HL Deb 16 January 1991 vol 524 cc1180-248

Debate resumed

4 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

My Lords, in returning to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, I should say that I am glad that the noble Lord has initiated this debate which enables us to take another look at these important matters. I support the noble Lord in expressing the hope that the events in 1991 will not lessen our determination to tackle environmental issues. It is one of the most tragic aspects of the turn of events in the Gulf that we are being drained of our resources in that field just when nations in the east of Europe which have recently reclaimed their freedom could do with our support and something similar to a Marshall plan to enable them to ensure that their industries are more efficient and less polluting.

This is a timely debate and it has engaged the interest of many bodies. I have recently received a letter and a memorandum from British Gas. That body is prepared to back a series of expert commentaries so that the general debate shall be informed and open. If we are to legislate in any way for the constraints that will have to be placed upon all of us, that legislation will almost certainly be unpopular. We cannot have our cake and eat it. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that in a free society people should be able to buy their own cars if they wish. Nevertheless, I believe we must do everything in our power to provide such efficient and reliable public transport that people will be encouraged to use it. In my recent travels around Europe I discovered that the European railway services are so reliable that one can set one's watch by the time trains arrive in stations. Therefore, those services are better used than ours.

If it is going to be unpopular to legislate for the proper constraints which will be needed, perhaps the Churches may be able to help in some way as they have a long Judaeo-Christian tradition of stewardship over the world. That tradition stresses that we do not own the world but are merely stewards of it and that we must leave it as a place that will be acceptable to our children and to our grandchildren. We hold the earth in trust. We are to till it, to care for it and to replenish it. That means putting something back when we have taken something out.

The board for social responsibility of the Church of England has produced a code of environmental practice. The tradition of which I speak has always purveyed the idea that we are also part of the natural order, that the flora and fauna have their rightful place in that order and should not be abused for any short-term or ulterior purposes. In that respect we should be extremely worried about the number of species of creatures on this globe which have disappeared in the past 35 or 40 years. That is a cause for great concern.

In the two major reports which have already been mentioned in this House, the Church of England has drawn attention to environmental issues both in the city and in the countryside. A recommendation has emerged from those studies that government of whatever colour when in power should play a more co-ordinated role in environmental matters. So many interests compete with one another for dominance in the countryside. The agricultural industry, light industry, biotechnical experiments, leisure and recreational interests, the conservationists, the home seekers and the building industry all seek to establish their lobbies. The Church would go along with the Council for the Protection of Rural England in asking for a more integrated approach to these matters.

I understand that the Carver Committee called for joint consideration and action in what at present constitutes a rather apartheid-like situation between Whitehall, Brussels, the Department of the Environment and the Departments of Health and Social Security. All those different departments have certain responsibilities. The Common Land Forum of 1986 suggested that we should adopt a more co-ordinated strategy in these matters.

In most rural dioceses the Church has a full-time stipendiary countryside officer combined with a chaplaincy to the agricultural industry. Such a person can promote joint consultations, and ecological and environmental issues are part of his brief. Such a person is assisted greatly by the Church and an environment officer who is situated at the National Agricultural Centre at Stoneleigh.

In my own diocese of Worcester parcels of glebe land are released for sale in order to build two or three houses in an existing village through the process of infilling. There are many instances of this practice elsewhere. Here I should like to commend the concept of the major village which is not to be confused with the developer's dream of a new village. An inquiry into rural public transport was held some years ago. At the time I was the incumbent in a vast number of small parishes on the Wolds of Lincolnshire. We discovered that it was difficult to find a solution to this problem because the communities in question were small and scattered. The problem lay in the fact that a bus linking those communities to the nearest market town would have to cover great distances on narrow roads. That made such a public transport system impractical for people trying to get to work.

Major villages, on the other hand could be gathering points. A major village comprises 800 to 1,000 people with a school, shops, a surgery, a garage, a policeman, a parson, and perhaps a cricket ground where the parson plays cricket. However, a new village comprising 2,000 to 3,000 people established in a rural area and built in its entirety in a matter of two years seems to me to be a recipe for closing schools, shops and other amenities in all the villages around it.

I hope that the Government will consider this matter and perhaps question the wisdom of some of the new villages that have been proposed. They are an urban intrusion into the rural scene. They render surrounding roads inadequate. They have the disadvantage of constituting rural housing estates without character or soul. They are a kind of suburbanisation of the country.

I greatly hope that many of those who are involved in this matter will gain from this debate the assurance that Her Majesty's Government will give new consideration to what can be done to co-ordinate a consistent, flexible strategy for environmental issues in both urban and rural communities.

4.10 p.m.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, I have seen the courtesy which prevails in this House, and most especially towards one speaking for the first time. I had originally intended to make my maiden speech on the anniversary of my grandfather's, which was in April 1950, and in a debate similar to the one in which he took part. That happened to be on the "Quality of Bread and Biscuit-Making Flour", but as I no longer make biscuits I thought that this debate on the environment was more appropriate. There are two types of environment. First, the industrial; and, secondly, and every bit as important, the rural environment. As I am fortunate enough to live in one of the most beautiful and unspoilt parts of the country, the Scottish Borders, I intend to limit my comments to the rural environment.

I represent Scotland on the European Landowning Organisation in Brussels, and at a recent council meeting it was generally agreed that, whether landowner or farmer, or indeed both, we are all now land managers, and it is the land manager who is responsible for protecting and indeed improving the rural environment. We land managers are conscious of the responsibilities that we have and share with all sections of the population, and it is essential that future environmental policies must take into account the vastly increased pressure on farming incomes.

I should like to give a few examples which show only too clearly the serious plight of the land manager. In my capacity as Scottish representative to the ELO I had the honour to invite its president, Guilio Pascucci, to come to Scotland on a fact-finding mission. Many of your Lordships may remember him from his days in the Italian diplomatic corps. We were able to travel the length and breadth of Scotland and we shared many fascinating, eye-opening experiences. I shall never forget how hard it was to convince him that 1,000 ewes grazed 3,000 acres of barren Glenshee mountain face. That farmer just before Christmas last year sold his black face lambs at Stirling market for £6.20 each—£6.20, my Lords! I wonder how many of us had the chance to visit a butcher's shop during the Christmas recess. I did, and one leg of lamb cost very nearly £20.

Likewise, last year that farmer received less for his wool than he did in 1951. In our part of the world most of us sold the majority of our harvest for 50p. a tonne less than we did in 1981. No other business has to put up with such an extraordinary set of rules. If I may, I think for a moment it is worth dwelling on how this has come about.

In the late '70s we were told that more food was required; drain the wetlands and here is a grant, and many of us had to borrow the shortfall. That is why indebtedness by United Kingdom farming today is at a staggering £6.87 billion, and last year alone over 6,000 farmers went out of business. Suddenly in the late '80s we are told that enough is enough, stop, set it all aside and here is £80 an acre to do so. In the light of these examples I am sure that your Lordships appreciate how no room is left for profit, let alone any money for protecting or indeed improving the rural environment.

However, many of us have tried, and since 1985 2,800 miles of new hedgerows have been planted, which brings the total distance of hedgerows in England and Wales to 310,000 miles, or in other words enough hedgerow to circumnavigate the world 12 times. I think that this compares favourably with 1,700 miles of motorway. Likewise, between the years 1982 to 1986 no fewer than 29 million trees were planted on 46,000 different farms. It is often forgotten that many cherished features of our countryside were created by land managers over the generations, and the fact that there is now such a public outcry only goes to echo the concern that many of us have had for years, if not centuries.

Ten per cent. of all agricultural land is now part of an environmentally sensitive area, or part of a SSSI, and what a great step forward that is. But what worries me and so many of my colleagues living in the countryside is how we are to fund this continuing protection of the rural environment. We have little or no income. Few of us are able to rent out cottages for hundreds of pounds a week. In rural areas there is a limit as to how much one can diversify or adapt traditional farm buildings. If we go on allowing the dereliction of the countryside to continue we shall receive no thanks from a nation which finds itself with a countryside yielding no produce, no profit and, where this debate is concerned, no pleasure from the environment. Of course I am aware of the existing grants available, whether they be for forestry, small woodlands, set aside, or whatever, but, as government figures only go to prove, the levels of payment are far from adequate.

I hope by some of the examples that I have given that I have painted a sufficiently gloomy picture of the rural environment. I strongly support Lord Ezra's Motion. I hope too that the Government will look most carefully at how the continuing protection of the rural environment can be funded so that we land managers can have enough money both to live and to help protect and conserve the rural environment, which would give us a quiet conscience as to how we manage the land in the late 20th century, and also so that we can pass on a rural environment in which our children and grandchildren will be proud to live.

If we accept that ultimately it is the land manager who is responsible for the rural environment, I suppose that we ought to take heart from the agriculture Minister's pledge at the Conservative Party Conference last October: Under the Conservatives the future of food and farming will be secured, and I give this unequivocal pledge: this Government and this Minister will never let British farming down. My Lords, it may well be too late, but for all our sakes let us hope and pray that it is not.

4.17 p.m.

Lord Ross of Newport

My Lords, it is my good fortune, as a comparative newcomer to this hallowed place, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, on what I think we all agree was a quite extraordinarily excellent maiden speech. It was timed to perfection and also delivered with great clarity, which is something I have never been able to do myself. I understand that the noble Lord's forbears have represented the Liberal cause in the other place and that he possesses many other excellent credentials, one of which of course is that he resides in a wonderful part of the world, the Scottish Borders. His knowledge will be helpful to us in future debates. As he told us, he represents Scottish landowners in Europe.

I hope I am right in saying that the noble Lord is also an office bearer in the Historic Houses Association. I gather that he has a sizeable house—I am sure it is a beautiful one—in the Borders, with valuable parkland. He is a practical farmer who has worked very hard to get his farm viable, and of course like so many farmers at the present time he is facing real problems. I used to farm myself; many people in this House farm and know agriculture well. I am sure that when the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, speaks in this debate he will have something to say on the crisis in agriculture. However, the noble Lord gave us his examples, and they are very real. I know that calves that were selling for £120 a year or two ago are now making about £30. This is the sort of thing that is now happening to farmers in this country. I am sure that we shall all want to hear from the noble Lord again, and soon. We have much sympathy in this House for the problems he so clearly portrayed to us.

I want, in my shortened contribution, to place on record my own appreciation of the time and help offered to the conservation movements in this country, and more particularly those concerned with the flora and fauna aspects, by the current Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Mr. David Trippier.

In my position as chairman of Wildlife Link I know firsthand of his ready willingness to speak and to answer questions. In order to attend our recent conference held towards the end of November in York, he had to get up at some unearthly hour. He was willing subsequently to come and discuss with representatives of our membership—which numbers more than 46 and includes all the large organisations such as the National Trust and the CPRE—how we can together build on the various statements of policy outlined in the Government's White Paper, and take on board other aspects which were either totally ignored in that paper or treated with inadequate commitment.

Mr. Trippier has gone to considerable lengths to improve relationships with the NGOs which were hardly ecstatic about This Common Inheritance when it was originally published. I realise that it is always easy for political opponents who do not hold departmental responsibilities—and it is unlikely that I shall ever do so; or if I do, it will have to be soon—to be critical of the lack of commitment by governments on issues when one is not under constant pressure from those with vested interests. No doubt they are trying to maintain a status quo built up by powerful lobbies and MPs with constituency interests.

Transport is a typical subject that comes immediately to mind. The roads lobby is powerful; it represents an industry which is both efficient and very competitive. It is only right that all its views should be considered seriously. Nevertheless, reductions in traffic densities are essential. We cannot go on putting more vehicles on our overcrowded roads and allowing CO2, emissions to increase by 20 per cent. by the year 2020. Even to stabilise output of CO2, at 1990 levels by 2005 will take far more drastic action than is currently proposed through fuel efficiency targets.

There must be a comprehensive transport policy for the United Kingdom. Political parties of all descriptions will have to co-operate in its structure and implementation because it will not be popular. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, made this point and I agree with him. Regrettably, a wonderful opportunity to tackle, traffic congestion was lost in 1983 when, with their huge majority, the Government could have brought in drastic measures and given them time to work through. It would have been unpopular, but they could then have gained the plaudits for doing so which would eventually have come their way when the public appreciated the improvements which flowed.

Instead, we even set about putting at risk those few integrated public transport systems which had been introduced often at great expense. I refer to the Tyne and Wear metro. I hope that our new Secretary of State will be both bold and decisive. He will deserve our support if he does so; but we have left it very late. There has been one Minister in the Ministry of Transport since 1979 who did a great job. Everybody thought that and all I can say is, "Please, Lynda, come back soon"!

There ought also to be a national forestry policy as proposed by the House of Commons Select Committee on Agriculture but regrettably rejected by the Government. We wish to see more research on the impacts of forestry, especially relating to freshwater and soil conservation. Indicative forestry strategies should be integrated with regional and county structure plans, and community woodlands established on fertile lowland soils. A start is being made but it will be expensive. The Midlands forest will cost £100 million.

I was particularly struck at the conference in York to which I referred by the contribution of Mr. Rob Jarman of the British Association of Nature Conservationists. I can only hope that his very detailed paper receives serious consideration at the Department of the Environment, dealing, as it did, not only with transport and forestry but also with agriculture, energy and the problems facing wildlife in the United Kingdom.

Canford Heath was mentioned at Question Time. I hope and pray that it is not too late to stop the building of executive-type homes on the 23 acres. We do not want any more executive-type homes in the Bournemouth area at the moment; we want social housing but I do not wish it to go on Canford Heath. There are at risk the sand lizards and other rare species, particularly the Dartford warbler and smooth snakes.

We are being criticised for this, as we were quite rightly last week at the Berne convention. I hope that the report in the newspaper was true and that the Department of the Environment is seeing what can be done in the matter. I accept that the new Planning and Compensation Bill will prevent the situation where local authorities can give themselves planning consent on land which they own and thereby create substantial wealth. That is wrong and must be stopped; the Bill will do so.

Such conservation issues require a sustained programme of education which must demand more resources if the requisite information is to be made available to those with the power to make decisions. We in Wildlife Link have recently sent a paper on the subject to the department. We drew up an environmental education charter for the 1990s and we have updated it in the light of the White Paper. In the supplement we acknowledge that This Common Inheritance represents an extraordinary mission statement for environmental educators and trainers at all levels in our society. It is the first real commitment to environmental education and training by Her Majesty's Government. It provides the basis on which voluntary organisations, business and local authorities can work with each other, as well as lobby the government sector. I quote those words to show that we are not always critical of government action or inaction. We think that the White Paper has set a scene which, with co-operation, can develop into policies that we can take with some hope into the next century. It will, however, to my mind mean a move away from all our confrontational politics into far greater cross-party political co-operation. Perhaps a foretaste of that is the willingness of the new Secretary of State to try to reach a common position on local authority financing much welcomed by my colleagues on these Benches.

In my summary at our York conference I said that I felt more desperate than ever about the need for constitutional reform in the United Kingdom. If we are to deal adequately with the tremendous issues and construct a comprehensive environmental strategy in Britain, that cannot come soon enough.

I finish by paying tribute to the work of the RSNC and the county trusts. They do a wonderful job with very few professionals and many volunteers who do excellent work. They will have to continue to be supported. I have no time to go further but the papers that they recently produced are well worth studying. I apologise to the noble Baroness since I may not be here when she winds up. I hope that she will forgive me.

4.26 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, on a wonderfully competent and well-informed speech. In a complex world there is a natural desire to find simplicity and order. That is true of the great environmental issues that confront us, but we should recognise the risks. The relationships are complex, whether they be between the actions we take and the results they produce, or in terms of the organisations with which we seek to solve our problems. A few examples will illustrate the point.

Those of us who live in national parks welcome the protection they bring, but we see almost daily the damage being done to the environment in those parks by the concentration of visitors that they tend to stimulate. In visits over the past two years to the game parks of East Africa, I have observed a similar set of dilemmas.

To take an example of a different kind, the recent decision to ban the dumping of sewage sludge in the North Sea was taken for good reasons. However, there are risks that, unless the greatest care is exercised, we shall as a consequence suffer environmental damage on land or in the air.

In the face of such dilemmas and contradictions, the demand for organisations with comprehensive and wide-ranging powers to be given the task of reconciling conflicts of objective is understandable, but we need to be a little cautious. Organisational relationships can be almost as contradictory and complex as those in nature. Environmental agencies with wide-ranging powers do not necessarily solve the contradictory demands placed on them. Those demands may simply be buried in an internal debate. The EPA in the United States has its admirers, but its enforcement record is startlingly uneven from state to state. It has so far completely failed to make satisfactory progress with integrated pollution control.

The solutions adopted for IPC in this country were far from perfect. However, they have one virtue: their implementation will be by means of a memorandum of agreement between HMIP and the NRA, an agreement that is the result of long and vigorous argument and debate. There is a good deal to be said for finding solutions by argument between people with different responsibilities: unexpected truths tend to emerge from such a process.

My experience, then, makes me cautious in the face of the flood of demands for a rapid widening of organisational responsibility and the putting together of a large number of diverse organisations. There is much to be said for the step-by-step approach, and the Government have taken some very big steps forward. More certainly needs to be done, however, not least in devising economic charging policies, in strengthening the planning regime where it affects the environment, in making effective the measures designed to deal with contaminated land, in sorting out the very unsatisfactory chaos of responsibilities for coastal waters —a subject about which I know my noble friend Lord Mills intends to speak—and, not least, in developing a national strategy for agricultural waste management based on adequate environmental impact assessment.

However, before we take further steps and set up a comprehensive environmental enforcement executive on the lines outlined by the Labour Party or, most recently, by Professor O'Riordan and Professor Weale in a Friends of the Earth paper, we really must make up our minds exactly what we want to achieve. The right way forward is not to produce an organisation and then work out what it might do; the right way is to decide exactly what you want to do and then tailor your organisational structure to achieve it.

There is no point in throwing bodies together because they come under the general heading "environmental". For example, I think it would be a great mistake to chuck in alongside the agencies responsible for the control of pollution the conservation agencies concerned with wildlife and the countryside, together with some of the health-related organisations.

In the case of the NRA it is important to remember that it is not just an environmental enforcement agency. It is also a major manager of water resources. Its functions are inter-related and need to be managed together. I believe that there should be no fragmentation of the existing responsibilities of the NRA, but that would pose problems if it were to be incorporated in a much wider environmental protection agency. In our submission to the Government while they were preparing their White Paper, we posed the question: is it possible to modify the relationship between HMIP and the NRA and the other organisations responsible for the protection of air and land in a way that would eliminate many of the existing complications while retaining the practical advantages of separation?

We suggested that a possible route would be to create an agency with a small board and with the support of a unit for strategic policy development and R&D and external affairs, which would have four divisions, each with its own subsidiary board. The divisions would be, first, an integrated pollution control division, largely based on HMIP and with responsibility for determining the balance of discharges to land, air and water. It would consult and agree with the other three divisions on the levels of discharge permissible to the receiving media; but the responsibility for monitoring and enforcement of authorisations to land, air and water would be with the other three divisions.

There would be a division largely based on the NRA, which would have a similar range of responsibilities to those which it has at present. The NRA would he responsible for monitoring and enforcing all discharges to controlled waters. There would be an air division—this would be a new division—established to protect and enhance the atmospheric environment. It would be a policy body and would have operational responsibility for monitoring, enforcement and development, although much might be delegated to local government and other organisations.

There would be a land division: again, this would be a new division, established to protect and enhance the land environment. It would be a policy body and it too would have operational responsibility for monitoring, enforcement and development, although much again might possibly be delegated to local government and other organisations. As I have already indicated, we would not include the conservation councils in this set of responsibilities. Our proposal would maintain basic structures but would bring them together in a way that would remove conflicts and in an organisation that we believe would be a manageable entity.

I would add just a couple of other points. Noble Lords should understand that one consequence of a more comprehensive and effective approach and increased regulation will be increasing resistance by those who find these constraints or the inevitable costs frustrating or damaging. At times I find the actions of the new water plcs extraordinary and rather depressing. They seem to believe that they should resist every proposal made to take things further forward. I must say I have noticed a markedly different attitude in many major British industrial companies such as ICI and Shell, for example. Shell, after all, had a major setback early in the life of the NRA and has seen disasters round the world. It has been taking a most positive view that it should be ahead of the regulators and ahead of the demands, knowing in fact that those demands will grow and strengthen over the years and that if there are to be revised programmes later compliance will be even more difficult and costly.

I am sure that is a sound approach, because the demands for environmental improvement will rightly continue and the task before us is huge. The way forward is to identify objectives step by step, and to build on solid foundations already laid. A comprehensive environmental strategy will not be produced simply by saying that we want one or by throwing together the agencies. We do not want great bureaucracies. We do want a widespread acceptance inside government that the protection of the natural environment is among our highest priorities and that we all have a role to play in husbanding finite resources.

4.36 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, I find it rather frustrating that the House should have decided that only the speaker who follows the maiden speaker shall congratulate him. In the light of the brilliant speech we have just heard, I would merely ask the Government to do a special job in thanking the noble Lord for his notable and brilliant contribution. I believe I am still in order in making those remarks.

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, said that this was a non-party debate, and I very much echo the desirability of its not being unnecessarily partisan. Nonetheless, the Opposition would be failing in their duty if they did not criticise certain aspects of government policy. My noble friend Lady Nicol did so very well and with moderation. However, it is worth noting that there is a great deal of common ground. We have gone a long way and the Government are entitled to be congratulated on their White Paper and on their policy, despite the reservations that some of us have with regard to them. I would ask the noble Baroness, who is a friend to all of us and knows all of us because we talk about the environment—she must be tired of hearing us going on about this—to read the Labour Party policy. It is a moderate policy. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, would, I believe, agree with a great deal of it.

Of course, as with all everything, it is a matter of cash. We are all handicapped in that respect. But much has been achieved and I pay tribute to Mrs. Thatcher who widened discussion on the environment, notably in international fields and particularly relating to the Antarctic. Much of the good scientific work there, which is important to the environment, has been supported by her personally: it is only fair to recognise that. I do not wish to get too much out of line; I do not want to upset my colleagues. Let me make it clear that I do not agree with all Mrs. Thatcher's policies. But she did a very notable job there and it is right that tribute should be paid.

The noble Baroness will not be surprised if inevitably I return to the subject of the Nature Conservancy Council and my concern about the continuation of its work and about the new challenges and opportunities on site safeguard where the recent work of the Wildlife Trust has shown a worrying and continuing degree of loss in connection with the wider countryside. We heard about that from the noble Lord in his maiden speech.

The challenges are almost too alarming for us to cope with, but it is essential—and here I should like to quote a remark, although I have not asked his permission, from Max Nicholson—that the successor to the Nature Conservancy Council maintains the high ground of a sound and well-researched science base and hands-on experience of site management.

I ask the Government to take that remark seriously. The noble Baroness has done a good job in helping to interpret our activities and give effect to them. However, we have continuing doubts about the effect of the government reorganisation. I shall not repeat the trenchant criticisms made by many noble Lords. I accept that we now have to do our best to make the new system work.

We take note of the appointment of the new Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland, whose membership has been well received. There is much that is good. However, are Ministers really satisfied that with a budget of less than £4 million the Joint Nature Conservation Committee will be able to do the job that it wants to do? It is estimated that that sum is about £2 million short of what is required. That is a key element. It is important to sustain central capability.

The Government went a long way to accept the views of the committee chaired by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, on the subject. However, the JNCC needs the necessary resources if it is to perform effectively its wide range of special functions and take a pro-active international role. "Pro-active" has come into our vocabulary rather strongly lately. Noble Lords know what I mean by it. I mean an effective and initiating role, especially in European affairs and in particular with the European Commission on the habitats directive. I hope that the Government will recognise that having accepted the recommendations which have been put forward—and the Government have sometimes shown, rather reluctantly, a willingness to listen, and I again excuse the noble Baroness from any criticism—there is a need to make the arrangements effective. That means that the money must be made available. Will the noble Baroness indicate in her reply how far she thinks that we are able to meet the requirements of the joint committee?

The Government should take a more positive view of marine research. There is a tremendous amount to be done. I hope too that the Government will encourage the development of environmental education and that they will bear in mind that the Natural Environment Research Council has a worldwide responsibility. Under its present leadership, again with a shortage of cash, the council is doing as well as can be expected.

There are a number of issues: many will be raised in the debate. I am sure that the Government will not be able to answer all the points. It is essential that we maintain the science base. It is crucial that we have a scientific basis for all that we do regarding the environment. I am grateful to the noble Lord for introducing what is likely to be a very interesting and creative debate.

4.43 p.m.

Lord Walston

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for enabling us to have this important and well-informed debate. I hope that he will not take it ill if my opening remarks appear to be somewhat unsympathetic towards the cause that he has at heart. I can assure him that that is not true, but it is an attempt on my part to put matters into a slightly different perspective.

During the weekend I took a walk through a neighbouring wood, as I frequently do. It is a most attractive wood of 20 acres or so. It is uncultivated, unproductive, and in the spring and summer it is full of wild flowers. When walking in the wood now one is somewhat impeded by fallen tree trunks. It is not a wood that a forester would be proud of, nor is it productive in the economic sense of the word. I hope that it will remain that way, because it gives great pleasure to a very small number of people, of whom I am fortunate to be one.

In that wood there is an earthwork which I am told may well be ancient British. As I was walking and considering this debate, my mind turned to the question of what life would have been like had we not been able to make the progress which we have made over those two or three thousand years since the earthwork was created. One has to admit that we have made that progress by desecrating the countryside, fighting against nature, taming nature, killing off the wolves which ravaged the flocks, digging quarries which enabled us to build our cathedrals, cutting down old oak trees which enabled us to resist the Armada with our ships, digging coal and iron ore which enabled us to create the industrial revolution on which our present standard of living is based.

It is all very well for us, enjoying all the benefits of that desecration, to sit back now in our overheated and too well-lit houses and say, "Let us put a stop to this". It is not the subject of this debate and so I shall not digress for more than a very short time on the point; but I have in mind the problems of the Brazilian rain forest. Are we right to expect people in those forests to accept a fantastically low standard of living, to submit to a series of diseases and to deny them the assets which we enjoy simply so that the environment can be protected for our benefit, not for theirs? That is a question that we should ask ourselves.

We should ask ourselves the same question on a somewhat more domestic scale. Are we entitled to put so much emphasis on the conservation of the environment as we know it and as we have learnt to enjoy it when there are, even in this country, people whose standard of living is very low? Are we entitled to do so when there are people who do not have adequate housing, and people who would like to have a place in the country with a little bit of green around them but cannot because planning regulations do not allow it while we, sitting comfortably in our country houses or our town houses, are not subjected to the same discomforts? Are we entitled to refuse permission to enable factories to be built in rural areas, even at times on sites of special scientific interest —though I would not condone that—when there are people crying out for work, particularly in rural areas? Those are all questions which we have to ask ourselves.

I am a very ardent and sincere supporter of the general environmental attitudes. I believe in the importance of conserving things of scientific interest, things of beauty and things of value, not only in material ways, in this country. However, we must not forget that there is a considerable cost in doing so. That cost is often paid by our fellow citizens in this country.

Having said that, I should like to spend a few minutes on more practical aspects. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and others, mentioned the pollution created by motor cars. Although we are all users of motor cars, we cannot but agree with him. However, if the Government are sincere about the importance of preserving the environment, they must step in and encourage more people to travel by public transport and to use their own motor cars less frequently.

That will mean the expenditure of government money. It will mean subsidies. It will mean interference with the free play of the markets, and so on. But if we are sincere about preserving the environment, that must be done. If the general public is sincere in its desire to preserve the environment, it must be prepared to pay for it. It is the same with electricity and so many other benefits that we take for granted. We take for granted that all offices must be kept at a temperature in the region of 68°F. That may be comfortable if one wants to work in short sleeves. However, if the temperature were to be reduced from 68°F to 58°F and one put on an extra pullover or two, one would be no less comfortable. The saving in fuel would be considerable, as would the reduction in pollution. But it means interference with the soft life to which we have grown accustomed.

The only point that I wish to make here is that the whole of our present way of life—civilisation, if one wishes to call it that—to which we have grown accustomed and which on the whole we enjoy is the result of centuries and generations of interference with the environment and indeed its destruction. Some of that interference has been done in a reasonable and controlled way; some of it has been done in a vandalistic way. Let us continue to interfere with the environment, but let us make sure that when we do so it is done in a socially acceptable manner, which takes full account of the beauties and importance of the countryside as it is today.

4.51 p.m.

Lord Bridges

My Lords, as the first to speak from these Benches after my noble friend Lord Palmer sat down, I should like to join other noble Lords in congratulating him on a remarkable maiden speech. As he spoke I thought of the couplet by the 17th century poet Andrew Marvell, who wrote: How vainly men themselves amaze To win the palm, the oak, or bays". If I remember correctly, my noble friend's family motto is pro truce ad palmam. My noble friend certainly won the palm this afternoon.

The Motion before the House today invites us to examine environmental policy in a very broad way. Personally I welcome that all-embracing approach. My own contribution to the debate will concentrate upon the general principles of this subject.

It is true that we are all environmentalists now. That is one of the great changes in public opinion that has occurred in this country in the past 20 years. But it is important to know what kind of environmentalist one is and, more particularly, what kind one is not. The range of opinion is extremely wide between those at one end of the spectrum who regard green issues as deserving precedence over all others, whether they be defence, social security or anything else, and those at the other end of the spectrum who relate environmental questions to a subsidiary function of the market. But there are many people in between—I think they include the noble Lord, Lord Ezra—who regard the environmental situation as serious indeed and as one which requires policies that need to be pursued with some urgency to attack all the main issues, but not to the exclusion of everything else under the sun.

I have some sympathy for that general approach but I must admit to feeling slightly uneasy at the use of the word "comprehensive", which calls to mind some of the less fortunate initiatives of the Commission of the European Community in Brussels. When the Commission uses adjectives such as "comprehensive", "integrated", "structural" and so on, those words tend to become associated with the bureaucratic, the complicated and the expensive. I am sure that that is not what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has in mind and I suspect that I am not alone in finding the word "comprehensive" a slight barrier to total enthusiasm.

I do not believe that environmental policy is at all a simple matter. I should like to offer the House some general considerations which I think might have some bearing on the subject. I suggest that the greatest difficulty that we have in handling environmental questions in this country is that they do not fit our own political and administrative style.

Our general approach to the current issues of the day is pragmatic and we take some pride in that. We look at the problems, assess the evidence with some care and base our policies on the practical solutions that occur to us. But environmental evidence tends to be not very conclusive. That is true in the field of climate change, for example. Accurate records, even in Western Europe, are little more than a century old, which makes it difficult to come to confident conclusions about what is happening. Many people fear that if we wait until the evidence is conclusive and indisputable, it may then be too late to do very much about the problems.

So environmentalists argue with some good reason that we should act on what is called the precautionary principle—that is to say, that action be taken before we have the standards of proof or probability that we normally require. But it is not easy for democratic governments to act on the precautionary principle. It may be difficult to adopt policies which public opinion is not ready to accept and which may demand considerable sacrifices. I conclude, therefore, that a wise government, if they want to have a sound environmental policy, may have to lead public opinion more than they customarily like to do. That may be the position in which our Government find themselves.

A further general difficulty is that the environmental considerations themselves may be in conflict. There is a current example of that in the decision to stop the dumping of sewage sludge at sea. The scientific case for that ban is thought to be somewhat less than convincing. The main reasons for accepting it are political (it is not greatly liked by the public) and precautionary (we cannot be entirely sure of what the long-term effect of dumping sludge at sea will be). It now appears that the most likely way to dispose of that sludge will be by incineration, which will increase quite substantially the volume of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. Thus we gain some greater purity of the sea, which may not be needed, at the expense of increasing atmospheric pollution, which we certainly do not want. The environmental considerations are in conflict.

Moreover, the evidence may turn out not to be wholly reliable. Such a case, and an interesting one, occurred in the 1970s over the proposal to build the third London airport at Foulness off the Essex coast. It was believed, and convincingly argued by ornithologists at the time, that the project would grievously harm a winter migrant to these shores—the Brent Goose, which depends on a particular grass called eel grass (zostera, I believe, is its botanical name) that grows on the salt marshes of the Essex coast. The project was abandoned largely for other reasons but we can now see that the evidence in that case was not correct. The Brent Goose has multiplied on the Essex coast in an unexplained and unexpected way to such an extent that the supplies of eel grass have largely been used up. Instead, the Brent Goose finds the winter wheat which grows in some abundance on the fields nearby just as good to eat, much to the dismay of the local farmers. Thus, the evidence that we had every reason to credit 20 years ago turns out to have been misleading.

For all those general reasons we find it difficult to frame a total environmental policy, but clearly the effort is very necessary. What are the essential elements of such a policy? My list would include the following. First, there should be a high priority in the Government's programme. Next comes the allocation of resources to make the programme effective. To some extent that can be done without spending money. It can be done by making sure that the human resources are sufficient in terms of skill, numbers and time. But money is also needed. Like every other area of government policy, environmental decisions need adequate finance in order to be effective.

Thirdly, we need the maximum amount of public support. I should expect that to be forthcoming if the necessary effort were put into the task. The last essential element is that our environmental policy must be international if it is to be effective. In our case that means concerted activity within the European Community but also in the wider Europe, bearing in mind the grave pollution problems of Eastern Europe, the other OECD countries and the third world, whose development plans we must encourage along the right path. I do not know whether those elements will themselves form a comprehensive policy but I suggest that they are points which need to be included.

I, too, found the Government's White Paper published last year a valuable and interesting document. In general it relies too much on encouragement and recommendation to other bodies. I hope that as the Government's policy develops it will be possible not only to provide funds to fill some of the gaps mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, but also to introduce other systems—for example, the granting of allowances for tax purposes in respect of essential investments, whether by the individual in his home or by industry. If more resources are made available, the Government's policy will be even more valuable and effective.

5.1 p.m.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, I must first apologise to the noble Baroness because I shall be unable to stay until the end of the debate due to a prior engagement. My noble friend Lord Ezra pointed out that we are now deeply conscious of global warming and the greenhouse effect. We are also deeply conscious of the dangers of CO2, emissions to life on earth as we know it. My noble friend referred to the need for the introduction of energy efficiency because that is the best way of dealing with the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that there is no disagreement between the political parties. I was therefore delighted to read that in Montreal in September 1989 Mr. John Wakeham said that energy efficiency is the single most cost-effective way of combating the problems caused by carbon dioxide. Those are almost the exact words that were used in the sixth report of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology published in November 1989.

When the Environmental Protection Bill was passing through this House I made an effort to include a provision dealing with energy efficiency. Unfortunately, the Government were unable to accept my amendment. Since the establishment of the Energy Efficiency Office in 1983 they have constantly accepted the fact that it is possible to make a 20 per cent. saving in energy usage if consumers take up easily attainable and economically attractive opportunities for energy saving. It was therefore with great sadness and with some astonishment that some time ago your Lordships learnt that funding for the Energy Efficiency Office had been halved. At that time the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, told the House that that was done because the office had been such an outstanding success. That is an odd reason for halving the funding.

We must also be aware of what the energy efficiency industry says about the problem. It paints a completely different picture which is relevant to the reduction of the funding of the Energy Efficiency Office. The industry claims that since 1988 there has been a decline in cavity wall insulation by 49 per cent.; in double glazing by 34 per cent.; in heating controls by 20 per cent.; and in improvements to boilers and radiators by 25 per cent. In other words, during the past year UK investment in basic energy saving methods has fallen by an average of 12 per cent.

It was therefore with some pleasure that in 1990 we were told that there has been an increase in the funding of the Energy Efficiency Office of approximately £12 million provided through the homes energy efficiency scheme. However, in reality that is not new funding; it is a transfer of funds from the Department of Employment's insulation of low income household schemes to the Energy Efficiency Office. The energy efficiency budget is in real terms 18 per cent. below that of 1986. Where do we go from here? Without doubt the Energy Efficiency Office needs a large input of extra finance. It has been suggested that its funding should be trebled.

I wish to refer to Question asked by my noble friend Lord Ezra on 25th June 1990 which appears in col. 1263 of Hansard. It relates to one of the most efficient ways of saving electricity; that is, the introduction of combined heat and power. Without a doubt that is one of the most efficient ways of reducing CO2 emissions from energy consumed. At present there is only one district scheme in existence in this country, apart from those used in a few industrial plants. In replying to my noble friend, the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, asked us to take comfort from the fact that combined heat and power currently contributes 3 per cent. of electricity demand and that that could double during the next decade. He did not say that it would double but that it could double during the next decade. All that is set against the estimate that heat lost from UK power stations is sufficient to heat almost every home in Britain. It does not appear to me to be enough to be satisfied with a doubling of demand during the next decade. I believe that from now on combined heat and power schemes should be used in all major new developments. But for even that to happen local authorities will need government finance and special borrowing powers in order to fund energy conservation.

In answer to the same question the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, referred to the fact that 120 industrial schemes use combined heat and power. That amounts to 95 per cent. of all CHP generation in this country. That came to pass because of the energy survey scheme for industry which was introduced in 1976. However, that scheme has been withdrawn. Under it non-domestic consumers were able to obtain expert consultancy advice on the first steps towards energy improvements with half the cost latterly met by the Government.

In 1988 that assistance to industry was discontinued. Unfortunately, that happened despite evidence that not only had the survey identified potential savings of about £30 per year for each pound of grant paid but the present net value of the savings was £15 per pound of grant. There is now no individual assistance towards energy advice for industry or the public sector, no matter how efficient they are in using their resources. I hope that the Government will consider reintroducing that system in order to hasten the use of energy efficiency systems.

I also believe that an energy audit should be required whenever a property changes hands. I notice that I have exceeded my time. I welcome the fact that the Energy Efficiency Office has some extra funding but I ask the Minister to increase it even further.

5.11 p.m.

Lord Craigton

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for bringing about this debate. Environmental strategy in Britain must include the likely greenhouse effect. However, at this stage our certainty as regards the extent of the greenhouse effect is most unreliable. There are so many conflicting views.

Perhaps I may give your Lordships two examples. President Bush's advisers—the George C. Marshall Institute—says that a little ice age may be in store for us and not a greenhouse effect at all. It has a point. We know so little about the weather and the little ice age of the 17th century concluded with a period of exceptionally low solar activity.

A contrary and extreme view comes from a recent global flux study conducted in the North Atlantic by ships from the United States, Britain, Germany, Canada and the Netherlands. This was a study of the biological and chemical processes which recycle carbon. It had been thought that the organic carbons in the ocean were permanent and unchanging. Therefore, the scientists were surprised to find that the level of organic carbon molecules could fall by as much as 30 per cent. within a few days as the phytoplankton bloom consumed the carbon.

Until now that carbon in the seas has not been in the models of the earth's carbon cycle. What would happen if a rise in temperature also released some of those carbons in the sea? Scientists can no longer safely ignore that. How much carbon is there in the sea? The expedition estimated that there are 1,600 billion tonnes of dissolved carbon dioxide in the oceans, more than all the carbons stored in trees, grasses, and other plants on earth.

From those two examples one can take one's choice between no greenhouse effect and one twice as severe as that previously thought. However, CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases cannot be ignored. The latest report on CFCs is disturbing. Airborne concentration of CFC11 and CFC12 is increasing and in June the University of California discovered that CFC113, used mainly for cleaning electronic parts, had reached a level almost as large as each of the other two.

Indeed, from all the welter of information there is only one point of agreement—that there is likely to be an increase in the frequency of extreme conditions such as drought, floods and storms. Therefore, from this debate, initiated by the noble Lord, should come a clear warning to government and the authorities concerned that they should lay in and maintain ample stocks of crisis gear. That is the only certain thing which we know will be needed.

I turn from the world's uncertain future to the environmental strategy for Britain. The implication of the noble Lord's Motion is that the Government are already doing something about conservation but that they should do more and make more comprehensive the control of our environmental strategy. I consider that the Government are already moving ponderously in the right direction and that there is no case and no need for the major change suggested.

I give four recent examples. By transferring responsibility for historic wrecks in English waters from the Department of Transport to the Department of the Environment, archaeology on land and water has been brought under one control. Jointly with the Welsh Office the Department of the Environment proposes to enhance the effectiveness of tree preservation orders and give power to local authorities to safeguard key hedgerows. Again in the past few months a new environmental grant fund has been set up to help voluntary organisations to further projects proposed in the September White Paper. On 18th December it was announced that at last Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution is to get together with the Health and Safety Executive. That will remove a major complaint by the commercial world and other bodies concerned—I have mentioned this once already in the House —that inspectors from HSE give one set of instructions and the inspector from HMIP gives another. At last they can work through one inspector and for the first time all concerned get on with the job.

There are two areas where we lag behind other countries and where the Government should do more. In the United States of America the general public are environmental enthusiasts and are willing to co-operate in the public interest. One wonders what would be the British answer to the Yankelovitch poll taken for Time magazine in November. The poll found that 70 per cent. were prepared to pay 200 dollars more in taxes to clean the environment; 44 per cent. were prepared to pay 500 dollars. In the "regularly" column, 64 per cent. returned bottles to the bottle bank and 53 per cent. shopped for environmentally safe products. We need mandatory labelling on energy efficiency and on the environmental impact of the production, use and disposal of the goods which we buy. The poll also showed that 50 per cent. saved newspapers for recycling, 47 per cent. bought products from recycled materials and 29 per cent. avoided products of companies which had poor environmental records. I have no such list. Also, 17 per cent. shared cars to work to save petrol. That is in the United States.

Is there not a valid need, in spite of the good work carried out by consumer associations and Keep Britain Tidy, for much more education and awareness here at home which would assist the crucial move that can only be made by government with public support? As a nation we need to grow; we dare not stand still. However, to secure sustainable growth it is essential to drive a wedge between economic action and its environmental impact. The best way to achieve that is to introduce the clean technology which we must have and to make it cheaper than polluting technology; in other words, environmental taxes, green taxes. Such taxes would be a continuous burden and irritant to any industry still to introduce a clean technology into its processes. The final answer can only be environmental taxes and the preparation of the public to accept and understand them. That is the case, I believe, in the United States of America and in some Scandinavian countries. It is certainly not the case here.

I have exceeded my allotted time. I conclude by asking the Government to ensure that our policy for Britain in the coming decade relies, wherever possible, on fiscal incentives and disincentives and that we co-operate with other nations in the import and export implications of that policy.

5.20 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, the importance of environmental questions in this country can hardly be exaggerated. We live on a small island with a large population. We need a buoyant economy, prosperity and jobs. We need to strike a difficult balance between development and the protection of our environment, both urban and rural.

We are not achieving that balance. Since the war the damage to our environment has been enormous. It has been documented in the Royal Society for Nature Conservation's publication, Losing Ground, which incorporated the views of all the county trusts. For example, we currently face the problem of Canford Heath, about which a number of noble Lords have spoken, and the worrying judgment in that case by Mr. Justice Schiemann on 21st December. That suggested that the Wildlife and Countryside Act may need strengthening. Last year some 300 SSSIs suffered damage.

There are some advances. We now have environmental assessment for major projects under an EC directive of 1985, which I am sorry to say was vigorously opposed by Her Majesty's Government at the time. But that only applies to the larger projects and requires the developer—who is hardly impartial—and not the planning authority to prepare the assessments, which in my view would have been better. In fact, all developments need to be considered carefully from the environmental point of view.

I have nothing but praise for the efforts of the non-governmental organisations in this field—the National Trust, the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Councils for the Protection of Rural England and Wales and the Consumer Association, which circulated an admirable note before this debate. They have had an enormous impact on public opinion. But in my view the key role is that of the Government. They alone can decide policy on matters of transport, energy or agriculture, about which my noble friend Lord Palmer spoke this afternoon in an exceptional maiden speech.

In that context the White Paper was a little disappointing. But it was a major step forward that it came out at all. I welcome also the presence on the Government Front Bench of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, which gives us all cause for hope. One of the points I liked in the White Paper was the suggestion that individual ministers in each department should be responsible for environmental matters. They were announced on 27th September.

From my experience in public service, the way to achieve results in government is to make a Minister, especially a junior Minister who is ambitious, responsible. He will galvanise the civil servants; they will produce what he wants, and things will happen. When I saw the list I was a little sorry that so many departments—energy, trade and industry, transport, the Welsh Office and the ministry for agriculture—nominated the Minister at its head. He however has to consider all aspects and policy in the round. It is those departments that chose not to do that, and chose a junior Minister, which are probably more sensible.

I wish to say a brief word about two specific government departments. First, I have worries about the actions of the Department of Transport in this field. I should like to ask the Minister to tell us who will be succeeding Mr. Parkinson as the "green" Minister in the Department of Transport. I do not believe that there has been an announcement. The other day I initiated a debate about the battlefield of Naseby, and criticised the actions of the Department of Transport. I thought it had been insensitive and misleading. Every noble Lord who took part in that debate, apart from the Minister who replied, called for a re-routing of the M.1/A.1 link road to avoid the battlefield of Naseby. I hope that the Government, even at this late stage, will pay attention to what was said on that occasion.

On a more general theme there is, as I see it, a lack of an overall transport policy. That is badly needed. And not just the £17 billion roads programme proposed by the department which does not seem to me to be sensible. I see that the National Trust said that 30 of its properties are threatened by that programme, and the Royal Society for Nature Conservation said that nationally 1,500 important wildlife sites may be at risk. I am glad that Mr. Rifkind is reported to have seen the Prince of Wales on 20th December about that. However, it surely should not be left to the Prince of Wales to put the environmental case. In my view the Government should do that.

Secondly, I should like to mention the situation in Wales. We have a marvellous environment in Wales, but it is very fragile. There are many threats; among them are roads, acid rain, the proliferation of barrages and marinas, the over-expansion of small villages, the unsuitable siting of factories and the often inappropriate design of housing in rural areas. In order to tackle those problems, a central part must be played by the Welsh Office.

I had the honour of being co-opted to the Carver Committee, which recommended that when the new environmental councils were set up in Wales and Scotland the Welsh and Scottish Offices should appoint staff to discharge their new responsibilities for controlling and funding nature conservation in Wales and Scotland. In that context just under a year ago I wrote to the Welsh Office. With your Lordships' permission, I shall quote what I said: It seems to me that in future the Welsh Office will not only be responsible for supervising the work of the Countryside Council and providing it with the necessary finance, but that the introduction of machinery to do this provides an opportunity for giving the Welsh Office a new strength on the environmental side which would, I believe, be widely welcomed by all those concerned with conservation in Wales. It occurred to me that if there were to be a senior person who really carried weight in the environmental world in charge of this new department, with say the rank of a deputy under-secretary, then he and his supporting staff could not only supervise the new Countryside Council, but could also provide, from the very outset, an environmental view on new development projects both in the Welsh Office itself and in bodies like the Welsh development agency. It seems to me that very often if the environmental aspects could be considered at a very early stage, development could then be proposed in the most suitable way environmentally, and many acrimonious public disputes could be avoided. I should like to ask the Government whether or not any action has been taken on those lines in the 11 months or so since then, or whether action is likely to be taken. I realise that these matters are kept under review but it is in my view very important to take that step.

5.28 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I rise to speak briefly on agriculture and the environment. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, that I did not share the general approbation of his maiden speech; the reason being that he said everything that I was going to say, and said it much better than I shall say it. However, that has never deterred any noble Lord from repeating a speech which he wishes to make.

I should like to talk a little about people in the environment. As the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, said, it is the land manager who is responsible for a large part of the environment in the countryside, and of course it is agriculture that has built up the pattern of beauty in this country which people from the towns and everyone in the country enjoy so much. The change has been absolutely horrific from the time when I was a boy until the end of the last war and even until 1950. During that time, on a farm of 350 or 400 acres, one might still have horses and five horsemen besides two cattlemen. One would probably have an odd-job man and a grieve or bailiff. One would probably have nine men on the farm as well as having lasses in the house. There was a community in the countryside. The nine men would hoe the turnips in a line. There would be a great deal of chat going on. At the same time as they singled the turnips they would clean the drills and keep them clean.

However, on that sort of farm today there will be a farmer and one man who will consider that the farm is pretty well staffed. Therefore, one cannot single turnips. They must be sown and sprayed. They must be planted individually and it is hoped that the spray will work and that it does not do any harm to the environment. We now have a totally different set-up. In previous times the nine men would cut the hedges which the conservationists are rather fond of complaining about nowadays. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, indicate the number of hedges which have been replanted.

All these factors have changed the countryside completely. When a farm is sold it is seldom that the farm and the estate are sold together unless they are enormously attractive to very rich people. Normally these days the cottages are sold off separately. There is a great demand for barns to be turned into houses. Patches of land are sold. The land agents encourage the break-up of the farm, leaving perhaps one house, the land, and some buildings with which to operate.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, referred to the lack of prosperity and to the despair which is present in some sections of farming. That is perfectly true. People are fond of saying that they have never seen a poor farmer. They make jokes to me as one drives one's Bentley away. Agricultural depression is severe. It even applies to the so-called barley barons. People who are competent, with no debt and a large acreage, are still getting a return on their money. A friend of mine is one of the most competent of the barley barons. He told me that in real terms his profits for the past 10 years have more than halved. He is a man of extreme competence.

We know what is happening to the farmer on his 300, 200 or 100-acres. Many of the farmers will last. They will tighten their belts and go on farming, accepting a much lower standard than the average industrial worker for the satisfaction of doing the job. There will still be people working in the country. However, their sons and daughters will not do the same work. They are bound to leave. That means that in agriculture we are facing a future where there will be bigger and bigger units and/or part-time farming. Part-time farming is good for the environment. Anyone who knows the Black Forest will be aware of the lovely valleys which are well farmed, with nice houses and two good cars outside each house. The money comes mostly from working in industry which is so placed that the workers can take advantage of it. In future the environment in the countryside will depend very much on the kind of people living there. In the vast majority of areas the basis of the people working there will be founded on members of the farming community.

When we look at the pressures on prices today we cannot possibly increase them to enable the structure to continue as it is. As noble Lords know, we have made an offer to reduce prices from the 1986 base by 30 per cent. That will cause a great many people to go out of business. The Government have to think, as everyone else in the industry is thinking, of what exactly we are to substitute for the extremely expensive and damaging intervention prices and export subsidies which are in use at present. Everyone is saying that we have to change to direct payments. Such payments, which will be direct payments for the number of ewes that should be carried, must be generous. They can hold the essential population in the hills, particularly in Scotland and Wales, without which there will be no environment in the hills as we know it.

Methods of payment for extensive and less intensive cultivation would help the surpluses and the environment as well. A whole host of measures is being discussed but none of them will have any real impact unless we do a great deal more than we are doing at the moment. My plea is a simple one. We must work harder within the CAP to get a system which will keep much lower numbers on the land but which will maintain the people who are essential to the working of it. There must be a new system which will enable them to live and work there and provide the kind of environment that everyone in this country seems to want for the countryside.

5.37 p.m.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for bringing forward this debate which has brought forth such a wide diversity of views on the environment. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, said that we all fit in somewhere in that environment but over a wide line. However, I must say to him that I do not agree that it is necessary to have a single supervisory body for the environment. I prefer to see environment matters dealt with by the various departments with various responsibilities rather than make such issues the responsibility of one particular department.

The reason is that I possibly fit in with the definition given by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, as being at that end of the spectrum which believes that there are many other matters in society that are more important to us than the environment. I come from the North-West of England. There are thousands of people there to whom other factors are very much more important. They wish to live in a more congenial place; their own surroundings in the cities could be so much better. There should be better factories to work in. More use should be made of our open spaces rather than guard them to such an extent that those who can make use of them are unable to do so.

The reason I am in that category is because I know of many changing views of what is important in the environment. In those circumstances, I do not believe that it would be right to say at any one time, "these are our problems and they fix us in this position", and thereby lay down rules and regulations because, given the passage of time, the problems become completely different. I remember one particular example concerning Cheshire. In the early 1970s a plan was produced on pollution, sludge and related matters. An analysis was done about the amount of cattle and pigs that had developed in Cheshire over the previous 20 years. The conclusion was reached that, unless something drastic was done, the whole of Cheshire would be covered with cattle slurry by about now.

Of course it has not happened because the economics of keeping cattle and pigs in Cheshire have been transformed completely to what people expected 20 years ago. It is interesting to note that Holland has this problem and is moving its slurry out of the country to Germany and elsewhere. Twenty years ago Holland never imagined that would be a problem. Had we had a supervisory body, would it have laid down regulations which, in the course of time, would have been proved unnecessary?

We also forget the enormous strides that can take place in scientific discovery. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, mentioned the problem of sludge and pointed out that the burning of it creates problems. Only recently a company put forward proposals to handle sludge in a completely different way. Under its proposals, it would not be necessary to burn it, and the problem could be handled more economically than was ever thought possible. In Denmark there was a considerable problem with fish farms. The Danish Government laid down regulations requiring all fish farms to reduce their stocking rate by 50 per cent. in order to fit in with regulations to prevent the pollution of water. Rather than do that, the farms solved the problem scientifically; the pollution of the water has now fallen by a half, and all the fish farms have been able to maintain the same level of fish necessary to make the operation economic.

The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, referred to carbon dioxide. I refer noble Lords to the report of the Natural Environment Research Council which was published just before Christmas. It found that in the interglacial period 10,000 years ago there was a large increase in the amount of carbon dioxide. As a result, there was a significant change in the environment and climate at the time. The same greenhouse effect now facing us—higher temperatures, less ice and higher sea levels—occurred then. One could hardly argue that it occurred as a result of industrialisation or through the burning of coal. Clearly, other factors are involved of which we are not aware. They can be more powerful than some of us believe.

I spent most of my life as a farmer. I have enormous respect for the power of nature over the land and climate. I learnt to feel terribly puny in some respects and to realise how insignificant we are in what we do. I also grew confident that things always turn out right. Some people appear to be overly concerned about the environment and they appear to see doomsday in the future. They fear that if we do not do certain things, we shall face great disasters. I do not believe that at all. I have learnt that there is a balance in nature which ensures that the opposite happens. I have great confidence that both by scientific discovery and by the ability of nature—we are a party of nature—to adapt to changing circumstances we can avoid such disasters.

We must have as our prime consideration the creation of wealth so that all the people who live here can have greater opportunities. I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Renton that we should take steps to control population growth. If people want to breed, the last thing we should do is to try to stop them doing it. However, we have to create the wealth which people will need to enjoy the environment. I agree with my noble friend Lord Mackie—I call him my noble friend because he is in the same business as me—that what we have with this change of use of land is a great opportunity to make more land available for more people to enjoy. These changes should not be an opportunity for selfish people who live in nice areas to keep those areas to themselves. I am fortunate to live in the countryside. I should like to see more people have such opportunities. Why cannot we use the land in such ways?

The key to many of the problems is increased support for science. It will happen with the right encouragement. I want the Government to ensure that we have the right regulations to force people to take decisions which make their environment better. At the same time, I want them to make the money available to carry out this scientific work.

5.46 p.m.

Lord Carver

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in expressing my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for initiating this important debate today. As he mentioned, it is almost exactly a year since the House took note of the report on the greenhouse effect by the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which I introduced as chairman of the sub-committee which produced it. We were primarily concerned with the science behind estimating the greenhouse effect itself and its consequences, and with the technologies to mitigate its impacts. We made a number of recommendations as to what the Government should do about both, some of which have been implemented either in full or in part.

At that time there did not seem to be a coherent government response covering the whole field, and we looked forward to the promised environment White Paper, which we were led to expect would provide this. When that paper was published in September, it certainly proved comprehensive; but I must admit that I found it disappointing. There was a great deal of promise to move forward towards action, but less of action in the near future. There was a lot of talk about the longer term, and about the difficulties of taking unilateral action which would place the nation at a disadvantage if others did not do the same.

Since its publication, the reports of the three working groups of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the IPCC—have been published and presented to the Second World Climate Conference. It was understandable that the Government should not commit themselves to specific policies until that occurred. After all, the IPCC was set up for the purpose of advising governments what to do. But since then there seems to have been a slackening of interest. This may be just because other urgent matters have pushed the problem out of the limelight; but there have also been siren voices —we have just heard one—luring the public on to the rocks of complacency—I hope that they have not lured the Government—singing the song that the forecasts made by the IPCC and others were exaggerated or false, and that we need not take the unpleasant or inconvenient measures to meet the serious effects which had been estimated.

I would remind the House that all the evidence that we received from many different sources bore out the forecasts which the IPCC subsequently published. There has been some confirmation of that in the past week from the Met Office and from the climate research unit of the University of East Anglia. It would be fatal to allow complacency to slacken the sense of urgency which the previous Prime Minister, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, pointed out, injected into this issue, and to allow action, whether in the scientific or in other fields, to be dissipated in the miasma of interdepartmental committees.

There were two important basic recommendations in our report: the first was that a significantly greater scientific effort was needed in order to be more certain about how the greenhouse effect would develop and what its consequences in many different fields would be. We said that that must be organised on an international basis. Our second recommendation was that, because the results of that scientific effort might not bear fruit for about 15 years whereas the causes of the greenhouse effect would continue to develop, it was important for governments all over the world to adopt what are called "no regrets" policies: that is, that they should take preventive action on the assumption that the effects were going to be what had been forecast on the basis of existing knowledge; action which, as far as possible, did not have serious economic or social disadvantages, and which, if the forecasts in the event proved pessimistic, could, if necessary and desirable, be stopped or reversed. These "no regrets" policies concern methods of restricting or reducing emissions of the greenhouse gasses. It is in this latter field that technology has a very important part to play.

As concerns the first recommendation—action in the field of science—I give the Government good marks: not 10 out of 10, but a respectable pass mark. The expansion of the facilities of the Met Office to form the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, the establishment of the Inter-Agency Committee, and the general priority given to the Natural Environment Research Council in this area, are all evidence of this, as is the Government's support for the continued existence of the IPCC.

The Government's general response to the second basic recommendation—the energetic pursuit of "no regrets" policies—I find disappointing. Too much hope is expressed that significant results will accrue from a combination of general persuasion and market forces; and there seems to be too great a reluctance to use fiscal or regulatory measures, such as the highly effective reduction in the tax on unleaded petrol.

There are two areas in which significant results could be achieved; namely, energy efficiency and transport. The application of already developed technology and the development of new technologies have a potentially highly significant part to play in both areas. The problem is that it is not immediately apparent to industry that the market would reward the effort needed to produce clean technologies. That is where fiscal and regulatory measures can produce effects. For example, there are developed technologies which could make the diesel passenger car even more competitive with the petrol-driven car than it is now. That has been demonstrated by Peugeot in France, where it was encouraged by a much greater differential between the prices of diesel and petrol than exists in this country. The result has been a dramatic change in the balance between diesel and petrol cars. Such a major switch in Europe as a whole, and certainly in the world, would produce a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. Admittedly, there are other emission problems with diesel fumes, but they are capable of being solved if the technological effort is devoted to them.

I cite that only as an example of how desirable technical changes can be encouraged by such measures without demanding that the Government should fund the technical development. I realise that the present time is not one in which the Government would wish to resort to artificially raising the price of energy in order to reduce CO2 emissions. In their response to the report by the Energy Select Committee in another place on energy implications of the greenhouse effect, published in July 1989, the Government stated that the Department of Energy was taking steps to provide a methodology which would make it possible for market mechanisms to recognise the external costs associated with energy consumption, and that, when that was done, it is expected that market mechanisms would provide the most efficient means through which a response to global warming can be made". In introducing our report in January of last year, I asked the Minister whether he could throw more light on how that aim could be achieved, especially in the single European market after 1992. I said then that I was not convinced. I never received an answer and I am still not convinced.

At different international meetings the Government have committed themselves to meeting some very worthy targets. I hope that in her reply the noble Baroness will be able to convince me that more positive action will be taken to ensure that those targets are achieved and that the methodology of setting targets, and ensuring that they are met, is being studied as carefully as it must be if adequate "no regrets" policies are to be effective.

5.52 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Ezra for introducing this debate. It is especially appropriate that we should have a "comprehensive environmental strategy" to discuss. I say that because, as the noble Lord, Lord Walston, said in his speech, we are living in an environment which we have changed almost totally from that which it would have been naturally. For at least 4,000 years we have been farming over very large parts of Great Britain. We have changed our environment fundamentally. Thus, we have not only a need but also a responsibility to ensure that we do not continue to destroy what is left of our environment. We must also try to repair some of the damage which has taken place.

Further, as the noble Lord, Lord Walston, pointed out, as we have cut down the vast primeval forests which once covered the whole of the United Kingdom, we should at least be able to help those countries which are still developing and which still have some form of forest left so that they do not have to cut them down and can therefore achieve some sort of industrial growth. We should bear that factor in mind and be prepared to pay the cost of ensuring that our environmental situation does not deteriorate still further.

The idea of actually paying a cost is one which runs through any debate on the environment. We cannot make changes without at least slowing down the rate of increase in our standard of living. In other words, we cannot maintain our current standard of living. Probably the best example of such a cost concerns the use of the domestic car. It is quite appropriate that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will be the next speaker in the debate because he is an expert on the motor industry. I believe that every individual in our society can make the greatest choice as regards environmental matters by way of the car. For example, an individual can select a car which has a lean-burn engine, when such cars become available. Moreover, the Government can help people to make such a choice in terms of the environment.

In British society the car has become something of a totem; indeed, possession of a car is a sign of one's well-being. If a person is doing very well, he will have a larger and more expensive car. In fact, the engine gets bigger, the paintwork becomes glossier and there are more dials and flashing lights on the dashboard. The whole thing continues in that way.

This Government, and those before them—certainly going back to the time of the Beeching report—with very different hues, colours and ideological backings, have encouraged us to look towards car ownership as being a normal part of our development. Indeed, the way our cities have been structured shows that to be so. For example, we have great shopping centres outside our urban centres which are effectively reachable only by car; if there is public transport, one can only do so much shopping because one will have to carry it home in the good old-fashioned carrier bag. There always seems to be an environmental cost involved.

Therefore it seems that the car dominates a large part of our lives. Surely the Government should be doing a variety of things in connection with cars and public transport which would have a direct effect upon us. In my view they should encourage planning authorities—as they are beginning to do now—to ensure that we re-inhabit city centres so that they cease to be dead zones after, say, 6 o'clock in the evening. The centre of London is an area which is quite well used because of its huge leisure industry. It becomes an arts and entertainment centre at night. People come into the centre of London, but they still use cars to do so. We have been persuaded that we can never do without cars and therefore we use them. Very often it is only a 10-minute journey from where a person lives in the suburbs to the centre of London—that is, outside of the rush hour—but it takes 25 minutes to find a place to park. Therefore, the car as a means of transport is not very useful. Our dependence upon cars suddenly becomes a false economy. We must have a car because the planners have decided that we must and because it is fashionable; but it seems that the car is not actually very efficient because there are just too many of them.

We are constantly building more houses and consequently more roads for access purposes. This has to be done because public transport has been discontinued or was not available in the first place in green field sites. We find ourselves in a circular situation where the car is required but where it eventually gets in the way. It seems that the Government wish us to continue using cars. They have said that they will ensure that such cars are more environmentally friendly or, to be more honest, less environmentally damaging.

The internal combustion engine emits some fumes which are harmful to the environment. Most of the steps which have been taken will reduce such emissions. But if, for example, every car in the land becomes half as damaging to the environment, we shall still be causing more damage if there are three times as many cars on the roads. It must therefore be borne in mind that, although we may possess a less damaging car, it will still cause damage to the environment.

The ultimate answer to the problem is the expansion of public transport, although every time we burn energy we will have waste products. Indeed every time an industrial process takes place a certain amount of waste is produced. However, with public transport there is less waste per passenger mile. That effectively means that we must begin to invest more in our public transport systems, especially in the railways and the light railways. This is beginning to happen but, once again, when we look back it will be seen that, when we initially planned our new suburban sprawl, future development was not taken into consideration. For example, such places are not suitable for the installation of trams because the road system is not suited for such use. Therefore there is another great planning problem.

Thus I call upon the Government not only to make sure that they encourage people by taxing bigger engines and increasing the incentive to use unleaded petrol, and by the introduction of catalytic converters, but also by investing in the public transport system. They must look very hard at any new road-building processes, because if new roads are built to meet the demands of more cars and our public transport is planned around that, it means ultimately that we shall end up with more cars. Perhaps we should take transport in our society away from dependence on the car, so that it becomes a vehicle more often used to get to and from public transport, wherever possible, and is not in a situation where it dominates.

6 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, generously referred to me. I am not quite sure how he found out that I would be using the time I have available in this debate to talk about Chapters 5, 8 and 11 of the White Paper, all of which deal with transport, traffic and emissions.

I take a different view from some speakers, notably the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, both of whom in their different ways demanded either a central agency or, in the terms of the Motion, a comprehensive all-embracing regime. My noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton put it splendidly when he suggested that was not the way to go. My own way would be to take the various strands that are in the policy document which was published last September, developing those strands separately as the economic situation and pressures develop, as opportunities arise and are made to arise. My noble friend put it very succinctly when he said that if you had it all in one large jam-pot you would move along in a somewhat turgid, slow way, and nothing could develop separately.

Turning to the motor vehicle, notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, nobody can deny, when 90 per cent. of passengers and 80 per cent. of freight move by road, the importance of the road transport system, and the various benefits that that has given the nation over the past 90 years since the car came into common usage. Nobody can doubt that the growth has brought with it problems and anxieties; but, in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, we have to take the world as it is—it is no good looking back—and deal with it as we find it and make improvements. That is how I understood her earlier remarks.

Top of the list of the problems are air pollution, noise and traffic congestion. Several noble Lords have spoken about CO2. Regarding motor cars, my understanding is that CO2 is not a direct product. The direct products are carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and oxides of nitrogen, the burning of which will at a later stage produce CO2 somewhere in the atmosphere. Equally, some doubts have been expressed by scientists over the contribution made by CO2 to global warming. Such doubts are based on a lack of correlation which is evident when certain factors are considered. They suggest that methane and CFCs are worse by factors of 30 and 17,000. So we have to keep this in some kind of proportion.

Although the industry has spent a lot of time and money on research and development, and we are adopting fairly strict emission standards, both domestically and in Europe, using the catalytic converter, we have to accept that the catalytic converter brings in its own train certain problems, particularly in congested areas.

If the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, will allow me, I quarrel with him when he cites the French example of using diesel engines. Certainly, diesel-engined cars are more popular in France. However, while one can get rid of about 75 to 90 per cent. of gaseous emissions from petrol-engined vehicles, a sensible and economic way of removing the particulates which are emitted from diesel engines has not been found. These are such substances as soot, which is equally damaging, and damaging in terms of vision. That is what upsets so many people. There is thus a long way to go in that area.

Undoubtedly there will be large growth in the use of motor vehicles whatever one may wish or hope for. It is interesting that Great Britain, compared with countries such as Germany, Holland, France and Belgium, has the lowest car population per 1,000 people or number of cars per mile of any of those countries. Therefore, there is a long way to go.

We must find ways to encourage people to use the more efficient vehicles more efficiently, reducing fuel consumption and miles travelled. That can be done in a variety of ways, but I do not believe that punitive fiscal measures should be imposed which have a counter effect. There has to be encouragement in positive terms. One way will be to improve the maintenance of vehicles. A recent study by the Royal Automobile Club, admittedly of a small number of vehicles, showed that 17 per cent. of the cars surveyed contributed 50 per cent. of the air pollution, pointing rather naturally to bad maintenance. Although there are plans in hand to include emission control in the MoT test, we have yet to achieve an agreement on standards or on the equipment to measure standards. I suggest that the bodies involved—manufacturers, retailers, motoring organisations and the departments—accelerate work in that area.

At the end of the day we find that road congestion is the biggest self-evident distress item; and with an increase in the car population I am suggesting that there are three objectives set out in the White Paper which are the responsibility of government. They are: improved traffic management systems; improvement—and in some cases extensions—of the road network; and a far greater improvement in urban public transport systems. Having said that, there is a responsibility on the individual user of a motor vehicle as to how and when he uses the vehicle and how well it is maintained. As I said earlier, users should be encouraged to accept that personal share of responsibility and so achieve a fair balance between freedom of choice in use of transport and the environmental consideration. That freedom is one which makes some contribution to the damage about which we are complaining, so vehicle users have in turn to act responsibly.

6.10 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for introducing this debate, I wish to add my support to his plea for establishing a Select Committee of this House to consider environmental issues. I hope that the Minister will inform the usual channels of that proposal.

I shall confine myself to one issue alone which is the international dimension of an environmental strategy and in particular its effect on the third world. I wish to ask Her Majesty's Government what they are doing to meet this challenge. Time does not allow me to go into the details of the condition of the third world today and therefore I shall take those details as read. I wish only to state that while some 70 per cent. of the world's population lives in the developing countries they account for only 30 per cent. of the world's energy consumption. The developing countries are the lesser developed countries. They are the wretched of the earth. Unfortunately, during the past year the number of those countries has risen to 29 in Africa alone. During that same year the debt burden has risen by 4.7 per cent. It should be pointed out that already 2.9 billion dollars has been added to the oil bills of those countries as a result of the Gulf crisis and the failure of the Uruguay round of talks. This position is leading to de-industrialisation, to the closing down of plants, to a flow of capital and brain power away from the third world and to the transfer of resources to the developed world.

Some of us fear that this problem is being marginalised by the concentration of attention on Eastern Europe, important though the latter may be. The people of developing countries have a legitimate ambition to a standard of life which will at least sustain life. There clearly is a great challenge to the future environment of the world if the developing countries are to build up their resources to sustain life as they are entitled to do.

Let us consider what is happening in China. In China there are 730 billion tonnes of proven coal and oil reserves. China obtains 76 per cent. of its energy today from coal and has a population of over 1 billion people. Its Government's objective is to provide a refrigerator in every Chinese home. Let us think of the effect on carbon dioxide emissions and emissions of chlorofluorocarbons from this gigantic ambition. It is estimated that if one fridge and one small freezer were provided in each home in China with the current fridge technology, 30 one-gigawatt power stations would be required. Those power stations would presumably be coal fired. Yet, using the latest energy efficiency technology and with the latest form of non-CFC technology, only three such power stations would be required. That represents an energy saving of 90 per cent.

As we in the developed world have benefited from and are still benefiting from the industrial revolution, it is our responsibility to ensure that our fellow global citizens obtain the right and the power to raise the standard of living of their peoples who are spread over 70 per cent. of the globe. How can this be done without the destruction of the global environment? I suggest that in general terms it has to be based on the transfer of technology through energy efficient machines and through renewable sources of energy, especially the biomass, but not through the nuclear option. The nuclear option is not cost effective and it is much too expensive for third world countries. The waste and decommissioning dangers rule out the nuclear option as a solution for the third world. One has only to consider the figures that were given this afternoon at Question Time on the amount of resources that have been provided by this Government for nuclear research and for research into renewables to realise the gross imbalance in the Government's plans and performance on this vital issue.

However, a solution to this problem requires more than simply provision for the transfer of technology. A new commercial strategy is needed. When we are considering the reduction of CFCs, we need to look at a new commercial strategy which does not export polluting equipment from this or other developed countries which is forbidden in those developed countries. We must recognise that it is not just a matter of CFCs but also of HCFCs and HCFs. Those are all greenhouse gases. When we are considering our responsibility in this matter, we are entitled to ask the Government what they are doing in this dimension to assist the development of the economies of third world countries without at the same time damaging the environment. What are the Government doing to encourage and finance—possibly through a measure such as carbon taxes—the extra expense which the developing countries will incur if they are to leapfrog over the kind of industrial revolution which Britain and other developed countries have been accustomed to?

I end by reminding the Minister of the terms laid down in the Toronto conference on the changing atmosphere which was held 2½ years ago. It was stated at the conference that: The transition to a sustainable future will require investments in energy efficiency and non-fossil energy sources. In order to ensure that these investments occur, the global community must not only halt the current net transfer of resources from developing countries, but actually reverse it. This reversal should embrace the relevant technologies involved, taking into account the implications for industry". I hope the noble Baroness who is to reply will tell the House what Her Majesty's Government are doing to fulfil this accepted objective that was laid down 2½ years ago.

6.18 p.m.

Lord Chorley

My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for giving us this opportunity to discuss the environment. When the idea of a White Paper was conceived there was much governmental trumpeting and great expectations were aroused. However when it was published there was almost universal disappointment. It was said that it was no Beveridge for the 1990s. However, now that we have had time to digest its 296 pages and to get our breath back, we must ask ourselves whether disappointment is still the right verdict. For my part I believe that the answer is no. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I have some reservations.

The White Paper is a major state paper which starts off with what I consider to be a quite brilliant introductory chapter. In eight pages there can be few better general expositions of the environmental problem. Then follow 280 pages of departmental nuts and bolts. It is a veritable encyclopaedia of the environment, and yet at the end we feel rather flat. I believe that the reason lies in an institutional difficulty of the machinery of government. That infects the document in a sense. The Government are organised by subject areas into our great Departments of State. Those departments push forward and promote their own interests and those of their "clients". That is natural and quite understandable because in no individual case is the environment a matter of prime interest; it is usually a conflicting interest, and indeed a distraction. That also is understandable. After all why should MAFF have national parks at the top of its agenda? The environment gives rise to conflicting loyalties and awkward interfaces, especially in a crowded island.

The Government propose a solution to this. Each department will appoint an environment Minister and the Cabinet committee will continue in being. Will that work? Where will the environmental loyalty of the Secretary of State for Transport lie? Before the reshuffle he had appointed himself. Where will his loyalties lie? I am doubtful whether this scheme will work, but I think that we should at least give it a try.

I should like to suggest one further piece of machinery to help tilt the balance more towards the environment. I should like to see the Cabinet committee having a small secretariat operating on the lines of the former CPRS—the "Think Tank", whose demise most of us regret. It would, as it were, be a ginger group for the environment. I do not know whether it should be part of, or serviced by, the DoE, but I suggest that it would need a Minister of its own because it would need a political person to oversee it on a day-to-day basis.

I should like now to deal briefly with three out of many matters that concern the National Trust: hill farming, roads, and coastal zone management. I declare an interest in that I have been chairman of that splendid institution for just 15 days. I take first hill farming. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in his maiden speech spoke with real experience and considerable eloquence about hill farming, and that was backed up by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. Therefore, I think all I need do is to emphasise a few points and underline one or two matters.

In the White Paper the problems of hill farming rate one paragraph and yet, for example, in the Lake District and North Wales the economics of sheep farming are crucial to two of our most important national parks, and to the preservation of landscapes of world heritage class. It is rather simple. The sheep crop the grass, they are natural lawn-mowers; our fells, as we appreciate them today, are the product of hundreds of years of hill farming.

Ironically the current problems of the sheep farmer have led to problems at the other extreme: overstocking and overgrazing leading to erosion and nature conservation problems. The paragraph in the White Paper deals with this one point. I do not complain. If you have only 300 pages you cannot deal with everything in extenso. The White Paper recognises the concerns that have been expressed, and the Government say that they are going to look into them. I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether the Government have now been able to reach a conclusion. Do the Government accept that any solution must be based on viable sheep farming and on viable incomes for the farmers?—incomes which may be derived from other non-farming sources on, as it has been called, a menu of activities and grants. Indeed the words "environmental manager" have been used for the new look farmer. That is what is needed and, to re-emphasise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, it is needed urgently. The collapse of the hill farmer would be gravely damaging to the environment, if for no other reasons.

I briefly turn to roads. Let me say right away that I recognise the difficulty that the Government have in drawing up national policy and in reconciling conflicting interests. Difficult judgments are required. But surely the time has come to tilt decisively the balance in favour of protecting sensitive landscapes. Nowhere is this more important than in our national parks. It is on that account that one welcomes the former Secretary of State's statement in December 1989 that the Government are: firmly committed to ensuring that no new roads will be constructed or existing road upgraded unless there is a compelling need which cannot be met by any reasonable alternative means. Those are fine words. They are welcome words, but they are not the first time that we have heard such sentiments expressed by Ministers of whatever political party, and yet the attrition and threats go on. In the National Trust we are currently having to deal with about 30 road schemes that affect our property, as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, has said. I should have liked to mention some of them but my time is short. Particularly I should like to mention the threat at the so-called Rothay link road at Ambleside, and also one on the A.5 in Snowdonia.

It seems to me that the tendency all along in these schemes is to use a sledgehammer to crack nuts. The proof of the pudding as to the Government's intentions will be how they deal with actual cases. The White Paper says that the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment was asked to review its methods of environmental assessment and was hoping to complete its study by the end of 1990. I would, therefore, ask the Minister three questions. Has the report been submitted? When will it be published? And when can we expect the Government's response?

My third topic—and I must hurry on—on which I should like to touch briefly is how we manage our coastal zones. This is also a matter for the National Trust because we own nearly 550 miles of coastline. But ownership by the Trust is not of itself sufficient. There are much wider issues of the use of the coastal zone from the foreshore right out to the sea. There are many uses of the coastal zone, and many interests are involved. There are such things as nature conservation, recreation, navigation, fisheries, mineral extraction, and so on; coastal protection is very important.

At least eight agencies of Government have a direct statutory involvement so far as I can see, and many others an indirect interest. This is a typical environmental situation of many interests, of many agencies, and actual or possible environmental conflict. I am sure that the Minister will be aware that recently the Marine Conservation Society and the World Wildlife Fund carried out a study on this and issued a report. While this is not the time to ask for a reply, I hope that the Government will encourage and take this forward.

Finally, I must conclude on a philosophical note. I am a firm believer in the market mechanism as being the best way of reconciling conflicting economic interests, and if one can internalise things, so much the better. But most of the environmental conflicts are, to use the economists' jargon, about externalities. Only government can deal with externalities. John Stuart Mill—and I quote from that splendid quotation on page one of the White Paper—said: No function of government is less optional than the regulation of these things, or more completely involved in the idea of a civilised society. How true that is.

6.27 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, it is unfortunate that I did not get my notes of the speech that I should have liked to make, so I shall do the best I can without them. The first thing that we have to realise is that there is no easy solution. We have really only three choices. One, of course, is nuclear. The second is coal. We know the likely problems in that area even though we may go on with gas, and so on. It presents problems. Thirdly, there are other sources of energy that could be important. One is the Severn Barrage, which might provide 6 per cent. of what we need. Windmills, yes, but I should be surprised if we found that more than 10 per cent. were acceptable taking into account environmental considerations.

Therefore, I am afraid that we are left, broadly speaking, with nuclear energy and coal, and that is about it. I only wish that the Government would put across the options that we have. It is no good asking the nation to give a reasonable idea of what it thinks should be done without explaining what can and what cannot be done.

I am afraid that we are left with coal and perhaps, on a better understanding, not only coal but gas. We do not have many options and the nation should be brought to consider them. I am not against doing all we can on renewables but, whether small or large, they will not produce much in the future. I am sorry, I do not believe that the Government have yet provided the information that the public ought to have.

6.31 p.m.

Viscount Mills

My Lords, I wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, on his timely call for a debate which draws attention to those aspects of environmental policy which still need to be addressed. I believe that one such aspect concerns our coastal and marine resources, and perhaps I may expand on what the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has already said. Our coasts and seas are discussed in the White Paper but the coverage is limited and perhaps not commensurate with the importance of these resources.

In the White Paper the Government welcome the initiatives that have been taken to conserve and plan some of our best coastal landscapes both by the Countryside Commission and by the National Trust. Offshore, they accept that conservation interests extend far beyond the marine nature reserve programme. It is reported that the Government are examining how best this can be achieved.

Internationally, marine nature conservation has been initiated mainly through the Third North Sea Conference. The White Paper also reports on the Government's measures to bring all Britain's bathing waters up to the standards set in the EC bathing water directive, as well as the control of inputs from a wide range of pollutants and waste.

Other topics discussed include the conservation of fish stocks, consultation procedures for the granting of seabed leases by the Crown Estate and the Government's intention to prepare strategic guidance on the location of marine fish farming.

This is far from being a comprehensive review of the issues facing the management of our coastal and marine resources. However, the most important and surprising omission from the White Paper is the failure to present a clear and co-ordinated strategy for the management of these resources, which are, after all, considerable.

Our coasts and seas are used for a wide range of activities which are of great economic value. However, many of these activities are potentially damaging to the environment and/or to each other. So it is essential to reconcile the diverse interests of those who need to exploit, construct, defend or dump with the interests of those whose objectives are to conserve or recreate environmental harmony.

At present, the management of our coastal zone and offshore waters is complex. On the landward side, the town and country planning system is used to regulate activities and uses. Most of the foreshore and seabed, on the other hand, is vested in the Crown. A total of 28 government departments and agencies have legal responsibilities for different uses of our coasts and seas. There are at least 80 separate pieces of legislation, not to mention EC directives and international conventions. It is not surprising that over recent years many groups and individuals have expressed concern about the planning, management and administration of activities that take place both in the coastal zone and further offshore.

These anxieties were highlighted in a recent report prepared for the World Wide Fund for Nature by Susan Gubbay of the Marine Conservation Society. The report is entitled A Future for the Coast. During its preparation, several hundred individuals working in local and national government, as well as non-governmental bodies, interest groups and research organisations were asked for their views about the planning and management of coastal and marine activities.

The most widely expressed concern related to the lack of a national policy for the use of the coastal zone. Another major issue was the current lack of an offshore planning strategy, which is needed to balance the various uses and demands being made on available resources. Other concerns were expressed about the number of government agencies involved, the level of integration between land- and sea-based users and about specific uses of the coastal zone.

The Marine Conservation Society and the World Wide Fund for Nature believe that in order to tackle these problems, a system of coastal zone management for the UK is essential. They make recommendations as to how this might be introduced. I do not intend to detail their recommendations, valuable though they are. However, the formulation and implementation of such a strategy belongs, of necessity, with national government.

Nevertheless, I wish to make some general comments. A national strategy is needed for the management and development of these resources, the area of greatest concern and highest priority being the coastal zone. The aims of such a strategy would be entirely consistent with the principles upon which the Government propose to base their environmental policy. The aims are: to provide a harmonious set of principles rather than a clutter of expedients; to be forward looking and to base policy on sustainable development; to found decisions upon the best scientific and economic facts available; and, where necessary, to act in international co-operation.

I doubt that there would be any support for a new monolithic body to be created. Perhaps one of the existing authorities could provide the necessary co-ordination, promotion, development and national perspective. Once a broad national strategy had been formulated, it could form the basis for regional and local planning.

The coastal zone needs to be considered on a resource basis, not, as at present, on a sectoral basis. Demarcation of regions needs to reflect more accurately the geography and economy of the coast and not simply administrative boundaries. A more holistic approach to coastal planning is required. Development pressures and natural processes do not respect the distinctions made by man between so-called developed and undeveloped coasts.

I turn to marine research and development. Throughout the White Paper, the importance of research is stressed and, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, mentioned, the Government have taken steps to develop a national strategic framework for research and development in marine science and technology. In 1986 they established a co-ordinating committee which reported in November 1989. A government response is pending. The report is extremely comprehensive and I am sure it is a most valuable contribution. However, under the committee's terms of reference, the development of a national strategic framework for R&D was designed with the present responsibilities of departments and research councils in mind. One can only speculate as to how the committee's conclusions might have differed had a national management strategy existed.

The committee's consideration of funding for research and development does not stress the importance of collaborative funding for major projects such as geological surveys or regional sediment transport studies. There are many projects which are beyond the means of individual departments, agencies or other parties and which could only be carried out if a facility for collaborative funding were made available.

In order to provide the strategic approach I have suggested primary national legislation such as has been introduced in countries like the United States may perhaps be required. There would certainly seem to be a case for a critical review of the plethora of existing legislation to provide the framework that will be so necessary for the successful management of these vital resources in the future.

6.40 p.m.

Lord Broadbridge

My Lords, it must be a comparatively rare if not unique event when Her Majesty's Government introduce a White Paper which is presented to Parliament by no less than 11 Secretaries of State. It was with some high expectation that I sat down to read this distillation of such great corporate wisdom. It would be only fair to say that as a result, pace the great advocate F.E.Smith's reply to the judge who claimed that he felt much wiser for Smith's detailed explanation, I doubt it, m'Lord, but you are certainly better informed we are certainly better informed by This Common Inheritance, as it is called, which weighs two and a half pounds on my kitchen scales. Whether we are wiser too, only time will tell.

There is a temptation to think that the environment has only recently been with us: that is not so. The ancient philosophers considered our substance to consist of the elements, earth, air, fire and water. As long ago as the early part of the current millennium Caxton said, in Middle English: The foure elementes menace alle men that thank not God". A translation into the vernacular of today might be that if we do not look after our surroundings we must expect dire consequences. That great comedian Tony Hancock summarised this somewhat environmentally when he said: Life is like a drain. What you get out of it depends on what you put into it. As I said, we are certainly better informed. But are we wiser? On a freedom-to-act-as-you-please basis there is a certain inevitability about our bank account with the environment. For just as when we receive our personal bank statements most of us find we have spent more than we intended unless we made a very conscious effort, so it is with the environment. In the world of the 1990s we tend to despoil our environment more than enhance it unless we make a special effort. Making a special effort is what This Common Inheritance is all about. But, alas, like dieting, it must be sustained and will probably be uncomfortable.

I should like to devote my remaining time to one area only: the section on land use, covering pages 80 to 95 of the White Paper. The land use problem which we in Britain face is that we are a comparatively small island with boundaries that are rigid and not elastic. By comparison, the French have a population of similar size but a country which is twice as big. We face demands for a change of use in already established and developed areas, which usually means building bigger and taller. More seriously, we face demands for the development of undeveloped land, gradually tilting the national ratio which these two bear to each other.

First, there are demands resulting from social changes in our people and the legitimate expectations of a progressively more broadly wealthy population. Newly-weds expect a house of their own and the elderly and disabled expect a nurse-monitored or adapted home, while those in between expect house ownership rather than a rented flat. All these use new land. Secondly, our new businesses are generally at the light rather than the heavy end. They need workshops and units on light industrial estates and in science parks rather than in difficult-to-adapt and derelict former heavy industrial sites: new land again.

Thirdly, some 60 per cent. of our population now work in service industries which characteristically require offices. So the figure for net total office demand steadily rises and, not always, but often, new land is required. Fourthly, whether they have a car or not, people expect to be more mobile. They expect more and wider roads. This too often makes demands on new land, although the national interest would, I feel, be better served by investing the massive funds allocated for the purpose in improving the availability of public transport and making it cheaper and perhaps safer.

The White Paper, in its section on How the planning system works, discusses conflicts of priority through local plans, county plans and the unitary plans of metropolitan authorities. I am glad to read that there is to be more flexibility in county authority structure plans—in the words of the White Paper, slimming them down, concentrating on key strategic issues and no longer requiring the prior approval of the Secretary of State. Local plans will then be able to be more responsive to local views on land use.

However, as I mentioned in our December debate on land use, while county authorities have had and will continue to have structure plans, there is no parallel overall plan for the metropolitan authorities corresponding to their former area of jurisdiction. Rather, each sub-area within the former metropolitan authority issues a new measure, which is called a unitary plan. Therefore there are 33 borough unitary plans for London but, alas, these are not co-ordinated with each other. That is a grave shortcoming. However, I understand that the three principal political parties managed to agree a unitary plan for London as a whole last year but that Secretary of State Ridley refused to accept it. In December I asked the Minister the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, whether there was any further news on the unitary plan for London overall and he replied somewhat opaquely: It is true that there are no structure plans in the main metropolitan areas, as there are in shire counties. However, we have arrangements to ensure that strategic planning issues in those areas are considered as a whole". —[Official Report, 5/12/90; col. 247.] Can the noble Baroness who is to reply be a little more detailed and tell us what arrangements the Government have?

Finally, dereliction: I was glad to read that government policies are to be directed towards making the best use of our finite supply of land by bringing back previously developed land into constructive use. Much land has been derelict for many years. The huge Coin Street site on the South Bank is only now under redevelopment after 40 years of dereliction. As the White Paper states, the 1988 derelict land survey showed a total of about 40,000 hectares or 100,000 acres to be derelict, about three-quarters of it justifying reclamation measures. The White Paper states: The Government has recently set in hand more research on the extent of vacant land through a national sample survey of the stock of vacant land in urban areas to gain greater understanding of where further action may be needed". I am glad that that is being done now. My reaction is however surprise that it is only a sample survey. I would ask: why was it not done years ago? Surely, knowledge of vacant land is a mainstream and on-going requirement of the Department of the Environment in its day-to-day operations. It has nothing to do with the more recent surge in interest and concern about recently-discovered global environmental issues such as the greenhouse effect and the ozone layer. And if this survey really is taking place, why is it omitted from the list of public sector research relevant to land use and planning projects at the end of the White Paper's land use section on page 94? To me, this trumpet seems to give forth a somewhat uncertain sound. Land is a finite resource, and not even the Bank of England can act as a lender of last resort if we now prove to be poor custodians of our essentially finite land bank.

6.48 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I too should like to thank my noble friend Lord Ezra for giving us another opportunity to debate the environment. I shall speak about two very different aspects of environmental strategy which I consider to be important. The first concerns some information I have received from British Coal, which suggests that we may once again see the fruits of British research and development go overseas because we are too shortsighted and too penny-pinching to follow up their work on the Topping Cycle Power Generation concept. I would mislead and probably confuse the House if I attempted to explain the technical details of something I cannot begin to understand. What I do understand, and what many of your Lordships may also understand only too well, is our propensity as a nation for blazing trails through the deepest jungles and the toughest terrains of new technology, only to back off when the going gets easier and when all that is needed is a little money, a little goodwill and a measure of commonsense for us all to benefit from what we have achieved.

This new technology has a two-fold advantage. It is environmentally more acceptable because of the much lower level of emissions, and fuel conserving because of the far higher efficiency of combustion. British Coal is achieving an increase in the percentage efficiencies from the mid to high thirties to the mid to high forties, which I calculate as an increase of between 25 per cent. and 30 per cent., which is astounding. And we must not forget that we have, in the South Yorkshire coalfield, one of the largest minable coal deposits in the world.

There are two hurdles which have to be overcome for this project to come to fruition. When assessing the long-term cost and price of power generated from different fuels or combinations of fuels and by different methods, we must compare like with like on the same financial basis.

Changes in the economic climate in which the power industry exists as a result of policy changes and the state of the economy greatly distort the figures. If we were talking about a short-term business, the short-term view is appropriate, but when we are talking about the energy needs of our nation we simply cannot afford to take a short-term view.

My generation, during the last 20 or more years, wrote, researched, campaigned and pleaded for higher priority to be given to environmental issues. It has taken that long for the flash of light on the road to Damascus to convert those in power in this country. And now at least part of the tragedy we face today is I am sure the result of successive governments taking the easy option on energy policy. If we were not so dependent on oil the significance of Kuwait's oil wells would not be so great, the Middle East countries might not have such vast resources with which to purchase arms, and political evolution in that region might even have taken a different direction.

I should like to support an idea mentioned to me by the noble Lord, Lord Blease. I feel that there should be an energy task force comprising research scientists, engineers, economists and ecologists. Energy policy, like any aspect of environmental strategy, must be just that: it must be strategic planning for the long term, not tactical bobbing and weaving that reflects the duration of a single Parliament. Only when we achieve that will we have an economically and environmentally sound energy strategy.

The second issue that I should like to address is that of sewage sludge disposal. As your Lordships well know, from 1998 it will be illegal to dump sewage sludge at sea. As a quarter, or some 350,000 tonnes, of our sewage sludge is currently disposed of in this way, this represents a serious problem, and the proportion incinerated could rise to 40 per cent.

Many people, including His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, have expressed anxiety about this prospect. Evidence that we have heard in the Environment Sub-Committee which is looking into this matter suggests that there could also be enormous problems caused by interminable wrangles over planning permission for building incineration plants.

I have believed for a long time that alternative methods of disposal by some means of recycling is much more sensible. So I was very pleased to hear about the Simon-N-Viro process by which sewage sludge can be used as a soil conditioner for covering landfill sites and for landscaping and reclamation. It is cheaper than incineration and any harmful bacteria or metal residues are neutralised. Some plants are already in operation in this country and it was awarded the USA's Environmental Protection Agency's 1990 Award for Technology Development in Beneficial Sewage Sludge Use. I apologise if that is rather a mouthful.

I hope very much that this and similar approaches will be widely used in the future and that the Minister who is to reply to the debate will encourage the water industry to approach the problem in this way.

6.54 p.m.

The Earl of Shannon

My Lords, I too should like to welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, in calling for a comprehensive environmental policy for Britain. No matter that it is pretentious, the White Paper could be compared to the packaging of consumer food products which manufacturers claim are environmentally friendly while making no such claim for the contents.

The noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, then a Minister at the Department of the Environment, in replying to my short debate last May which called for a national environmental waste policy and reflecting on the policies included in the Environmental Protection Bill, said: I have to agree that such policies are not in themselves a strategy … I believe that it [the Environmental Protection Bill] should include what is proper for government both central and local to do, but it should exclude what is not within the power or competence of government".—[Official Report, 9/5/90; col. 1394.] Are we to assume that other measures central to environmental crises are being excluded because the present Government do not feel competent to introduce them? Does the Government's statement that its Environmental Protection Act is as sophisticated and environmentally friendly as any in the world lead one to question it? Must that statement be one of disinformation? Are Sweden, Germany, Holland and the United States of America—with its national Environmental Protection Agency—really trailing so far behind this Government's environmental policies?

Clearly, Britain is no easy partner for other nations in the European Community. For example, the present Government reject the European Community's target of the year 2000 for stabilising emissions. In the last few years this country has faced more legal challenges for infringement of Community law on air and water quality than any other European member state. As to the Environmental Protection Act and the claim that it is a landmark, we should remember that 80 per cent. of our environmental legislation stems from the initiative of the European Commission.

A more important and overriding issue is of course the question of global warming, to which there will be no pragmatic answer unless governments, including this one, can evolve a comprehensive environmental strategy. On 7th and 8th March next, I shall chair an international debate on the subject at the Royal Society in London. That global warming debate will endeavour to widen discussions and formulate recommendations which might touch the agenda of future environmental conferences, be they sponsored by intergovernmental, scientific, business or public interest organisations voluntary agencies or NGOs.

Near to the debate an in-depth national survey on business responses to environmental protection is to be conducted by Strategy Europe Limited, a company with which I am associated, with valuable advice from Mr. John P. O'Hara, editor of Environment & Industry Digest. Respondents will be asked to consider whether their company is pro-active on environmental issues, whether it waits for legislation or even regards the matter as a charitable activity, as some earlier indications have led us to believe. They will be asked what action they have taken to protect the environment and how they think environmental issues affect their organisations. The findings of the survey will be published by Strategy Europe Limited and it is hoped that the information so obtained will provide a valuable input for those considering the formulation of the most necessary environmental policy.

7 p.m.

Lord Norrie

My Lords, I am certain that the Government's White Paper on the environment constituted a vitally important first step in establishing an environmental strategy for Britain. But I am equally certain that, as the debate today has proved, further steps are necessary.

The White Paper recognised four vitally important principles: first, that the environment is a collective responsibility of government, not just a matter for the Department of the Environment; secondly, that in order to achieve environmental progress, integration of policy is required, so that the policies of different government departments pull together rather than conflict; thirdly, that a new set of values needs to be applied to the development and implementation of policy—for instance, we must ensure that quality of life is seen as just as important as the balance sheet showing a profit; fourthly, that the quality of the environment is a responsibility for everyone, be it the Government, the private sector, or you and I going about our daily lives. All those principles were reflected in the White Paper's analysis of the problems and challenges that we face. Sadly, they were less often carried forward into its precise recommendations and commitments for future action.

I should like to say just a few brief words on two subjects where I believe that the White Paper falls short; namely, agriculture and transport policy. There can be no doubt that our agricultural policy is vitally important to the future of our environment. Agriculture accounts for around 80 per cent. of the land surface of the United Kingdom. Our habitats and landscapes are thus directly dependent on the kind of agriculture that is practised and the extent to which it fulfils environmental objectives.

Despite some progress, reforms to post-war agricultural policy have been limited. The fundamental problem remains: a support system based on guaranteeing high product prices to farmers, which encourages intensification and gives insufficient support to activities which maintain the beauty and variety of the countryside. Those problems cannot be solved by action in the United Kingdom alone. Not only are we part of the European Community but the inclusion of agriculture in the GATT process makes it necessary to consider the international context. That makes it all the more surprising that the White Paper failed to mention the GATT negotiations. While alarming to many farmers, the inevitable cuts in guaranteed food prices arising from GATT should be used as an opportunity to restructure farm support in the form of direct payments to farmers in return for managing the countryside. That would keep farmers in business and enable agricultural policy to achieve environmental objectives.

I was disappointed that the White Paper appeared to suggest that we could carry on with small, step by step reforms. While I welcome the introduction of environmentally sensitive areas, the farm woodlands scheme and the farm and conservation grant scheme, I believe that more fundamental and far-reaching reforms are necessary, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in his excellent maiden speech.

The second area in which the White Paper falls short is our transport policy. Predictions for future transport patterns pose possibly the biggest environmental threat that we face. To many, even the possibility of a 142 per cent. increase in vehicle emissions by the year 2025, as the 1989 transport White Paper suggested, is too frightening to contemplate, let alone plan to accommodate. Even though the proposals in the 1990 roads White Paper would only add 2 per cent. to the United Kingdom's road space, the Government's statutory advisers—the Countryside Commission, the Nature Conservancy Council and English Heritage—estimated that they threaten to damage two national parks, 160 SSSIs and 800 sites of archaeological importance. That extends to historical sites such as the Naseby battlefield, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Moran.

Damage to those important areas would be bad enough but it is only the tip of the iceberg. New and improved road schemes bring pressures for development—out-of-town shopping, housing, warehousing, light industry and the like —as well as stimulating new traffic patterns. So the cumulative effect of the roads programme can be even more serious. That is only one area of concern, but the White Paper suggests no fundamental change of direction in the roads programme. So, although there is much to welcome in the White Paper, in at least those two policy areas the overall impact is less than it should be. I still get the impression that each government department is going to go its own way so far as the environment is concerned.

In case my noble friend thinks that I am being too harsh, let me turn to where I believe the White Paper, and indeed the prospects for a future environmental strategy, hold most promise; namely, the commitment to establishing new procedures to improve the development and integration of environmental policy within the Government. The designation of "Green Ministers" in each department, the establishment of standing inter-departmental committees and the requirement that each department reports annually to Parliament are all vitally important.

But if, as the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, suggests, we are to establish a comprehensive environmental strategy in Britain, we need commitments to both new procedures and new policies. For that reason I suggest that a White Paper on the environment should be an annual event, drawing together new policy commitments from all government departments. That will require throughout government much deeper understanding of the importance of environmental policies and a more genuine commitment to policy integration than we have yet seen.

I argue that one of the key vehicles for achieving integration policy is the practice of environmental assessment. It is a subject which is close to my heart and which I shall be stressing tomorrow in my amendment to the Planning and Compensation Bill. To achieve its full potential EA should apply to policies and programmes as well as to projects. My noble friend the Minister will know that there is an opportunity for us to take this step in the European Community's review of the EA directive. I hope that she will be able to give us some good news on that point.

The wider use of EA would help us to achieve greater success in the field of resource management and to increase the extent to which we husband rather than waste our natural resources and achieve the best use of those that are most precious. That includes everything from the protection of the countryside to the exploitation of raw materials and the management and recycling of waste and construction materials. If we can achieve better performance in that area, we shall begin to make progress toward the objectives of sustainable development.

So we need to take further steps if we are to establish a comprehensive environmental strategy for the United Kingdom. I am sure there will be no disagreement that such a strategy is needed. I hope it will also be recognised that the steps which I have outlined are necessary too.

7.7 p.m.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, it is right that the environment should be a recurring topic in your Lordships' House and we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for introducing it on this occasion. Although our thoughts today may be in the Middle East, the wider problems that we have created on our planet will brook no further delay.

I shall not attempt to cover the whole field of environmental strategy in a few minutes, but I shall concentrate, as I have done before, on an aspect that receives too little attention, even when it is implicit in many of the arguments put forward. I want to consider some of the implications for human health, which often get overlooked in the quite proper concern for trees, whales and buildings. It is an area in which doctors and scientists have been slow to become involved, partly, but not only, because of the difficulties of the science.

I firmly believe, on the basis of personal experience, that environmental health problems have been consistently underestimated. It is all too easy to be a doomsday bore but the undeniable fact is that we have surrounded ourselves in the late 20th century with a host of substances that are not very good for us, to put it mildly; and we are not very good at handling them. The list is a long and serious one. There is lead in our car engines, our paints and our water pipes. There is nuclear radiation. There is acid rain—does anyone believe that that only or principally harms forests? In 1984 the Brookhaven National Laboratory ascribed 50,000 premature deaths a year to that in the United States and Canada. Many of our standard medical interventions, such as X-rays or the contraceptive pill, can have consequences dangerous to health. We are schooled to accept that as normal. With many of those substances one is struck by the frequent lowering of safety limits as it comes to be recognised that what was thought to be a safe dose was in fact hazardous. Not only that, but countries and their expert committees cannot agree among themselves about safe limits. If there were time, I could give many examples. Potential new dangers are being highlighted all the time. For instance, chlorine, clingfilm, power lines and other man-made electrical fields, cadmium in the atmosphere, mercury vapour escaping from crematorium chimneys have all had the finger pointed at them recently. There are more than 100,000 chemicals in use, but there are no toxicity data on the chronic effects of 75,000 of them, let alone on the interactions between them.

Pesticides are much in the news. We eat, drink and inhale them unavoidably. What is a safe dose in parts per billion? Is there a safe dose? Who can be sure? But I derived much encouragement from a report published last October on pesticides, chemicals and health by the British Medical Association. That showed a significant change in perception. There is not enough concrete evidence to prove scientifically the links with serious ill-health, but when in the past that might have drawn the familiar comment, "We have seen no evidence to suggest any danger to health", the doctors are now saying, "Absence of proof is not proof of absence. We could have quite a problem here." I found that attitude especially welcome in view of the recent attacks on some practitioners of environmental medicine who have been trying to treat the allergic and toxic results of exposure to chemicals.

What, then, should be our response to this situation? The first part of the answer is, I think, fairly obvious. We should do a lot more work on it. The BMA, among other bodies, is pressing for greater monitoring of potential hazards which has implications for the inspectorate. Research has been similarly patchy and needs to be intensified. Above all, we need research and adequate safety testing before the product comes into use so that we can avoid the common spectacle of a ban or restriction after years in the environment. My own strong preference would be for major research efforts into organic farming methods and a greener, less toxic form of medicine. They are two approaches which I believe would pay massive dividends in terms of national health. We need an insistence on high environmental standards, which means being ruled much more by the demands of health than of economics, and making far greater efforts to adhere to EC and WHO requirements. We need a programme of education, not least for doctors whose exposure to environmental illness during their training is minimal. As has been mentioned, we need financial incentives in many more areas than exist at present.

This argues for a far more interventionist stance by government—as was outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester—with the input of many resources. I do not like either of those things, but the stakes are high and I do not see that we have a choice. We cannot just leave it to the market.

With all this, the uncertainties will still be massive. I have spoken previously about the myth of certainty in science—and in this branch of it especially. Not only is toxicology an imprecise discipline—in a previous debate I referred to an example where the animal test data were consistent with any number of possible human deaths ranging from 0.2 to 1,144,000—but the scale of the uncertainties is such that all the resources in the world could not resolve them. In such a case we cannot afford to be elegantly scientific. We must act, as with global warming, as though the worst were probable, because if we do not it may be too late. Therefore, we must reduce exposure to harmful agents wherever possible, and give the benefit of any doubt to the consumer for a change; notably the old, the very young and those who are not very well.

Meanwhile, I do not want reassurance of the official kind that always accompanies a radiation leak or an aluminium spillage. The Government must recognise that they have a credibility problem in respect of food safety, drinking water and indeed most environmental matters. We need action of the kind that I have indicated. We desperately need openness; the free flow of information. As the BMA report on pesticides states: One of the hallmarks of good science is the open availability of information". We need true independence of advisory bodies and full consumer representation on committees that matter. Can the Government not see that episodes like the secret experimentation with BST in milk do untold harm to public confidence, when we all need to work together to find solutions to the sickness of our world? I am not suggesting that it all rests on Government. But without Government we are limited in what we can do. Without a green-mindedness throughout Government and without a real sense of urgency, there will not be that co-ordination between departments and between government and people which alone can underlay an effective environmental strategy.

7.16 p.m.

Lord Colwyn

My Lords, I must first apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and to all noble Lords who spoke before six o'clock. I was detained in my practice and, therefore, unable to be present.

Our planet is well on the way to becoming an environmental disaster. Air pollution is slowly causing global warming, CFCs are destroying the ozone layer and acid rain is having a disastrous effect on trees and buildings. The toxic gasses in the atmosphere are killing vegetation and causing climatic changes beyond our control. I am sure that many noble Lords who have spoken today have said the same. However none, apart from the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin—and I am delighted to follow him in the same vein—has said how that is affecting our health. Surely that is a vital factor in any environmental strategy.

Practitioners today are faced with an increasing number of non-specific and seemingly inexplicable symptoms—for instance, headaches, fatigue, bone and joint pains, respiratory ailments, skin irritations and asthma. In industrialised countries throughout the world health practitioners are becoming increasingly aware of a significant percentage of patients who are particularly susceptible to the large quantities of pollutants being poured into our atmosphere. These patients are known to be suffering from environmentally induced illness. The chemical reactions that they suffer are far more varied and incapacitating than most true allergic reactions and can affect any organ of the body, causing problems varying from fatigue and fainting to chronic bronchitis.

The association between industrial air pollution and lung disease has been acknowledged since the 1930s, air being a more dangerous source of toxins than food or water. Depending on a person's level of activity, an adult will inhale between 25 and 50 pounds of air per day. In contrast, he or she will drink only about one or two litres of water and eat about one and a half kilos of food. Air pollutants have the potential to do more harm than digested foods or liquids because they pass directly from the lungs into the bloodstream.

The major sources of air pollution are industry, agriculture and power generation from fossil fuels and motor vehicles. The estimated 4,000 deaths per year caused by atmospheric pollution during the first 50 years of this century initiated the Clean Air Act 1957 and established the Clean Air Council and the Medical Research Council's air pollution unit. The success of those bodies in monitoring smoke and sulphur dioxide emissions led to their downfall. The Clean Air Council was disbanded in 1979 and the Medical Research Council's air pollution unit was disbanded one year later.

Today air pollution levels must comply with EC directives but Britain is severely lacking in monitoring stations to carry that through. For example, Britain has only six nitrogen oxide monitoring sites whereas Japan has 1,800 and the Netherlands has 89. As a result, levels specified in European air pollution directives are often exceeded in this country.

Pollutants such as those caused by fossil fuel burning, constitute a serious health hazard. Carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, both produced by motor vehicles, are the major pollutants of heavily populated cities. Their long-term effects are thought to lead to asthma, chronic obstructive airway disease and arterial disorders. When exhaust fumes react with oxygen and sunlight, ozone is produced. This blue pungent gas is what contributes to the smog in heavily industrialised and populated areas such as Athens, Los Angeles and London. It is particularly dangerous to those already suffering from a respiratory ailment.

Particulate pollutants, especially lead, are also at dangerously high levels. The lead added to petrol is the major source of particulate pollution in the atmosphere, building up levels in the body, undermining the ability to form haemoglobin and damaging the kidneys and central nervous system. Studies have given indisputable evidence that the mental development of children living in urban areas is affected by exposure to lead. Recent incentives to encourage the use of lead-free petrol will enable us to reduce lead concentrations in the atmosphere and, in 1993, EC legislation will insist that all new small cars be fitted with catalytic converters. These devices replace conventional exhaust systems and reduce harmful gaseous emissions by 70 to 90 per cent. Cars with these converters can only be run on unleaded petrol. I would remind your Lordships that this legislation has been compulsory in the USA for the past 12 years.

It is estimated that the number of cars in Britain will double by 2025 from 23 million to between 42 and 56 million. It is vital that we act on the EC directives to keep pollution to a minimum.

Water pollution has become a major issue in the past 10 years, causing the sales of bottled water to soar and making private water filtration and purification big business. While the 19th century took a step forward by cleaning up the infection carried in drinking water, the 20th century has taken a step backwards by overloading our water supply with a dangerous cocktail of hazardous pollutants.

The publicity given to water contamination over the past decade has had both a positive and negative effect on the water drinking habits of the general public. On the one hand, people are more careful and concerned about what they drink and are looking to alternatives to common tap water. On the other hand, in their attempt to avoid contaminants, many are drinking water which, although it may be pure, is lacking in the essential nutrients water should provide.

One of the main contaminants is lead, which invariably comes from the corrosion of lead plumbing. It can affect the development of nervous systems in the developing fetus, in infants and in young children, causing learning difficulties and hyperactivity as well as elevated blood pressure, chronic anaemia and peripheral nerve damage.

Aluminium is another contaminant. It is commonly added to water to remove particles which cause discolouration and is claimed to be the cause of Alzheimer's disease. It is claimed that 154 councils in Britain have breached the EC maximum admissible concentration during the past two years.

Nitrates from chemical fertilisers are contaminants which can cause the blue baby syndrome (methaemog-lobinaemia) by reducing the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood and they may have a link with gastric cancer. Studies have already shown that water supplies to more than 1.7 million consumers currently exceed the EC maximum nitrate level of 50mg per litre.

Pesticides and herbicides leach into our water system after agricultural use and can cause nausea, giddiness, restricted breathing and may eventually be associated with some cancers, birth defects, allergies, psychological disturbance and damage to the immune system.

My final example is chlorine, which, although it destroys bacteria, can combine with the natural acids found in water to form toxic trihalomethanes, which may be associated with cancer of the bladder, rectum and colon.

It is also necessary to look at the link between food and the environment. I am sure the ecological and health hazards involved in agriculture have been examined this afternoon, but the many other processes involved when food travels from the farm to the shop shelves are damaging to the environment and pose a serious threat to our health. Gone are the days when seasonal fresh food was bought each day at the market. Now shoppers want perfect produce all the year round, whatever the cost. Canned, frozen and, in some countries, irradiated produce, means food with reduced nutritional value and devoid of real taste. Such processes bring their own environmental problems—cans use up valuable raw metals which are rarely recycled and irradiation does not conform with attempts to cut down the number and scale of radiation emitters.

Packaging methods also compromise the environment and our health, adding to the severe burden of waste disposal. In addition, some packagings present health hazards when they come into close contact with food. Plastics are the biggest problem. Because they do not biodegrade their disposal is a menace to the environment.

Evidence from Sweden—one of the largest manufacturers of paper—shows that the chlorine used in paper bleaching processes results in by-products known as dioxins. When paper is manufactured, these by-products are emitted into the soil and water supply. The use of bleached paper as packaging can allow dioxins into food. They are known to cause cancer and to compromise the immune and reproductive system. Although the extent of the hazard to humans is not clear, the possible health risks must question the extravagance of modern packaging methods which flourish at the expense of the environment.

The time is too short for me to complete my speech. I shall cut it short and look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

7.25 p.m.

The Earl of Buchan

My Lords, I should like to address your Lordships on a particular environmental matter. I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for initiating this debate. I was in two minds as to whether the matter I wished to raise strictly came under the heading of "environmental". However, the reply by the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, on 5th December, to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, stated: I can tell the House that I personally will ensure that the Official Report of this debate will be read by my right honourable friends, the Secretaries of State for Transport and the Environment".—[Official Report, 5/12/90; col. 262.] Those who subscribe to the minimalist philosophical theory —and there may be some sceptics among your Lordships as well as myself—say that noble intentions, broad sweeps, grand strategies, long-term political strategies and the like are all very well but it is what happens on the ground and what is being done which matters. As regards the point I wish to make, the Government seem to be making a truly lamentable mistake.

That this is an important issue is reinforced by the fact that the noble Lords, Lord Moran and Lord Norrie, referred to it in their speeches. I am referring to the disastrous decision to push a road through the site of the battlefield at Naseby, ground which has been tramped over in this noble House before but which still remains extremely important. Incidentally, that is in spite of the fact that there is a perfectly reasonable alternative to that road.

I believe that the matter of Naseby is now well known throughout the country and is understood. People know the pros and cons. I believe that this battlefield is important and is a shrine in its own way. The prospects of a bulldozer casually throwing up buried bones from the battle merely in the cause of administrative convenience is wretched, unworthy and wrong.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, used a good phrase earlier in this debate when she questioned whether financial pressures and political expediency were good measures when judging environmental issues. I should like to substitute administrative pressures for her financial pressures. Administrative pressures are also not good reasons when making such judgments.

On 5th December the Minister used a familiar "traffic needs the roads" argument. Perhaps I may take the liberty of quoting what he said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Moran: this need remains beyond doubt … growth in traffic in the intervening years makes it all the more urgent. The link road will provide a vital and necessary route".—[Official Report, 5/12/90; col. 264.] In this country we do not seem—and rightly in my view to view the building of roads as a particularly important matter; nor do we care about the timescales. A newspaper refers to, "M.40 extension opens after a 23-year delay". I believe that the Naseby road has been delayed for 18 years so that a year or two longer will not make any difference.

I ask the Government at this late hour to change their mind on this matter of the road through the battlefield at Naseby. I cannot believe that that desecration is right. On environmental grounds alone the Government should change their mind.

On the subject of changing one's mind, some noble Lords may also need to change their minds from time to time. It is highly therapeutic. As far as governments are concerned it may even be popular. Therefore I commend that course to the Government. If they cannot change their mind on historical grounds, perhaps they can change their mind on environmental grounds.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, as the first of the winding-up speakers it is not easy to try to draw together the threads of so complex a discussion. Indeed, it is some hours since the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said that it was impossible to deal effectively with this vast subject in a mere eight minutes. The noble Baroness is absolutely right. It would be folly to attempt to dismiss the universe in a few easy phrases.

Happily, many noble Lords and Ladies seized the opportunity provided by my noble friend Lord Ezra through his Motion, and his admirable speech introducing it, to focus their remarks narrowly on a single aspect of the subject. They did so to our very great benefit. At the top of the list, without hesitation, I place the name of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, whose excellent maiden speech focused on rural land use. I enjoyed his speech every bit as much as I used to enjoy his grandfather's biscuits. And that is saying something!

In a sense it is a little sad that we should today be debating a subject of vital importance—the preservation of the planet on which we live and specifically that part of the planet on which Great Britain is situated —against the background of events in the Middle East. Those events may destroy that part of the planet and all those who live there.

A melancholy truth lies behind the two happenings. The long-standing problems of both the Middle East and conservation show that problems do not necessarily have solutions. In some cases the only solution is the passage of time, at the end of which the problem is subsumed by some new and bigger problem. That, I fear, is what might happen in regard to global warming if complacency reigns.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, was right to warn us against complacency. The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, was right to point out that scientific advice on global warming is often in conflict. However, I am sure he agrees that underlying that advice is general acquiescence that something extremely unpleasant is happening, although nobody knows how rapidly, and that something should be done quickly.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton, who said that with our great scientific ability and ingenuity we can solve all these problems. But we can only do that if we give ourselves time. We shall not give ourselves time unless we act in time.

Early in the debate the noble Lord, Lord Renton, underlined, quite rightly, the population question. He was right to emphasise that England and Wales collectively are among the most densely populated areas in the world. It is not simply a question of population, but of maldistribution. We are all congregated into small areas. The right reverend Primate the Bishop of Worcester underlined the question of new villages.

There are problems. We still suffer from the heresy of the planners who lay down rules that there are places where people live and places where people work and that the two must be different and far apart. I come from a part of England where the cotton trade flourished in towns and villages where people lived, worked and played. Now people work in one place and live in another as far away as possible. They travel into and out of the city, often passing each other on the way. It is sad that we do not do something about that.

I recall His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh addressing a joint meeting of the conservationist group and the population group in a committee room in your Lordships' House and saying: I believe that human population pressure—the sheer number of people on this planet—is the single most important cause of the degradation of the natural environment, of the progressive extinction of wild species of plants and animals, and of the destabilisation of the world's climatic and atmospheric systems". I believe that His Royal Highness, not for the first time, was absolutely right.

There have been a number of interesting speeches. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, in his knowledgeable and important contribution, reminded us of the ban on the disposal of sewage sludge at sea. As a doctor I am bound to say that I see no prospect of a reduction in the amount of sewage being produced. There will always be a considerable amount of it. Therefore I was glad that my noble friend Lord McNair mentioned the interesting work being done by Simon Engineering in Cheadle, my former constituency, who pioneered a highly cost effective and very valuable new process of dealing with sewage sludge. When the noble Baroness replies perhaps she will advise us whether the Government are aware of those developments and, if so, whether they are taking effective steps.

I should like to have followed both the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, and the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, on their medical comments. I shall not do so at this time, save to say that as a doctor—an orthodox and professional doctor—I agree with many of the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin. He may find that unusual: there are doctors who do not fully agree. But it is time that we considered more carefully the observations he made today.

It is time that I moved to a close to enable the noble Baroness to make an adequate reply. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, in his opening speech, rightly reminded us that there is an underlying conflict on these matters. We all want cheap and plentiful goods, and clean air.

We want all manner of things but do not want to see the environment damaged. Many times we are in conflict with ourselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, said that we are now all conservationists. Perhaps we are; but that is not good enough unless we start behaving like conservationists. I say this to my noble friend Lord Ezra. Whether or not, as a result of this excellent debate, we set up a Select Committee of your Lordships' House or some overall body to integrate and harmonise the activities of all the other bodies doing such excellent work—such as the National Rivers Authority—it little matters what government do, either this or any other government. They will not succeed unless the ordinary members of the public understand that it is right and necessary. They must understand that there is a price to pay for conservation.

The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, referred to clean air. We managed in the end to get the public behind the Clean Air Act. At long last they learnt that if they did not support it they would die; that was a persuasive argument. There are many persuasive arguments in this field and they must be put to the public.

Whatever the Government do or do not do, they will not succeed unless the public as a whole understand the importance of this issue and each and every one of us plays a part effectively.

7.38 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, realised when he tabled his Motion that he would attract so many well-informed speeches from no fewer than 30 Members of your Lordships' House. He would perhaps have been daunted by the prospect of responding to so many excellent speeches. Certainly the fact that there has been a debate of this kind is a tribute to his judgment in tabling such a Motion at this time, and the House is grateful to him.

Among those well-informed speeches I must not neglect to refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. It was a truly expert speech of admirable clarity, and one which makes us confident that we shall benefit from his interventions in the future.

The Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, concerns strategy, organisation and Britain. Many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Hatch, quite rightly went beyond the issue of the environment in Britain. One cannot separate the British environment from the world environment, nor indeed from the environment in the atmosphere. Noble Lords went beyond the matters of organisation and strategy to speak of the fundamental problems behind those issues.

In order to enable some conclusion to be drawn from my own remarks I wish to end by speaking mainly of the organisation issues and to follow up the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, regarding the way in which our approach to environmental problems in this country should be organised. The problem with a single environmental strategy is that the environment is not a single issue. It is a pervasive problem in all parts of our public life. We can think about it in philosophical or physical terms by considering the four elements. I thought that we were going to talk only about earth, air and water but the noble Lord, Lord McNair, and others spoke about tire as well in order to make sure that we completed the quartet.

In policy terms the environment is not a matter for the Department of the Environment. It is a matter for almost every department of state and almost every aspect of our industrial and business life as well as our public life. Noble Lords from all parts of the House have made effective speeches on nearly every issue of public policy which could possibly be put before us. There have been excellent speeches on transport problems, particularly those pointing out the necessity, on environmental grounds, of improvement in urban public transport and the control of pollution from motor vehicles. There have been very effective speeches concerning energy conservation and the need for the Government to give more effective encouragement than they have towards energy conservation. Although the White Paper speaks well about energy conservation the actions of the Government do not tend in that direction.

There have been a number of speeches dealing with agriculture which I found slightly more confusing. I was not so readily convinced that it is possible for farmers to change into environmental protection managers of their land. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, made a very convincing case for his own kind of agriculture, but I was not convinced that it is necessarily easy or possible, simply by producing more funds for the farming community, to turn over to environmental management. Quite properly, there has been considerable debate on planning and land use but I believe that we can pass that over. In the next few weeks we shall spend a substantial amount of time dealing with that subject. It is certainly a challenge to noble Lords on all sides of the House to ensure that we write into the Planning and Compensation Bill adequate environmental assessment and protection of the environment as elements of our planning laws. I certainly do not have time to deal with the international issues of population and world poverty raised by a number of noble Lords, much as I would like to.

In the very short time available to me I wish to deal with the organisation of environmental protection, improvement and strategy. The noble Lords, Lord Wade and Lord Lucas, are opposed to the idea of environmental strategy. They prefer to see a free-for-all in environmental policy. However, I hope that they listened to the warnings given by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, who emphasised how readily matters can go wrong if there is a free-for-all. In particular he emphasised the need in nature conservation for co-ordination of public policies.

A number of noble Lords wanted special organisations to be set up for the purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, wanted a ginger group in the Cabinet Office. The noble Lord, Lord McNair, referred to the need for an energy task force. I remind the House that we have the last surviving Royal Commission which is concerned with environmental pollution. It is interesting that it did not receive a single mention in this debate. It is sad that it was not possible for the noble Lord, Lord Lewis of Newnham, who is its distinguished chairman, to be present for the debate. I wonder whether the Minister would like to say something about the Royal Commission and the Government's plans for it perhaps to continue and increase its effectiveness.

I was particularly interested in the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. He spoke in terms which are so close to Labour Party policy that I wonder whether he saw the analogies. He talked about the organisation. He said —and this would be right—that it would have to be slim, lean and cost effective. He spoke about a body with four divisions; the first being responsible for integrated pollution control and authorisation. The second, third and fourth divisions would be responsible for the enforcement of regulations and laws for water, air and land. That is a very attractive way of organising the environmental protection agency which is part of Labour Party policy. The noble Lord even went so far as to say that local authorities would have a significant role to play in environmental enforcement. I wonder whether he would have said that if Mrs. Thatcher were "alive".

Because we are so close to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, I shall not enlarge on the policy of the environmental protection agency which we see as being analogous to the Health and Safety Executive. The noble Lord's agency would embrace the NRA and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution. However, the analogy with the Health and Safety Executive goes further in the sense that we would have an environmental commission with an independent chairman. It would be built up like the Health and Safety Executive and would be responsible for research and policy. It would be perhaps comparable with the United States' council on environmental policy.

Behind all that, however the organisation takes place, is the profound difficulty referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley. Improving our environment will involve pain. It will involve political courage to put the various elements of environmental strategy together. Above all, it will have to deal with the large number of vested interests in so many spheres of our public life which are concerned with the environment. With a government that rely so much on market forces rather than on a combination of those forces and fiscal and regulatory means, which we would wish to have, it is very difficult to see how such a government can achieve the results required.

There is a very serious risk of damage to economic growth. There is also a serious need for restraint in unsustainable economic growth. Great political courage is required both in this country and throughout the world in order to ensure that we carry these policies through, with the burdens being fairly borne by those in our society who are most capable of bearing them.

7.48 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for giving the House the opportunity to debate environmental issues. Like the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, I agree that this has been an excellent debate. I begin by agreeing with all noble Lords about the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. It was an excellent, robust and confident speech. It was also a lyrical speech, beautifully delivered. I was asked to compliment the noble Lord properly, but time militates against me saying more at this stage. However, on behalf of the whole House I can say that we look forward very much to the noble Lord's contributions to future debates.

I begin by reassuring the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and possibly others, that the Government's concern for the environment is certainly not on the back burner. The year 1990 was one of considerable progress. Most notably, it saw the passage of the Environmental Protection Act and the publication of the environment White Paper. For all the specific criticism which these have attracted—and they have attracted some today—they remain the most far-reaching and comprehensive environmental measures any Government have produced. They come in addition to the great progress we have made in protecting the environment in Europe and on the global scale. The momentum will be sustained—indeed it must be sustained—in 1991 and in subsequent years.

I also welcome the tributes paid to the White Paper by many noble Lords. It is important that I should briefly set out the Government's record and particularly that I should update the House on the progress made since the publication of the environment White Paper to show our continuing commitment to turning those proposals into action.

The environment White Paper has, I firmly believe, broken new ground. Not only is it the first time a British Government have set out a full and comprehensive account of their approach to the whole range of environmental issues, but it is also the first time that that approach has been bound to a set of unifying principles for action. Our aim is nothing less than to make environmental concern a second nature activity or concern for everyone. Like the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, I believe that it is not a single issue. One of the problems is that for some individuals one aspect of the environment becomes an obsessive single issue. It is important that the environmental issues are taken very much in the round. From the largest government department or company to the individual or local voluntary group, we all have a responsibility. Together with the new system of integrated pollution control introduced by the Environmental Protection Act and the continuing strengthening of our inspectorates, we believe we have an environmental strategy which will ensure a better world for future generations.

The White Paper sets out a coherent approach across the different areas of pollution. It sets out clear targets. It shows how we aim to meet those targets. And it ranges from work which can be achieved only through international co-operation to goals which each of us can help to achieve. The White Paper and the Environmental Protection Act present us with a major action programme. There is no question in my mind that it is a sufficiently challenging agenda and that it has real teeth and commitment.

In the few months since publication we have already made major further steps towards our goals. In the international community, we have continued to support work towards global agreements on climate change and biodiversity and have further increased our contribution to the United Nations environment fund, making us one of the largest contributors. In Europe, we have just achieved agreement to crucial new directives on hazardous waste, on vehicle emissions and on new regulations implementing tough new phase-out dates for CFCs. These will be directly applicable in United Kingdom law so that, for example, we are now formally obliged to phase out CFCs by the agreed date of July 1997, the date targeted in the White Paper and two and a half years ahead of the date required by the Montreal Protocol. Halons and the other major ozone-depleting gases will be phased out completely over a series of agreed dates beginning in 1998.

At home, we have introduced legislation this Session to improve the operation of the planning system and controls over traffic on our roads. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. We shall spend many hours talking in detail about some of the planning issues. I hope I may be forgiven for not facing up to the many detailed comments made on the planning system itself.

We have made significant sums available for environmental aims next year to meet our commitments in the White Paper: an extra £23 million for the National Rivers Authority; £7.8 million for the Countryside Commission; £10 million for energy saving in housing; £4 million more for renewables research; £10 million for local authorities to develop recycling schemes; a £3 billion investment programme for London Transport and a £4 billion programme for British Rail over the next three years; and that is to name only some of the increases.

Not only are we already showing progress in meeting and developing our commitments, but we also have the machinery to ensure the continuing development of environmental programmes. Within the Government we have a new Cabinet committee to oversee environmental issues, with Ministers from each department responsible for environmental matters. This will bring together and co-ordinate the work across all departments. We are developing a new statistical report on the state of our environment and will soon publish guidance on improving Government's environmental housekeeping.

New discussion groups will keep us in touch with the views of industry, of heritage interests, of the voluntary sector and of local government. And new funding has been made available for voluntary projects and for industrial innovation. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution, the Health and Safety Executive and the National Rivers Authority last month published memoranda of understanding which will ensure the effective operation of their respective controls to prevent duplication and so reduce the burden for industry.

The expert and advisory groups announced in the White Paper will help to develop areas such as new air quality standards and the standards for IPC for different operations. And expenditure on research in support of environmental policy is to increase substantially over the next three years to give us the sound base for the effective decision-making that we need. All these elements together will ensure that the path set out in the White Paper and the Environmental Protection Act will be followed and followed swiftly.

A large number of points were raised by individual noble Lords. In a debate of 30 speakers it is not possible for me to deal with them in detail. I shall do what I can in the time I have available. Towards the end of the debate the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. I am happy to say that we have increased resources to the Royal Commission. We are presently discussing with the commission whether it would be advantageous to strengthen it. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, specifically mentioned Simon Engineering. I too am impressed at a distance by what I believe is going on with that company. I have agreed to pay a visit to the company to see at first hand some of the work going on there. That point links up with the point made by my noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton. I believe that some noble Lords misunderstood what my noble friend was saying. He was saying that there is tremendous innovation about. It is our job to harness, to encourage and, where possible, to promote that work.

I shall not be able to do justice to the excellent speech of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. He has been accused of being closer to Labour policy than I believe he is. I was invited by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to read the Labour Party document on the environment. I am happy to say that I have already done so. I agree with my noble friend that it is absolutely right to consider functions first and structure second. That is fundamental in any major review.

Many noble Lords mentioned energy efficiency. We are taking a wide-ranging series of measures to increase energy efficiency and reduce CO2, emissions. In addition to increasing the budget of the Energy Efficiency Office from £15 million over the past year to £42 million, we have published revised building regulations. There are new requirements which should achieve a saving of about 20 per cent. in energy requirements for space and water heating compared with a building constructed to former standards. Energy efficiency is an objective and has been identified in each department. Government departments are preparing strategies to contribute to the aim of saving up to £45 million within five years. We also have a new ministerial committee under the chairmanship of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy to maintain the momentum for improvement. The committee is working closely with other government departments, local authorities and organisations representing energy users in all sectors of the economy to raise the profile of energy efficiency. In November 1990 we announced the energy efficiency demonstration programme which is additional to the Energy Efficiency Office. It will be launched next year. Indeed, £60 million will be made available over the next two years to support a programme of energy efficiency and emissions reduction schemes in public sector housing.

We are also encouraging energy labelling—a point made very strongly by my noble friend Lord Craigton —particularly on buildings. We are also pressing at Community level for a Europe-wide environmental labelling scheme. Within the European Community we continue to press for agreement on a common scheme for energy efficiency labelling, particularly of electrical appliances, and for minimum standards for appliances such as washing machines. As I said, all that is in addition to the work being carried out at the Energy Efficiency Office.

I turn now to deal with transport. First, as regards pollution, we have proposed new MOT testing for emissions which should also reduce CO2, emissions by ensuring better tuning and tougher standards for cars and lorries in the European Community. It will reduce noxious emissions substantially; that is, up to 85 per cent. in the case of new cars from the end of 1992.

As regards public transport, the White Paper commits us to fostering bus use, including improved priority measures such as the red routes in our towns. I have already mentioned the record investment levels in BR and LRT. It is also important to remember—this is an important statistic—that even by doubling public transport we can only reduce road traffic by about 10 per cent. Therefore, what we do on our roads and what we do about congestion will still be a matter of importance. We are examining better methods of quantifying and mitigating adverse impacts from road schemes, pressing successfully for quieter aircraft and reviewing the operation of small airfields and night flights. We are also extending noise standards to new rail lines.

The noble Earl, Lord Shannon, was less than fair to the Government. He described the White Paper as pretentious. He then went on to say something which is positively not true. It is not true that the UK record on environmental infringements within the European Community is worse than that of our partners. Taking all environmental actions together, we are good performers; indeed, we are close to the bottom of the list of offenders. I invite the noble Earl to study the statistics for himself.

The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, referred specifically to the international scene and the developing world. I agree that the transfer of up-to-date technology is most important. We have already directly supported major schemes, including a £50 million energy efficiency project in India and also projects in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Uganda. That is in addition to the sum of about £9 million to help phase out CFCs in the developing world. I note all he said about passing on bad habits to the developing world. That is not what we should be doing.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, asked for reassurance that we have the proposals and the understanding to meet our CO2 target. I hope that I can reassure him as regards measures to meet our CO2 target. The White Paper expressly says that we will take the full range of "no regrets" policies and then look to further measures, including possible fiscal measures. I do not claim that the detailed proposals in the White Paper take us all the way towards achieving our target. We shall continue to develop our programme accordingly.

However, there must be an international approach to the reduction of global warming, as has been said by many people. The United Kingdom contributes less than 3 per cent. to global emissions. However successful our contribution may be, and even if we were totally successful, unless the matter is approached on an international scale we shall simply not be able to tackle the problem. As regards action on CFCs, which represent the highest level of greenhouse gases, our phasing out by 1997 will mean a total reduction in warming potential of about 20 per cent. on 1990 levels by the year 2005.

I shall deal now with the disposal of sewage sludge, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Wade. I believe that I referred to the innovation which is taking place in this respect. We shall need to find a range of measures for the disposal of sewage sludge, depending upon local circumstances. A statement on the national programme for the cessation of sea dumping of sludge will be made next month.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, was concerned about Welsh matters. I understand that there has been a small strengthening of the administrative staff in the Welsh Office who oversee the Countryside Council for Wales. Moreover, there has been a significant increase in the number of scientific staff working in the new council in comparison with its predecessor body. That body had 47 members of staff, 22 of whom were temporary. I am happy to say that there are now 68 members of staff in the new body, only five of whom are temporary. As regards the noble Lord's specific question, I am happy to be able to tell the House that my right honourable friend Mr. Malcolm Rifkind has been designated as the "Green Minister" for the Department of Transport.

My noble friend Lord Colwyn presented us with some very scary stories. I know that he is not apt to go over the top on such matters. Indeed, he was right to warn us about some of the hazards, especially in relation to food. We are aware of the need to monitor and minimise the health dangers of air, food and water pollution. We are committed to substantial reductions in all sources of air pollution. We are also expanding our monitoring network and increasing funding for research, including the work of the small area health statistics unit which explores clusters of unexplained illnesses in various localities.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred to the inadequacy of funding for the JNCC. The funding for the committee comes from grant in aid given to its three member councils. The sum is agreed by the three chairmen and by the chairman of the JNCC before it is put to the Government for approval. At this stage we have no reason to dissent from the sum agreed for next year.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, was worried that we might renege on the definition of "sustainable development". We continue to endorse the recommendations of the Brundtland Report. The change she detected in our position is simply not there. I draw her attention to the clear support expressed in the opening chapter of the White Paper. I am happy to confirm our commitment to it.

The noble Baroness was also concerned about the damage to SSSIs and the possibility that the problem would go unattended. I understand that only 1 per cent. of SSSIs have suffered significant damage since 1984. No notified site has yet been denotified as a result of such damage. However, I take the point she made about management in the countryside.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester drew our attention to planning issues which we shall be discussing at length in the planning Bill. He referred in particular to new settlements. I should like to talk much more with him about in-filling and perhaps we could discuss the matter more informally. I acknowledge the need for care in creating new settlements in rural areas; indeed, it is a vexed issue in my authority at present. The Department of the Environment recently commissioned research to examine the possible impact—that is, both good and bad—of such settlements.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in his excellent maiden speech, accompanied by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, my noble friend Lord Norrie and others drew our attention to the problems experienced by farmers. We are very aware of the potential financial burdens of countryside protection on farming. There are major issues facing us in the future as regards our agricultural production. I join with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in offering our commitment to do all we can to ensure that UK farming is not disadvantaged by the changes which lie ahead.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, asked about the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessments and about publication of the report. The report has yet to be submitted to the Department of Transport by the committee. The present hope is that it will be published in the spring. The Government will, of course, consider it closely and promptly.

My noble friends Lord Renton and Lord Norrie and the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, made specific reference to planning and environmental issues. I trust that they will forgive me if I do not deal with them this evening. I suspect we shall spend a good part of tomorrow discussing such issues in detail.

Another important issue raised was coastal zones and the marine environment. The matter is exercising the minds of government. The Government are reviewing the handling of the coastal environment and all aspects thereof, as announced in the White Paper. However, we are also consulting on the extension of marine conservation areas and are receiving valuable comments from organisations such as the one already mentioned in the debate; namely, the Marine Conservation Society. We are also very seized of the importance of research and development. I am happy to say that we are currently considering the society's recent report for the World Wildlife Fund.

As regards education, I am pleased to be able to say that mere information, especially on the environment, is now going directly into our schools from the department. I believe that I dealt with the need for fiscal policies in my response to the transport issues.

I turn now to deal with the environmental protection agency. It may have been deduced from what I have said that when we talk about an agency we are really talking about mechanisms. I know that noble Lords opposite believe that we are dealing with more than just mechanisms. We believe in the co-ordinated approach across all government, whereby all levels of government are charged with an environmental responsibility. In our view, such a responsibility to think about the environment is the way to go forward; it is the way to action as opposed to grand departments and supremos at national level.

On recycling, which was a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, councils will still be able to own equipment for the use of their new arms-length companies and to choose recycling as a waste disposal option. The changes will not penalise or deter successful recycling.

On the definition of waste, we do not wish to place hurdles in the path of recycling, but I hope the noble Lord will appreciate that redefining in law all recyclable materials as not being waste would invite the unscrupulous to define their waste as recyclable to evade controls. However, we will consider special cases for exemption from waste licensing, for example, where the process is small-scale.

There is still a range of issues on which I have not touched, but if there is something very specific that I have been remiss in passing over. I would ask noble Lords to remind me and I will go through the notes and write to noble Lords, particularly on planning in London, which would take too long to respond to now.

My noble friend Lord Renton said that man is the greatest spoiler of the environment. To some extent that is true, but I have to pick up something that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer; that is, that man is also a great creator, and must be. Man has to be the hope for the future. Therefore I should like to follow up a matter raised not just by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, but by many other noble Lords—that of land management.

I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and the rather romantic notion that to walk through one's rather small part of England that has been untouched and perhaps unmanaged is delightful, but—dare I say it?—even that 20 acres of woods would not be so desirable in 100 years' time if it were not for some modicum of management. Land management is a very important issue. It is also important on the positive side to catalogue some of the achievements of the farming community, of the hedgerow planters as opposed to the hedgerow destroyers. So it is possible to be positive and to accept that land management is a most important aspect of this debate.

The Government's commitment to the environment remains firm. The White Paper is not our last word but the start of a process which will see a continuing stream of measures to address key concerns from pollution control to coastal management, from global warming to countryside protection. I am sure noble Lords will welcome the many additional steps I have already mentioned which have been taken since the White Paper's publication. What is important is not new quangos or agencies but a clear vision and a commitment to action. That is what we have.

The Government's programme in the White Paper represents a unique commitment by a government to developing a concerted strategy for the environment based on clear policies, sound principles and the best scientific advice. Every department in Whitehall will be playing its part in integrating these environmental concerns into its work and policies. So too will every local authority and business and, I hope, every individual. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for providing this opportunity for me to update the House on the many steps we are taking.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, said that we deserved less than 10 out of 10. I am not sure whether he would give us a Beta plus for what we have done so far. On the issue of the environment the Government are not complacent. We cannot afford to be. We have a very strong commitment to making positive progress.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Baroness to clarify one part of her answer. I am sure she will see the significance. When she was talking about the phasing out of CFCs, did she mean the phasing out of the consumption of CFCs in this country or the phasing out of the production of CFCs? I believe that Britain produces 10 per cent. of the world's CFCs, so this is a very significant issue in view of the possibility of exporting CFCs to other countries.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am talking about the total ending of the production of CFCs. I hope the noble Lord will understand that there will be a residual problem of CFCs that are in existence, and in some cases the continuing use of them may be preferable to trying to destroy residual CFCs. So there will be some residual use of CFCs. I go along with the thrust of what the noble Lord was saying, in that the last thing we want is for a lot of the old type of refrigerators to crop up in India, Pakistan, China and other developing countries. If we are to benefit from the progress of modernisation it must be as a result of using the new technologies and as far as possible not using CFCs.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, before thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate, which I certainly do, I should like to take up a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, when he queried the use of the word "comprehensive", which he thought was rather bureaucratic. I was very careful in framing the wording of the Motion to take the words actually used in the White Paper. All the words are precisely as in the White Paper. On the cover of the White Paper are the words "Britain's Environmental Strategy", which are words used in the Motion. The first paragraph of the White Paper refers to the "comprehensive White Paper". So I was very careful to link it to the White Paper, and if the words are bureaucratic at least I am in important company in being bureaucratic.

This has been a most rewarding debate. I think I can say, as is said in the first paragraph of the White Paper, that it has been very timely. We have had the White Paper since September and have all been able to study it, and it seemed to me that it was about time that we had a chance of debating it. We have done this with great thoroughness and vigour, in spite of the time constraints. Many good ideas have been ventilated. Some have been in favour of some kind of overall body and some have not. I read the White Paper as saying that in the medium term the Government will seriously address themselves to the creation of an umbrella organisation. That is what is stated in the document, and I presume that something on the lines of what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said will come about in due course. It seemed to me to make a great deal of sense.

A wide range of issues was covered which I hope will be fully considered. I am most obliged to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for the way in which she has responded to the debate. I was particularly pleased that she emphasised a number of times that the Government are determined to maintain the momentum. There is always bound to be the fear that after the enormous amount of work that went into the environment last year, culminating in the White Paper, there would be a tendency to say, "We have dealt with that. Now let's turn to the next thing". This is one area which I believe we cannot treat in that way. That was the view of everybody who spoke in the debate. The matter must continue to attract important attention, and the way in which the Government have organised it seems to ensure that that will be achieved. We have had reassurance from the Front Bench today that they intend to continue giving this very great importance indeed in the development of Government policy.

With those remarks, I should like to thank very much indeed all noble Lords who have participated, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, who quite rightly received congratulations on his maiden speech. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at nineteen minutes past eight o'clock.