HL Deb 15 May 1989 vol 507 cc918-20

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

What "green" initiatives have been taken since 1987 and what practical measures are in prospect as a result of the recent seminars on the environment.

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

My Lords, we have taken action in many areas. These include the environmental provisions of the Water Bill, international agreements on CFCs and on air and marine pollution, and our major campaign to persuade motorists to switch to unleaded petrol. We have published proposals for major reform of the law of waste disposal and the control of industrial pollution.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging and comprehensive Answer. Does he agree that two factors are important? First, there should be not merely a European commitment but a global commitment to strategies for the environment. Secondly, is not a strong economy important in being able to do something about the environment? The Green Party talks caringly about the environment but advocates an economic policy which simply could not deliver.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, my noble friend is entirely right that a strong economy makes an enormous difference in being able to carry out the various clean up programmes we have initiated. She is also entirely correct on her other point. We are looking at the convention on climate change. All future activities in major areas must, as with CFCs, take place on a global basis, because we are only a small part of a crowded planet.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, notwithstanding the public pronouncements of the noble Lord and other members of the Government, why are the Government cutting down on essential programmes connected with this vital area? Is it not a fact that the National Environment Research Council has had to cut its scientific staff by 150 as a result of the current budget? Is it not true that the budget of the Energy Efficiency Unit has had to be cut by 5 per cent. as a result of government action? Does the noble Lord not agree that it would be best to act in the public interest and not to seek to make a party political issue of everything?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I was not trying to make a party political point at all. Over the broad range of areas concerning the environment today there will be those where reductions have taken place and others where there have been changes. An example is a doubling of the commitment we made to UNEP at the CFC conference to assist in giving the lead to get a programme to help the world.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, what is the Government's attitude towards initiatives taken in the European Community for improving the environment and dealing with the matters to which this Question refers? One hears that we have been reluctant to join in new initiatives which the EC has recently propounded.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, we believe that a large part of what we can do starts at home. An example of which the noble Lord will be well aware is the £1 billion commitment to cleaning up the power stations. If he cares to put down a specific Question about where he feels we have not been helpful in Europe I shall be more than happy to answer it.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that my stepson, Robert Swan, arrived at the North Pole yesterday leading an international team from eight different countries? The reason for the visit was to express concern about the ozone layer. That is why he did it.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House will wish to join with me in extending heartfelt congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, on the achievement of her stepson.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, has the noble Lord seen the article which appears in today's edition of The Times about the pollution of the River Avon and other rivers? Further, is it true, as stated in the article, that the Government have told the water authorities to cut down on anti-pollution measures in order to increase the assets before privatisation?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I have not seen the article to which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, refers. However, I shall endeavour to search for it very shortly.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we agree when he says that we are but a small part of the world scene of users of CFCs? Is he further aware however that we are one of the major producers of CFCs, not only through our own companies but also through their subsidiaries? Can the Minister tell us what is the programme for phasing out the production of CFCs, as against their use, in this country? Is a date fixed for ending their production?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, is well aware, the big boost as regards CFCs was the meeting held in Helsinki earlier this month at which governments agreed to phase out CFCs as soon as possible, and not later than the year 2000.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that one of the most serious problems at present is the emission of CO2 gas from power stations and elsewhere, which causes global warming? Is he also aware that many people, including myself, believe that the Government are doing practically nothing to solve the problem by means of energy conservation measures and the production of renewable energy? Can he say whether the Government have better plans in this connection?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am most surprised that the noble Lord is unaware of the recent seminar hosted by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister at which global warming was discussed. It was a very important seminar.