HL Deb 11 February 1992 vol 535 cc581-3

2.43 p.m.

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many meetings of the standing committee of "green" Ministers took place during the period 30th September 1990 to 31st December 1991.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, there are two standing committees of Ministers on the environment: one is chaired by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister; the other is chaired by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. The groups have met as and when necessary to monitor progress on Britain's environmental strategy as set out in the White Paper This Common Inheritance, and to develop policies.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is it not the case that the first meeting of either committee did not take place until July 1991, which is 10 months after the publication of the White Paper? Does she agree that departments continue to conflict with each other? For example, the planning policies of the DoE are constantly overridden and are certainly contested by the Department of Transport. Will she say what evidence there is that the system is working? A number of us believe that there has been little difference since the committees were created.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Baroness. Both committees have met a number of times. The "green" Ministers from each department, apart from the formal committee meetings, have a remit both within and across their departments to assess the environmental impact of policies. There is now a network, and mechanisms are in place to make sure that the environmental impact of policies, both as they apply to a single department and as they interact with other departments, are assessed. Much progress has been made.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, is it not an example of the real lack of co-ordination between departments that according to a Select Committee on Energy in another place, the White Paper has had little impact on the Department of Energy's expenditure priorities?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I do not agree with what the noble Baroness said. First, there is a great deal of co-operation. We are the first government to issue a major statement on environmental policy, and we are the first government to have had a "green" Minister in every department. It is also worth saying that most of those "green" Ministers are senior Ministers, and six of them are the Secretaries of State of those departments. The proof of the pudding is very much in the actions which have been taken as the result of the White Paper. A large number—over 400 —of measures have been taken. The noble Baroness need only refer to the first annual report and she will see that a great deal has been achieved in the course of one year.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it was a Conservative Prime Minister in 1970 who thought up the idea of having a Department of the Environment, the first such department that we ever had?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend is right. Moreover, the whole issue of environmental policy now permeates out from that department across all departments. The United Kingdom is taking a world lead in integrating environmental policies across government. As I said, there is a "green" Minister in every department. There are regular and full progress reports which are in the public domain. There are new discussion forums with business, local government and the voluntary sector. There is new guidance for government on assessing the environmental impact of policies, and over 400 individual measures have been taken to improve the environment. The noble Baroness will be able to see in the next annual report the progress which has been made in the second year of this policy.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Baroness include in her examination some of the frightening reports about what is happening to the ozone layer? That may not be an environmental question, but environmental features are causing danger to our world.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point. This Government initiated global conferences to discuss such issues as the ozone layer and global warming. The previous Prime Minister was very much involved, and my right honourable friend the present Prime Minister is very much involved in those discussions and conferences.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not realise that matters are getting worse?

Lord Zuckerman

My Lords, perhaps I may have the temerity to correct the Minister. The Department of the Environment was set up in Harold Wilson's day when he was Prime Minister, and Tony Crosland was about to become the Secretary of State for the department when there was a change of government. I mention that because as a civil servant I was given the responsibility of trying to put together what became the Department of the Environment.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I may be wrong, and if I am I shall write to the noble Lord. However, I believe that a Conservative Government set up the Department of the Environment. I repeat that if I am wrong, I shall write to the noble Lord.

What is most important is that in practice there is now a mechanism not just across Whitehall but across all countries of the world so that the impact of all important environmental matters, such as global warming, is taken into account. To coin a phrase, from the stratosphere to the street corner there are now policies in place to ensure the furtherance of environmental issues so that policies are developed not only in this country but throughout the world. Therefore, it is possible to achieve a co-ordinated objective.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, regarding the question of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, did not the Conservative Party sack that Prime Minister as their leader? Are they not likely to do the same with the present Prime Minister when he loses the next election?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I see no reason to associate the point made by the noble Lord with the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, is it not the case that the creation of hot air is a great danger to global warming? Perhaps we should move on to the next Question.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it is an important debate. It is an important Question, and I take it seriously. However, what I can say and what I wish to say as an addendum to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, is that it is increasingly the case that the scientific data being collated towards an understanding of what is happening to the planet, and the developing of policies to ensure that the worst effects of what we are doing are addressed, are much sounder than they ever were.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, will the Minister accept that we support the idea of a "green" Minister in each department? It was our anxiety that that policy might not be working that urged me to table the Question in the first place. We support the idea and believe it to be a good one. We are anxious that it should succeed. However, when a Select Committee of the other place finds reason for anxiety in regard to the Department of Energy, my noble friend's Question should receive a more careful Answer than that given by the noble Baroness. The Question was not tabled lightly.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, one of the fundamental tasks of all Members of this House and another place is to keep a downward pressure on any government to ensure that policies are working. Of course everything is not perfect. From time to time things will be found wanting. In defence of that, a mechanism is in place to ensure that there is robust discussion both within and across departments, across government as a whole —presided over by the Prime Minister, no less—and to take the issue beyond the shores of this country to the European and the global sphere.