the ship the "Karin B". When that vessel, with its dangerous cargo, approached the South Wales coast, the local authority and the community generally made it plain that they would not tolerate the ship berthing or unloading her cargo. Therefore, as we recall, the ship departed from these shores. However, the Government were tardy in giving their view at the time. There seems to be a total absence of any policy for managing toxic waste.

Against that background, it seems common sense to me that at least our system of inspection should be adequate. But the fact is€as the noble Earl will confirm€that his department has only five inspectors to supervise 5,600 dumps in England and Wales. Further, as a protest against this serious inadequacy I understand that the Deputy Chief Inspector of the Inspectorate of Pollution felt that he had to resign. If that is true, it is a very serious condemnation. I see that the noble Earl shakes his head but we shall be grateful if he will confirm whether that is a fact.

The absence of a clear policy was made clear in the House in an exchange about the dumping in Cheshire of waste from the United States. Indeed, the noble Earl took part in that exchange. The Government later cancelled the proposal but there was no statement of consistent, formulated policy. It is disgraceful and totally unacceptable that nuclear waste, or any toxic and hazardous waste, should be dumped in these small islands.

Obscure spokesmen of firms do exist who say blandly and pompously that they have the expertise to handle waste which may be brought into Britain. Who do those people think they are? I know who they are; they are people who would handle anything for money. They are the unacceptable face of market operation. We must not allow them to decide which sort of country our children will live in. If such people continue to have their way this will no longer be a green and pleasant land.

I turn now to the problem of acid rain. Here again, Britain remains the largest emitter of sulphur dioxide in Western Europe, with an increase of 200,000 tonnes in 1987. Again I have read that the experts say that we send into the air 800,000 tonnes of gases which can be converted into acid rain. That is obviously serious and I shall be glad to have the Minister's comments on the matter.

I concede immediately that these are very real problems for this or any other government to overcome. The Secretary of State, Mr. Nicholas Ridley, has said that to resolve the problem we must concentrate on nuclear energy. But here again, unfortunately, we have no clear forward policy on nuclear waste. We need a carefully thought out energy policy but there are certain steps which we can take now. For example, the Government can see to it that our existing power stations are cleaned up at a much faster rate and, most important of all, the Government must take urgent action to increase energy efficiency. I hope that the Minister will say that he will support those two initiatives with enthusiasm.

I should now like to put two short, but important, questions to the noble Earl. First, why, if he and the Government support increased energy efficiency, has the budget of the Energy Efficiency Unit been cut by 5 per cent. in real terms? Secondly, why has work on the revolutionary Grimthorpe power plant, a pollution-free coal burning plant, been halted when only €12 million is needed to demonstrate its feasibility? Such plants could start a new era of safe power stations in this country, which would meet the problems.

If the Government are serious about efficiency they must find good answers to those two questions, for at the end of the day Britain will be judged not by what its leaders say on platforms or at conferences or even by what we might say in debates such as this one, but by what its governments of all parties do to meet the challenge. Many people responded warmly to the Prime Minister's speech in September and expressed the hope that it signified a positive change of heart. However, they also pointed out that the Government's practical response at the time was very disappointing.

Perhaps I may again give some examples, because I want to be perfectly fair to the noble Earl. Following last year's science budget allocation, the National Environment Research Council had to make 160 of its staff, mostly scientists, redundant. It had no money to pay them. The council said that it had gone as far as it possibly could in making savings. The secretary of NERC, Mr. John Bowman, said: I welcome what the Prime Minister said, and I think the scientific issues she addressed are enormously important. But if the scientific community really is to give the Government sound guidance in these matters in the future, the Government must concentrate resources on the relevant areas of research". Those were the words of the secretary of NERC. The retiring chairman of NERC, Mr. Hugh Fish, said: if the squeeze on the funding is not halted, environmental research could suffer damage from which it would take years to recover". The new chairman, Professor John Knill, has warned: the Council could no longer support some important environmental monitoring programmes. The sad and alarming fact is that the expenditure of the noble Earl's department on environmental research has fallen in real terms from €40.6 million in 1979–80 to €28.2 million today. It would be helpful if he would tell the House how the Government justify a cut of those proportions.

We also know that the universities, many of which are carrying out vital research in the environment field, have suffered severely from economic stringency. I have the details, but I do not have time to list them. Again there are wide-ranging cuts in research which have been announced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, an area in which I have taken a great interest. That is also a matter of considerable worry.

The chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council has deplored the cut of 5 per cent. in the council's grant and questioned whether it can carry out what is required for the future. We cannot but accept the view of the scientists that the cuts are deep, damaging and injurious, especially to environmental monitoring programmes, including those directed to the atmosphere.

Perhaps I may say in conclusion that this is not the time or the subject upon which to make purely party political points, and I do not want to do so. There is no general election in view. We all have a duty to face the facts as presented by objective commentators. But what is in view is disaster on an unpredictable scale for future generations. Let us operate internationally through the United Nations and the Community, and do so with vigour and enthusiasm. The greatest scientist of the century—Albert Einstein, said: Why does this magnificent applied science which makes life easier, bring us so little happiness? The simple answer runs: Because we have not vet learned to make use of it". Let the Government heed those words; listen to the scientists; and give them the resources to finish the job so that our country and the world may be safer to live in. I beg to move for Papers.

3.33 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, we are all disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, is not here today to move the Motion which originally stood in her name on the Order Paper. I am sure that I speak for all your Lordships in asking the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penhros to pass on our very best wishes to the noble Baroness. I am pleased however that the noble Lord was able to leave the Motion unaltered because it includes the most important challenge that we face.

The state of the environment, both national and international, is very much at the forefront of people's perceptions now. But it is something about which the Government have been concerned throughout our time in office. Our efforts so far have helped to reduce pollution in all the environmental sectors—air, fresh and sea water, and land—and will produce benefits both in this country and over a broader area, indeed globally. I should ike to give an overall picture now thus allowing myself time to answer detailed points when I speak, by leave, at the end of the debate. Clearly, there are a number of misapprehensions that need correcting.

The subject of the debate is the enhancement of the quality of life by protecting the environment from pollution. This is not a debate where one is for it or against it. It is a question of degrees and priorities. Whatever we do for a cleaner environment will be costly. Thus our ability to tackle each problem depends on its severity and the resources we are able and willing to devote to it.

Although each pollution problem is different, I believe one can divide them into four categories: local, national, regional and global. Each category contains issues which arc more complex and costly to deal with than the next.

Let me start with local mess. Litter is an all too depressing feature of our lives. And it is, par excellence. the area of environmental pollution where individual citizens, each man, woman and even child, can by their own personal efforts make a real impact. We really must get away from the idea that "they" ought to do something about it and develop the idea that "we" can do it. The Government have increased grant to the Tidy Britain Group from €0.7 million in 1987–88 to €1.2 million this financial year and we shall increase it again to €3 million in the next financial year. The group, at our request, is running a range of pilot projects to test various ways of tackling the problem in different kinds of location.

Noise is a major cause of stress and interference with our well being. Recent figures show that complaints about noise have increased fourfold between 1977 and 1987. As with litter, that is a form of pollution that will only be solved by individual action. Local mess is created by us and it is up to us as individuals to sort it out. Our involvement will be rewarded by a reduction in pollution and enhancement of the quality of life.

I move now to items of national importance: first, the protection of the aquatic environment. We have 95 per cent. of our population connected to the main sewer. That is the highest percentage of any of our European partners. Once sewage treatment is installed, life in the environment can return to its previous condition, as we have shown with the Thames which now has over 100 species of fish in it, when not so long ago it had none in its lower reaches. The Tyne is now a salmon river again. Even with our high standards, now that we can afford to, we must do more. The most prominent example is our campaign to clean up the Mersey basin at an estimated cost of £4 billion.

Notwithstanding the high standards we have in this country, where 90 per cent. of our rivers are of good or fair quality compared with 75 per cent. on the Continent, there is concern over some recent slight deterioration in river water quality reported in some areas. The main causes have been the poor performance of many water authority sewage treatment works, and pollution from agricultural sources. The unsatisfactory discharges of sewage effluent are usually from outdated and overloaded sewage treatment works and sewerage systems. This is largely the result of chronic under-investment in the 1970s under Labour Governments who, with Liberal Party support, cut investment in public infrastructure. In this case it was by 30 per cent. in real terms. Since 1980, investment has increased annually and we recently announced a €1,000 million programme of investment by water authorities to bring almost all works up to standard by 1992. Increased investment will also enable water authorities to speed up their programmes of compliance with new UK and EC environmental standards, and to renew underground assets. But let there be no confusion, drinking water from public supplies in this country is good quality and perfectly safe to drink. Most water supplies already comply with the new more stringent standard for nitrates set by the EC drinking water directive, and the others will do so within a reasonable time scale.

In addition to the investment programme that I have just mentioned, a number of measures are being considered in order to tackle farm pollution, including regulations concerning silage and slurry stores—some of the commonest causes of water pollution incidents.

We believe that the establishment of the National Rivers Authority (NRA) will improve the institutional framework for water pollution control. The water authorities currently combine their pollution control functions with being major polluters because of their role in sewage disposal. This as in other areas is a fundamental mistake. We strongly believe that we must separate the role of producer and regulator, and the NRA will have no such conflict of interest.

A further area which has, quite rightly, gained increasing national prominence is the whole question of waste management. Clearly, we should start by trying to reduce the total quantity of waste. That will be an important feature in our proposed measures for integrated pollution control. We also encourage recycling of waste products to the maximum extent consistent with sound economics. Nevertheless, we must ensure that the inevitable wastes which require final disposal are dealt with effectively and safely.

We have done a great deal of work in the past few years reviewing the legislation governing waste disposal in this country. The basic changes have been decided. The total package we have produced will, we believe, provide a clear, solid framework for the long term and we shall certainly legislate during the lifetime of this Parliament.

Perhaps the most talked about area of regional pollution is the North Sea. The quality status report prepared for the second international North Sea conference in 1987 showed that the state of the North Sea is generally good. Damage from pollution is confined to areas on the eastern coasts such as the German Bight and Wadden Sea. That is not surprising when one looks at the hydrography of the North Sea and understands that 80 per cent. of the pollution entering the North Sea from rivers comes from the Continent.

However, we must do more, and in the London declaration all eight North Sea states agreed on further protective measures. An international scientific task force has been set up to improve our understanding of the North Sea environment and the United Kingdom has played the leading part in taking this initiative forward.

Another area of intense action is implementing our commitment to improving air quality and reducing acid rain. The United Kingdom has already had a £1 billion programme to reduce acid emissions from power stations—the second largest in Europe. We have now agreed targets for Sot and Nox emission reductions in the EC large combustion plants directive which will involve significant additional expenditure—something like a doubling of the existing programme.

Last November in Sofia we signed the Nox protocol to the UN-ECE convention on long-range transboundary air pollution. We are implementing the EC Luxembourg directive on vehicle emissions, which is likely to halve emissions from new petrol engined cars, and will add £850 million per annum to motoring costs.

There is no doubt regional pollution can do longterm damage but global pollution is the most dangerous and complex set of problems which faces us.

The first priority is to reduce the very great uncertainties—some of which the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition mentioned—about the nature and consequence of climate change to a range manageable enough to enable the world community to take sensible precautionary measures to minimise the impacts. We are making an important contribution to international efforts in this field. Our scientific institutions are world leaders in this area and the director of the UK Met Office is leading the joint UN EP-WMO study group which is examining the science of global climate change. Once we better understand cause and effect we shall be better placed to press for effective remedial action.

One of the greenhouse gases is chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and related substances, used in aerosols and refrigeration, and which we know can interfere with the way ozone is created and broken down, and thus reduce ozone concentration in the upper atmosphere. Because the ozone layer protects us from the sun's ultraviolet radiation, this could lead to increased skin cancer and reduced yield in crops.

We have been closely involved in international measures to protect the ozone layer. Your Lordships will be pleased to know that the United Kingdom will meet the target set for us 10 years earlier than required by the protocol. But we now know that the 50 per cent. target is not enough. We accept the firm scientific evidence presented by the independent body set up by the Government—the Scientific Ozone Review Group—that to prevent further depletion of the ozone layer CFC emissions must be reduced by at least 85 per cent. world-wide as soon as possible. The Montreal Protocol must be implemented on a faster time-scale and significantly strengthened.

We shall be pressing for this higher target and shall be hosting an international conference on the ozone layer in March, to demonstrate practical ways of achieving further world-wide reductions in CFCs. Over 150 countries have been invited, and we already have firm indications from over 50 from all parts of the world that they will be represented at senior ministerial level. His Excellency President Moi of Kenya will deliver the keynote opening address on 5th March. The Prime Minister will attend on more than one occasion. All the signs are that we shall be able to make real progress at the conference.

One reassuring aspect of this work on CFCs is that the international community has shown encouraging signs of being able to act together to solve global problems. Much more progress needs to be made to get world-wide, universal participation and the London conference will give a vital boost to this aspect of the problem. The indications are encouraging, and they need to be.

The UK will continue to play a leading role in regional and global environmental issues. We shall work actively to promote the concept of sustainable development and to translate it into reality, both at home and abroad.Attitudes and institutions will have to change. Every country throughout the world will have to play its part. The stakes are the world as we know it. The costs will be enormous, but the costs of failure are greater still. The human race has faced no greater challenge.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, I too wish to say how sorry I am that owing to illness the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, has not been able to open the debate. Nevertheless, I am delighted that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, Lord Cledwyn, has found it possible to open the debate himself. He did so with great expertise and with his vast experience not only as a former Secretary of State for Wales, in which capacity he was close to the dreadful Abcrfan disaster, but also as a distinguished and able Minister of Agriculture. He will know that as regards pollution the Minister of Agriculture is at the moment in a very hot seat indeed. It is a relevant area of experience.

This is a very important debate and I am grateful to the noble Lord for introducing it. I think I am right in saying that we have had approximately 10 debates on the general subject, in addition to one or two on specific subjects like the recent debate on the ozone layer in your Lordships' House. I seem to recollect that I have spoken in all 10. I think that other noble Lords who are to follow me have spoken in many of the debates as well. No doubt some of them, like me, have wondered which of the earlier speeches to make. After thought, I have decided that my earlier speeches would not fit into nine minutes so I shall have to make a new one. Whether noble Lords who will speak later will repeat the old speeches I do not know, but I should be glad to hear some of them again, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, who has spoken to us so often on the subject with great wisdom. I should be glad to hear the old speech again, or indeed a new one. Like other noble Lords, I am particularly looking forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth.

The Minister himself has said, and we must say at the outset, that the problems with which we are faced can only be solved internationally. I know that individuals can do a great deal, but the problems of pollution in general cannot be solved by individual nations. They will have to be solved by international action. Having said that, I am thinking of subjects which have already been mentioned, such as the declination of the tropical rain forests. We cannot solve that problem on our own in Britain. Nor can we deal with acid rain, though I accept, as has been said to us, that we have a major responsibility in that direction. Nor can we alone in Britain deal with the damaging greenhouse effect related to acid rain and to our outpourings of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere. Nor can we alone deal with the threat to the ozone layer or with lead pollution, which is a serious problem. It must be tackled internationally. There is now general acceptance of that.

However, having pointed out that we all understand and accept that the problems must be tackled internationally, that does not in any sense relieve us in Britian of our responsibility to play our part in the task. The noble-Earl has outlined the way in which we are trying to play our part but I think most of us would say that we arc not doing it quickly enough or well enough.

We all know what the problems are. We have heard so much scientific evidence in recent years that most of us know the answers. It will not be possible in the future when our grandchildren say, "Why didn't you do something about this, that and the other?", for us to say what we did not know. We do know. We know the answers. The real task now is to apply those answers vigorously.

The main point I wish to make in the course of this debate is that I genuinely believe that it is not so much new legislation that we need but the effective implementation of legislation which is already on the statute hook. What are we considering in the main? We are considering the clear fact that man has proved beyond all possible contradiction that he excels all other animals in his ability to foul his own nest. Every day the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the land we live on and the sea which surrounds that land—each and all—become increasingly contaminated by pollutants of one kind or another.

Going through those pollutants one by one, let us consider food, where there is increasing contamination with various additives. Let me say at once that I am not opposed to the use of food additives. Indeed, with modern methods of food production, it is essential to have certain additives in order to restore nutrients that have been removed in the manufacturing process. It is also essential to have additives to prolong storage life at a time when we have a huge world population to feed. So additives are necessary. But they should only be accepted when they are safe, and they should only be used in the interests of the consumer rather than in the interests of the producer. They should not be used in the interests of the producer to conceal the use of inferior materials.

Regarding water, I am not wholly opposed to certain additives. It is well known that I am in favour of adding fluoride to our water supplies. The Minister mentioned sewage. We already have powers to stop our rivers being contaminated by sewage. We have powers to stop the constant outflow of sewage into the seas which surround our land. Yet that goes on day after day in all parts of Britain. I could list those parts. I am sure the Minister knows them. But I very much agree with what the Minister said—that in many ways the answers are in our own hands as individuals.

The Minister may be interested to hear that tomorrow I shall have the great honour of receiving from His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales an award in respect of conservation. I shall receive that as the chairman of the Groundwork Trust. The Minister, who has been deeply involved in the Groundwork movement, knows very well that the Groundwork experiment has been an outstanding success. It has taught people to do something about urban fringe decay. It has helped people to improve the local environment in which they live. That has only been achieved as a result of education in the schools and throughout the population. The movement has helped people to come along and improve the environment in which they live. It has been an extraordinarily successful experiment. It shows how very important education is to the whole subject with which we are concerned today.

We must ensure that all schoolchildren understand the consequences for the future of their present actions. As I said, the Minister himself has been deeply involved in the Groundwork movement. He will be glad to hear that we are about to receive that award from His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.

I believe that if we in Britain were now to apply the answers which we know and to enforce legislation which is already on the statute book, many of our problems would he at an end almost at once. But I must say that we are dealing with the accumulated pollution and contamination of some 50, 60, 70 or even 100 years. There are deposits of chemical waste lying about Britain. Everywhere one looks in Britain one can see monuments to centuries of greed when people have taken out of the environment and not put anything back. Things have been left. I accept that all that damage cannot be repaired overnight. It will take time. But it will only be achieved if we all understand as individuals that there is a price to be paid for conservation. It cannot be done for nothing.

I have mentioned before in your Lordships' House that I was deeply involved in the clean air programme. That movement campaigned for a better atmosphere, and for getting sulphur dioxide out of the air to prevent such conditions as bronchitis. That campaign took a very long time. People realised there was a price to be paid for doing that. They were only prepared to pay that price when they found that it was necessary to do so. When did they find that out? They found it out when the great smog occurred in London round about 1952. At that time 18,000 Londoners died from bronchial pneumonia as they had inhaled chemically laden fumes for some 48 hours. Once Londoners became poisoned, we quickly got down to solving the matter and clean air zones were set up almost everywhere. We must teach people that there is a price to be paid for conservation, but that if we do not pay that price we shall pay a much heavier price later on. That is one of the lessons that must be got home at the moment if we are to apply the kind of remedies which the Minister listed with the kind of speed which is necessary to preserve things for the future.

We must consider one other factor. We cannot exclude from our considerations population growth in world terms. I said that we had to look at these matters in world terms. The population is now growing at the rate of 8,000 people an hour. So by the end of this debate we shall have acquired something like a new Wolverhampton in terms of population. I am not saying that is something that can be tackled immediately. However, we must recognise that every hour our population is growing; and that as our world population grows, the rate of consumption of irreplaceable raw materials, on which we depend for our very existence, is also increased. The rate of contamination and pollution of the environment is also increased. That too is something which must be thought about in applying all these remedies.

We must also consider the effects of education in this matter. I look forward very much to hearing the speeches which other noble Lords will make—even if I have heard them before. Some of the points that will be made cannot be repeated often enough. This is a desperately important subject. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, for giving us an opportunity to debate it. I hope that the debate will he followed not by the action that the Minister has catalogued, but perhaps by increased speed of action. I merely say to those who clamour for new legislation that if all the existing legislation were adequately enforced, our situation in Britain would be very different. I hope the action will be enforced and quicker than is intended.

3.55 p.m.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, when the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, who is sadly not with us today, opened the debate on this theme in your Lordships' House this time last year, she began with the Royal Commission's definition of pollution. The definition was as follows: The introduction by man into the environment of substances or energy liable to cause hazards to human health, harm to living resources … and so on. Human health comes first in that list. It comes near to last in terms of practical investigation. In the Environment Committee's first report on air pollution last May, to take one example, it had almost totally vanished.

In last January's debate I tried to redress the balance a little. I want, however briefly, to try to do the same today. Anyone who maintains that we are winning the war against ill-health in this country cannot have looked at the statistics. Of particular note, I think, is the increase in asthma, eczema and allergies in general, in which I include reactions to chemicals in air, food and water. These are often severe, and they include behavioural disturbances. They are well documented now and their link with substances in the environment such as lead, pesticides, food colourings and even man-made electromagnetic fields has been demonstrated.

Allergy sufferers have been described as the canaries down the coal mine. When they keel over, it behoves all of us to take action. But environmental illness has gone way beyond allergy. I believe its insidious effects are putting us all at risk. The "cup full of stresses" theory mentioned in the air pollution report I referred to is very familiar to those hard-pressed practitioners in environmental medicine who are diagnosing these disorders. But it is human beings they are dealing with, not trees.

If there were time today, I could say a lot more about the work these underrated pioneers are doing. It is sad, indeed more than sad, that official reaction is almost always one of bland reassurance, with the suggestion that anyone who draws attention to the evidence is a scaremonger. I am concerned about these issues because I have myself been damaged over a long time by toxic substances. In addition to having painful first hand experience, I help to run an allergy support group. That group exists because the medical profession is almost nowhere to be seen in this field.

Lately I have had time for reading and reflection. I have used much of that time in trying to search out, as a non-scientist, why it is that something which from experience I and many other people know causes a great deal of ill-health has hardly yet impinged on official consciousness. I believe that it has much to do with the tyranny of medical fashion. Doctors have not been trained to look for environmental factors in illness in a century when the germ theory of disease has held sway and drugs have become the chief weapon. It also has to do with the nature of the scientific method, and with our perceptions of what science can do for us.

We are all, I am sure, in favour of the "good science", which the Prime Minister and Mr. Ridley invoke in this context. But there is a catch here. What does one do if "good science" is unobtainable? I shall quote from a recent article on the possible link between pollution and the deaths of seals in the North Sea. The article states: Given that it would take one worker three years to evaluate the effects of one pollutant upon one animal species, that there are 1,000 species in the North Sea (a gross underestimate) and that 100,000 chemicals are discharged to the North Sea … each year, then to evaluate this system would take some 3,000 million man-years. This does not even begin to address the problem of interactions between the chemicals involved. How long did it take for "good science" to establish the link between smoking and death from just one facet of one disease? And how many, I wonder, died waiting for the proof? As the British Medical Journal pointed out not long ago, what gets measured in medical science is too often what is easy to measure not what it is important to know. (Educationalists have the same problem with examinations.) Moreover scientists use words like "evidence" and "proof" in a different sense from the rest of us and in different senses in the different sciences. The common phrase "We have seen no evidence to suggest that there is any danger" often means "There is no research in that area", or sometimes, I am afraid, "We have not looked".

A choice example of that appears in the July 1984 report on acid rain attached as an appendix to the air pollution report. The sentence: We received no evidence to suggest that there is any cause for similar concern in this country over mercury stands at the end of a paragraph (121) whose message is precisely that no evidence exists of any kind in the UK and, incidentally, that the DoE's chief scientist was unaware of the foreign evidence. In the context, not only is the sentence misleading but it says volumes about the way in which we approach the issue in this country.

Does the scientist, in reporting his results, point out that what he previously said about safe levels of lead, mercury, aluminium, DDT, asbestos, X-rays, nuclear radiation and the contraceptive pill is now known to be dangerously wrong? Why should he? But the biological sciences are like that.

It seems to me as though a government which have not been shy in taking on other experts are somewhat in thrall to their scientists and in an area, toxicology, which those who know declare to be frighteningly imprecise. I have seen one example quoted where the number of deaths over an average lifespan from eating a certain sweetener could have been 0.2 or 1,144,000. The animal test data were entirely consistent with both estimates.

What is more, scientists are discovering that a minute dose of a substance can be more toxic than a higher dose. That may sound the death knell of another familiar phrase—"the public may be reassured that the concentrations were too low to have any effect on human health". It was the Chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution who recently said: People have a belief in science, which, speaking as a scientist, I cannot share". In everyday life outside the laboratory we constantly have to take a view on less than absolute proof. When an aeroplane crashes, within 48 hours the authorities are grounding aircraft and ordering checks to be made. That is common sense. No one asks for absolute proof at that stage. The onus of proof itself is shifted.

The burden of what I am saying is that decisions on these matters of health and the environment are political decisions, not scientific ones. Politics, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said in the debate last October on the ozone layer, is: the art of taking good decisions on insufficient evidence". [Official Report, 20/10/88; col. 1308.] The evidence, as I have tried to indicate, will almost always be insufficient for the scientist, although much of it is already available. Time is not on our side now. I appeal to the Government to appreciate those facts, to resist the powerful interest groups that urge delay from so many sides, to follow the lead of other countries and to take the decisions which will safeguard the health of this and future generations.

4.4 p.m.

Lord Kenilworth

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, for introducing today's debate on a subject which has become a critical issue of modern times. I am very conscious of the enormous breadth of expertise in your Lordships' House on this subject and the very strong feelings which the subject engenders. It is indeed a great pleasure and an honour for me to be addressing the House on this topic in this my maiden speech.

I was most interested by the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, who I note made his maiden speech on this subject this time last year.

I am well aware that convention dictates that a maiden speech should be non-controversial and non-political. Clearly this issue is both highly controversial and political. I note that it has been extensively discussed in both Houses year after year and that numerous reassurances of action have been given by Her Majesty's Government. I feel that it is my generation, the younger generation, which needs to act. It is for us to be aware of the dangers we pose environmentally by not addressing the threats from pollution now.

Due to the constraints of time it would be impossible for me to examine more than a tiny part of the problem that is pollution. Therefore I shall restrict my remarks to the critically important issue of the need for a positive policy on the recycling of waste, and in particular paper waste. We are talking about a load of rubbish.

In my capacity as a landscape designer I am deeply involved with environmental ecology and in methods of enhancing our living space. I am fully aware of the importance of plants, and especially trees, in beautifying our surroundings. But while we have come to expect areas of greenery in our towns and cities and demands for the conservation of the so-called green belts, at the same time we are effecting the destruction of tens of millions of trees worldwide per annum in order to satisfy our demand for paper. The figures are horrifying, the effect devastating.

In Britain our paper consumption is equivalent to the loss of one or two trees per person per annum. That is equivalent to 131 million trees, an area of forest approximately the size of Cornwall, disappearing every year. How can we sustain that scale of consumption? Paper products use approximately 35 per cent. of the world's annual commercial wood harvest. That figure is predicted to rise to 50 per cent. by the year 2000. At present only 25 per cent. of the world's paper is recycled.

After a spurt of popularity in the 'seventies recycling lost favour in the United Kingdom and we resorted once more to landfill. That seemed an attractive solution until recently, but controversy over that method of waste disposal is growing and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find suitable holes to fill. We must therefore re-examine recycling techniques in an attempt to create a demand for recycled products.

Unfortunately the UK's paper recycling industry is in a sorry state at present. It was reported in February of last year that the British Waste Paper Association was on the verge of bankruptcy, and we are as yet unable to engage in paper recycling operations on a large enough scale to make them financially competitive with virgin paper from abroad.

The situation can be reversed. We should follow the example being set in the United States where one company is emptying the trash of 150 Atlanta firms (some 200 tonnes per month) to whom they pay 3 cents per pound for the high-grade paper which they resell to a broker for up to 12 cents a pound. Eventually giant paper goods firms transform the scrap into napkins and towels. Recycling, long dominated by family-owned scrapyards and environmental activists, is now attracting a new generation of entrepreneurs and big firms which see the business less as a crusade than as a way of making big money.

Soaring waste disposal costs and potential profits have fuelled the boom. More state and local governments in the United States are passing mandatory recycling laws, and new technology allows more kinds of waste to be reused. We must attract a new generation of green-minded entrepreneurs—US-style paper barons.

Germans are accustomed to having their daily lives shaped by an army of regional environmental ministers and district officials who arc obliged by a recent federal law to make the avoidance of waste an urgent priority and to recycle whatever they can.

Apart from cutting down on our consumption of trees it is imperative that we make some attempt to remedy the chaos that we have already wreaked on the world's forests. But mass burning of trees and clearing of forests are raising the world's carbon dioxide to oxygen ratio to dangerous levels. Areas of land are being exposed to dreadful soil erosion. Attempts at reforestation have been made but have tended to favour the fast growing and hardy conifer. Unfortunately, they bring out the acidity in the soil which contributes to acid rain and cannot support the plant and animal life that flourishes in deciduous forests. A sensitive programme of reforestation and tighter controls on the felling of trees in the future must be implemented immediately in order to preserve what still remains.

Much as I wholeheartedly welcome the current drive toward a greener United Kingdom—for example, our attempts to stamp out noxious CFCs, dioxins and leaded petrol—it seems that we ignore the more easily tackled problems. It is as much a question of re-education as anything else. We are not conscious enough of the ease with which we ourselves can control the situation. There is too little publicity, too much complacency on the part of city councils and too great a distaste for recycled products, a distaste which is spawned by ignorance and memories of earlier, cruder attempts at recycling.

Recently there has been an extensive amount of publicity on the logistics of posting Sunday newspapers of an ever-increasing size. If the newspaper giants spew out so much paper each week, the onus should surely be on them to provide a solution for the recycling of their products. Recycling of paper would have five major advantages for the United Kingdom. First, it would reduce the need to find landfill sites; secondly, resources would be used more efficiently and economically; thirdly, it would create jobs and new industries; fourthly, it would encourage people to protect the environment and would engender a sense of community pride; and, finally, there is wealth in waste. It is estimated that the value of lost materials in this country alone, if reclaimed, is £750 million per annum.

I look forward to hearing the views of noble Lords on this crucial issue. I am consicous of the recent efforts of Her Majesty's Government to address this subject but I reiterate my plea to the Government for positive action now before, as I fear, it may be too late.

4.13 p.m.

Baroness White

My Lords, it falls to me. on behalf of noble Lords in all parts of the House, most sincerely to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth. We have heard a most impressive speech from a member of the younger generation, as he called himself; but it was a speech based on good sense, knowledge and, I believe, personal conviction. I hope that we shall hear frequently from him in the future.

We also had a very interesting speech from another member of the younger generation—indeed, they are somehow making me feel especially old today. The noble Earl,Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, most interestingly referred to the difficulties that one faces in trying to follow through scientific evidence, or indeed finding it when it does not seem even to he there. He referred also to the work of the standing Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Its first chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, and his immediate successor, the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, are both highly valued Members of this House.

It is encouraging to know that exactly a week from today we hope to have the pleasure of welcoming among us the current chairman, Sir Jack Lewis, professor of chemistry at Cambridge. He will be a notable addition to the very small number of contemporary scientists—I stress the adjective to whom we may turn in this House for up-to-date advice and inspiration. I think I am right in saying that of the speakers on the list for today's debate the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, is the only one eligible, both by age and by qualifications, to be considered a contemporary scientist.

As a former member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution which began its labours in 1970, I want to remind your Lordships that we are not all Johnnies (or perhaps Jennies) come-lately to the environmental scene. It was a Labour Administration that some 20 years ago, in the Control of Pollution Act and the establishment of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution a few years earlier, recognised that pollution was a threat not only to public health (the Victorians grasped that) but also to the environment and hence, as the Motion before us indicates, to the quality of life.

In the past decade or so another factor has become of ever-increasing significance; namely, our relationship with the European Community. With groups of various shades of green gaining political influence in Germany and elsewhere—as even our own Prime Minister recently observed—and with the inclusion of environmental responsibility in the Single European Act (it was not included in the original Treaty of Rome), pressure from Strasbourg and Brussels is intensifying, as I am sure the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is well aware.

The United Kingdom does not always see eye to eye with its partners—sometimes justifiably and sometimes not. We were glad to hear recently from the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, whose speech on the financial aims of the Community impressed the House. Today I should like to pay a most sincere tribute to the other recently retired United Kingdom Commissioner at Brussels, Stanley Clinton Davis, former Member of Parliament for Hackney. His portfolio included nuclear safety and environmental protection. No one recently in the environment field in Brussels could have been more zealous in the vigorous pursuit of realistic policies designed to protect and sustain environmental values and areas of concern in the very varied conditions of the different member states. As a recent article in our own House Magazine pointed out, Stanley Clinton Davis was dedicated to establishing an effective relationship between industry on the one hand and the environment on the other. but he understood that, the market alone cannot protect the rain forests or restore the ozone layer". It takes more than that. The fact that on occasion he may have made life a little more difficult for our own Secretary of State for the Environment and his colleagues should not diminish our warm recognition of work well done by a member of the European Commission, in whom I believe we can justifiably take pride.

I turn to some current pollution problems. They include several situations in which, as the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, indicated. we have inadequate and therefore uncertain knowledge. For example, a recent ministerial Answer in another place concerning health risks from aluminium and aluminium sulphate in drinking water, which was the cause of widespread illness in Cornwall this summer, referred to an EC directive and to a World Health Organisation guideline but stressed that these were not in fact related to health effects at all but only to water discolouration and palatability.

However, it now seems likely that kidney dialysis patients, young babies and the elderly may be seriously affected by excessive aluminium in drinking water. Perhaps we may learn what steps the Government are taking to find out more about this matter. They are taking seriously the problem of nitrates in water, as my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos mentioned, but only as the excessive use of nitrates in agriculture is likely to decline; though they seem about to do something at last to help reduce damaging pollution from slurry and silage effluents.

In another area, where high concentrations of aluminium in water are also involved, there is currently a sharp and public divergence of view between the Forestry Commission, which has an obvious vested interest, and the group of scientists engaged by the Department of the Environment on a major study of acidification in lakes and rivers in Wales, with its known damage to fish life. My personal bet is on the scientists' view that acidification is greatly enhanced by inappropriate planting of trees, in particular in the uplands, a view which the Welsh Office in its decisions so far has not yet caught up with.

Noble Lords may regard these problems as relatively peripheral but they are important because they are indicative—as the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, remarked—of the time-scale which normally elapses before any government will take an awkward environmental risk seriously. They always hope that it will go away.

We are about to confront some major problems arising from the proposed privatisation of the water industry. I shall listen with the closest attention to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. He is likely to he the chairman of the National Rivers Authority. He is currently the chairman of the advisory committee on that matter. There could be a serious conflict of views on the relationship between the National Rivers Authority and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is holding consultations in favour of the integration of control of pollution.

It is a line of thought that also finds favour in Brussels. I was myself on the Royal Commission on Pollution when years ago we strongly recommended the establishment of an integrated inspectorate. At that time, however, not one of us—whatever our political views—would have contemplated commercialising anything so basic as our public water supply.

Since then we have received the Fourth Environmental Action Programme from the Commission in Brussels covering the period 1987 to 1992. In Section 3 of that report the Commission sets out very fairly the principles of pollution prevention and control, the problems of multimedia controls, and the possible conflicts between substance oriented and source oriented control systems. It emphasises the desirability of a powerful unified control authority in each member state.

This is not the occasion on which to argue this in detail as the Water Bill is still in Committee in another place. However, in welcoming a National Rivers Authority one must indicate as forcefully as possible that it is entirely unacceptable to appoint a watchdog and then either to deprive it of the necessary teeth or, for market reasons, to issue derogations, dispensations, or whatever, for periods of time which could easily prove extendable, either to assist flotation of shares or in order to maintain a level of profitability which might otherwise be unobtainable in a public service industry. 1, for one, therefore give notice that unless satisfactory arrangements are made both in the Water Bill and in any forthcoming green legislation concerning pollution control and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution, there will be trouble.

4.25 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, may I say straight away that I shall have to miss much of the rest of the debate. I wish to come to a certain piece of nitty-gritty; namely, the polluter pays principle. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, recently answered a Written Question from me about the polluter pays principle in the following words: The Government have consistently supported the polluter pays principle which requires that the cost of meeting pollution control regulations should he borne by the activity concerned …The cost of treating and purifying water to render it fit for human consumption has always been borne by the water undertakings and recovered from charges made to consumers". That means that the Government were saying, "We support the polluter pays policy but we practise the consumer pays policy". To get themselves into this position the Government have to be either confused or dishonest. I expect that they are confused. Let us therefore look more closely at how the Minister came to sign that text.

The confusion arises from the words that the cost should be borne by the activity concerned. The activity whose cost the Government propose should be borne by the consumers is the activity of purifying the water. Under the polluter pays principle that cost should be borne by the activity which has polluted the water. So it is glaringly obvious that the activity concerned is not the purification; it is the original pollution.

Water has to be purified of pollution from three major sources: industry, agriculture, and household sewage. Industry at present bears part of its own purification costs, which it recoups from the consumers of its products, and it passes the other part on to the water consumer who as such has no interest in the matter. The polluter pays principle requires that industry should pay its full costs. Agriculture pays none of its pollution costs. The whole cost is passed on to the water consumers, and it must be shifted to the polluters. Households already pay their full pollution costs as ratepayers and no change is required here on polluter pays principle grounds.

In short, there are two activities concerned in this matter. The Written Answer that I quoted at the beginning of this speech confuses the two, or regards them as interchangeable. Since they are respectively the pollution and the purification of water, that is quite a feat. I gave the Minister notice this morning that I was going to raise this matter and I now invite him to comment on this, especially since he has told the House that his department is the lead department in applying the polluter pays principle. So he cannot claim that his department does not know perfectly well what it means: that those who pollute pay to prevent and pay to clean up, not those who consume.

While I am on the subject of water, it is interesting that the North-West Water Authority has abrogated all the agreements it had with the Peak Park Planning Board, which permitted public access to the water authority's land, obviously in order to clear the way for the private purchaser to develop it. I see that Mr. Howard, responsible in the House of Commons for these matters, now admits the virtual worthlessness of the Government's proposals in this matter.

Much of this class of land throughout the country has been publicly acquired through compulsory purchase. The public's use of it over the decades gives them an interest which cannot be supposed to have no value, but which is to be extinguished without compensation. Does this accord with natural justice or with the nation's long-standing customs? Moreover, compulsory purchase right is being accorded to the new firms which buy the old water authorities' property. This I believe is completely unprecedented. Under the Bill, the new companies will apparently be allowed not only to take land under compulsion but also to sell compulsorily purchased land without offering it back to the original seller. I think it is the first time that that has happened, certainly in this country, and I strongly suspect in any other country.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has said that the Government are considering the Crichel Down principle in this matter, but what on earth is there to consider?

I turn now to the environmental assessment directive of the European Commission. This country, and one other, held up this agreement for years but finally agreed in July 1985. Mr. Ridley said it would not make any difference anyhow because we all did environmental assessment in any case. It came into force in July 1988, but we have not yet, six months later, made the regulations that we arc hound to make by July 1988.

We are not alone in this. Enforcement proceedings have already begun against other countries, and it will be our turn next. Why do we agree these things and then simply default on our agreement? In whose interest is it to do that? This directive says that every major development shall be preceded by an assessment of its environmental effects; but there is a blanket exception to that which is, at least so far as it concerns this country, very much to be regretted and probably means that the directorate will have to be tightened up in a year or two. This is that any development which has been approved in all its details by an Act of Parliament is exempt.

That for us appears to mean Private Bills, and I greatly fear that if ever the Government begin to pay any attention at all to the directive it will encourage big developers to go more and more for Private Bills. The Government may get away with this attempt at circumvention, or they may not; and if other countries do not have the same system of private Bills they will be put under an unfair disadvantage by our making increasing use of them, and the European Court might so judge.

Private Bills were fine for canals and the first railways. There were not so many people in the country then, and the pressure to defend the environment did not have to be so continuous and so arduous. But now no one can really pretend that fighting one's way through the jungle of rules about locus and then giving evidence to a hurried parliamentary committee in this intimidating building is any substitute for a local inquiry on the patch concerned. For example, as regards the high speed railway line to the Channel Tunnel, there is no sign yet of any environment assessment being provided for these plans; although Mr. Ridley, I repeat, has said that we do that sort of thing anyhow. I say "for these plans" because there are several alternative routes and one sub-alternative; namely, a tunnel through south London. All these routes and the London tunnel idea have to be compared for their environmental impact.

Who is going to do it? Will it be British Rail, or Saatchi and Saatchi? It goes without saying that the necessary single environmental assessment has to be published and fully discussed by interested parties, the professions and the planning authority before a Bill is presented to Parliament. I said "planning authority" without thinking. I forgot that the Government have now decided finally to deprive Kent County Council and all the other county councils of any planning function whatever. There is of course a class of planning inquiry commissions, which might come in handy in this case.

In conclusion, I should like to mention that my party, the SDP, last Saturday adopted a new environmental policy consisting of four very short points which I think I shall just have time to read. First, the polluter pays principle, which is enshrined in British law by the Treaty of Rome, which we have signed and which binds us, should be the touchstone of pollution policy in practice as it is already in theory; secondly, cost-benefit topography, as described in the paper concerned, should be introduced at all appropriate levels, and long-term research units and teams should be reintroduced into and alongside Whitehall and Parliament.

Thirdly, decisions on cases should be taken at the lowest possible level. Fourthly, certain chemical substances and procedures will in future have to be deemed guilty until proved innocent. Fifthly, legislation enforcing public access to information about pollution of the environment should be put into effect, and the Royal Commission on the Environment should be heeded when it does the job it was appointed by Parliament to do.

4.34 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, my speech will he confined to consideration of the threat to the quality of life posed by the world's population explosion. Surprisingly, this has not been touched upon so far by speakers before me, except in the last one-tenth of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley. I say "surprisingly" because a great lead has been given in the context of environmental pollution by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and by the Prime Minister. Let me give your Lordships some quotations from both of them. His Royal Highness, in the last two or three editions of The House Magazine, in the United Kingdom World Wildlife Fund advertisement, puts at the very top of the environmental agenda, the hammering the world is taking from its huge and ever-growing human population. In saying that, he is reiterating the main point of the brilliant speech he gave on the 11th March 1987 to the All-Party Group on Conservation of which I think the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, is chairman or president, and to the Population and Development All-Party Committee. That was an historic meeting of those two all-party groups at which he said this: Human population pressure—the sheer number of people on this planet—is the single most important cause of the degradation of the natural environment, for the progressive extinction of wild species of plants and animals and for the de-stabilisation of the world's climatic and atmospheric systems. Next in point of time came the Prime Minister's fine speech to the Royal Society (mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, in his opening speech) on 27th September 1988. In the environmental section of her speech she gave great prominence to the world population problem and gave these startling figures: The world's population, which was I billion in 1800. 2 billion in 1927, is now 5 billion souls and rising. She then went on to say: For generations we have assumed that the efforts of mankind would leave the fundamental equilibriums of the world's systems and atmosphere stable. But it is possible that with all these enormous changes"— and she quoted particularly population, agriculture and the use of fossil fuels— concentrated into such a short space of time, we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of the planet itself'. The Prime Minister made a further important speech as recently as last November to the Margaret Pyke Centre, whose splendid work as a family planning clinic in central London she described as "their supremely important role". In that commendation she was including all family planning clinics. The Prime Minister made this extremely important statement: Whatever we can do in research—and we must do it—on the greenhouse effect or the ozone layer or pollution is not enough unless we tackle the population problem or what she called, the behavioural problem of human nature I shall try to give examples of population problems in other parts of the world before turning to our own domestic population. Both my examples come from the continent of Africa but could just as well come from Asia, where the numbers are much greater, or from Central or Southern America. The first example is Kenya, which has the world's fastest growing population at 4 per cent. per annum. Its population in 1980 was 16 million, and it is expected to double in the next seven or eight years. Its workforce will double from the 1975 figures to those of the year 2000. This poses huge economic problems for the Kenya Government. which will have to provide massive increased facilities; for example, for education, hospitals, water supplies, food, housing and employment by the year 2000. Kenya will need all the help she can get from us and other countries friendly to her. Unfortunately, unless there are dramatic changes in the behavioural problems of Kenya in order to contain that country's fertility rate, the increase in population will outstrip anything that can be done to maintain let alone enhance—to use the expression of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn—the already low quality of life in that country.

Secondly, from Africa also, there is the Sahel. I take this from an article in a paper recently I published by Earthwatch. It is especially concerned with land degradation in Burkina Faso. There the population is 8.5 million growing by 2.8 per cent. per annum. It is a very densely populated country in a semi-desert area which was once rich and fertile.

There are no easy answers, but two are top of the agenda. First, food output must rise; and, secondly, the rate of population growth must slow. That can be achieved by using approaches which affect the demand for children; improved awareness of family planning, plus of course the supply of modern methods; and, last but not least, female education. It is a paradox but apparently so that a great reduction in infant mortality will be needed before parents will stop over-insuring themselves against the loss of a child. This is an example of Mrs. Thatcher's pregnant phrase—if I may use that term—"behavioural problems of human nature" that have to he overcome. Many other such measures are necessary for the Sahel even to have a chance of halting further degradation of its environment and sustaining its people and hence the quality of life there.

May I turn to our domestic population? I am confident that the ODA is well aware of our responsibilities to developing countries, but I do not have the same confidence in the Department of Health. At home we give a good example, in that our own population is relatively stable as is now nearly all the populations of developed countries. Our doubling time is high at 462 years—if your Lordships compare that with Kenya you will see the difference; their population doubling period is 18 years—and our fertility rate is only 1.8 per cent. Nevertheless, I fear that the Prime Minister's message, which I feel has been received loud and clear in the ODA, is muffled or scrambled in the Department of Health. Whether or not there is a bad line between No. 10 and the department, I do not know. But if they have not paid heed to what the Prime Minister said, they had better watch out.

It looks as if family planning clinics all over the country, and not just the Margaret Pyke Trust to which I have referred, are being starved of funds. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, aired the subject the other day in a Starred Question, when he said that there is a closing down or reduction of services supplied by National Health Service family planning clinics, and that that is contrary to Section 4 of the National Health Service Reorganisation Act 1973. That could have very dire consequences for our hitherto exemplary population policies.

In closing, I should like to remind noble Lords that in 1749 Dr. Johnson opened his poem on the Vanity of Human Wishes with these words: Let Observation with extensive view Survey mankind from China to Peru. When he said that, the world population was something less than 1 billion. Now China's population alone is more than 1 billion. As for Peru, the doubling rate of Peru's population is 28 years. At that rate, we have not got much time to lose.

4.44 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should like to express good wishes to my noble friend Lady Nicol. I hope that she will soon be fully restored to health and able to take her place once again on the Opposition Front Bench. But I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Cledwyn on a characteristically powerful speech on this important matter.

I shall concentrate my remarks on one particular issue that my noble friend raised—the Co2 effect; the warming of the atmosphere; and the effect that that will have all round. My noble friend made reference to the cutting down of rain forests and other forests throughout the world. And, of course, that is making a serious contribution to the greenhouse effect. But the reason why people are cutting down the forests is that their standard of living is so low that they have to do so in order to grab some sort of below-subsistence-level living for themselves and for their families. If deforestation in poor countries is to cease, it will be necessary for the developed world and the rich world to give these people a better living than they are getting at present, not only by means of direct assistance but also by allowing them to trade in a world which is becoming increasingly unavailable to under-developed countries.

As I have said. I want to concentrate on the greenhouse effect. I read in the Daily Telegraph on 27th January an article which had the headline. Limit fossil fuel use, say greenhouse effect experts". The article began: World governments should limit the burning of fossil fuels and study the cost of sea defences as part of a strategy for tackling the greenhouse effect, scientists said yesterday". I do not have time to quote further. But those scientists, from 20 countries throughout the world, are clearly as concerned as we in this House and other people about the long-term effects of burning fossil fuels.

I should have hoped that the relevant authorities in this country and the Government would have taken that message on board a long time ago. Unfortunately, the seriousness of the matter does not appear yet to have got home. Indeed, the only alternative to coal burning, it seems—from Mr. Ridley's remarks anyway—is to build more and more nuclear power stations, which of course in turn brings as many problems for the environment as are solved by not burning fossil fuels and by not emitting Co2 from those fossil fuels into the atmosphere.

It is unfortunate that the CEGB should only yesterday have announced that it is to build a third nuclear reactor at Sizewell. Obviously it has not taken soundings from the people living around Sizewell; indeed, it seems to have ignored the fact that it will not be economically sound to build another PW R. There are, of course, real alternatives to burning fossil fuels and indeed to building nuclear power stations. Those alternatives are, first, to make use of alternative energy sources and to conserve the energy which we produce in fossil fired stations and, indeed, in nuclear power stations.

First, the Government could increase the research into alternative energy sources for which they pay. We could assist by pressing on with the job of providing renewable energy from already known sources. For example, the Severn Barrage could provide 6 per cent. of the energy needs of this country, thus saving the burning of 4½ to 5 million tonnes of coal every year. That would be a significant contribution towards reducing the greenhouse effect. It is only one source of renewable energy.

Secondly, we could conserve the energy we use. The amount of energy which is wasted from houses, factories, offices and other industrial complexes, together with the better use of renewables, would be sufficient to obviate the need to build the 15 new power stations by the end of the year which the CEGB believe to be necessary.

We could also ensure that coal is burned to more effect in power stations. There is an approximate overall thermal efficiency of only 37 per cent. plus the transmission losses. Therefore we are throwing out of power station chimneys and into our rivers and seas approximately 62 per cent. of the heat value of every tonne of coal and every gallon of oil used in power stations. That waste ought to stop. There is no longer a case for building power stations at pitheads at approximately 35 per cent. thermal efficiency when the fuel could he burnt more efficiently by combined heat and power. I believe that in future no power station should be built unless considerable weight has been given to combined heat and power.

Unfortunately, the Government arc to privatise the electricity supply industry and therefore will not have control over it. I hope that in the Bill they will go a little further in their insistence and put a duty on the privatised electricity authorities to promote energy efficiency, not merely advise that it should be done. One of the ways in which they can do that is by the use of CHP. If the Government have no direct way of influencing decisions, perhaps they will give tax relief to people who will build power stations, together with district heating or largescale heating for industrial complexes.

Unfortunately, my speaking time has run out. As the Minister knows, there is plenty more to say on the subject. In relation to the general view of the environment, I hope that the Government will realise the importance of that aspect.

4.53 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, for initiating the debate and for the way in which he did so. I regret the enforced absence of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. As the first following speaker on this side of the House, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Kenilworth on his excellent maiden speech. I look forward to hearing him often in the future.

I should first like to mention the changes to the environment of the whole world which are likely to be damaging or disastrous. They were rightly referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. International cooperation on these matters is essential. Fortunately, governments now appear to be giving them priority and that is welcome. However, pressure and action must continue.

For some time the House has given attention to the issues and over the past few years I have raised them several times. I am sure the House will agree that the issues should be given more attention. I shall mention them, pointing out their importance but not expanding on them. In view of the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, I make no apology for pointing out the fact that 2½ years ago I tabled a Question in this House on the greenhouse effect (3rd July 1986). Questions preceded and followed that on other and related atmospheric subjects.

I cannot resist also pointing out that in our debate one and a half years ago (13th May 1987) I raised the other subjects, in particular the damage to the ozone layer. In that respect it is good news that next month the British Government are convening a conference in London. They should keep up the pressure to reduce further use of CFCs after the agreement reached in the Montreal Protocol. The Government should have the support of us all in maintaining the impetus.

When the debate was first arranged in her name the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, suggested that I should speak in my capacity as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Pollution of the Sea: ACOPS. It is an organisation well known to some of your Lordships. This is the second time that I have occupied the position of chairman. The first time was for one and a half years, eight years ago. On the last occasion one and a half years ago I was invited to take over at short notice because of the sudden death of the previous chairman.

While recalling my role and interest, eight years ago during my chairmanship, I hope that it will be recognised that there are Conservatives who have not suddenly turned green overnight. Of course, many people in Scotland have known me as being green for most of my life—probably in more senses than one.

During the time allowed in the debate, and because of my role and interest in ACOPS, I shall concentrate on the marine environment. Its headquarters is in this country but there are office bearers and members overseas. ACOPS was one of the first organisations—it may have been the first—to call urgent attention to the dangerous and disreputable trade in toxic wastes which is still a menace.

At ACOPS we heard from our main representative in Venezuela that an attempt had been made to dump toxic wastes inland with no safe arrangements. The Venezuelan authorities discovered the attempt and ordered that they be reloaded onto a ship and taken away. That was the first of the vessels which have roamed the seas with nowhere to go. A second incident was a similar attempt to dispose irregularly of toxic wastes in Nigeria. That led to the "Karin B" sailing the seas with a highly hazardous cargo. There is no doubt that other unsafe disposals, or attempts, have occurred but have not come to light.

What has been revealed is a sordid business. Arrangements were made for highly dangerous materials to be imported for disposal in African and Latin American countries. In the two cases mentioned the authorities discovered them and disapproved in time. Now there is an urgent necessity for international agreement to make it illegal to dispatch toxic wastes until safe and effective disposal arrangements have been guaranteed at the destination and proper transport and container arrangements approved. I remind noble Lords that in those two instances the containers were inadequate and leaked.

To assist in achieving the necessary new agreements I am glad to announce to the House that ACOPS is planning to hold an international conference in London in October. It will he on the transport of hazardous substances and particularly directed to toxic wastes. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has made its conference facilities available to us at its head office, which is on the other side of the river from here. If the proposed conference receives the support which we expect, it will take place at an important stage in the intergovernmental negotiations. These have reached a stage where a conference in Basle next month is intended to produce a draft convention under the aegis of UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme).

However much progress is made in Basle—and of course I hope it will be substantial—the ACOPS conference in October should help in enabling discussions on subjects still proving difficult, in encouraging support and ratification and in examining, monitoring and enforcement measures. This conference will be held two years after the last one arranged by ACOPS, which was in Venice in October 1987. That considered protection of the marine environment in general and was held to mark the European Year of the Environment. That was a very well supported conference and appears to be widely regarded as successful and influential. We hope that the London conference, on a narrower but very topical subject, will equally contribute to reducing causes of pollution.

I accept that toxic wastes cannot always be disposed of near their origins. I understand that there exist thorough and safe techniques for dealing with virtually all known wastes. I am not suggesting that waste should not be transported at all, but that the correct disposal arrangements must be made, together with transport arrangements; and that the waste must be disposed of. if necessary, with the appropriate technology.

I shall briefly turn to oil pollution of the seas. Here there has been a steady improvement through international conventions, discipline and enforcement. It is not just that disasters like the "Torrey Canyon" and the "Amoco Cadiz" now seem to be episodes of the past, but that deliberate operations such as the washing out of tanks at sea have been prohibited and greatly reduced. A useful part has been played by the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund which was started in 1978 and at the latest count has 38 member states.

A large proportion of the pollution in the seas comes from land sources, not vessels, and in particular from rivers. That brings me to the North Sea. The deaths of the seals last year started on the east side. About 10.000 died on that side before the epidemic reached the coasts of Britain. While a full explanation of what happened is not yet possible, there must be suspicion that a polluting substance came down a river on that side and that that was the cause.

We were glad to see the progress made at the November 1987 meeting in London and we hope that the British Government will continue to take a leading part in the preparations for the next ministerial meeting on the North Sea to be held early in 1990 which I understand is to he at The Hague. That is all good news and, on this, I am sure that the Government can count on receiving general support.

5.3 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, I should like to say a few words about the importance of educating the young in the matter of the environment. When we debated the Education Bill last summer certain of your Lordships—and I was one of them—were extremely concerned that there was no mention in the Bill of environmental studies, not even by implication. The noble Lord. Lord Craigton, who I am glad to see in his seat opposite, introduced an amendment to the effect that one main object of the Bill should be to prepare young persons for adult life as I think he said, individuals, members of society and inhabitants of the earth. That was supported by a number of us but unfortunately the Government were not interested.

There has been and still is very considerable concern among teachers that somehow or other those very important studies will be squeezed out. After all, there are 10 compulsory subjects, compulsory from the age of five to the age of 16, which have to be fitted into 40 periods in a week. If one takes an average, that is four periods for each subject, that leaves no time left over at all for such important matters as this. Many teachers still do not understand how that will work and are awaiting enlightenment.

However, at the time and increasingly since, the Department of Education has spoken about the very important matter of environmental studies being regarded in a cross-curricular sense. We were somewhat mystified about that when we first heard it last summer but it is becoming clearer. The noise is increasing and the department is giving the matter serious thought, as are other important bodies. Theoretically it is possible when one is teaching science, geography or maths to cover a large area of environmental studies. That can even extend to PE where one can suggest to joggers that they should not jog on hard surfaces with carbon monoxide fumes for instance, along main roads. The culmination of this new thinking—and it is new thinking—is HMI Report No. 13 produced last week entitled Environmental Education from 5 to 16. That was very welcome.

However, I am very concerned that environmental education for young people should take the right form. The other day I happened to look through the interim report of the working party on science. Of course, it is very conscientious, thorough and the persons who were forming the working party certainly knew what they were talking about. However, I was left rather depressed because I felt that it was too traditional, too academic, too abstract and not related to the sort of matter in which children will be interested. I happen to notice that out of a working party of 19, there were only five women. I believe that had there been a higher proportion of female contributors, they may have produced a more human report.

It is so important that young people should become involved and should not just sit in a classroom being talked at or be in a laboratory doing standard experiments. They should become involved in what they are doing. I should like to mention two examples of becoming involved. There is an organisation known as Watch which I am sure many of your Lordships will know. It is a club of young people who are concerned about wildlife and the environment. That organisation produced a kit a few years ago in 1987, the European Year of the Environment, which enabled a large number of children all over Europe to monitor the rainfall in their own countries for acidification. That resulted in a superb report Watch with Acid Drops which was given a prize for its thoroughness, and well worthy of it it was.

I should like to refer to something similar which has been and is being done. An organisation known as the Living Earth Foundation together with the London Centre for International Peacebuilding started an initiative with the Cassia plant. I had never heard of the Cassia plant. It is called cassia ohnisifolia. It grows in arid and semi-arid regions of the world and is supposed to have nutritious properties which can be a very valuable food supplement. Kew Gardens became interested in that because they knew of it but knew nothing about it. If I may use the expression, it had no biology.

The suggestion was made that some basic research on it was needed. A Ph.D was not needed to do it. Why should not school children do it? A scheme was therefore set up whereby a school in the East End of London, in the borough of Newham, was twinned with a school in Kenya. Together the schools observed the behaviour of' the seeds of this plant. It was basic research. All they had to do was see how long the seed took to germinate and how it behaved when it had germinated.

The effect on the children was extraordinary. The interest and motivation of the children in the London school was amazing. They were able to conduct intelligent discussions with the teacher. They were able to form their own hypothesis and do their own testing. By intuitive means they often came up with new ideas—ideas which their teachers had never thought of. That seems to be a most brilliant type of education and is the sort that we want.

The Living Earth Foundation is now extending the idea to the twinning of other schools. A school in Cleveland is being twinned with a school in South Mexico. Another school in Cornwall is to he twinned with a school in Borneo. The object of the twinning is not merely to form pen-pals but to provide each with packs of information based on genuine research done by the children on the spot. It is a pity that when the Chernobyl disaster occurred we did not have the physics departments of the country out monitoring the amount of radioactive fallout. That is the sort of project we want to go for. Children must get out of the classroom laboratory and see things for themselves.

The concern is that the national curriculum is packed so tightly that there will not be time for this sort of experiential work. It is most important that it should happen. There must be some flexibility in the programme, with government support and leadership. There must be co-ordinators in schools to carry out such projects as well as fulfil the demands of the curriculum. Children need to get out and become involved with their surroundings. They need to develop—and this is important—a moral responsibility for their environment and not just knowledge of it. They must feel part of it and responsible for it. The pursuit of knowledge without moral responsibility we all know to be highly dangerous. It is that that has brought us to the brink of the destruction of the human race by the appalling weapons we have created. It is that, too, which has brought us to the brink of destroying the planet. We cannot have knowledge without moral responsibility, and that is what young people must learn by getting out and discovering the environment for themselves. I hope that that will come in the years ahead.

5.13 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, as chairman of the National Rivers Authority Advisory Committee I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness Lady Nicol, whose absence we regret, and the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, for giving me this opportunity to speak about some of the issues which my committee think are specially irnportant, a number of which were referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady White.

First, may I say as a user of unleaded petrol that the present efforts of the oil companies to make available an adequate supply of unleaded petrol pumps are woefully inadequate.

The committee which I chair is an advisory body and Ministers are entitled to reject our advice Nonetheless, it is right that we should be open about our views. Ministers have already accepted our advice on a number of issues and have made it clear that on others their minds are not closed. In my opinion the Water Bill will prove to he one of the most important environmental measures yet introduced by a British Government. The framework provided by the Bill is sound but my committee is firmly of the opinion that the Bill and the arrangements that refer to it can be substantially improved.

In the time available to me I shall confine my remarks to a few important topics about which we feel strongly. The first concerns the relationship of the NRA with the Government. While we are broadly satisfied that the Bill gives the authority the range of legal powers that it will need, we think that the NRA should have a wide degree of management independence and should not be subject to the direction of Ministers over individual decisions. I suspect that Ministers would find their involvement in individual cases equally unacceptable. One possible solution is to define in the Bill the areas of activity where directions may not be given.

We agree with the many individual representations that the NRA should be as independent of Treasury funding as is practicably possible. In its first year of operation on present estimates the NRA will be dependent upon the Exchequer funding for £70 million out of a turnover of £290 million. We are convinced that a greater degree of self-financing is both practicable and desirable. It is important that the NRA should have adequate funds to perform its duties effectively. It is also extremely desirable that over a period we should move to a system that provides a real incentive for environmental improvement.

We should like to see a system that enables us to recover as large a proportion as possible of general monitoring costs through discharge consents and abstraction charges. If it is not possible in the short-term to make all monitoring and sampling costs self- financing, it should certainly be our objective over a period of years.

To produce a fully worked out incentive charging scheme may well prove difficult, but it is important to recognise that a sound cost recovery scheme can itself have important incentive effects, simply because higher costs arise for approvals for the more polluting and dangerous substances.

I think it is a great pity that the Government have decided so firmly that the environmental services charge must go. Though there would have had to be a change of practice because of the abolition of domestic rates, my committee believes that there might well have been a substantial degree of support for the NRA levying a river management precept or charge for abstracters in order to contribute to the funding of its general pollution control duties.

My third point concerns the relations of the NRA with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution, a topic raised by the noble Baroness, Lady White. The NRA is to be the national guardian of the water environment. We regard it as essential that the division of responsibilities between the NRA and Her Majesty's Inspectorate should be clearly drawn. We believe that it should be based on the following principles.

First, there should be absolute clarity as to which organisation customers deal with. Secondly, HMIP should be responsible for assessment of the best practical environmental option, whether to water, land or air, and consideration of the best available technology. Thirdly, the NRA should have an overriding responsibility for determining the conditions for discharging to controlled waters so as to ensure that water quality objectives are maintained.

My fourth area of concern is about sewage treatment works discharges. The technical. background to the issue is extremely complex and the arguments that relate to it would delight the medieval theologian more, I suspect, than noble Lords taking part in this debate. They are vitally important. however, because they will decide the effectiveness of the NRA as an environmental control body. They also directly relate to the flotation and financial position of the new plcs.

There is a problem at the present time. A very large number of sewage treatment works do not achieve the standards that have been laid down. There is no way in which that sort of problem can be solved overnight. While we would not accept any permanent relaxation of present standards, we think it right that the water authorities should be allowed time to carry out a programme of major improvements of the kind which the Government have already announced.

However, while this temporary relaxation in specifically agreed cases and within agreed upper limits is acceptable, we feel strongly that a system must be established early in the life of the NRA that will enable it to set adequate standards that treat all discharges, whether they be industrial or concerned with sewage treatment works, even-handedly and which clearly reveal the truth of what is going on. We have told the Government that we do not believe that the present system which includes so-called look-up tables provides a satisfactory basis for the future. The system allows a relaxation of standards. The protection against statistical quirks is lopsided, increasing the risk of pollution.

However, having said that, we equally understand that there are difficult questions of principle, practicality and timing to be resolved; and my committee is working closely with Ministers to try to solve those problems. It is being argued that to do away with look-up tables would substantially increase the number of non-complying sewage treatment works. There may be some exaggeration, but if there are those consequences it can only be because the present system is disguising an unacceptable level of failure.

The Government need not be embarrassed by what we are proposing. It is now very clear that one consequence of their decisions has been to bring into the open the reality of the state of our sewage treatment works previously disguised by the poacher-gamekeeper relationship within the industry and by the look-up tables' system. The Government are entitled to take full credit for the fact that this has happened. The early introduction of a system that does not disguise the true level of discharges would be a further important step towards the improvement of water quality. My committee would argue that if the facts are clear and if the task is even larger than we know at present. the Government in consultation with the regulators would be fully justified to take account of the availability of resources and the impact on charges in reaching their decision on the scale and timetable of improvements that they can approve. That would reduce and not add to the uncertainties that confront the industry.

There should be no misunderstanding that a robust NRA, with or without look-up tables, will carry out much more extensive sampling. If all doubtful cases are adequately sampled, much of the truth will out. That is why, when all the technical arguments are put on one side, the important fact is that there is to be an NRA. No authority with integrity will allow industry, water plcs or government departments to fudge the issues. That is why the present Secretary of State deserves such credit for what I am confident will prove to be one of the most important steps yet taken to prevent pollution in this country and improve the environment.

5.23 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, on 24th November last year, speaking on the Address to the Gracious speech, I asked the Government a number of questions following the Prime Minister's conversion, in her speech to the Royal Society in September, to what some of us have been saying for a number of years now. I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, for the way in which he has pursued the same issues as I have. For years Ministers have poured scorn on the warnings that we were given.

I received no answers to any of those questions. I wish to repeat some of them this afternoon. On that date I asked the Government what they were going to do about the cuts that they had made in the research that applies to the ozone layer, climatic changes, carbon dioxide emissions and to energy efficiency. I received no answer. Later in the same speech I referred to the same figures that were quoted by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn this afternoon regarding water. In this country 11 million people are drinking substandard water. According to EC standards, 300 water supplies are illegally contaminated with pesticides. As a result. senior pollution inspectors are resigning in frustration because they cannot obtain the resources from the Government to continue and extend the work that is becoming daily more essential for the preservation of the health of our people.

I repeat those questions this afternoon, and I hope that the Minister in winding up will give us some answers. I hope that those answers are not those outlined in his opening speech of complacency about the situation today. We wish to know what has been done since at long last the Prime Minister has been converted to recognising the basis of the quality of life in this country.

I shall confine myself to one subject only this afternoon. It has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn and by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. That issue is clean water. Surely, if the quality of life depends on anything, it depends on the people of this country being able to rely on drinking clean water. I wish to bring these large figures down to certain specific issues. I ask the noble Earl who is to reply to answer the specific question as to what the Government arc doing about what can only be described as a disgrace to our country in this modern age.

What are the Government doing about the people in Luton and Dunstable? According to a study commissioned by the Government themselves, the water drunk by as many as 1.5 million people in this country may he at risk. How? It is because of two substances, namely, trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene. These are solvents that are used in dry cleaning and for degreasing metal used in industry. They were found in the drinking water of 150,000 people in Luton and Dunstable. Both chemicals have been shown to cause cancer in animals. The World Health Organisation regards them as potential causes of human cancer.

This polluted water is supplied by the Lea Valley Water Company, a company that has been the subject of an attempted foreign takeover in advance of privatisation. It seems that the Government's answer to these questions is to privatise. According to another government report from the Department of the Environment—of which no doubt the noble Earl is aware—61 of the 168 ground water sources used for drinking water in this country contain well above the minimum level of those substances according to World Health Organisation limits.

As it was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, only last night the Minister of State for the Environment admitted that after privatisation, private companies set up by water suppliers to manage their land after privatisation will be free to disregard special legislative safeguards on conservation and public access. That was stated only last night. What has the noble Earl to say about what his master told another place last night? The senior boss of the noble Earl, namely, the Secretary of State himself, less than two months ago promised that the desire to make privatisation a success would not prompt him to relax pollution standards across the country.

My Lords, what has happened since then? At the end of last year the Government invited water authorities to apply to have their pollution standards relaxed in the run-up to privatisation, presumably to make privatisation of water more popular with the investors. It is feared—and feared by scientific environmentalists—that as a result of this step 2,300 sewerage works in England and Wales will be allowed to cause greater pollution by the time the water industry is sold off. Is this the Government's answer to what has been said this afternoon and to what has been written about the danger to clean water?

At least 20 per cent. of this country's sewerage works, which are operated by the water authorities. are at present operating below the pollution standards set for them. They are breaking the law. The Government appear to be trying to get out of their difficulty by changing the standards. I should like the noble Earl to answer specifically the general question on which I have particularised: what are the Government doing to ensure that every citizen of this country is guaranteed pure water? I ask riot what they have done in the past but what they are doing now. What have they done since September when the Prime Minister made her speech to the Royal Society?

I should like to introduce one other issue. Along with the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, on the other side of the House, I have asked many times about CFCs. We were told at first that we were cranks. Now it is accepted that this problem is a danger to the world. However, there is another ozone danger—the ozone danger that comes from the land itself and which has been shown to be produced from photochemical reaction of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, pollutions from motor vehicles and from industry. It has been shown that this ozone attacks not only plants but human lungs, and causes complaints such as fibrosis. This occurs in Britain, and it has been shown to occur. We know that industry can be made a good deal cleaner. What is the problem? The problem is one of cost. What will the Government do about that? Is it not the Government's responsibility to ensure that, whatever it costs, the air is cleaner, fertilisers do not poison the people of this country and people are guaranteed clean water?

It would appear to me that since the Prime Minister made her conversion speech after years of scorning those of us who raised these issues, since she appeared to have grasped at long last the environmental crisis through which we are living, the Government have done nothing except reduce the budgets for energy efficiency and hand out redundancy notices to the environmental scientists.

5.33 p.m.

The Earl of Cranbrook

My Lords, although she is not in her place I shall remain grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady White, for giving me the appellation "contemporary". However, in the light of what she said, I must make it clear that I do not speak as as member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. I wish to speak this afternoon rather as a member of a number of environmental bodies, both statutory and non-governmental, which are concerned about the present and future environment of this country and of the world at large.

At this stage of the debate, roughly half way through, it may be pertinent to ask what we mean by the term "pollution". We need to agree on some form of definition. One definition has already been offered to us by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin. This is the widely accepted definition of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. I shall read it again: The introduction by man into the environment of substances or energy liable to cause hazards to human health, harm to living resources and ecological systems, damage to structures or amenity, or interference with legitimate uses of the environment". There are several ambiguities in that definition. In particular, there is an element of subjectivity in the diagnosis of terms such as "hazard", "harm" or "damage". These were highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, in his perception of the problems.

In the conservation circles in which I move, arguments over definitions were largely settled by the 1980 joint publication by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature, the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Wildlife Fund of the World Conservation Strategy. The WCS's definition of "conservation" has been incorporated by the European Community into the Fourth Environmental Action Plan and has therefore been endorsed by the Council of the European Community of which our nation is a member. The definition is as follows: The maintenance of essential ecological processes and life-support systems; the preservation of genetic diversity; the sustainable utilisation of species and ecosystems". This tripartite definition can usefully be developed to provide a less subjective test of environmental risk, damage or hazard. These would then be characterised by any one of the following features: interference with essential ecological processes; the decrease of genetic diversity; or non-sustainable exploitation of species and ecosystems. It may seem rather ivory-towered and out of the picture to be talking in these terms but, if we can achieve a conservation-related definition of "pollution", we will have taken a major step forward. Such a definition might run something like this: The introduction by man into the environment of substances or energy in such measure as to cause hazards to human or animal health, or to interfere with essential ecological processes, or to reduce genetic diversity, or to lead to the non-sustainable exploitation of species or ecosystems, or damage to non-living natural or man-made structures". I apologise for producing such a mouthful but a definition on those lines offers better objective tests of pollution. Agreement on such a definition would help all parties concerned about the environment to combine constructively to meet the threats that are so identified.

At the national level we would then need some central all-encompassing, super-departmental organisation to direct and co-ordinate our national effort to combat pollution. The functions of this body might include the development of a forward plan for the environment; advising the Secretary of State on threats to the environment and on the need for regulations to deal with them; monitoring environmental conditions on land, in the atmosphere, in inland and estuarine waters and indeed in our territorial seas. It would be involved in enforcing the law protecting wild animals and wild plants.

An essential role would be to liaise with other government departments and with local authorities and international bodies involved in conservation and environmental protection. It would take on itself the role of commissioning research. It would carry out investigations and inquiries into incidents. It would promote environmental awareness in education and elsewhere, sponsor new environmental technology and develop codes of good practice. Further, in order to tell us what it was doing it would probably publish an annual report. Structurally, I believe that the body would incorporate into itself first the N RA, the aims and ambitions of which we have just heard about in an extremely interesting speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell.

I believe that the body would also incorporate into itself existing organisations such as Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution, the Nature Conservancy Council, the Countryside Commission, the Forestry Commission in its regulatory role as opposed to its entrepreneurial role, probably the National Radiation Protection Board and probably the import control and the plant protection control arms of MAFF. All those are existing bodies which I believe could be brought together under some central regulatory authority.

I have called this the national environment protection commission and I have said that it should be organised rather on the lines of the Health and Safety Commission with an executive in order to carry out its function. Such a commission could be distanced from the party-political scene by being made an agency of some kind, as has been recommended for several governmental statutory bodies in a fairly recent efficiency unit report entitled Improving Management in Government: the Next Steps.

By the composition of such a body, through its commissioners, who would have varied backgrounds and varied interests, and by the incorporation of the existing main national environmental agencies—a sample of which I have listed—I believe that the body would he able to deliver an integrated strategy and a coherent set of policies to protect the environment and to safeguard the nation against some of the hazards which have been outlined this afternoon.

5.42 p.m.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I do not find it enough merely to agree with the major number of things which have been said by other noble Lords this afternoon, although I agree with many of them. I found a chord in my heart particularly struck by something which was said by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, at the beginning of the debate. He said that apart from anything that was going on, it was our duty—each one of us—to do what we could in saving ourselves, and the world, from pollution. Here strangely enough, I found myself rather unusually in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, because he at least took the matter nearer home.

Looking at what pollutes this country at present, I find that the great polluter is the internal combustion engine burning petrol and diesel oil. It seems to me that the point is a very simple one. If one is trying to get rid of pollution it is much easier to do it at one large central point rather than at a million or more smaller points.

Perhaps I may take one horrific example, which luckily has not happened. However, let us try to imagine the situation. We know that we are now using atomic energy to produce electricity in power stations. Let us just imagine that there were several million atomic cars charging about on our roads. The dangers and the pollution which might arise from them would be quite horrific. Of course, that is an extreme example and, as I have said, it has not happened. But, nevertheless, it is to some extent an illustration of what is going on when we have the petrol and the diesel vehicle charging about on our roads. Indeed, where I go on our waterways, the same thing is true.

The trouble on the roads is quite easy to tell. You have only to go out on the streets in any of our main cities and take a deep breath and you will know about pollution. However, on our waterways there are other factors involved in that there is bank damage which would not be done by an electric craft—for reasons which I shall not go into now because, alas, I do not have the time. Moreover, oil spread on the surface of water prevents oxygen from getting down. If you leave a waterway naturally with the sun shining on it and the oxygen getting down from the surface, it will clear itself; but if you stop the oxygen from going down, it will not.

For those reasons I am bitterly opposed to the internal combustion engine. The trouble is that at present we cannot replace it. The electric vehicle, and the electric boat, which should be replacing the present motors, are still not with us. There seems to be a rather absurd reason for that. Money for research into all sorts of projects is being spent. In particular, research is being carried out on energy saving and in similar fields, but none of it is allowed into the field of transport. There is no money allocated for research into energy saving in transport. I see that the noble Earl is busily writing his notes at the moment, but if he could make some remarks on the matter at the end of the debate I think that we would like to know just why some money should not be spent on research into energy saving in that field.

I should point out that I am deeply involved in such research. My own finances are not enormously strong, but I have deliberately spent money on building an electric test vehicle on the waterways in order to test electric motors. Moreover, I have put further funds into research in this exact manner. I am pleased to say that there is another noble Lord present in the Chamber today who has done just the same. However, it is not just our private funds that we need; we need a great deal more. We are very near a breakthrough in the field and if we made a breakthrough in this area we could be in a position where we would lead the world.

The British electric vehicle is already fairly well advanced. Of course, on water we have some of the world experts. If we arc to get any chance at all to grab this valuable market, I believe that we should do so. I am talking about a market because if one wants something done, something invented, the best way to get it invented is to create a market for it.

Once something is needed your manufacturers and your inventors sit down and get to work on it and produce it. Over and over again in the history of the world, especially in war and on other occasions, we have seen just that happen. There is a sudden incredible demand for something and once the demand is there of course the market is there and then the thing is produced.

Indeed, on the matter of waterways, in Austria many lakes are restricted to electric boats only. The result is that there came to be a market for a firm making electric boat motors. The same could happen over the whole field of transport provided that we can push the market into position. My message to the House and the Government is: let us create a market if we possibly can: let us encourage these things forward all that we possibly can and we shall find not just that we have a market in this country but that there is a big international market, because we are not the only country trying to go green. The whole world is trying to do the same on the waterways.

I shall not bother your Lordships with examples. I have lists and lists of ways in which electric drive is becoming more and more common. Venice, among other places, is now going electric to protect its invaluable city. There is every chance now to open the door and create the market. All we need is a little more research and effort. We do not need much of a push; but we need a little push.

5.51 p.m.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, the noble Viscount has been a conservationist for many years. He is chairman of the Electric Boat Owners Association. He has done a great deal, and we conservationists are all in favour of electric boats.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, opened the debate on a world scale. It would perhaps help, as it has helped me, to look at the world problem in perspective for just a minute. The problem is caused by industry and overpopulation. Industrial nations are responsible for 80 per cent. of the world's goods, and so the bulk of the world's pollution is from industrial processes. The third world contains nearly 80 per cent. of the world's population, which, as has been said, is expanding.

That world knows little alternative but to destroy its land to survive. Many of those nations cannot afford to teach their people to control their birth rate or how best to exploit and save their land. The fact that they owe the industrial nations 1.2 trillion dollars is a significant factor. Our duty, as an industrial nation, is clear. It is to reduce our own pollution, about which I hope to say more in a minute. and to do all possible to ensure that the third world has the resources to educate its people.

I say that we must reduce our pollution. I was pleased to hear my noble friend say what is being done by the Government, because the reduction of pollution must be done on a global scale through international fellowship.

It is within the context of threatened dangers to land, sea, air and forests (now being destroyed at the rate of a football field every second) that we must discuss pollution here at home. Of course it is not a new problem. Over the years as dangers have become apparent. successive governments have taken steps to control and direct it; but the world has only recently fully realised the dangers. Now is the right time to look at our controls and directions to see whether they can be improved. If they can, they should be.

I and my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who is now a vice-chairman of the all-party conservation group, will show that there is considerable scope for improvement. The ideal is that a single body with close links with all the departments responsible for the domestic and global aspects of conservation should be able to offer technical expertise and to make realistic policy proposals and so control the source of the conflict.

Furthermore, such a body would combine theory with practice and must have wide and necessary powers to operate statutory provisions and ministerial directions, together with, or acting alone on behalf of, the department concerned. For the past 15 years there has been such a body with many of the necessary powers and skills—the Health and Safety Commission and its executive, created by the 1974 Act. The chairman of the commission came to the all-party conservation group meeting on 14th December at our invitation. My noble friend Lord Cranbrook had spoken at a previous group meeting, as he has spoken today, voicing the concern at the lack of departmental co-ordination and suggesting a new conservation commission and executive patterned on the Health and Safety Commission and its executive.

After learning of the HSE operation, it seemed to us that the whole Health and Safety Commission and its executive could, if asked, fulfil much and perhaps all of what we wanted it to do, and the roles we had in mind, through existing powers and existing government departments. We feel that no new organisation is necessary. The work can be done in that way. It is already doing much of that today. It exercises responsibility for the control of pesticides and genetically manipulated organisms. It carries out many matters connected with radiation and some with landfill. It is a statutory authority concerned with the regulation of new substances. It deals with most of the major hazards which could affect the environment if there were a large-scale event.

We already have a going concern in this field. Of course, one cannot protect the workers without protecting most of the natural environment. What I suggest is no more than an extension of the functions already carried out. The Health and Safety at Work Act is a wide-ranging Act. Under its provisions, it is possible to carry out much of what we have in mind.

The Act does not extend to controlling harms that affect only the natural environment without affecting man; but an organisation such as the Health and Safety Executive can act as an agent to departments under legislation that fills that gap. I gather that that has already happened in the case of pesticide control under the 1975 food and environment protection legislation.

What are the advantages of and the need for a more unified authority? The advantage is that a single department may be satisfactorily operating its responsibility, but the changing situation may bring up scientific and expert need that may conflict with other departments. To obtain the best co-ordination there must be a single regulatory philosophy on all facts known to all departments. Only then can conflict be avoided and efforts most fruitfully directed.

Finally, there is the need. It is extremely important that government regulatory bodies do not try to sort out their differences on the factory floor. Clearly. a works manager, faced with a factory inspector demanding certain actions in pursuit of health and safety and a pollution inspector with demands for environmental protection, could be put in an impossible situation. The Government should sort out the problems before industry is approached. This can be done most readily by having a unified authority. Only in that way can industry be reassured that the Government have a clear idea of what is required and only then can the image and authority of the regulatory bodies remain undiminished.

6 p.m.

Lord Blease

My Lords, I have listened with interest to the informed and challenging speeches of noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. The general thrust of the arguments has prompted me to think in global terms about environmental control. I am reminded of the lines of the poet John Donne which I shall paraphrase: "No person is an island; entire of oneself. every person is a piece of this world; a part of this universe".

It is my view that concern for the environment cuts right across all social divisions and ought to surmount narrow party political attitudes and policies. As well as the necessary action against environmental pollution within the British Isles, the Government must seek the earnest co-operation and commitment of the European Community, the United Nations and especially of multinational organisations. Many of these have been mentioned in detail in the debate. The Government must ensure that every feasible economic and technical action is taken by local authorities and local communities in the United Kingdom and by individuals. That includes you, me and our families.

There are many actions we can take as individuals to overcome the matters that are polluting the earth. Each of us can help to create a better and a safer world. I mention but a few of the matters tabled to me; the use of unleaded petrol; the use of household products that are not harmful to nature; energy saving in the home and elsewhere, already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon; the recycling of household rubbish; and many other possibilities. I contend that we all have a responsibility to ensure that pollution is kept under management and under control.

A recent radio programme I heard dealt with the work of a new environmental movement named Ark. This voluntary trust's objectives appear to me to be bold, imaginative and exciting. I quote from one of the papers sent to me from Ark's London office: Our children may never see the earth as we have known it. Plants and animals arc vanishing each year. The oceans, soil and atmosphere are poisoned. Forests burned. Our own health, too, is failing. Human beings cannot live in a polluted world. We must change our ways before it is too late. We must ensure that life on earth continues. This is Ark's purpose. There is no greater cause nor one that so demands the support of every thinking, caring man and woman". That succinct statement challenges us all to take some form of action—political, personal or otherwise.

A number of organisations within the United Kingdom, both statutory and voluntary, do excellent work to control environmental pollution and to improve the quality of the environment through education, advice, legislation, financial measures and the promotion of international agreements and action. I wish to mention two such organisations. The first is the standing Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Over some 20 years the commission has produced 12 reports with recommendations for action by government within the field of national and international policy matters. It appears to me that much of the excellent advice of the commission to government and to the wider public is lost through lack of public debate and concerted practical action for change.

I invite the Minister to consider drawing the attention of his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to the need to undertake measures further to encourage the scope of the commission's advisory role and the need of the commission for adequate secretariat personnel with suitable supporting scientific and consultative officials. Reports indicate that the commission is always working against time and against a background of lack of appropriate and suitable services.

The second organisation is the Institution of Environmental Health Officers, a body founded over 100 years ago. A perusal of the 1982 report of that institution will indicate that had the government then acted upon the environmental health officers' recommendations for research, staff requirements and training and heeded their concern about health hazards in the poultry industry, it is unlikely that we should now he facing the salmonella crisis. That is on record, to be read by everyone.

Will the Minister draw attention to the need for the environmental health services to be adequately staffed by suitably qualified and trained personnel at all levels throughout the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland? Perhaps the Minister will also undertake to draw attention to the suggestion that all environmental health officers' reports should be monitored and tabulated for action assessment. This should enable services to be discharged in an efficient and effective manner by all private and public bodies with responsibility for decisions concerning pollution control. I think that the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, related to that subject. I am sure he would agree that modern data technology should enable these measures to be quantified and evaluated on a United Kingdom basis, as the issues of pollution go much wider than one industry or one local community. They have much greater implications.

In conclusion, I turn to Northern Ireland. The Province is an integral part of the United Kingdom as regards environmental pollution control. But it is administered by a separate departmental service, the environmental protection division of the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland. I am sure it is understandable that preoccupation with other political and social matters means that there is perhaps a lack of drive in this area. I feel with confidence that in Northern Ireland we share a great heritage and are blessed with a relatively clean environment. However, it is evident that we are faced with some serious problems. One of these is solid waste disposal. What is urgently needed is a clearly defined waste management strategy with planned arrangements for landfill sites, recycling, incineration, re-use projects and composting systems—matters already mentioned in the debate.

Unacceptably high levels of agricultural effluent from silage and slurry have given rise to pollution in some rivers and water systems. Some reported incidents have also been caused by industry, mainly through sand washing and food processing effluents. I understand, however, that the protection of the environment division now has the problem under effective control as well as that arising from excessive use of some agricultural pesticides. Some concern has been publicly expressed about the plans for the new power generating units at the Kilroot electrical station. Assurances about the installation of emission control equipment should be publicly stated.

The seven-point environmental charter for a cleaner and safer United Kingdom, launched last May by the Minister the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, was incorporated in a statement by the Northern Ireland Office. I welcome this public commitment by the Government to an environmental protection policy. I regret that there was, and still is, little media coverage or public awareness of the need of all people in this matter.

I want in conclusion to draw attention to something which I think is relevant to the debate. It would be helpful to general environmental matters in the Province if the Government would expedite the parliamentary procedures for the enactment of the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Amendment) Northern Ireland Order 1988. That order has been in draft form for almost two years. Surely that is a matter that requires urgent attention. I should be grateful if the Minister will use his good offices to draw these remarks to the attention of his Northern Ireland ministerial colleagues.

I wish to close with a quotation which, I think, relates to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, in his excellent speech. The quotation comes from Oliver Goldsmith: Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay". I believe the issues in this debate are ones of accumulated wealth or active concern.

6.10 p.m.

Lord Colwyn

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, for introducing this debate this afternoon. I must admit that I have spoken on this subject on previous occasions. However, I can promise the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, that my remarks, although perhaps having the same basic underlying message, offer some new thoughts for the Government.

The subject we are discussing covers a very wide range of possible topics. I have decided, in the best interests of the House, to confine my remarks to those in which I have a particular interest; namely, the effect of environmental pollution on our health. That is particularly relevant in view of the publication of the White Paper yesterday. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin—I wish to make this quite clear to your Lordships—that it is vital that we understand the appalling state of health we and our children now face, and how much we can do to try to reverse the trend. In this polluted world with water, atmosphere and food all affected, no one is free from the negative influences to their health in terms of accumulated toxicity. That comes from the air we breathe which can contain gases, fumes, organic solvents, bleaches, detergents, oils, heavy metals and many other atmospheric contaminants. The toxicity can come from the food we eat, nine-tenths of which contains colouring, flavouring, preservatives and other additives. It may also contain pesticides, herbicides, traces of hormones, antibiotics, heavy metals and many other substances. The water we drink is also contaminated. That matter has been well covered this afternoon.

I am sure your Lordships will have realised that it is not a coincidence that over the past few years several new diseases such as AIDS, Legionnaires' Disease, myalgic encephalomyelitis, and some old diseases with a revitalised potency such as meningitis have emerged to become headline news. The connection between many of these conditions is the presence of a severely compromised immune system. That is the system in our bodies which is our first and most important line of defence against any invasive influence.

These negative influences within the environment are compounded by other factors.Those factors are an ignorance of or disregard of what constitutes a correct diet. Further factors are the use and abuse of social drugs, such as alcohol, tobacco and caffeine and the use and abuse of medical and "street" drugs such as the virtual total disregard of the long-term consequences of the contraceptive pill, tranquillisers and other drugs.Those drugs often have far more serious side effects than the condition they are being used to treat.

A further negative factor is a disregard for natural biological responses to recurrent infection and reinfection. Finally, there are clinical and sub-clinical allergic responses and stress inducing elements including noise, artificial light, low level radiation, electromagnetic forces and anxieties and problems associated with finance, work, emotions, and personal and domestic situations. When these elements are added to the inherited characteristics which make us unique, we can see the picture which now faces so many of us of a rising tide of chronic and degenerative disease which affects young and old alike.

The pollution of our environment by the spraying of insecticides, pesticides and herbicides is a further negative factor, as is the addition of artificial substances such as preservatives, taste enhancers and colourings to our foods. So, too, is the removal of useful nutrients by processing and the loading of our air with industrial effluent. That is the price we pay for modern civilisation. Yet it is those very factors which cause recurrent headaches, insomnia, fatigue, minor allergies, digestive problems. constipation, intermittent depression, joint and muscle pains, menstrual problems, recurrent infections, overweight problems, skin problems and frequent colds. I could go on and mention other things. All these symptoms are termed minor ill-health problems. As on average most of us are affected by one or more of these common symptoms, it is taken to be normal. Nothing could be further from the truth as each represents the insidious onset of a potential decline into more serious health problems. It is urgent that we all consider just what we can do to accept responsibility for our health to prevent this seemingly inevitable decline.

Although we may be aware of the adverse effects of generalised environmental pollution, there is very little that we can do about it individually. I hope that increasing public awareness will eventually lead to an improvement in the situation. But I want to know what I can do now, for myself, to minimise the effects and increase my quality of life. The answer to that is that nutrition is the single largest factor under our control which can dramatically influence our health for the better.

Whereas not all the conditions I have mentioned arc simply the direct result of poor nutrition, all of them are influenced by it and all of them can be benefited by desirable nutritional alterations. Most of us know that we eat too much of the wrong things. We eat too much refined carbohydrate, too much fat, too much dairy produce, too much processed and overcooked food and we are deficient in one or more essential nutrients.

Studies have shown that this deficiency is widespread in American and European schoolchildren, employed and unemployed young adults, pregnant women, middle-aged and elderly members of the population, all of whom are in apparent good health. The need for many of the 40-odd essential nutrients varies between individuals. Thus you or I may require up to seven times more of any particular nutrient than our neighbour, husband, wife or child. That is an inborn, biochemically determined need—not an acquired one. It can vary during periods of growth, stress—that means most of the time for many of us—infection and old age.

It is these essential raw materials which enable the body to cope with the stresses of environmental pollution and allow it to function normally. The interaction of environmental pollution with poor nutrition and lifestyle changes, as well as other insults such as the pill, antibiotics, alcohol, caffeine and tobacco, all of which negatively affect the defence systems of the body, allow new illnesses to appear.

The depression of the natural bowel flora control over hostile yeast colonies in the gut, combined with a diet high in sugars, has allowed rampant overgrowth of yeast colonies, of which the main culprit is candida albicans. That yeast can cause many symptoms ranging from allergies, depression, digestive problems, skin conditions, frequent infections, colds, ear infections, chest problems and many others too numerous to mention. It also manufactures acetaldehyde. That is a highly toxic substance which produces further complications. It is one of the first major signs of, and always precedes AIDS. It is directly responsible for many of the signs and symptoms in that disease complex. It is always present in and may proceed myalgic encephalomyelitis, which is associated with the failure of the body fully to recover from a normal viral infection such as cytomegalovirus or Epstein-Barr. It is probable that candida enhances the viral activity noted in ME and AIDS by diminishing immune function effectiveness.

In conclusion, I would say that I have tried to establish a relationship between environmental pollution and our general health. I am aware that the Government are investing in health care to a greater extent than ever before. But the greatest improvements will come through better education, housing and employment conditions, combined with further improvements in our environment. I hope that our debate today will go some way towards stressing the great urgency of the situation.

6.20 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, the general heightening of awareness of environmental issues, especially in the political sphere, is perhaps best illustrated by the Prime Minister's recent statements about the finite period of time that we have on this planet and our duty to all future generations to leave this world as a fit place to live in.

Such sentiments can only be applauded, but positive action alone must be the acid test of the Government's commitment. Although laudable support has been given to such international moves as the restriction and ultimate banning of CFC gases, the Government seem to be rather slow to act on domestic matters where uncooperative foreign governments are not a problem.

At present the Government have only one piece of legislation before Parliament which includes a green element—the privatisation of water. The waterways of this country are under considerable pressure from man-made pollution and there are horror stories aplenty, such as the incident in Camelford where poisonous aluminium oxide was accidentally poured into drinking water. One could use the example of the Thames, which is so polluted by female contraceptives in sewage that fish are undergoing sex changes.

I should like to look at what is being done, what is supposed to have been done and what is proposed for the future. We have an appalling record on inland waterway pollution. In 1980 the number of incidents of pollution was 12,500. That figure had risen to 23,253 by 1987, with 1,402 of those incidents being regarded as serious. I wonder what was not regarded as serious. Industry was responsible for 37 per cent. of those incidents. Agriculture and sewerage works avidly competed for second place with 20 per cent. and 19 per cent. of the total respectively. There were only 288 prosecutions. Most resulted in small fines or conditional discharges.

Current legislation, mainly the Control of Pollution Act 1974, is currently being avoided by a series of consent conditions: in other words, the standards that have to be maintained in our rivers are being lowered. Yet 20 per cent. of water authorities still fail to meet those reduced standards after such a blatant case of moving the goal posts. It is thought that 80 per cent. of water authorities—the protectors or our waterways—would find themselves in breach of the law if there were 100 per cent. enforcement of the 1974 Act.

There is also an alarming but hardly surprising downgrading of the quality of our rivers. In 1985 a river quality survey showed an unprecedented net deterioration in 903 kilometres of river length. It should be kept in mind that 35 per cent. of the rivers in England and Wales are not routinely monitored.

Under the water privatisation Bill no new standards are proposed. Effectively the 1974 Act is reworded and redrafted but it is not substantially changed. There is however the possibility of far greater enforcement by the new rivers authority. The National Rivers Authority is effectively to police waterways rather than leaving that job to the water authorities which are themselves so often at fault.

The principle of having an independent guardian of water standards should be a step towards higher water standards through enforcement, making it possible to find out who is responsible for any incident of pollution. It should also make it possible not only to punish the offenders but to make them pay for whatever restorative measures are necessary.

However, resources are required for the new authority to work properly. The present allocation of staff of 6,500 means that after the necessary back-up and land drainage posts are filled there will be only 450 pollution control officers. Each will be responsible for nearly 100 kilometres of waterway and between 45 and 65 effluent discharges. That is hardly blanket coverage.

Enforcing regulations has assumed an even greater urgency when it is considered that the Department of the Environment will no longer have the legal obligation to maintain and improve water quality that was imposed upon it by the Water Act 1973. That will not continue after privatisation.

The job of enforcement is further complicated by the system of testing. Testing has to be carried out over the course of a year and all tests have to he done in triplicate. Only a 95 per cent. compliance rate to consent conditions is allowed. That in turn is subject to a further 95 per cent. compliance rate for statistical reasons. The upshot is that not only are the tests difficult to carry out and time consuming, but also a sewerage works, for example, could fail five out of 50 tests and still comply.

Another worrying question as to how seriously the Government are taking their commitment to green policy is raised by the delay in introducing the new river quality objectives originally proposed for last year and now not to be introduced until 1992. One can only hope that their introduction will not he further delayed.

Water would seem to be a good starting point for any environmental campaign. Inland waterways are not only vital in providing us with drinking water but also, in theory at least, are comparatively easy to inspect. Even tidal rivers flow only in two directions and along known paths. The Government are dealing with a domestic problem—that is one of the advantages of being an island—and most of the offenders are known. If the Government were prepared to give the necessary free hand to the National Rivers Authority, it would potentially be a very effective watchdog.

The rivers authority needs not only the proposed powers but also clear objectives and if the standards are often changed those objectives are not clear. We must ensure that we maintain the standards which we regard as being necessary. If consents are continually lowered that cannot happen. I suggest that we freeze those consents at their present level and remove them as soon as possible.

The rivers of our nation are not only a national resource, they are also a great source of natural beauty and play a vital part in the life cycle of the countryside. To damage them is surely an act of vandalism. To damage such a vital part of our national heritage would be an act of vandalism comparable to damaging one of the great historic buildings of this country. I suggest that the Government should he equally severe on anyone guilty of that charge as they would on someone who was guilty of defacing St. Paul's Cathedral.

6.28 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I too hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, will soon be back among us.

I enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth. He may like to know that a letter I received today from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of the Environment has a note written in the corner saying, "100 per cent. recycled paper".

I suggest that there are five fundamental causes of the tremendous increase in pollution that we are discussing. There is the runaway growth in world population about which my noble friend Lord Henderson of Brompton spoke eloquently; developments to meet the ever-growing demand for energy; the widespread increase in wealth; the changes in farming practice and the spread of development generally. But there has been a notable increase in public concern and growing public insistence that the problems should be tackled and pollution controlled.

There are so many different types of pollution. Had there been time I should have liked to discuss aspects such as noise pollution. The noble Earl said at the outset of this debate—if I heard him correctly that that ought to be combated by individual effort. But I think that a good deal of it is out of the control of most of us. In the country, for example, there are the bird scarers used by farmers, unsilenced motor cycles racing about on open hills, and the scream of low-flying aircraft. In town, there is the horrible noise of hooters on fire engines in place of the perfectly effective bells of my youth.

Anyone who returns to this country from abroad cannot fail to be struck by the appalling amount of litter on the streets of London. One asks oneself why it is that, for example, a Canadian city such as Toronto is so much cleaner. Here things are equally bad in our country villages. Children walk along and throw away their sweet papers and cans of pop at the side of the road; when they are older they throw away their cigarette packets and empty cans of beer. I do not know how one can remedy the situation. Perhaps it can be done by a campaign in schools or a television advertising campaign; or by imposing conditions on planning consents for fast food outlets that they must have someone to clear up the mess outside or insisting that shops be made responsible for cleaning the pavements at the front of them. I am not sure how we should tackle this very difficult problem.

I have no time to do more than mention such matters but I wish to raise two separate aspects of the topic. There is first the question of co-ordination of control of pollution, which was a matter raised in their speeches by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and the noble Lord, Lord Craigton. I was interested in the announcement made at the end of last year by the noble Earl about integrated pollution control, which surely means a single control authority. On the other hand, the Government have announced the formation of the NRA, which as I understand it is to have exclusive control of river pollution. I listened with great attention, as I am sure we all did, to the very interesting and important speech of the noble Lord. Lord Crickhowell, on the future NRA policies.

Both those initiatives arc very welcome but it seems to me that to some extent the concepts are mutually contradictory. I shall be interested to know the Government's view on that. For example, I noticed in the July 1988 discussion paper on inputs of dangerous substances to water—the red list—which, as a member of the environmental sub-committee, I also warmly welcomed, that on pages 14 to 17 of that document two alternatives are suggested: either model A, with HM Inspectorate of Pollution being responsible for consulting the NRA, or model B, with the NRA being responsible for consulting HMIP. I am not sure whether the Government have yet thought out the respective roles of the NRA and the HMIP. The remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, to some extent seem to confirm that view. I think it is very important for the Government to get this right.

An additional aspect not mentioned in that paper but about which the noble Lord. Lord Craigton, has spoken is the existence of the Health and Safety Executive with responsibility for the safety of workers and the public. Again there may at present be a conflict of interest between those responsibilities and other responsibilities for the environment.

As a member of the environmental sub-committee I went last year to Sellafield where the waste accumulated and stored on site to some extent may be a risk to the workforce. That is the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive. It might therefore favour the controlled release of that waste at safe levels into the Irish Sea. However, control of the release of waste into the Irish Sea rests with the Department of the Environment, so there is obviously a demarcation matter to be resolved.

I believe that it is important to sort out the questions of boundaries, the balance of safety, health and environmental considerations and to get it right before industrialists, farmers or public authorities are given advice, because it is essential that the advice they are given is not confusing and does not conflict. Perhaps we need a new all-embracing environmental or conservation protection agency. Certainly I think that is something that ought to be considered very carefully.

The other matter I want to discuss is our sometimes sluggish response to some pollution problems. I realise that the Government act swiftly in some of them and take the lead—for example, on the question of the ozone layer and CFCs. It is obvious that the Prime Minister has a strong interest in that, and of course when the Prime Minister is interested things happen. But I believe that the Government generally now take an enlightened and positive view of these problems. I found their responses to the reports of the Environment Committee of another place about pollution of rivers and estuaries (Cmnd. Paper 543) and on air pollution (Cmnd. Paper 552) encouraging reading.

However, on some matters I think that they have been very slow. Let me give one example—that of unleaded petrol. In 1981 I went to Canada and bought a car which ran only on unleaded petrol. I found that virtually all cars ran on unleaded petrol and only a few ancient jalopies still ran on leaded petrol. I never found a single service station where I could not obtain unleaded petrol. That was eight years ago. Now, so much later, I run my car here on unleaded petrol but, like the the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, I have considerable difficulty in finding enough stations which have unleaded petrol to fill up. I have to do a good deal of advance planning.

I understand that only 2.5 per cent. of all the petrol used in this country at the moment is unleaded. It should be more like 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. and I think that we have been very slow in this matter. We have also been slow on the funding of HMIP. I was worried when the chief inspector, on his resignation, described the inspectorate as "understaffed, undervalued, underpaid and underfunded". I recognise that the Government are setting up 13 new posts but I wonder whether even that number will be adequate.

We have been slow to respond to the increasing threat from new farming practices, as the increasing deterioration of rivers in the South-West shows, and to the threat from acid rain. There is still a reluctance to accept the aggravation of this problem by the mass planting of conifers, and I agree with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady White, on that point. I think also that our response so far to the nitrate problem is pretty tentative. There is a need to get to grips with these problems as soon as the scientists have identified the cause of the trouble and we should not wait until the problem has grown and produced a public outcry.

6.38 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I want to speak about the quality of life for children in two aspects: their extra vulnerability to pollutants to which we are all subject; and the need to give them knowledge about their environment through environmental education.

One of the most prevalent pollutants to which children are subject is lead, particularly that from vehicle emissions. What I shall say refers more to those who live in urban surroundings. However, that is the majority of our children. There has been evidence that exposure to more than a certain amount of lead in the atmosphere can lead to a loss of intelligence. Being smaller, children are nearer to the fumes. Efforts by this Government to reduce the dangers from vehicle exhausts, especially by restricting the use of cars in cities, have been minimal. Admittedly, there is a lower price for unleaded petrol, but that differential could be made considerably greater. It would give a more positive encouragement to car owners to change and to garage proprietors to move faster in providing unleaded petrol. I agree totally on that point with the noble Lord, Lord Moran.

The EC standard should be brought up to US levels, which are considerably more stringent than ours, and should apply to small as well as large petrol-driven vehicles. We could follow the example of the Netherlands in making clean cars financially attractive by using taxes and charges to favour the purchase of small cars.

Public transport has been cut and has been made more expensive, thus encouraging people to use private cars, usually with only one person in the car. There has been no encouragement of increased sharing. I remind noble Lords that the GLC experiment, which offered cheap fares, worked in the capital.

The amount and the speed of traffic have another detrimental effect on the lives of children. Parents very seldom dare let their children go about the streets on their own. That is a pity. It takes away from the independence and spirit of adventure and discovery that all children have. Many more schemes relating to traffic management, and separati on of cars and pedestrians in certain areas, could be encouraged: planners could be made to plan more positively. Planning is not a favourite word with this Government. As an aside, if county struci:ure plans are abolished there could be very serious consequences for the whole environment.

The next danger for children is impure water—in the water they drink, paddle in, play in and swim in. This covers the sea, estuaries, rivers and canals. About 4 million Britons drink water which breaches EC nitrate limits. The numbers are expected to increase as nitrates—which mainly come from agricultural fertilisers—build up in groundwater.

A proposed EC directive which classes nitrates as dangerous substances is the culmination of several years of struggle by the Commission to tackle the problem at source, naturally with opposition from the farming lobbies. If the directive is passed, it will force Ministers to use powers that they have had for a decade but have never used to control nitrates.

The 1974 Control of Pollution Act gave Ministers powers to set up special water protection zones to regulate the use of nitrates and "other poisonous, noxious or polluting matter". Such a power has now been added to the water privatisation Bill. The Minister has indicated that the Government are moving on this. But will they definitely invoke that power, and soon?

The greatest scandal is the state of so many of our beaches where children play and bathe. They are particularly vulnerable to illness through exposure to sewage sludge being pumped into the sea. A summary of the results of a survey during 1987 of the quality of waters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland showed that 207 beaches passed, and 106 failed. That is not a record to be proud of.

Besides sewage sludge there are in places radioactive emissions, and emissions from chemical factories. For 40 years or so I have had experience in Cornwall of coping with children and grandchildren who suffered from appalling sickness and diarrhoea as a result of impure and contaminated water. It is unpleasant and it is dangerous. We know what happened in north Cornwall this summer when aluminium got into the water supply at the height of the holiday season. Twenty thousand homes were affected. The noble Baroness, Lady White, referred to this. That may have been a very unfortunate accident. But it could have been discovered and acted upon much more quickly. There is no excuse for not providing the funds and forcing the water authorities to deal with sewage in an environmentally acceptable way. Having a higher proportion of water in their bodies, infants are at greater risk than others.

The third danger I speak of is from contaminated foods. I need not elaborate on salmonella in this House. But it is young children and the elderly who are especially at risk. The reluctance of the Government to take swift action was inexcusable. One can only hope that the whole horrid battery hen industry will be put under much stricter control. Only last Sunday there was an account in the Observer of the danger to babies from milk with too much aluminium content. Again there is reluctance on the part of the Government to let the public have the information they need—in this case the names of the brands affected. Vested interests should not be protected. Our whole food industry should be made to adhere to higher standards.

I quote from the Observer article: When health inspectors visited a small supermarket in London's Old Kent Road last week, they discovered mice nesting in the disposable nappies and mice droppings on the bread". The environmental health officers, whose job it is to inspect food premises and to provide health education, are well under strength, as my noble friend Lord Blease has said. Of approximately 6,000 posts, there are 430 funded vacancies. Aston University and Bristol Polytechnic have had courses closed, so there are fewer in training. Local authorities are short of cash to employ them. Will the Minister please make some comment on this situation? There should be a proper health education programme.

This brings me to my other point on environmental education. I was going to speak at some length on the HMI report, Environmental Education from 5 to 16 but the noble Lord. Lord Ritchie, has already covered the issue fairly widely. However, I was annoyed to see an article on the HMI report in the Independent which opened: Children should leave school knowing enough about environmental issues to avoid being indoctrinated by propaganda from environmental pressure groups, according to a new report"— that is the HMI report. A totally false impression was given of the document. I contrast that with an article in Education, the weekly magazine for the education world. It states: Propaganda produced by campaigning protection groups should be allowed to pervade the classrooms to enable pupils to make sound judgments about environmental issues". I suppose that tells one something about the media.

The aim of the HMI is to encourage schools, primary and secondary, to make positive plans. In May, 1988, the Council of Ministers of the European Community agreed, on the need to take concrete steps for the promotion of environmental education", and adopted a resolution to that end. The HMI aims to help LEAs and schools to consider how best to carry out that job.

The HMI report emphasises the need for older pupils to acquire a sense of responsibility for aspects of the environment and shows how cross-curricular studies can help to develop that understanding. It gives an example of the study of water. Geography can contribute to the understanding of land forms and drainage basins and the nature of water courses can help to explain how the presence of water has affected patterns of settlement. The sciences can deal with water purity. Technology and design can help pupils to understand the man-made environment, such as buildings, sluices, weirs, bridges, and sewage works.

Where HMI has been clever is in fitting its report into the pattern of what the Education Reform Act demands. It sets out objectives at the ages of 11 and 16 in some detail. It has a section on assessment. It has much practical advice. On reading the report I felt much more hopeful about environmental education. The natural curiosity that children have about people, places, plants, animals and materials around them perhaps will be taken advantage of if the suggestions are followed through. Had the present generation of politicians and decision makers been better educated in this way there might not have been reluctance to move on environmental matters or to be so slow in following EC directives, lagging behind most of Europe.

The judgment on this Government's record on energy conservation, on pollution of air and water, on hazardous waste, on care for wildlife and the countryside, will be that they always did too little too late. I hope that this debate will push them forward and that we shall have some positive responses from the Government this evening.

6.48 p.m.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I am very sad that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, is not here to set us off on this journey and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, for starting this debate. It has become quite hair-raising. It has been global. It has been brought to our notice that trees covering an area the size of a football pitch are being felled by the second. Eight thousand babies are being born each minute, or second—I cannot quite remember. My noble friend presented us with a galaxy of awful ailments that we were likely to catch.

I cannot quite understand it all. I am not a scientist and I am slightly suspicious of scientists. I am certainly suspicious of journalists who repeat what scientists say. My brief speech will he slightly different from those that other noble Lords have made. In the first instance, I do not understand why, if the pollution is so bad, we are all living longer. It does not seem to tie up. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, 'that overpopulation is at the root of it all. In this country and in Europe it is over-population combined with sophistication. We have talked today about industrial pollution and motor car pollution, but nobody is prepared to forego his car. Nobody is even prepared to choose unleaded petrol in a big way.

I should like to bring the debate back to rather more local matters and pick up something which the noble Baroness, Lady White, and the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, in his very able maiden speech, mentioned. It concerns acid rain in this country; I am not talking about acid rain anywhere it may occur. I believe that the really acid streams and the really acid lakes are in Wales and in Kirkcudbrightshire. The wind comes off the Western Approaches to Wales and it certainly does not come from an industrial area before it reaches Kirkcudbrightshire.

A few years ago the noble Baroness and I attended a presentation given by the Welsh Water Authority, which convinced me at any rate that in this case the trees were to blame; and I am a great tree man. They did not actually mention the uplands but they talked about too many trees in the wrong place. I think by "wrong place" they meant the catchment areas.

It seems to me that quite a reasonable amount of action has been taken by the Government and a reasonable amount of money laid aside to deal with industrial pollution, and that this problem should also now be dealt with. It should be dealt with quite quickly and presumably quite simply because, in the same way as you can plant trees and grow them, you can cut them down. On the whole the trees in Wales are reaching at least a reasonably marketable stage. So why do we not go to the head waters, cut the trees down and put them through the brand-new pulping mill which is in that area?

The next matter I should like to touch upon is that of nitrates in drinking water. I have previously mentioned in your Lordships' House that I felt the directive, or whatever the term for it is, from the European Community was far too severe and that in fact we should not have accepted it. Now there is another directive on its way to deal with surface water. I do not know whether that is going to be too severe too, but one thing is absolutely certain: there is nothing we can do about the water except to treat it when it comes out. It is no good telling the farmers not to use so much fertiliser; that concerns 40 years hence and the damage was done 40 years ago.

Since it is so expensive to deal with this situation, I would suggest that there is a strong case for renegotiating the limit. One has to bring a certain amount of reality into this life. It is all very well to have everything sounding perfect, but we do not want to go back to the days when lorries had "20 miles per hour" written on their backs and nobody kept to that limit. Nobody is going to keep to this 50 milligramme limit because I think, first, it is impossible, and even if it is possible it is too expensive.

I should now like to say a word about the National Rivers Authority, following the very interesting and able speech by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. I welcome the National Rivers Authority, particularly because it is an authority which will look after the interests of water and therefore of the public. It will act as a policeman over the water authorities themselves. This has been a terribly awkward sitution, with the water authorities regulating themselves and others.

However, I was a little worried—and I must declare an interest as I am what might be described as a large fish farmer—when I heard mention of the low funding because it seemed an extraordinarily small amount of money for the National Rivers Authority. That immediately led one to believe—and I think I heard this coming through a little—that money would be taken away from concerns either as extraction licences or as charges for their effluent discharge consents. I think I heard correctly that the latter was meant to cover the costs but, as I say, I think I caught a hint in my noble friend's speech that the water coming in might be charged and used in some way to fund the National Rivers Authority itself. That would be a very great pity if it were so. I hope that the funding will come from elsewhere in order to provide the sort of service that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, wishes.

I should like to touch on one final matter although it is quite outside my sphere, and that is lead in petrol. It has been mentioned once or twice in passing and thoroughly by the noble Lord, Lord Moran. Quite frankly, I cannot see any reason why there should not be a law stopping lead in petrol. It could be passed now or next year and enacted, say, in five or six years' time. I believe it has been done quite successfully in some parts of the world. It is not too difficult to convert the motor car or to build one that will deal with it, with the los of performance not being too had. All sorts of details could be worked out so that the better petrol could be used, and so on. We are being hypocritical if we merely talk about this. I can see no reason whatever why full use should not be made of unleaded petrol by everybody and why they should not be made to use it by law, with certain exceptions. Hypocrisy does not go well at all. We cannot just talk about this and say what a pity there are not enough pumps, when other people are doing much better elsewhere. Why do we not do it ourselves? I should like to ask that question of my noble friend.

6.55 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, I join those of your Lordships in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, for introducing the debate this evening and regret that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, could not join us. The long list of speakers is indicative of the importance your Lordships' House places on the need to protect the environment from pollution. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, on a fine maiden speech. I can well appreciate the nerves of one of the younger Members making his first speech in your Lordships' House. His expertise in the area of landscape design will, I am sure, contribute to future debates on this issue.

The noble Lord addressed the need for recycling paper and thereby saving trees. I was astonished to read recently in an article that each year each one of us throws out 78 pounds of paper—that is one and a half trees—together with 30 pounds of glass, 28 pounds of metal and 23 pounds of plastic, not to mention the less savoury items. I wish to address my remarks to the increasing problems of disposing of household waste in an environmentally acceptable manner.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, drew the attention of the House to the more than 5,000 authorised dumping sites in Britain which are supposed to be monitored by the Control of Pollution Act 1974. It is well known that there are many more unofficial dumps where dangerous substances are dumped, in defiance of the law. While I accept that certain of the landfill sites can serve a useful purpose, for example, the filling of exhausted quarries and mines, there are a number of worrisome problems emanating from the tipping of untreated and partially treated domestic waste. These include the creation of methane gas from these sites, which kills plants by depriving their roots of oxygen, and obviously methane is highly inflammable.

Another hazard is that a cocktail of acids is formed by the natural decomposition within these tips. If uncontrolled, these leachates can pollute the earth's natural underground water reservoirs and streams, together with the surrounding land: a point that has been well drawn out by several noble Lords who have spoken today. Tipping operations also attract vermin and flies. This problem was highlighted in a recent television programme. "Friday Report", in October last year. Furthermore, even though the tips are lined with a non-pervieous material, there is always the possibility that they may be punctured by sharp metal objects.

I pose a question to your Lordships. How much longer can we continue dumping an increasing volume of waste into a decreasing availability of landfill sites? Some areas, such as South Devon, are already looking outside their boundaries at alternative methods of disposal. The county of Essex, which receives a major portion of the 31 million tonnes of domestic refuse per year generated by the home counties, estimates that suitable landfill sites will be exhausted in 10 to 12 years.

We can no longer afford to sweep the dirt under the carpet, which is visibly shrinking. Indeed a new approach is needed to address this time bomb. I mention a time bomb because of the decreasing amount of years that we have at our disposal to act on this critical issue. All too often alternative methods of handling domestic waste are discarded for cost considerations. Technology is available to transfer domestic waste into many visible products.

The noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, mentioned the re-cycling of paper; others have mentioned plastics, metals and aluminium. Certainly several of these plants are already in operation in the United Kingdom. In America they are tackling the problem with incineration plants and recycling schemes. In Sweden there are special plants which combine a large percentage of the waste with sludges left over from the sewage treatment farms and these convert the waste into compost.

I am well aware of the Government's endeavours to address the pollution threat and have read with interest the Royal Commission's 12th report recently published on environmental pollution. I hope that the forthcoming legislation that the Minister mentioned in his opening speech will indeed provide for measures of disposing of household waste in an environmentally acceptable manner, so as to ensure, as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, mentioned in his opening speech, a quality of life for our future generations.

7.3 p.m.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Kenilworth on an excellent, informative and vibrant maiden speech which was a pleasure to listen to. I am also delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, has given your Lordships an opportunity to debate this very serious subject.

I must declare an interest inasmuch as I am not a member of Greenpeace, but I care very greatly indeed for the well-being of the countryside in which we live and I farm. I applaud the very real improvements to the environment that we live in that Her Majesty's Government have had the good sense to implement.

My very real concern is not purely with pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of the ozone layer and many other serious matters. My main concern is targeted towards the problem that we see every day of our lives; that is, the problem of litter. I have travelled extensively in America and have seen the awful litter problem that they have on the other side of the Atlantic, and I am greatly impressed by the cleanliness of Switzerland. But, sadly, we in the British Isles need to look ever more seriously at our own problems as we have a very sad reputation of being the naughty boy of Europe where pollution is concerned.

The tourist arriving at Heathrow, Gatwick or any other port of entry to this country has a considerable shock. He looks to this country to provide history, quality of life and responsibility. Yet when he arrives he is met by a barrage of fast food litter, dog excreta on pavements and piles of rotting rubbish, especially in London and in many of our other towns and cities. When he ventures out of those great cities that we have he sees rubbish dumped in the countryside, overflowing bins in lay-bys and farmers using corrugated iron sheets to plug gaps in hedges. It really is quite disgraceful.

The agriculural community complain like mad about "townies" dumping their litter in our countryside, but they find it quite unacceptable when townsfolk complain about the debeautifying attitude of farmers regarding their own land. I was recently in some fields bordering the Staffordshire county showground and I was quite appalled to see plastic fertiliser bags blowing around in the wind with paper waste caught up in great excess on the showground's perimeter fence. How on earth can we possibly expect townsfolk to adhere to decent self-control in dumping litter in the countryside when the very people who try to promote the quality of that environment cannot even clear up their own houses?

This particular part of pollution is thoroughly obnoxious, unsightly and unhealthy. It is a problem that must be solved very quickly. We must have much more punitive fines and a better, simpler system of prosecution to stop these litter louts from destroying our environment and the beauty of our countryside. We are the guardians of the countryside and we hold the trusteeship of it for future generations. Let us act now to enhance this aspect of our quality of life. Our sons and daughters can only benefit from our foresight.

7.6 p.m.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, if ever there was a case for enhancing the quality of life by protecting the environment from increasing pollution, it is the need to draw attention to those many thousands of people in our country in the coalfield communities, who have had to suffer industrial pollution—dirt, noise, smoke, cancerous fumes, respiratory diseases, bronchitis, even lung cancer; so many forms of environmental pollution within a coalfield community, causing so many environmental diseases. Although we are witnessing a rundown of the coal mining industry with a decrease in the number of coal mine—nearly 80 pits having closed since the miners' strike—and although from this rundown there are bound to be environmental benefits, what perturbs us all in these coalfields is the continuing and expanding role of opencast coal mining. This is the worst and most immediate environmental polluter that anyone can imagine and it is added to the fall-out from power stations, the smoke and noise of heavy industry, the dust from muck stacks and so on. I question whether it is even necessary.

Deep mined output of coal allied with cheap imports is in excess of demand. Why then should there be more opencast coal mining? Production at the moment is about 15.5 million tonnes, with 14 million tonnes from British Coal. British Coal has recently announced its desire to increase production to 18 million tonnes a year. This statement has heightened concern among the coalfield local authorities, fearing that they are to have thrust upon them additional severe environmental damage. Therefore the coalfield communities' campaign, an all-party group of 70 local authorities, have expressed their anxieties at this proposed expansion.

In answer to a question that I posed to the Government in June last year, it was revealed that in just two years, 1985–87, there were 212 applications for new opencast mining sites and 130 were approved. I think that this is deplorable. I believe that the devastating impact on the environment is worse now than when the Flowers Commission reported in 1981. The report on energy and the environment stated that: even if the greatest possible care is taken in both the extraction of opencast coal and the subsequent restoration of the land, and while acknowledging that in some cases amenities have been enhanced by opencast restoration, opencast mining has a severe impact on the environment in both the short and long-term. Indeed, the commission found that, despite its recommendations for particular improvements in opencast coal working practices, an overriding question remained: were current levels of opencast coal production appropriate for maintaining the balance between the environment, amenity, private rights and the need to exploit coal by opencast methods? It concluded that the balance was moving against the environment and amenity.

That was in 1981. How right they were, and now the situation is much worse. The commission also strongly recommended that: As older, more unprofitable and less environmentally acceptable deep mines are closed, and more efficient and profitable operations take place, the volume of opencast mining should be allowed to decline. In the meantime there should he no increase in the present target of 15 milllion tons per year". It went on to state: The uniquely sensitive character of the British countryside and the high population density in much of the country would not be able to accommodate without unwarrantable damage a target in excess of that level". That quotation is taken from the most authoritative paper on energy and the environment.

In the light of those observations made way back in 1981, and recognising the fact that the situation has undoubtedly worsened—there is the increasing number of sites, the scale and duration of new workings with their attendant traffic generation, and the multiplicity of environmental problems including sites not associated with land reclamation, not to mention the damage to tourist attractions and the parallel damage to any local authority economic initiatives in their areas—the pollution vandal of opencast mining must be cut back. There is no reason for this scale of operations.

Therefore, if we wish to enhance the quality of life by protecting the environment from increasing pollution, the Government can announce a halt to any expansion of opencast coal mining and a planned reduction in all those operations in addition to dealing with the ozone layer, acid rain, the costly and lengthy installation process of installing scrubbers in power station stacks, and so forth.

One has only to visualise how opencast mining can make many lives a misery for up to seven years. Choking clouds of dust drift into homes and gardens. There is constant noise and vibration from machinery, including the stream of coal lorries rumbling through the villages. In the meantime, the landscape is ruined for years. Fishing ponds, footpaths, sites of rare plants and wildlife are ruined. Schoolchildren and students are constantly disturbed in their studies. Secondary roads are ruined by the incessant patrol of coal lorries. There is an increase in road accidents, and houses are structurally damaged.

Above all, I feel most sorry for the old folk. Their property has been devalued. They suffer years of awful misery and unhappiness in the eventide of their lives, and offering them a better environment thereafter is not the answer. Many old people have died during such operations and some, no doubt, because of them.

The Flowers Commission stated: The combined effects of opencast operations can, for those badly affected, add up to a very severe diminution in the quality of life". That is the situation for many thousands of people in the coalfield communities because that is where the coal is.

They and their forebears have suffered long enough during generations of ghastly pollution. if the Government are serious in their concern over the increase in pollution, then they should give those people a cleaner, healthier life by tackling the opencast vandaliser of our countryside, and indeed of our people's lives, and take steps now to cut it back.

7.14 p.m.

Lord Reay

My Lords, history has carried us into a new era as regards the approach needed to enable us to continue to live in a clean and healthy environment. In the 1950s, at the time of the Clean Air Act, it was found to be sufficient to ban forms of combustion from city centres where its heavy concentration was producing obnoxious results. Where the factories then went was not thought to matter. Similarly, factory emisions had to be released through tall chimneys so that they were dispersed widely—indeed, anywhere so long as they were not deposited locally. Sewage had to be carried far enough out to sea to avoid polluting the coast. Incidentally, that practice has not yet been stopped.

Still the concept persisted of a vast world out there beyond the pallisades of each human settlement, capable of absorbing all the waste man could ever need to dispose of. That point of view has obtained since the beginning of time. Even the vocabulary implied—and still implies the planet's imperviousness to man's rubbish. The proper thing to do with something one did not want was to throw it away. Today we can keep the language of that historical attitude but the way in which we behave must be different.

The Prime Minister's speech to the Royal Society set the seal of official recognition to the view that we could no longer ignore the effect of the sum total of all mankind's activities on the planet's system. In the eyes of the public that dramatic speech immediately legitimised concerns which could previously be dismissed as being the obsessions of cranks or the scaremongering of the media. It also nailed the colours of the Government firmly to the mast of all green issues.

At the same time we have a situation where the outstanding success of the Government's management of the economy and public finances has provided the country with the means to match all manner of good intentions. The means are there, the Government have expressed good intentions and the public have expectations for action. They will expect action at least as positive as that taken by any other country in comparable circumstances.

The Government are right to insist that attention should be paid to cost and the burdens to be imposed on industry and the consumer. Industry must not be put at an excessive competitive disadvantage. That is another reason why internationally agreed standards are preferable to national or even regional standards. As the Prime Minister said in her speech to the Royal Society: No nation has unlimited funds, and it will have even less if it wastes them". Nevertheless, cost considerations apart, I see no reason to hold back in any field from the adoption of stricter standards. As the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, implied in a most interesting and rather disturbing speech—only marginally less disturbing than that of my noble friend Lord Colwyn—in field after field the worst predictions of scientists regarding the degree, nature and effects of pollution have regularly been confirmed or exceeded.

I accept only from that the prediction that industrial society and/or economic growth will come to an end. It has not happened, it shows no sign of happening and it is a prediction which neither scientists nor environmental lobbyists are qualified to make.

In several fields the Government have committed themselves to new and more exacting standards by setting certain target dates. Many noble Lords have acknowledged that fact. Many of the commitments were entered into as part of European Community agreements. Like the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, I hope that the Government will enforce those standards. As the noble Lord said, there has been far too much illegal pollution of rivers and coasts. Not much has yet been done to reduce river pollution from pesticides and other agricultural sources. Like the noble Baroness, Lady White, I am pleased that the Government are proposing to take at least some action in that field.

I follow my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and my noble friend Lord Radnor who put forward the most radical proposals, in deploring the fact that only very modest progress has been made towards the general use of unleaded petrol. However, one must acknowledge that the amount of lead in leaded petrol has been much reduced. Surely the key is availability. In my experience unleaded petrol is much more widely available in some other countries on the Continent—not those usually selected by the Government for comparison— than it is in this country. I believe that the Government should consider ways in which the process can be speeded up.

I welcome the Bills to privatise water and electricity. They should be beneficial in two ways. First, they will enable the two functions of producer and regulatory authority to be separated. With all his authority my noble friend Lord Crickhowell emphasised the great significance of that change. Secondly, they will release capital investment from the restraints of public expenditure.

I should like to make a plea for a higher valuation to be placed on aesthetic considerations. On purely aesthetic grounds. I believe that the mass conifer plantations have been a monstrous and inexcusable desecration of an incomparable national asset; namely, our beautiful wild scenery. It will be down to our shame in the future that that was ever permitted.

At the outset I said that we were entering a new era. I believe that we are also entering a new era of international conferences. Like my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, I welcome the fact that in March the Government are to host a conference here on ozone depletion and on this subject are leading the demand for the use of CFCs to he further reduced. CFCs are also a major contributor to climate warming which will be the real test for international co-operation. It is no good the Western world on its own adopting more rigorous environmental standards. Much of the manufacture of goods produced for our markets has moved to the Far East. What are the standards in force there'? There are billions of people in Asia and hundreds of millions in Africa and South America who aspire to Western living standards and so to become polluters on a Western scale, quite apart from the extra thousands of beings horn every hour.

Everyone must be brought into these agreements and no one permitted to remain outside. Therefore, I regretted the derogation given to less developed countries in the Montreal Convention. I suggest that undeveloped countries should not be encouraged to consider themselves as a group apart, absolved from the responsibility for the world as a whole. The world has become a small place. For example, it is not purely an internal matter as to what standards of construction are set for nuclear power stations in eastern Europe, or how much of the tropical forest is being burnt each year, or that part of the world has become a breeding ground for disease. However, a lead must be taken by the West because it is the West, including, Japan, which has the resources, experience, technology and capital without which expensive environment friendly policies cannot be adopted by developing countries. If warnings about global dangers threatening the environment are to have any impact, we must start to witness a new age in international co-operation.

7.22 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, today—and this is itself a revolution—the environmental issue is accepted by everyone as being both serious and urgent. It is interesting that no speech today has even begun to challenge that statement. I suggest that 1O years ago that would not have been the case.

However, the environmental issue does not stand alone. It is linked to a number of other issues, each issue important in itself but which takes on a much greater importance and a new dimension because of its relationship to the environmental issue. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, spoke in great detail—I regret that unfortunately I was not in the Chamber at the time but I am well informed—about the relationship between the population explosion and the environmental issue. I have just come back from a short trip to India, to the Marie Stopes International organisation, of which I am a director. Marie Stopes International receives strong support from the Indian Government, has 22 clinics and is opening another five. It does a very useful job but it is a drop in the ocean compared with what needs to be done. As the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, made clear, time is emphatically not on our side. My noble friend Lord Winstanley reminded us that by the time the noble Earl sits down a town the size of Wolverhampton will have come into being since we started speaking today.

However, we have to face the fact that the population problem is urgent, is getting out of hand, needs drastic attention and we have to face the implications. In the West, much as we may love our children, we recognise that economically they are a cost. In India and in the poor countries of the world to a very considerable extent they remain a benefit. As long as that is so. the effect of propaganda for birth control and a limitation on population will not be successful. Therefore, we have to recognise that it is in our interest as much as and perhaps even more than in the interests of the developing and poorest countries that a real attack is made on that level of poverty because in their poverty lies the seeds of our destruction.

For a whole variety of reasons in the past we have urged that more should be done to relieve the poverty of developing countries, but very little has been done. In fact, in many cases the poverty becomes more serious. As long as it remains true that children help out the meagre budgets of those poor families, then more and more children will be born. That is the challenge for our policy towards developing countries.

There is another link issue which I do not believe has been mentioned today. There is abundant evidence that one way in which population control comes into being is through the education of women. I am not making this as a typical feminist contribution, although in a way it is. However, there is no doubt that in country after country as the level of women's education increases population control brought about by the wish of the families and the women themselves begins to become a reality.

I hope that this debate has underlined that time is running out and that particularly the question of population, poverty and women's education need urgent attention and drastic action now. We in this House have a great wealth of experience and knowledge.

I ask the noble Earl whether or not it is possible for a special committee of this House to be set up to look at this issue which we have all said is of such great importance, to see whether or not it is possible to have some kind of a plan of action drawn up at international and national level but also in which ordinary people can take part. For example, reference has been made to the twinning of schools. Could that not be extended far more widely? Could not universities twin with universities in the poorer parts of the world so that at all levels people will be making a contribution to this problem, because if we do not overcome it we need not really worry about any of the other problems.

7.28 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, when my noble friend Lady Nicol receives at home in Cambridge tomorrow the Hansard of today's debate I believe that she will read it with a considerable degree of satisfaction. Knowing her, it will be quiet rather than exuberant satisfaction, but I believe that as she reads through nearly 30 speeches, each of which has shown some degree of expertise in analysing the problems of the environment and some imagination about possible solutions to those problems, she will feel that her initiative is worthwhile. Of course my noble friend will be sorry not to have been able to be here with us but she will read the masterly overview of my noble friend Lord Cledwyn with the admiration that has been so widely expressed.

I believe my noble friend will also feel that the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, made a quite outstanding contribution in his maiden speech when he talked about the need for recycling paper. I recall that it must be 10 years since my own borough of Haringey stopped having a cart pulled behind the rubbish trucks to collect the paper separately. I still endeavour to keep paper separate, even though I know it is going into the same container, because I feel it is important that paper should be recycled. I very much regret that the borough found that it was not economically justifiable to continue to keep paper separate and available for recycling. However, if we look at the amount of paper that comes out of the Palace of Westminster, that at least must justify some separate efforts for recycling. Perhaps, in his reply, the Minister can give special consideration to that point.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, referred to the change in attitude that has taken place over the past 10 years. I acknowledge that; I agree with her. However, it is not the same thing to say that there has been a change in attitude and then go on to say that there has been a significant change in action by this Government or by governments throughout the world. The press and the media generally seem to think that because greater attention is being given to environmental problems there is somehow a difference in public policy between the had old days and the days we are now living through.

In the bad old days, it is generally accepted, governments did not believe scientists when they said that there were environmental dangers in the chemicals that we use, in the food that we eat, in the air that we breathe and in the water that flows through and around our countryside. In the bad old days British governments—and I am speaking particularly of this Government—have been notorious for opposing EC regulations to control pollution in most of the spheres in which the European Commission has attempted to intervene.

In the bad old days—perhaps we can define those days precisely as the days before 27th September 1988 when Mrs. Thatcher is supposed to have made such a dramatic change in environmental policy in our country—we used to cut budgets for environmental protection. Public expenditure generally was cut and expenditure by local authorities, which have many environmental responsibilities, was also cut. The budgets of the research councils and research organisations in our higher education institutions have been cut, as my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos pointed out. The budgets of the inspectorates of pollution and other government bodies concerned with pollution have been cut.

We are to assume that that is no longer the case because somehow the Government have woken up and become a green government as well as a blue government. My noble friend Lord Mason gave eloquent expression to the despair in the coalfield communities at the continuing pollution from opencast coal mining. He reminded us of the work of the Flowers Committee which enunciated so clearly the "polluter pays" principle and pointed out that even in 1981, when the committee reported, the burden of coalfield pollution on local authorities, who were not the right people to be taking up that burden, was substantial indeed. I wonder whether there have been the changes that the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, envisaged. Certainly the speech of my noble friend Lord Mason does not give the impression that those changes have taken place.

The speech of Mrs. Thatcher to the Royal Society was a remarkable speech. I think we must all agree on that. It contained a better scientific analysis of the major issues in pollution than has come from any politician, certainly any Prime Minister, in this country for many years. After all, Mrs. Thatcher is a scientist, although she would be right in claiming that she is a better politician than she is a scientist. Her speech contained a scientific analysis of the problems of the ozone layer. the greenhouse effect and a number of other issues, for which we must all be grateful. She stated in her speech that there is an inter-dependence between the health of the economy and the health of the environment—a statement with which I strongly agree and which I hope to pursue further in looking at the history of politics and the environment since 27th September.

The right honourable lady spoke about the need for sustainable economic development in a way that encouraged me to think that by "sustainable" she meant not only in economic but also in environmental terms. It was, I repeat, a remarkable speech and one which ought to be used as the criterion by which we judge public policy on the environment and on pollution from that time onwards.

Now we must turn to what has actually happened since 27th September 1988. We have had a very effective propaganda campaign led by the Department of the Environment. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has made some outstanding speeches on pollution and on the environment with a conviction that is patent in all that we know of him and read in his speeches. Some of his colleagues in the department have made speeches which read equally well hut, one suspects, the conviction is less wholehearted. The Department of the Environment has been named as the lead department on the environment. Nobody could be better suited to take the lead within the lead department than the noble Earl.

However, let us look at the other departments which are supposed to he led by the Department of the Environment and at the policies they are continuing to adopt. Let us consider whether there really are the signs of improvement that there should be. A number of noble Lords have referred to the continuing failure of the Department of Transport to do anything effective about lead in petrol. As has been said, the United States and Canada have successfully controlled lead in petrol for many years now and several European countries are doing substantially better than us. We need not go so far as the noble Viscount. Lord St. Davids, in suggesting that the internal combustion engine should be phased out, but certainly the department could be making much faster progress with the control of pollution and transport. That applies to public transport policy as well as to the internal combustion engine. If the noble Earl is in charge of the lead department I hope that he will be making stronger representations than have been made so far to the Secretary of State for Transport for that department's co-operation in the campaign.

The Ministry of Agriculture is another notorious backslider on environmental matters. The Ministry was still seeking as late as November 1988 not just to continue existing derogations from European Community regulations about maximum acceptable concentrations of chemicals in our water but actually to have the pesticide parameters, as they call them, reviewed. By that the Ministry mean reviewed downwards —and that is after Mrs. Thatcher's statement that attempts are being made to weaken European legislation.

We have referred to the coalfields but it is pertinent to ask what steps the Department of Energy is currently taking—not conferences held, not proposals being made, but steps actually being taken—to allocate money to provide the scrubbers in our coal-fired power stations which will deal positively with the problem of acid rain. It is no good having vague policies for the future. It is no good having speeches or determinations about what we might do. We must see that money is allocated for that purpose. And that has not happened.

I am not sure that I agree with the noble Earl. Lord Cranbrook, or the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, about the need for a super departmental commission. My experience is that Whitehall would set its fangs into such an organisation with such effect that it would not be as good as the lead department policy which the Government have adopted. Nevertheless, it is clearly necessary that something more must be done if the Prime Minister's wishes on these matters are to be put into action.

In his opening speech the noble Earl had the opportunity to say what positive new actions are being proposed. We did not hear very much. We had a statement as regards the fact that we arc 10 years in advance in the control of CFCs and the announcement on more than one occasion of the London conference in March this year to be attended by the Prime Minister. We are grateful for both of those facts; but it is not exactly a range of policies dealing with environmental pollution, is it?

The prospects for real conversion of government as opposed to a speech from the Prime Minister are not good. My noble friend Lord Cledwyn referred to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution. The problems have got worse because there have been more resignations, and one more resignation in particular since the Royal Society speech; namely, that of the chief inspector. My noble friend Lord Blease drew attention to the problems of the understating of the environmental health departments of local authorities. There is no sign that that situation is getting any better. My noble friend Lord Stoddart spoke about energy conservation and the need for more imaginative policies in that area. I see no sign of them.

My noble friend Lady White referred to the EC regulations and the work of Stanley Clinton Davis who was the commissioner on the environment. I remind the House that it was he who spent most of the last two years of his term of office complaining that the British Government in particular were dragging their feet over support for regulations and the implementation of them. He went so far as to say that as regards water quality, they were actually breaking the law and the EC regulations, apparently with impunity. My noble friend Lord Cledwyn referred to research budgets. There is continuing evidence that such budgets are still being cut and there is no improvement available in that area.

The Water Bill is being claimed as a debating gesture as if it were an environmental improvement. In fact there are very many ways in which the Water Bill, as it is at the moment at the Committee stage in another place, is seriously defective in environmental terms. I do not wish to anticipate either the form in which we shall receive the Bill later this Session or the arguments that will he used. I ask the Minister one question only of the four or five that I could have asked. Section I of the Water Act 1973 proclaims a general duty on the Secretary of State to promote a national policy for water which is to include the conservation of water resources and the restoration and maintenance of the wholesomeness of rivers and other inland water. That is a statutory obligation on the Secretary of State.

That statutory obligation is removed by the Water Bill now before another place. In place of it there is the National Rivers Authority which has comparable objectives. We listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said about it. I accept his sincerity and also that of the Government in trying to give it a proper range of responsibilities. But those are in accordance with standards and objectives set by the Secretary of State from time to time. In other words, the general duty to protect our water moves from being statutory to being non-statutory. If that is an environmental Bill—I choose this as only one example—then I believe that the Government have a good deal more explaining to do when the Bill comes before your Lordships' House.

If this debate had been taking place in Germany at the present time—I am thinking particularly of the recent conferences of the Social Democratic Party (I mean the real Social Democratic Party)—I believe that there would be astonishment, not that we are not concerned with the individual issues (because we are) but because we are so ignorant of the implications of environmental policy for wider economic and taxation policy. My noble friend Lady David referred to the ways in which the Netherlands Government use taxation policy to promote environmental issues.

We are barely making a start on that. Yet it is right that we should be dealing with planning controls; it is right that we should be reaffirming the polluter-based principles; it is right that we should be having legislation. We should also he devoting a substantial part of our budgetary and economic considerations to the issues of the environment. It is not obvious to me at any rate that, in the free market economy proclaimed by the Government, the health of the economy is the same as the health of the environment. The minimalist philosophy that this Government have of government intervention in the economy is simply not good enough in environmental terms. One of the advantages of this debate has been that it has pointed out the gravity of the issues facing this country and our Government.

7.45 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, from my point of view this has been more than just an interesting debate. I am extremely grateful to all of your Lordships who have taken part in it. I know that some noble Lords have felt the constraints of time in trying to get across their points. As I said before, I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, could not be present. I hope she finds that we have covered between us everything that she would have wished to have been said.

Contrary to what the noble Baroness, Lady White, indicated. environmental protection is not a new concern. Since the second half of the 19th century we have been taking steps to control and reduce the polluting effects of industry. Pollution systems have been developed and strengthened during the passage of the present century and now cover many different aspects of the environment. As the problems of pollution change and our understanding of them grows, more stringent controls may be needed to be introduced and the control systems themselves changed.

We have been embarked for some years on a quite unprecedented programme of investment, initiatives and reform in every aspect of environmental protection. I mentioned many of these in my opening speech. Perhaps I may cover some problem areas that have been raised during the course of this debate. though I know now that I cannot possibly cover all the points that your Lordships raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, referred to the United Kingdom's beaches. The noble Lord noted that some action had been taken against the failures to comply with the EC bathing waters directive. I must rebut his first allegation that our beaches are the dirtiest in Europe. No member state fully complies with the directive and the United Kingdom is very far from being the worst culprit. Moreover, the United Kingdom is the only member state with a clear programme for bringing its waters into compliance.

While it is true that complaints have been received from the European Commission as regards several bathing waters, we have furnished the Commission with detailed responses setting out the acts that have been taken to ensure compliance. As regards action by the EC concerning drinking water, the Government announced last year certain changes in the interpretation of the directive and these have so far satisfied the Commission.

Perhaps I may spend one minute talking about Europe because so much of our law now comes from there. I believe that close to 200 European directives affect this country. For some years we did have great difficulty with two European directives; namely, the large combustion plant directive and Phase 2 of Luxembourg; that is the vehicle directive. Both of those matters were resolved at the June Council and the situation as regards cars was confirmed in the November Council.

At the November Council I know of no situation where the United Kingdom solely blocked a directive. It was very much in the lead blocking one draft directive. I had some support, but not much, as regards the draft incinerator directive. I blocked it for one very good reason: namely, that it was not tight enough. It was ironical that, though some countries had been pressing us so hard on the large combustion plants, when it came to something like the incinerator directive they found that they wanted much less strict standards than we could achieve today with present technology. That was quite a revelation both for them and for the Commissioner. We are keen when we sign any directive to make sure that we can implement it. Therefore we shall continue to fight our corner most vigorously if the directive is not based on methods available to us.

In an interesting and detailed speech my noble friend Lord Crickhowell expressed concern about the performance of sewage treatment works and in particular about the way in which performance is measured and assessed. He referred to the look-up table used to assess whether a series of samples complies with consent limits. We are aware of his committee's views on this matter and are in regular correspondence with it. It is quite right for the advisory committee to question the merits of the current system of consent-setting and compliance assessments which it will inherit. We welcome its views. I hope that the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Hatch of Lusby, will take note of what my noble friend said. Perhaps the noble Lords will read it.

We are very much committed to improving performance as quickly as possible by major capital investment, not by moving the goal posts. The record of what has happened on the capital investment side shows that this is exactly where we wish to go. What was interesting was the solid support throughout the Chamber from those concerned with the matter for the need to separate the role of the producer and the regulator. We believe this to be fundamental to being able to tighten up standards. That is what the NRA will be able to do.

I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, about the potential and importance of combined heat and power. He has a very good point especially in relation to energy efficiency. We have provided strong support and encouragement for the development and application of economic combined heat and power technology. The Energy Efficiency Office has supported 25 projects featuring combined heat and power plant and has provided substantial funding of studies into the feasibility of district heating. Perhaps I may draw the noble Lord's attention to the Leicestershire scheme as an example. Privatisation of the electricity industry will provide growing opportunities for private generation including combined heat and power. Our aim is to ensure that all economic sources of electricity supply have fair access to the market. Independent generators will be able to compete on an equal footing with the two major generating companies being created from the CEGB.

While I am dealing with energy perhaps I may draw the House's attention to a statement we made at the Climate Change and Sustainable Development Conference in Toronto in June of last year. We said that in areas of energy, cost-effective measures to promote energy efficiency must be encouraged and emphasis must be placed on realistic energy pricing reflecting the true cost, including any environmental cost to the customers. Already there are signs that our policies are incorporating the environment considerations, as all noble Lords want.

The funding of research was referred to by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. He spoke of cutbacks in the funding and staff of the Natural Environment Research Council. I fear that the noble Lord may have his figures wrong on this occasion. In fact government grant in aid to NERC has increased by more than 30 per cent. since 1979 in real terms. In 1978–79 it was £60.3 million. In 1989–90 it will be £95.6 million. Reductions in particular projects and redundancies reflect changes in priorities made by the management of NERC itself and the ability of the council to win research commissions, not the level of government grants. NERC is competing with other groups wishing to undertake research. The noble Lord also referred to the small reduction in the funding of the NCC this year. The House will he aware that we have increased in real terms the funding for NCC by 150 per cent.; from under £8 million when we took office to more than £40 million next year.

The noble Lords, Lord Henderson and Lord Moran, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, raised the important question of world population. The Government accept the significance of population growth on the health of the world environment and the Prime Minister has drawn attention to this matter. There are obvious limits to the role the United Kingdom can play in this sensitive field. But the ODA is giving greater priority to support for primary health care facilities with special emphasis on mother and child health and family planning. The graph is relatively steady and then curves steeply. If noble Lords look at the graphs on desertification and on loss of topsoil, they will see what a major problem the world has.

The noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, spoke eloquently about the links between environmental factors and health. He said that toxicology is an uncertain science and that the Government should not insist on absolute scientific proof before taking action on environmental controls. The Government are committed to taking a precautionary approach wherever the evidence shows that it is required. I shall be saying more on the specific instance of CFCs in respect of which the scientific evidence was limited when we took our first precautionary action in 1980. My noble friend Lord Colwyn also drew attention to the link between environmental factors and health. As I felt way out of my depth in trying to compete with him, perhaps the best thing I can do is to draw the matter to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health.

My noble friend Lord Kenilworth made an excellent maiden speech about the necessity to reduce litter and to recycle more waste. We pursue such a policy and I am sure that it will come about as the cost of landfill increases and as we introduce national standards more effectively. That will create better opportunities for recycling. Perhaps my noble friend would like to know that just over half the annual tonnage of paper produced by United Kingdom mills is derived from recycled material—4£2 million tonnes of which 2£2 million tonnes is recycled material. A further 400,000 tonnes of recycled paper is exported. The demand for waste by mills is increasing. The DTI will be holding seminars in March and April aimed at increasing the collection of waste paper. In regard to other areas, 65 per cent. to 70 per cent. of our lead is derived from scrap, a higher percentage than the United States, Japan or our European partners. Some 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. of our copper and 33 per cent. of our tin is derived in this way.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy asked about safeguards in the international trade of toxic waste. I totally agree with him. We are at one in trying to make sure that we have the right safeguards. It is important that hazardous waste should be allowed to move from country to country, because one cannot expect one country to have all the necessary facilities. It would be quite inappropriate for Luxembourg to have the necessary facilities. But there must be strict regulation, strict notice and consignment notes to go with it so that it is disposed of in the most environmentally beneficial way. I fear that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy was for once wrong on a point of detail when he mentioned seals. The disease is caused by a natural virus related to the canine distemper virus. There is no evidence to link the present epidemic to pollution.

I should like to return to the subject of waste because it brings in points made by the noble Lords, Lord St. John of Bletso and Lord McIntosh of Haringey. HMIP is not the inspector of non-hazardous waste sites. That is the responsibility of the local authority. As your Lordships will be aware, we confirmed this last week in our latest consultation paper to strengthen the powers of the local authority and to make sure that in HMIP national standards arc applied. That is why we have relatively few inspectors. They are not there to inspect every tip. That is the job of the local authority. The inspectors are there to audit the local authority's work.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, spoke of the importance of' environmental education and welcomed the recent HMI report. I wholly agree with them. Perhaps I may say just how envious I am of my children with the television and school videos which they now have on environmental matters. I wish to goodness that I had had them in my day, rather than having to learn it out of a textbook in a somewhat dry fashion.

My noble friends Lord Cranbrook and Lord Craigton and the noble Lord, Lord Moran, proposed the establishment of a new national environment protection commission or conservation commission and executive to operate in parallel to the Health and Safety Commission and Executive to protect the natural environment or expand the role of the HSC.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, I must point out that I did not propose that; I proposed that the safety commission should have the power to do the job.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I apologise for misrepresenting what my noble friend said, but I think that the point was that there should be a body with an expanded role similar to that of the HSC—if I may put it that way—to control pollutants affecting both man and the environment. My noble friend Lord Cranbrook said that he wanted to include such areas as the NRA. At present the Health and Safety Commission has 3,457 staff and one part-timer. The NRA itself, let alone the N RC, will have 6,500 staff when established. Therefore the establishment which my noble friend wishes to set up will be quite a large one. However, the points raised are important and they raise fundamental questions which we shall need to consider carefully. But, as your Lordships are aware, significant developments are in hand on the role and structure of our pollution control system involving quite large degrees of integration. I shall certainly raise the matter with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Perhaps I may say at this point that I always make a point of talking to all my fellow Ministers to ensure that there is proper co-ordination when we are discussing environmental matters.

There is one point which my noble friend did not exemplify and that is how one settles the continually contradicting advice one receives from one's scientific advisers. That is a matter which would have to be settled. Indeed, the new body would have to face exactly the same problems as we all have to face now.

I turn now to the subject of lead in petrol. The matter was well aired, and rightly so, because it is a most important area. The noble Lords, Lord Blease and Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and my noble friend Lord Reay were concerned about the matter. I hope that none of your Lordships will be driving cars which use leaded petrol in the near future and that noble Lords will set an example in this connection. There are now about 3,000 such petrol stations available and with your Lordships' lead, I hope that the take-up—although it has doubled this year—will be distinctly greater in the future. There is of course the 10.6p differential in favour of unleaded petrol available at present so it is also economically beneficial.

The noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, raised the question of open-cast coal. It is one of the cheapest forms of energy available to this country so it is of national interest and he was right to raise the matter. Last May my department advised the Minerals Planning Authority on the balance which needs to be struck between the benefits of developing this source of low-cost energy and the protection of the environment.

I should like to say a brief word here about CFCs. As I said earlier, we did adopt a precautionary approach back in 1980. In 1987, when we signed the Montreal Protocol agreeing to cut consumption of CFCs by 50 per cent. by the end of the century, the evidence was still not clear. However, as your Lordships are aware we will now meet that cut by the end of this year. Further, I hope that our conference in March will bring many third world countries on to our side and that they will sign the protocol and subsequently ratify it. It has a built-in clause for it to be revised in 1990 and obviously the latest scientific evidence will he taken into account at that time.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, raised the important matter of acid rain. I shall deal in a moment with costs in that connection. However, think it is wise to point out that in such matters as acid rain and vehicle emissions, which some of your Lordships raised, the problem is not quite as simple as one might think. Although one obviously wants to cut down on the amount of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide coming out of power stations, if one is going to use gas desulphurisation it requires limestone. Limestone must come from somewhere and it has to be taken to a new plant —which is quite a substantial plant as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, will know from his experience. Moreover, when the limestone has been transported. if there is a residue there it is either gypsum or sulphuric acid which must be disposed of. Of course one then gets less efficiency and so there will be a small increase in the amount of carbon which is sent up into the atmosphere. Similarly, in order to reach the American standards, we would have to use three-way catalysts. No car could then use petrol which contained lead. But, of course, cars which are on three-way catalysts put about 10 per cent. to 12 per cent. more carbon into the atmosphere, and that is a greenhouse gas which is of a very global concern.

Many of your Lordships want action but only the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, and my noble friend Lord Reay mentioned the costs involved. I fear that to ignore that vital element leads to hope rather than action. In the year 1988–89 total government spending on environmental protection was around £210 million. That sum represents a substantial commitment. The Government follow the principle of "the polluter pays". Therefore the direct expenditure of the Government on environmental protection is largely confined to the cost of the salaries of the policymakers and central pollution control authorities in the environmental research which the Government commission.

The indirect costs of the Government's pollution controls are substantial. Perhaps I may just mention a few of them. We shall be approximately doubling the existing £1 billion programme to reduce pollution from power stations. It will be a £1,000 million programme for improving sewage treatment and disposal works over the next four years. There will he £70 million each year to improve our coastal bathing waters and we are discussing a substantial acceleration of that programme to bring all the beaches up to Community standard by 1995. That is an estimated total cost of another £1 billion. There will also be £850 million per annum added to the United Kingdom annual motoring costs by the imposition of tighter vehicle emission standards. All those costs must be passed on to the consumer.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, perhaps I may interject here with a question. The Minister said a moment ago that the Government follow the principle of "the polluter pays". However, his last sentence ended with the words: all those costs must he passed on to the consumer". How does he reconcile those two statements?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, it is quite simple. We are doing what every other government have done. The costs of the industry will be passed on; it is either done by national taxation, or it is passed on to the consumer.

Finally, as so often happens when discussing such topics, the debate has been informed by the knowledge and experience of your Lordships. It would indeed be foolish to be complacent when so many threats face our environment both in this country and throughout the world. We must resist the temptation to rush towards simple nostrums and glib solutions. The problems are both far too serious and complex for that. We need sound policies based on sound science. There is nothing new in the Government's view about the environment. I hope that I have demonstrated the main actions we are taking. I know that your Lordships will continue to look critically at what we do. I am glad of that, because no less than the future of the world is at stake.

8.9 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords. because of the hour and the important business to follow, I shall be brief, although I should like to take issue with the noble Earl on the way he discussed the figures which I gave. Those figures came from very reliable sources. However, I promise the noble Earl that I shall study what he said very carefully. What he cannot do, although he contradicts the figures, is to contradict what the secretary, the retiring chairman and the chairman of the NERC said about the Government's funding of the work of the council.

Having said that, I should like to thank noble Lords and the two noble Baronesses throughout the House for the contributions which they made. It is clear that this is a subject which stirs the conscience and the imagination of Members of this House and I have no doubt whatever that we shall come back to the subject many times in the future.

I am most grateful to the noble Earl for explaining government policy to us, and I should especially like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, upon a splendid maiden speech.

Noble Lords

It was Lord Kenilworth!

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, in that case, I apologise to both of them. Indeed, the noble Earl also made a splendid speech. However, I was referring to the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, and we look forward to hearing from him again in the future. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.