HL Deb 15 February 1989 vol 504 cc169-71

Baroness Robson of Kiddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will publish a White Paper on the environment.

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

No, my Lords. It is not the usual practice to issue White Papers unless they contain detailed legislative proposals. We are taking a number of initiatives which go much wider than what can be achieved through further legislation.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. But does he not agree that a White Paper is generally taken to be an account of government policy and does not necessarily always contain legislation? There is a precedent in the 1983 government response to the report on coal, which was a statement of policy without any legislation. Would not a White Paper be the perfect opportunity to state to the nation and to this House the environmental concerns that the Government express and the environmental questions that should be answered as regards the integration among environment policy, energy, transport and health? All those matters are integrated. Will the Government consider that?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, rather than a White Paper, I would prefer a Green Paper to answer the points made by the noble Baroness. Many of the matters that she raised were discussed in the debate that we had on pollution last week. The noble Baroness will know that a number of ministerial speeches have been made in the recent past. These have been converted into leaflets about the environment and the Government's policy. They will be available shortly.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, is there not some conflict between what the Minister has just said and what the Secretary of State said on a "Panorama" interview on 14th November when he described legislation as top priority? Even if the Minister does not agree with what the Secretary of State says, does he agree that there are some particularly urgent environmental matters, notably the extension of planning controls to cover agriculture and forestry, which should not be left without legislation any longer?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the last point is a planning and not an environmental matter. However, there is no difference between what I said and what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said. That was a specific point. I believe it probably related to waste. As the noble Lord will realise, there have been three consultation papers on waste. The consultation period on two of them has expired and we are still awaiting the results of the consultation on the third.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords 250 years of environmental indifference cannot be rectified or paid for overnight. Are there not dangers of raising false hopes in this context?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we have an enormous programme of work that will affect the environment from the basics of litter and unleaded petrol right through to enormous expenditure on research on climate change and the CFC conference which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will chair at the beginning of next month. A lot of what we are going to do costs an enormous amount of money. The noble Earl is quite right to say that it cannot all be done at once.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, does the noble Earl accept that some of us would find his statement that no further legislation is contemplated a little more acceptable if the existing legislation were adequately enforced?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I did not say that no further legislation was contemplated. I repeat that legislation is hoped for on waste and integrated pollution control. That is part of the consultation papers which have gone out. As soon as parliamentary time permits, a Bill will be brought before your Lordships.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, I wish to press the Minister a little further on the matter raised by my noble friend Lady Robson. Is he aware that, notwithstanding the Prime Minister's speech to the Royal Society on global environmental issues, which, vitally important as they are, mainly bear on the future, there is considerable concern among many members of the public about the Government's apparent ambivalence with regard to what one might call the more mundane environmental issues that exist in the here and now in this country? Such issues arise, for example, out of land disposals and the concern about continuing public access and enjoyment of the countryside. Is not a clear and comprehensive policy statement now called for from the Government about the environment in all its aspects and the setting up of a body to develop that policy as recommended by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, in the debate on 1st February?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I answered my noble friend. My suggestion was one that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, did not take terribly kindly to at the time. I disagree with the noble Lord. There is no ambiguity in the Government's policy on the environment. We are taking a huge range of initiatives, many of which your Lordships and members of the public could take up by using more unleaded petrol, not dropping litter and making sure that our streets are clean. I do not believe that that needs a White Paper.

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