HL Deb 02 March 1994 vol 552 cc989-1034

3.15 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley rose to call attention to the measures needed to meet the commitment relating to sustainable development made by Her Majesty's Government at the Earth Summit in Rio in June 1992; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. At the Rio conference, the nations of the world, including the UK, recognised the need for a switch of their economies from their traditional aim of eternal growth to the attainment of sustainable development, defined as being that development which, meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". That this goal has been so widely recognised as essential itself marks a great step forward from the thinking of, say,30 years ago and those of us who campaign on this issue must not only praise those who have led this thinking but also those who have started effecting the revolution which has been necessary in our political parties.

And the revolution has borne fruit. Your Lordships are setting up a special committee to study the matter. The Labour Party has effective and sympathetic champions such as Chris Smith in another place, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in this House—and we are sorry that she cannot be with us today. My own party is preparing a major policy document on the subject, on the draft of which I shall be drawing freely, and it would be churlish not to recognise in John Gummer a Minister who understands what the subject is all about and who is committed to it. I pay that tribute wholeheartedly before I embark on an analysis which will imply and sometimes contain a thorough criticism of us all.

In addition to drawing on my own party's work, I hope to look at the Government's responses to Rio and at the most recent issue of that essential magazine, Resurgence, which I hope is even now to be found in your Lordships' Library and which contains important articles by the leading green economist Herman Daly and by Sir Crispin Tickell, wholly fortuitously Warden of Green College, Oxford. In passing, perhaps I may point out that this Government would add to their green laurels if they were to elevate Sir Crispin to this House, where he would illuminate your Lordships' counsels.

With the adoption of the aim of sustainable economy by the nations, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that we find ourselves on the cusp of a paradigm shift—a not very comfortable place to be sitting. The change in world economies and economics will be as revolutionary as was the coming of capitalism.

Both John Stuart Mill and Maynard Keynes foretold in oft-quoted passages the inevitable coming of a steady state economy, but, alas, there have been and still are too many lesser economists who have thought that we could go on and on for ever in the same old way relying on technical fixes which often, if not always, create at least as many problems as they solve and factor substitutions, the successes of which disguise the real losses which have occurred in the mere fact that they have become necessary. There has been too much dependence on Ricardian economics which, among other things, presupposes that capital is as non-transferable internationally as labour—something which long ago ceased to happen.

I know that noble Lords who have put their names to the debate will bring much experience to bear on those individual facets of the problem which are most familiar to your Lordships; and there are some speeches to which we particularly look forward. Perhaps I may mention the maiden speeches of the noble Earl, Lord Temple of Stowe, and the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon. I was born and brought up in a house which was built by the ancestors of the noble Earl, Lord Temple, as their second Buckinghamshire home. It was an exact copy of Buckingham Palace before the present facade was put on, so his family has had to travel some way before they can argue convincingly, as I hope he will, that small is beautiful; and the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, will probably be grateful to me for refraining from facetiousness about the importance of forests.

It seems to me that my job in opening the debate is to outline some of the main themes which will have to be tackled. If, in doing so, your Lordships and even some Members of my own Benches think that I am going too far, it is because I think that we shall go nowhere unless we realise both the attainability of many of the goals in the short term and the revolutionary nature of those of the long term.

I can concentrate on those major themes the more readily, knowing that my noble friend Lord Ezra, who was primarily responsible for us putting forward the subject today, will be fielding at long stop as well as discussing a number of subjects on which I shall not touch, as will the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, who will deal with transport. It may well be that there are those like my noble friend Lord McNair who will think that I have not gone far enough.

The first topic I should like to mention, if only because it is too often left aside, is population growth. If the population growth of the world continues as it is, we are all doomed, or rather our grandchildren are. It may well be that the growing resistance to antibiotics, together with other phenomena such as the spread of AIDS, will bring a population collapse on a global scale similar to the continental collapse of the Black Death. But clearly that is neither to be welcomed nor to be counted on. What will be needed is a switch from our present thinking on solutions to the problem, which tend to depend at least partly on economic growth, to a rather more simple solution which has recently raised its rather beautiful head.

At the moment we are relying on the education of women and the availability of contraceptive methods to bring about a stable population. Both those are supremely worth while in their own right and have been shown to be effective in many countries. But by no means in all. Professor Virginia Abernethy, editor of the US journal Population and the Environment, has come up with a different overall solution based on studies of parts of the world where population growth is already stable.

The core of the argument being propounded by her and her colleagues is that population growth explodes when people's expectations of rapid economic growth and/or emigration to areas which they see as economically desirable is high and that it levels off when people see that resources are not expanding and that their children are unlikely to become rich. In other words, they adapt to the carrying capacity of what they see as their territory. An interesting example where the population growth is just about zero is St. Helena, which your Lordships debated recently, where the people can see the limits of their resources (being a small island helps with that) and do not foresee any alternative futures for their children.

If the first topic is population, the second topic is GATT. Here I draw your Lordships' attention to the well-attested phenomena of the swing-back of the pendulum once one has reached an extreme, as also to the well-known tendency of businesses to start declining almost as soon as they move into new and palatial accommodation.

The doctrine of free trade has just, first, reached a near absolute and, secondly, fitted itself up in a virtually brand new apparatus in GATT. Therefore, it will surprise no observer of human phenomena if we see a reversal of fortunes. We are now already working on a so-called improvement of GATT which, by taking environmental matters into account, is in fact a move into reverse of the pendulum.

One of the more interesting and redeeming features of GATT is its exclusion of goods produced by prison labour. I suggest that the next steps are the exclusion of goods produced from non-renewable resources or by unchecked pollution. For we must come to the conclusion that, contrary to the beliefs of some economists, trade is not, unlike truth and beauty, an absolute good. Transport uses non-renewable resources and creates pollution. When large quantities of sugar cookies are exported from Denmark to the USA and large quantities of sugar cookies are exported from the USA to Denmark, one cannot help thinking that a mutual faxing of recipes might be a less wasteful method of international commerce.

That brings me to another facet of free trade. At the same time as we are freeing trade in goods we are busy creating protection in intellectual and natural property. The long-term patenting of seeds, for instance, is a scandal. We must in a sustainable world economy devise a method of spreading knowledge freely, while acknowledging the need to protect a modest livelihood for breeders and inventors. At the moment, any person tempted to conspiracy theories (and I am not) might regard what is happening in this field as a carefully planned bonanza for transnational corporations.

That brings me to the third of my strands: the need for the community of the world to harness transnational corporations for the common good. This will not be easy and we are not at the moment in the middle of a period of credulity about the effectiveness of the UN and its various offspring. But I would suggest to noble Lords that this is the only way forward and, that being so, we must not stand around complaining about the muddiness of the path, the smelliness of our fellow travellers and the likelihood of our being mugged along the way but strike out like Pilgrim along the road to the Holy City.

On the international front we need desperately to see that the Commission for Sustainable Development is given teeth and resources and that other bodies such as the World Bank are accountable to it. There are right levels for every form of action and while I and my colleagues on these Benches are tireless campaigners for devolution, if you are going to solve global problems you have to have a global authority.

On the national or general Western level, I must point out that though many of the first steps are easy we are going to have to do what has been regarded on the Left as impossible since the days of Anthony Crosland and on the Right as unthinkable. That is, to strive towards equality, more of which is going to be necessary both on a national and on an international level, in a period when there is unlikely to be economic growth as conventionally measured. Indeed, I suggest that it is likely that real economic growth of the traditional kind has already topped out for good and that when Mr. Macmillan said in that famous phrase of the Sixties that people "had never had it so good" he might well have added "and never will again".

What is to be done? Mr. Gummer has suggested that we need individual action and indeed we do. But Robert Worcester of Mori has shown in a recent paper delivered to the Green Alliance that a great deal is being done individually in this country. No doubt most of your Lordships take your bottles to the bottle bank, try out long-life bulbs and employ tiger worms to make your compost.

But action by Government is also needed and although education can do a lot and fiscal measures can do much there will be areas where regulation will be necessary. In particular, we need to be very careful in the coming months as to what we deregulate.

While we need energy taxation (by which I mean a well thought out tax designed to reduce energy use, with proper safeguards for the poor and not a one-off money-raising exercise) we also need comprehensive compulsory informative labelling of energy-eating machines with tobacco-style warnings: "This product is highly likely to damage your grandchildren's health, if by then there are any grandchildren to have health! "

In the field of biodiversity we need to set targets both within and without existing environmental schemes and I would ask the Government to tell us what they are intending to do in this field and how they are going to reverse the trends highlighted in the Government's own Countryside Survey.

From a world when there appeared to be little need for, or prospects of, limits to growth and catastrophes were things to be taken in one's stride, we have moved to a world where the precautionary principle must rule. We cannot afford to go on playing "last across the road". We must now play safe instead—with climate change, conservation of species and in many other areas.

Finally, I have a specific question to ask the Government; and the reason that I do not have more than one is that I know that other noble Lords will ask them. My question is fairly obvious so I did not think it necessary to give notice of it. We are told that we are to have a panel of five wise persons who will advise the Government on strategic issues in this field. That is a good idea so long as the process is transparent. Are they to publish regular reports; or are they merely to give advice the nature of which will never be revealed if the Secretary of State so chooses? I must warn the Government that the latter course would be completely unacceptable.

We live in exciting times and, unlike the Chinese proverb maker, I would not have it otherwise. I regard it as a great privilege to have been able to put this case to the House this afternoon. I look forward to gleaning much from the knowledge and experience of noble Lords. I beg to move for Papers.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for allowing us to debate this important subject. The publication of the Government's papers on subsidiarity represented a very significant moment in the development of British environmental policy and a considerable achievement by those responsible for their production. The importance of the step that has been taken should not be underestimated. It is easy enough to find fault and to identify omissions or the lack of firm targets. But some of us at least who took part in the consultative process and heard the vast range of contradictory views, are impressed by the way in which order has been created out of chaos and a foundation has been established on which to build.

Environmental policy-making involves the reconciliation of very different views. Economists refer to "weak" and "strong" sustainability. I suppose that we may speak, on the one hand, of the free market point of view and on the other of "ultra-green" environmentalists. Governments and regulators are bound to seek a position in between, using a combination of regulation and economic instruments.

The Prime Minister was right on the occasion of the launch to point out that there are no easy options; that you get nothing for nought; and that a price has to be paid. That price is not just a financial one. Difficult choices have to be made between different environmental options. Perhaps I may give two examples.

I was involved in the original decisions to retro-fit desulphurisation plant to power stations. I must say that I was pretty shaken when I recently visited one of those power stations on the Trent to find that the plant occupied more than the original space of the power station and its coal storage areas. I heard of the vast quantities of limestone that had to be extracted, probably from close to a national park, and conveyed by road and rail; and about the amounts that had to be put back into landfill at the end of the process. I hope that the balance of advantage was there. At least there were contending pressures. Another example is that of wind power. Initial enthusiasm is being tempered by the knowledge that it often involves the advance of a great army of iron creatures across beautiful and previously unspoiled countryside.

The important point about the publication of these papers is that they provide a firm starting point for action. It is helpful that so much has been set down about the condition of the environment. The fact that so many desirable objectives have been identified means that the pressure will mount to turn objectives into achievements. However, it is only a start. We have to move forward to identify qualitative objectives and firm timetables. That will happen only if the will exists, if political leadership is given and if political pressure is exerted. Probably the best way to ensure that that happens is to establish the will of the public: to find out what opinion is on these issues, both inside Parliament and outside. Even when Ministers are clear-minded, determined and impatient, it takes an alarmingly long time—except, apparently, in time of war—to implement even those policies which are agreed and are on the statute book. That being so, we should bear in mind that it is of equal importance that the Government should continually give the right signals; that the general public should exert pressure; and that we should make use of the influence of economic forces.

Business has to look ahead. Therefore clear indications of the way in which policy is developing and the likely progress of legislation frequently lead to major changes in the planning, investment decisions and business practice of industrial companies. Most leaders of industry do not like to find themselves criticised for being bad environmentalists. Many of them are increasingly seeing the commercial advantages of being good environmentalists.

I believe that in this situation one of the key factors to success is openness. It is absolutely essential for an effective environmental policy based on the principle of sustainability. We must put the facts in the public arena—if we are to understand the competing environmental arguments; if we are to be able to balance the costs of taking action against the costs of not taking action; and if we are to exert an influence against the inevitable pressures of the lobbying organisations and the inherent tendency of government to delay. It has been deeply disappointing in the field for which I have some responsibility—the water environment—that it has taken so long to move to the introduction of statutory water quality objectives which provide us with an almost ideal mechanism. They were introduced in the 1989 Act for establishing the costs and benefits, debating them in public and then putting down firm, enforceable standards.

Perhaps Parliament should establish a system rather akin to post-project management whereby we look at the way in which legislation has actually been implemented. We tend to pay attention to putting it on the statute book and never come back to see whether it has been implemented effectively.

I am confronted by another example of where openness can break down. The initial phase of the Ofwat examination which will lead to decisions about the water industry's environmental programmes for the next five years was admirably open. We had a vigorous debate. Some of us were concerned that the original estimates that were put into the arena by Ofwat were exaggerated. However, they were challenged; they were in the open. I had to warn the Secretary of State at a meeting only this week of my concerns on discovering that apparently we cannot now continue that open debate because the figures that are now emerging, and which are very different, are price sensitive—or are asserted to be price sensitive. I am bound to say that that is a very startling discovery. It will lead us into extreme difficulties. Indeed, it led my noble friend Lord St. Davids into giving, I believe quite inadvertently, a somewhat misleading Answer in this House only yesterday afternoon when answering the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, about the cost of the urban waste water treatment directive. The difficulty is that neither he nor I can refer at the present moment, indeed until a solution is found to this problem, to the real figures that are emerging.

The point that I want to make is simply that it is an essential feature of any successful environmental policy and its implementation that it is totally open and that all the facts are continually available to those who wish to involve themselves in the debate.

Lord Desai

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for giving us this opportunity to debate such an important topic. We also look forward to the two maiden speeches this afternoon.

First, I must say that the phrase "sustainable development" is not operationally precise enough to be able to state that such and such policies promote sustainable development and other policies do not. It is a somewhat vague notion. Other people have said that it is growth which does not cheat our children or that it is growth which we can have without depriving our children of their opportunity. Those kinds of notions are very difficult to make precise.

In the short time that I have available, I should like to highlight the difficulties of sustainable development and policy making rather than criticise what has been done, which I welcome. The problem is that there is no precise connection between the rate of economic growth, as we normally measure it in terms of GDP, and pollution. It is not true to say that rapid growth as measured in GDP causes pollution, and slow growth does not cause pollution. Stagnation and depression are just as bad at causing pollution as growth can be. In fact, it is not the rate of growth that matters; and it is not basically the level of income as growth rate. It is the composition of the income, the processes and products which are consumed and produced, which determine the amount of pollution that we suffer.

So one can have a sustainable development with either a high rate of growth or a very low rate of growth, depending upon the proper incentives that we give to producers and consumers to choose those processes and products which are less polluting rather than high polluting. That is very important to remember. The old debate about whether the environment was a middle-class luxury or whether growth was causing the problem is completely misleading. If we are to take the public with us for a programme of sustainable development, we have to emphasise that the sacrifices that will be required are not so much in the level of consumption as in the kind of products that we consume and the processes that are used to produce them.

For example, it would make a great difference to pollution if we could find a better form of transport than the motor car as it is currently constructed. If that could be done, we could have as many cars as we wished with much less pollution. So that is the first point to bear in mind.

Secondly, the problem of sustainable development is very different for the rich countries compared with the poor ones. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, mentioned the problem of equality. But it is important to remember that the rich countries which have a very low population growth pollute more because of the amounts that they consume and the kind of consumption in which they indulge. So population growth is not at the heart of the problem.

The poor countries have a very different problem. Their problem does not so much concern air quality or global warming. Their problem is lack of clean water,"desertification" and deforestation. The people are so poor that they do not have the room to preserve the environment. They have to encroach on the environment just for daily living. The environment is a problem of the quality of life for the rich countries; it is a problem of life and death in the poor countries. That must be remembered. Unless there can be a vision which is not only long-sighted but global, we shall not be able to arrive at the correct policies that we would wish to have for sustainable development.

While population growth may seem like a problem, that is not where the problem lies. The real problem is poverty. We shall not have sustainable development if we preserve the current inequalities of wealth across the world. One sure way to ensure that we shall continue to have a problem will be to perpetuate the current distribution of resources. We must devise policies, either through trade or aid, and perhaps more through trade—I have not given up on trade as much as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has done—which would allow the poorer countries of the world that little bit of extra room which will make them care more for the environment than they are able to do at present. I do not believe that it is possible or even politically sound for us to say to China or India, "Please do not go down the way that we have gone because if you do you will ruin the environment." That is not possible.

Suppose we were able to give licences to pollute on a global basis in proportion to population or size of area. Then let countries trade those pollution licences. The rich countries pollute more than the poor countries. It has been calculated that if we had pollution licences which were tradable, it would take something in the order of 5 per cent. of the GDP of the rich countries to be transferred to the poor countries to be able to buy all the pollution licences needed to do what we are doing today. Five per cent. of GDP is about seven times the total aid which has been given by all the rich countries to all the poor ones. We barely manage to give 0.7 per cent. of GDP in aid. The UK does not manage it—but most countries do not manage it. Five per cent. of GDP would be a tremendously large amount of money.

That brings ho me simultaneously the problem of equity across the globe and how much the rich countries with limited populations but lots of resources are presuming upon the global environment to sustain the levels of consumption that they are enjoying. I am not anti-consumption or anti-growth. But those costs right now are not being borne clearly because there are no property rights in the environment. I am perfectly happy to go along the market road. Going along the market road. if there were property rights in the environment we should be paying the correct price for it. But right now we do not have the proper markets; and in other areas we preach the free market doctrine and perhaps worsen the situation.

It is very important to remember that while individual actions are necessary, there has to be both a long-distance vision, much longer than the year 2000 or 2010, as mentioned in the paper, and it has to be a global vision. That al one will achieve sustainable development.

3.47 p.m.

Earl Temple of Stowe

My Lords, I am deeply sensible of the honour of being given this opportunity to make my maiden speech, and in particular to have the way so kindly opened for me, so to speak, by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley.

As some of your Lordships may be aware, this maiden speech has been some time in the making. When I first sat in your Lordships' House, I was given wise advice on the making of such a speech."Speak on your subject," they said."What is your subject?" Rather diffidently, I said that it was antique furniture, more particularly of the 17th and 18th centuries."Ah," they said,"Have you another subject?" Even more diffidently, I mentioned Samuel Pepys, his life and his diary. No great enthusiasm was generated, and as time passed I saw that there was indeed little chance of a debate arising to which I could contribute on either subject.

The problem was made no easier by the fact that my forebear, the Earl of Chatham, was renowned, I believe, among other things, for the length and depth of his speeches. However, in my researches I was cheered to find that his sister had said to Lord Macaulay,"Pitt knows nothing accurately except Spenser's Faerie Queene." So far as I know, that subject was never touched on in your Lordships' House.

However, I am extremely concerned about the environment and our use or misuse of it. As I live for part of the year in Orkney, which I think can claim more of its fair share of that invigorating factor the wind, I am very glad of the opportunity today to speak on wind power as an alternative source of energy.

In our daily lives, most of us can give only momentary thought to our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels to provide light, heat and power for all our many needs. But, while supplies of those fuels are sufficient now, it is probable that they will not be so in 25 years' time, and in 50 years' time their shortage may well be acute. We will have, by then, to find alternative sources of renewable energy.

Nuclear power, at present the greatest source of alternative energy, requires an enormous amount of capital for its production. It can also be extremely dangerous, as experience from Russia has shown. There is no lack of wind around our coasts and on higher ground. We have a great deal of knowledge and experience of aerodynamics from our aircraft industry which we can call upon, and in these difficult times of recession there must be many who would be willing to take advantage of employment and who would bring with them technical expertise and skills.

I understand that wind power could eventually provide us with between 10 per cent. and 20 per cent. of the energy we need. The areas best placed to take advantage of the prevailing winds would be Scotland, Wales, the North-West and South-West of England. Research is, of course, vital if wind energy is to make a significant contribution to Britain's needs. More aid than that given in the past is needed in this field, perhaps by government funding of those university faculties studying wind energy. Industry concerned with wind power should have, if not direct aid, plenty of incentives for practical research.

Now that we are more than ever integrated with the countries of the EC, the exchange of information on wind power conversion should flow more easily between member states. Denmark, in particular, ought to be an ally for consultation, since she leads Europe in the wind conversion industry. She has over 3,000 machines which produce 2 per cent. of heir electricity needs. The Danish plan is to raise that to 10 per cent. by the year 2000.

Perhaps the most ambiguous aspect of the wind energy programme, and one that concerns us all, is its effect on the environment. There has been considerable comment in the press recently about wind farms: their intrusion on the landscape and the noise they generate. There is cause for concern on both those counts. But the present dissipation of the earth's resources would seem to leave us with little alternative but to make what use we can of sources of renewable energy such as wind power.

There are, I believe,10 wind farms currently operating in Britain and much success has been reported in those areas. I am thinking in particular of farms in Wales and Cornwall, where individual enterprise has reaped its reward. There are, I understand, a further 60 wind farms under construction or awaiting planning permission. In relation to visual intrusion, I have seen the 10 windmills at Britain's first wind farm, at Delabole in Cornwall, referred to with appreciation as being "impressively statuesque". However, for the future of our environment, we must ensure that there is the fullest co-operation between government departments. local authorities, industry and conservationists when decisions are taken on the siting of wind generators and, in particular, wind farms.

In conclusion I should like to suggest that to explore new ways of working with the elements, rather than against them, may need a shift in perception. We might do well to remember what the playwright Fletcher so wisely said, He that will use all winds, Must shift his sail".

3.56 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, your Lordships are doubly fortunate this afternoon. First, the debate before us was opened so eloquently and thoughtfully by my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley; that, however, was compounded by the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Temple of Stowe, which was as amusing and as well thought out and reasoned a maiden speech as I have ever heard in the time in which I have been in your Lordships' House. He is greatly to be congratulated on that.

I should say that that does not come as a great surprise when I hear that he is interested in antiques, of whatever century, and also that he used to be a neighbour of my late lamented noble friend Lord Grimond and his equally lamented wife, Laura. Anybody who lives in Orkney must have a different perspective on life and know, as he suggested in his closing words, how necessary it is to go along with the grain rather then against it. I hope that he finds other subjects on which he is prepared to come and talk to us because I am sure that he has many other shots in his locker.

As my noble friend said earlier, I want to say a few words in regard to transport this afternoon because transport is a real problem in relation to the environment. The problem is that cars, buses, motor cycles and lorries in this country emit something like 30 million tonnes of CO2, let alone other gases, into the world atmosphere from the UK per annum. The other half of the problem is the attitude of government. Figures show that in this country car users doubled over the past 10 years and, we are told, will do so again. Listening to Mr. McGregor on the radio last night, it was clear that his response is that we must cope with that by building more roads. We are told that people must be free to choose. Indeed they should. But if the Government agree that emissions must be reduced, then we cannot start from the proposition that the market alone can decide. The market alone will not stop people exercising their free choice in a way which will reduce the predicted extra 25 million cars on our roads by the end of the century.

In making their commitment to Rio, the Government signed up to Agenda 21 in Chapters 9.13 and subsequent. It said under the heading, "BASIS FOR ACTION", there is need for a review of existing transport systems and for more effective design and management of traffic and transport systems … The basic objective of this programme area is to develop and promote cost-effective policies or programmes, as appropriate, to limit, reduce or control, as appropriate, harmful emissions into the atmosphere and other adverse environmental effects of the transport sector". The chapter continues, Governments at the appropriate level, with the co-operation of the relevant United Nations bodies and, as appropriate, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, and the private sector, should: Develop and promote, as appropriate, cost-effective, more efficient, less polluting and safer transport systems, particularly integrated"— I stress the word "integrated"; it is a word the Government hate rural and urban mass transit". The document further states that the Government should, promote cost-effective policies or programmes, including administrative, social and economic measures, in order to encourage use of transportation modes that minimize adverse impacts on the atmosphere; develop or enhance, as appropriate, mechanisms to integrate"— again that word— transport planning strategies and urban and regional settlement planning strategies, with a view to reducing the environmental impacts of transport". If the Government are serious about reducing emissions by the year 2000 to the level they were at in 1990, it is about time they started. We must have a two-pronged attack. First, we have to try to reduce harmful emissions. To a certain extent that is happening with the fitting of catalytic converters to motor cars. Secondly, we have to encourage people to use cleaner fuels. That is easier said than done because of the range of cleaner fuels available—all have drawbacks.

Bio fuels look attractive—this is a renewable source from rape seed, maize or sugar—until one realises that the CO2 they absorb during their growth is also pushed out into the atmosphere when one uses them as a fuel. Natural gas reduces the production of CO2 and carbon monoxide by 70 per cent., but the problem with natural gas is that it is a fossil fuel and is not renewable. Electricity is a nice clean fuel except that the technology is not yet developed enough to have motor cars, lorries and trucks doing all the things that we want them to do. In addition, the sources of the electricity are, on the whole, polluting. Indeed, what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, was saying earlier is relevant to that. Even with a clean power station, one is using up non-renewable resources at quite a high rate.

Although there is at the moment the catalytic converter, and although there is a shift from gasoline to diesel, people are now beginning to doubt whether diesel is all that clean a fuel because of the particulate exhausts that come from it.

There has to be a two-pronged attack. We have to do everything we can to find cleaner sources of energy for our transport. But at the same time we have to try to shift people from the undoubted freedom of their motor car and encourage them, help them and if necessary penalise them so that they go on to public transport. Here I fear that the Government have not really helped. The truth is that bus privatisation has been a disaster in terms of moving people from private cars onto buses. All the statistics indicate that that is the case. Now, from 1st April, privatisation of the railways will do the same thing.

I am sure that the Government have the resources, if they will only use them in the right direction, to improve the situation. There is an interesting article in The Times this morning by Simon Jenkins. The article relates to the situation in Malaysia but is relevant to this question. It states that, the Thatcher Government did not believe in subsidising British industry. In 1988 the Prime Minister was fiercely denying public support for the Channel tunnel high-speed link, in which many of the companies fighting for Malaysian contracts might have had a hand. Bluntly, the taxpayer built a dam in northern Malaysia rather than a railway southern Britain because railways do not sell arms". That seems to be a perfect criticism of the Government's attitude to public transport in this country.

4 p.m.

Earl Kitchener

My Lords, the Sustainable Development document of this year is a welcome account of the Government's actions and plans; and it sets a good example by telling the reader that not only is the paper recycled, but the varnish on the front cover can be recycled once more. I am told that telephone directories cannot be recycled because of their solidity but that efforts, which I hope the Government are encouraging, are being made to remedy that. On the subject of paper, it can often be saved by the use of both sides of the sheet, and the three lists of speakers for today are an example.

The terms "environmentally friendly farming" and "organic farming" are roughly equivalent. Both are developments of the system used for thousands of years and so are known to be sustainable, an avowed target of the Government. Why then does so much less of the taxpayers' money go to it than to set-aside and to acreage payments? The latter generate much paperwork for farmers and need policing by a number—I am tempted to say an army—of civil servants. But there is a regulatory body, the UKROFS, which supervises other organisations which check farms for compliance with the organic rules at no cost to the taxpayer. Non-governmental organisations are well-liked by the Government, and of them I can only say that some in this field consider that good projects are being turned down.

Help for environmentally sensitive areas is most welcome; but in many ways the whole country fits that description. In the short term, organic farming might well cause, in addition to its environmental benefits, an increase in prices to the consumer; but I hope that the Government, nowadays largely by their influence on the CAP, will give it enough support to enable us to learn its long-term effects.

The clear and interesting maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Temple of Stowe, gives me an opportunity to mention a point about wind power. Its detractors accuse it of damaging flora and fauna to a degree which its supporters deny. Only an investigation sponsored by the Government is likely to be accepted as impartial.

4.7 p.m.

The Earl of Huntingdon

My Lords, I too should like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, for giving me the chance to speak in your Lordships' House for the first time on such an important topic. I am glad he did not dwell too long on the connection with

Sherwood Forest. I am afraid that the tie to Robin Hood is firmly based in fiction, not fact. I hope to be brief and unprovocative.

Both sides of my family have strong ties with racing and politics. My maternal grandmother was a Stanley in the era of Hyperion; and my mother's father, Malcolm Bullock, represented Crosby in Lancashire for the Conservatives. My paternal grandfather is the only person to have both ridden and trained a Grand National winner, Ascetic Silver. His nephew, the 15th Earl, was a noted mural artist and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries in the Attlee Government. These bloodlines have produced a flat racehorse trainer who sits on the Cross-Benches. I am afraid that I am no expert on 17th or 18th century furniture, or Samuel Pepys; but perhaps during Ascot week I may be of some help to your Lordships !

I am very lucky to be training in a small Berkshire village just to the south of the Ridgeway, one of the longest ancient stock routes. Much of the Berkshire Downs used to be sheep country; and East Ilsley, the next village, held the largest sheep fair outside London. Now much of the non-arable down land is only preserved in its open state as racehorse gallops in the area. On our summer down it is possible to ride in country that has been unchanged for generations. At this time of the year in early morning we hear the high-pitched calls of the curlews making their way north to their Scottish breeding grounds.

However, the reverse of this idyllic scene is all too close at hand and the contrast draws attention to the need for the resolutions adopted at Rio in June 1992 to be adhered to and steps taken to lead the way in environmental commitment. Article 4 of the Rio Declaration states: In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from, it". The call of the curlew is quickly drowned by the frequent passing of Transatlantic jets and the occasional Concorde. The green calm of the Ridgeway is in strong contrast to the extremely busy and noisy A.34 which bisects it. The view to the north is dominated by the smoking stacks of Didcot power station, at present not equipped with sulphur cleansing processes, and the slightly less obvious building at Harwell which is a daily reminder of the difficulties posed by dealing with, and disposing of, nuclear fuel.

As many of your Lordships are aware, the individual does now have a reasonable chance of living to sustainable green standards. It is much easier now to find bottle banks and paper recycling points. It is easy to buy rechargeable batteries and longlife electric bulbs which use very little energy in the form of heat and last 10 times as long. As we have been told, green petrol and catalytic converters have improved the emission from far more cars. Recycling standards have risen, and writing paper and envelopes no longer stand out because of their obvious poor quality; you have to search for their green logo. Soon we shall be able to buy biodegradable containers made from oilseed rape.

But however hard individuals try, it is only government leadership that can achieve significant results in the main areas of energy saving, air pollution control, quality fresh water supply and safe waste disposal. Some European countries seem to be moving faster than we are. Bicyclists are much better looked after in Germany; and Cambridge even restricts cycle use now. Both the Netherlands and Germany have plans for a major reduction in carbon dioxide emissions significantly beyond the year 2000. Even the Americans who, under the last administration seemed to be dragging their feet at Rio, now have a vice-president in Al Gore who argued a strong case, when a senator, in his book, Earth in Balance, for, joint action to save our seriously threatened climate, our water, our soil, our diversity of plant and animal life and our entire living space". People who have lived closer to the earth, the Indian tribes and the Aboriginals in Australia, have always recognised that the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. One small way that we might be able to help correct the balance in a practical and symbolic way, is to plant more broadleaf woodland. Perhaps if we could do this on long-term set-aside and encourage local schools to participate in the plans and perhaps adopt a wood, then we would be acting in a practical way to correct the loss of native trees and a new generation of school children will be given a very worthwhile natural history lesson. Some carbon dioxide would be removed, many more sites would be provided for native flora and fauna and in future the import levels of 80 per cent. of wood could be reduced.

If global warming is to be countered, if the biodiversity action plan is to be effective and if the sustainable development strategy is to be positive, we must lead from the front and set an example in our high standards of commitment to the principles behind the Rio Earth Summit. We might then both benefit from the huge international market in environmental services and products and be in a better position to influence developing countries on global environment which is under increasing threat from a world population that could nearly double in the next 40 years.

4.13 p.m.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I believe that most of us found it a joy to listen to that maiden speech, which was almost lyrical. It certainly was a sign of commitment and deep principle and of the background from which the noble Earl comes. It is a notable political background. The fact that he is now sitting on the Cross-Benches does not mean that in future he cannot be extremely controversial. He has a budding opportunity for controversy in the depth of feeling which he showed. For most of us who are getting on a little bit it is lovely to welcome a young new Peer.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for enabling us to have this debate. For me it seems a long time since I was at the Earth Summit in Rio in June 1992. I was there representing the United Nations Association which, before and since, is playing a very important role with other non-governmental organisations and also in co-operation with the Government. I was pleased to be an NGO representative on the UK delegation. I do not believe that I was alone in thinking at Rio that at last the world leaders had begun to set us on the path towards sustainable development. I shall go on thinking that.

As the Prime Minister said in the Observer on 12th January, The challenges to us in protecting our children's inheritance are immense and they must be tackled globally and with a political will". I want to review the extent of that political will. In terms of funding the signs are not good. At Rio the Prime Minister, John Major, pledged that Britain would provide "new and additional resources" for the global environmental facility, which is the financial facility created to assist developing countries in meeting their obligations under the international convention signed in Rio.

I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but in fact the resources for the global environmental facility will be increasingly transferred from the existing budget, and since it is a declining budget that spells ill for other parts of our overseas development programme. It is simply not good enough.

The general commitments which the Government agreed to at the Earth Summit were the ratification of the two conventions plus support for the setting up of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, which reviews countries' implementation of the very important Agenda 21—a kind of blueprint for sustainable development.

Today's debate is timely. The United Kingdom Government committed themselves at the Earth Summit to the ratification of the climate convention in December and I congratulate them on doing so and for publishing their climate action plan.

Later this year will see the publication of the second assessment report of the UN Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change. No doubt that will have a significant influence on the Government's preparations and specific policy commitments for the first meeting of the conference of the parties to the convention on climate change in 1995. That will be an historic event.

Sources close to the secretariat indicate to me that the report will emphasise the scale of the problems involved and the urgency for governments to plan for CO2 reduction well into the next century. While the UK Government strategy document identifies the year 2012 as the basis for their long-term planning, it is notable that programmes for greenhouse gas emission reductions are not provided for at all past the year 2000. I urge Her Majesty's Government to bring to the House their ideas on how they intend to reduce CO2 at the earliest possible date. I hope to hear about that from the Minister when he replies.

Her Majesty's Government also committed themselves to the ratification of the Biodiversity Convention at the Earth Summit. I am concerned that so far the Government have not yet ratified that convention. I want to know why that is. The position, as stated in the Government's biodiversity plan is that, The UK intends to ratify the Biodiversity Convention, given satisfactory progress towards securing safeguards regarding our concerns on the financial provisions of the Convention". Is that good enough? It is not. It has certainly not prevented the other members of the European Union—and, for that matter, Japan, Norway or even China—from ratifying the convention. I hope that the Minister will expand on the reasons for this reluctance to fulfil an original commitment. The United Kingdom Government are seen by some to be dragging their feet on vital environmental protection.

On this side of the House we support the immediate ratification of the Biodiversity Convention. As a minimum commitment I ask the Minister to confirm that ratification will follow any agreement at the forthcoming global environment facility meeting which will address funding mechanisms for the convention.

At the first meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), the United States Vice-President, Al Gore, who was present at Rio and who has already been referred to, including in the maiden speech which I have already welcomed, said:

"I say to citizens of the developed world: we have a disproportionate impact on the global environment. We"—

that is, the developed world— have less than a quarter of the world's population—but we use three quarters of the world's raw material and create three quarters of the world's solid waste". I met Mr. Gore during my stay in Rio and was much impressed by his commitment to the subject. I think that he will play an important part in the years to come.

Agreement was reached at the CSD last autumn to review again Agenda 21, breaking it down to be reviewed over a three-year period. At this year's CSD, governments have been asked to report on progress on the following Agenda 21 chapters: Human Settlement; Health, and Fresh Water, which has already been referred to; Hazardous Waste and Toxic Chemicals. Because of my interest in health, I am the chairman of the Health Round Table. There is a great deal of interest among the voluntary organisations and, indeed, in the Government on that subject. I understand that later this week the Government will submit their report to the commission on progress towards objectives in that area. However, it seems drat there is very little parliamentary involvement in and scrutiny of that process. I understand that although there was wide consultation with relevant bodies outside government for the UK strategy document, there has been very little for the national report. I hope that the Minister will say something about that.

Finally, I hope that the Minister will use the mechanism set up by stakeholders themselves. The United Nations Environment and Development UK Committee includes representatives from local government, business, trade unions and the voluntary sector. Its primary purpose is to promote discussion on Agenda 21 and to make the process of reporting to the CSD as public as possible. That will ensure that the review of Agenda 21 implementation is not a low key exercise carried out by overworked civil servants, but is a high profile assessment, involving the input and prospectives of society as a whole. These are vital issues which should concern the public as well as organisations.

4.22 p.m.

Lord Carver

My Lords, like others, I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for initiating the debate and giving us the opportunity to hear two excellent maiden speeches.

My interest in this subject stems from the fact that when I was a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, I chaired the reports on the greenhouse effect and on nature conservancy. I was also a member of the sub-committees which studied innovation in surface transport and research into civil and nuclear power. Those four subjects are closely connected to sustainable development.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, I think that the paper on UK strategy towards sustainable development is splendid. It is an excellent analysis, setting out all the factors clearly. If I have one criticism of it, it is that it is a bit short on decisions about action. However, if it does nothing else, it makes extremely clear the immense range of subjects and issues that relate to sustainable development, their complexity and their relationships with each other.

One theme runs through the strategy, appearing in chapter after chapter. I refer to the Government's clear policy of wishing to reduce dependence on regulations and to maximise the achievement of their aims through economic measures. I fully support that view. The trouble with regulations is that the first thing that people try to do is to get round them. The object of economic measures is to provide people with incentives to do the right thing, but that does not mean simply leaving it to the market to solve everything and sitting back and doing nothing, as was made extremely clear in the excellent paper which the Department of the Environment issued in November, entitled Making Markets Work for the Environment. If your Lordships have not read it, I strongly recommend it.

That paper set out a number of different ways in which markets could be encouraged, by fiscal and other measures, to move in the direction which is good for sustainable development. I should like to draw attention to a favourite of mine, tradeable permits. The paper sets out extremely clearly both the advantages and disadvantages of tradeable permits. It also makes clear the fact that one solution is not applicable to all problems—for instance, tradeable permits are not applicable to transport, in my opinion—but that there are different solutions, which are all dependent on each other. Efficient regulation depends on providing incentives. Therefore, I am disappointed that the only mention of tradeable permits comes in Chapter 33, with the suggestion that they might be considered for water pollution, water abstraction and sulphur emissions. I believe that they should be much more widely considered, particularly for all greenhouse gas emissions.

I turn now to the three other subjects of concern to me. The first is nature conservancy. I welcome the fact that the Government are now considering the merger of the Countryside Commission and English Nature which we recommended in our report and which already exists in Scotland and Wales. I remind the Government that one of our recommendations was that the remit of the joint consultative committee should be extended from nature conservancy also to cover countryside and landscape conservation. I believe that to be very important. I should also like to be assured by the Minister that he is satisfied that the joint consultative committee is functioning as it was intended to function and that, as we recommended in our report, it will drive forward nature conservancy on a national basis.

I turn next to transport. I fully share the concerns that were expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. In our report, Innovation in Surface Transport, we recommended that the Government should develop and publish a strategy for transport as an aid to forward planning by transport industries. I detect some little signs that the Government may be going a bit further than the extremely negative response that they gave to our report when they stated: the Government does not consider that a comprehensive strategy mapped out today will be as good a guide to future opportunities as the market research and analysis which the various components of the transport system can and should do on their own account. It is much better that those responsible for particular decisions should take their own view on their best judgment than that all should be invited to conform to a Whitehall-devised scenario". As the Government are considering road-pricing in certain areas and have committed themselves to a progressive increase in the tax on vehicle fuels, I hope that the Minister can assure us that the Government are now considering moving towards a transport strategy.

I turn now to nuclear power. The situation is extremely serious. One of our report's recommendations stated: There is no adequate alternative to fossil fuels other than nuclear energy. The United Kingdom must therefore retain the capability to develop and expand its nuclear power industry, in the most cost-effective way, taking full account of public concern over the impact of the nuclear programme on health and on the environment, where possible in collaboration with agencies in other countries". But what do we get in the enormous document on sustainable development? This is the only mention: The Government is committed to maintaining the nuclear option for the future, provided that it can prove economic and maintains high standards of safety and environmental protection. The Government is considering options for the scope and format of a review of the future prospects for nuclear power in the UK". How on earth can anybody expect nuclear power to be economic if we do not have the faintest idea of the Government's policy—indeed, if the Government's only policy is to consider "options" for a future review? It is an absurd situation. It is work which cannot lead to the development of nuclear capability in this country. They should go ahead now with encouraging nuclear electricity at Sizewell C. If they do not, the only nuclear capability available in the future would be one borrowed from France.

Another point I should like to make is that these documents—which are excellent and which point the way to what this country should do—concern only what should happen within this country. On this subject, above all, a policy for one country is quite insufficient. We must consider the situation in Europe and in a wider field. Very little has been said about that in the documents.

4.30 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for opening this important debate. I am delighted that it gives me the opportunity to bang the drum once again on the subject of organic farming. I am afraid that your Lordships will be suffering a double whammy today as I am following my noble friend Lord Kitchener who also raised the matter.

In the document Sustainable Development I have looked in vain for any mention of organic farming. I make no apology for introducing the subject as it is undoubtedly one of the best methods of sustainable development of the environment. The reason why it is not, to the best of my knowledge, mentioned in the document—if my noble friend can tell me that it is mentioned, I hope that he will say where—is that it is perhaps not considered very important by the Government, as evidenced by the fact that their support for converting farmers to organic farming is to the tune of £ 1 million while their support for modern intensive farming—I shall not call it conventional—is to the tune of £ 1.2 billion. That is a ridiculous disparity, reflecting the Government's view on the matter, and it should be reformed.

The subject of sustainable development of the environment is clearly covered in the document. There are some seven paragraphs referring to pollution, fresh water control, contamination, agricultural and industrial, water pollution and energy supply. Those are all subjects which can be covered on the basis of waste management. We do not pay enough attention to waste management. Waste is rather more permanent than the wind power to which the noble Earl, Lord Temple of Stowe, referred in his entertaining and interesting maiden speech. The waste is human, agricultural, industrial and permanent and in even greater supply than the wind. We do not make enough use of it.

There are systems in existence. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, who is unfortunately not in his seat, will know of the considerable effort being made with a new system by Biotechna using a Biocoil system at the Severn Trent Water Board's Stoke Bardolph effluent plant. That has been extremely successful and the by-products from it make it a self-supporting system. If we could use such self-supporting systems to a greater extent throughout the country we should go a long way towards obtaining the necessary amount of continuous production of power, which is a by-product of the system.

The document fails to mention either the Graessar or Biocoil principles, which are common knowledge in biotechnology. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Carver, will have researched the subject, but the application seems to be escaping the Government's attention. It is a photosynthesis programme using algae. It consists of feeding algae into a tower and pumping it through with the effect of photosynthesis, delivering at the end a feed product that can be fed to animals. The Biocoil towers form a complex photosynthesis plant, presently working in an integrated sludge conversion unit at Stoke. If your Lordships will allow me to be technical for a moment, the micro algae chlorella is intensively cultivated in the coils and reacts with the nutrient graded effluents which are then separated. The absorbed nutrients are biochemically incorporated into proteins and extracted. The excess chlorella biomass can be removed for drying and used as animal feed—a completely recycled system.

In another form the algal product is extremely combustible, and after milling it can be used to drive a diesel generator. This is yet another process of power generation with zero CO2 emission. We all know of the gas man Sid. This is another Syd, the symbiotic diesel. The symbiotic diesel is powered entirely by the highly combustible algal product which is milled. I should like to ask my noble friend whether the Government plan any further use of the photosynthesis process.

4.36 p.m.

Lord Bridges

My Lords, the subject of the debate is a very large one, and time is limited. I shall therefore address only one aspect which I believe lies close to the heart of our concern. In the end, it may be the most important of all the issues raised at the Rio conference. I speak of the need to win public support throughout this country for the Rio agreements, for the steps we are taking to implement them and, more important, for the tougher policies which will surely follow in their wake over the next decade and in the next century.

To put the issue in a simplified and dramatic form, the stakes are rising as each environmental conference takes place. The first conference in Stockholm 20 years ago was the curtain raiser. There was much talk, some argument, and agreement was reached to set up a new United Nations agency, UNEP. At Montreal we agreed to phase out CFCs, which we could readily do without anyway. At Rio perhaps the most significant agreement was that setting limits on carbon dioxide emissions. It so happens that we can hope to meet that target by abandoning most of our coal mines. Of course, that was not the reason why we shrank the coal industry; rather, we should have little chance of meeting the Rio target if we had not done so, in the absence of other policies for the purpose.

What will the next environmental conference require us to do? I do not know, but I suppose we shall be obliged to make further undertakings to meet stricter pollution targets. Car emissions is one obvious possibility. This will create great difficulty for us. To limit personal transport and restrict car use will be extremely hard. We are used to that way of life and all that it represents. It gives us freedom and mobility, and enlarges our personal lives. But I believe that the moment of restriction is bound to come. It is in that context that we need to look at the Rio conference. Is our implementation of the Rio agreements sufficient not only to meet the obligations they prescribe but also to prepare the nation for the next more difficult phases?

I suggest that there are three broad ways in which a tough environment al programme can be delivered: first, by statute law—in a word, enforcement—perhaps by schemes of rationing; secondly, by fiscal means—measures such as the carbon tax to limit consumption; and thirdly, by persuasion. We may need to employ all three methods but I believe that persuasion is much the best. If the population of this country believes that our style of life is indeed endangering the stability of the planet, it will become accustomed to that notion and, finally, will want to do something about it. The whole problem then becomes transformed. Citizens will be more ready to accept radical changes in our pattern of living, earning, spending and travelling.

I have looked at the Government's strategy to implement the Rio accords from that angle. What is being done to inform the nation and to win its active support? At the end of the book on sustainable development there is a chapter called "Working Together". It is the last chapter, chapter 38. There are some good things in it and it records initiatives taken by the Government and by non-official bodies. There is also, encouragingly, reference to a new proposal called a citizens' environment initiative. It seems that that idea is still at the embryonic stage but the emphasis is on promoting a national debate to coincide with World Environment Day which is due to take place in this country in June of this year.

I have nothing to say against those proposals but I urge the Government to give much higher priority to the whole issue of publicity and information. It is perhaps not wholly by chance that the subject appears in the very last chapter of the book and that part of the citizens' environment initiative seems to be to pass the initiative to the citizens. I hope that I am wrong about that.

The environmental problem is becoming more serious with every passing year. It no longer seems an exaggeration to regard the problem as one of the gravest threats to our future. If we are to win the support of the citizens of this country for some of the draconian solutions now being canvassed, it will require a more ambitious programme of public information than is now contemplated. That cannot be left to the nongovernmental organisations, invaluable though they are. I believe that we shall need an extensive programme of work in schools in particular and on television which is now much the best medium through which to reach the public at large and is the ideal medium for publicity on this subject. It is with reluctance that I conclude that that will require a high profile government-financed body, perhaps on the lines of the Health Education Authority which has done so much to promote knowledge about disease and how to prevent it in the past few years.

We may have succeeded in meeting the obligations imposed by the Rio conference by the means described in the Government's publication. But it does not require much foresight to see far graver problems ahead. We should use this moment—the execution of the Rio programme—to set up a serious public information campaign. Only in that way will our commitment to the Rio policies serve as a proper preparation for the greater difficulties which lie ahead.

4.44 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, both because each day's business in your Lordships' House begins with Prayers and because your Lordships may expect something of a Sermon from this Bench, I hope noble Lords will understand if I go behind the practicalities which have been highlighted so far in the debate, and some in the two excellent maiden speeches, to the reasons why sustainable development is so crucial and urgent for the present as well as the future of this world.

It was the great Archbishop Temple who said that Christianity is the most materialistic of all religions because matter matters. It matters not only because in Christian theology God manifested himself in the full human life of Jesus Christ, but also because the universe, and this world within it, belongs to the One believed by the three monotheistic world religions to be its creator. As the Psalmist says: The earth is the Lord's, and all the fulness thereof". That is a psalm that I used at the beginning of today's proceedings.

Yet the Christian tradition, which has had such a formative influence on Western thought, has not been unambiguous in its attitude towards the natural order of creation and the use of its resources. But perhaps the dominant view in the West, certainly since Francis Bacon in the 16th century and until recently, has been one of domination and exploitation by the human race.

That was given Biblical respectability by the first of the creation accounts in Genesis in which the man and the woman were given: dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth". With such a mandate, it is not surprising that many have taken a view of the world as a resource for us to use and exploit as we wish.

For example, Thomas Aquinas said that animals are: by divine providence … intended for man's use in the natural order of things. Hence it is not wrong for man to make use of them either by killing or in any other way whatever". In Tudor times, such thinking was used by some to sanction cock-fighting and bear-baiting. Some of Calvin's more extreme followers believed that because the sin of Adam had perverted the whole order of nature in earth and heaven, the natural world was devoid of God and therefore worthless, except for ruthless exploitation.

That exploitation has taken many forms over the years and, not without some justification, Christianity has been blamed for our current ecological crisis. The historian Lynn White, for example, has argued that the Christian doctrine of creation is unabashedly anthropocentric, giving humans leave to use the earth as they see fit and: to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects". More pointedly, Theodore Roszack links the view of nature engendered by the Christian tradition with exploitative capitalism. He says: And has this not become our predominant way of viewing the world: as so much raw material, there but to manure the growth of economies? Today when 'realistic' people look at nature around them—mountains, forests, lakes, rivers—what is it they see? Not divine epiphanies, but cash values, investments, potential contributions to the GNP, great glowing heaps of money". It may be—and I hope it does—that that overstates the situation but there is sufficient truth in it to make me, for one, feel uncomfortable and to believe that repentance should be part of our response to the crisis which has occasioned the meeting of the earth summit in Rio.

Yet there is another strand in the Christian tradition which accords fully with the concerns of environmentalists, ecologists and those who describe themselves as "green". It would endorse the Brundtland Report's statement that: there are … moral, ethical, cultural, aesthetic and purely scientific reasons for conserving wild beings". And it recognises that some of our thinking has, in the past, tended to concentrate on the salvation of human beings to the exclusion of much anxiety about the rest of creation. In that it has been untrue to the overall Biblical view of creation which suggests that it exists not simply for human use but has intrinsic value and delights God Himself so that He makes flowers flourish where people never tread, He cares even for sparrows, and created the trees of the wood to sing for joy.

If Aquinas represents the utilitarian view of creation, then it is Francis of Assisi who reminds us of the need for wonder and reverence: reverence for brother sun and sister moon and all the works of creation, because not only do they belong to God but also they reflect something of His character and providence.

Moreover, as Paul suggests, inasmuch as the natural order has been affected by human selfishness—and do we need any proof of that?—it is God's purpose to restore all creation, together with humanity, to the harmony and fulfilment for which it was brought into being.

That vision is one that is finding increasing support in the Churches and green theology is an accepted part of our academic endeavours. It seeks to restore the balance between the exploitation of and a sense of wonder for the works of nature and talks in terms of stewardship rather than of domination. The stewardship, with its demand for responsibility for this world and its resources, is the proper description of the role of human beings to be derived from scripture and the mainstream Christian tradition.

There is also our responsibility for the poor and the disadvantaged in today's world, as well as for the generations who will follow us. They, too, belong to God as well as to us and economic policies must always be guided by moral considerations. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers whether we like it or not. We are confronted with an issue of justice.

I warmly support the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, in expressing his concern and thank him for doing so. Further, I believe that I speak for many of those with religious faith in pledging our support for those who seek to implement the decisions of that summit. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, I am mindful that no amount of legislation (or taxation) alone will effect the changes which we need and need quickly. There has also to be the convincing and the converting of the population of our country as a whole—the winning of their hearts as well as their minds into accepting the need for whatever changes of lifestyle may be required.

Because we face a crisis which is not only ecological, economic and social but also moral and spiritual, I am happy to support all who seek to bring the changes which are needed for the future of this world. I believe that the Churches are already engaged in seeking to make our world a more beautiful as well as a more equitable place in which to live for God's sake as well as for our own.

4.52 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for introducing this timely and vital debate. I must say that the views that I am about to express are entirely my own though I anticipate that people of all parties, and of none, will come to see the sense and the necessity of resource economics which I am sure is our best guarantee of sustainable economic development.

First, though, I should like to look at the serious implications of the commitments made by the Government when they signed the Rio Declaration. Currently, the USA consumes two-fifths of the total energy consumed in the world. The USA, the territories covered by the former Soviet Union, western Europe and Japan between them use twelve-and-a-half times as much energy as that consumed by the rest of the world put together. Yet they—or, perhaps, I should say, we—contain only 16 per cent. of the world's population.

The intention to encourage the rest of the world to achieve our present standard of resource consumption may be politically correct; but it is scientifically untenable; it is a mathematical impossibility. Economic development on the scale presently envisaged is incompatible with the planned reduction or stabilisation of levels of pollution, leaving aside completely the question of resource depletion. We simply cannot ourselves go on using energy at the present level.

We need to harmonise the profit motive and the conservation motive and steer our economic life in the direction of good planetary housekeeping. Our best chance of achieving an economy that is globally attainable and sustainable and in balance with the forces of nature is to adopt the resource economics proposition as the operating basis for our economic life.

At present, economics is based on money; and money, according to the definition I like best, is an idea backed by confidence. In other words, money is an abstraction. On the other hand, resource economics is based on the physical reality of internationally recognised units of energy.

To explain the basic idea, I quote from an article written in 1986 by one of the main contributors to the resource economics proposition, Farel Bradbury: Resource economics … form a 'natural' economic structure for human societies. The physical value of all activity in nature is measured in units of energy and obeys inviolate laws of thermodynamics. All animal and plant species use energy in the natural economies of their own environment to achieve a balance; a dynamic equilibrium. Man, uniquely, has perceptions of 'value' outside these natural constraints and uses money (currency) to express this value for the purposes of exchange of goods and services. Under present economic methods, money value is unrelated to physical value and so we have a poor linkage with the natural environment. Consequently, there is little constraint either on the exploitation of natural resources or on wastes returned to the environment. Apart from changing"— though here I would prefer the word "distorting"— our perceptions of the 'quality of life' on this planet, these unbalanced incentives, are now known to be limiting on mankind's future development and well-being. [Resource economics] links money value with physical (energy) value to achieve natural balances in a human 'dynamic economy'". We have economics based on the abstract foundation of money and a commerce that co-exists somewhat uneasily with a strong environmental awareness, especially with respect to economic competitiveness. So how do we integrate good environmental practice into the mainstream of economic life? How do we harmonise the profit motive and the conservation motive? The answer to both those questions and to many more is to implement the resource economics proposition. That is a totally integrated and complete economic strategy which has the following five elements. First, any government for any defined geographical area—for example, the United Kingdom or the European union—can adopt resource economics by applying a tax on all primary energy consumed in that area.

Secondly, this tax is applied to all sources of primary energy such as coal, oil, gas, hydro-electric power, nuclear power, timber and any others which become significant. It is applied at the point where the primary energy source first enters the economic chain or system. It is applied at a uniform rate in units of currency for a defined energy value, regardless of the form of primary energy. A suggested unit of energy for that purpose is the gigajoule, which is equivalent to having the traditional one-bar electric fire on continuously for 13 days and nights. Political decisions would be required on a number of issues, including whether to treat renewables differently from non-renewables.

Thirdly, the tax is also applied on the statutory primary energy content of all imports to, and rebated on all exports from, the defined area. The statutory primary energy content would be calculated for each group of products and would appear as an additional column in the UK integrated tariff. Rebating the tax on the statutory primary energy content of exports and charging it on that of imports eliminates any disadvantage which a country or group of countries would experience vis-à-vis those where resource economics was not being used.

Fourthly, this energy tax replaces all other taxes except possibly certain excise duties which are imposed for social reasons like tobacco and alcohol duties. At present there are 88 taxes of various kinds to which we are subject. The new tax replaces all of them so ending all taxation on wages, salaries, dividends and business profits of individuals and corporations.

Political decisions would be necessary to determine the order in which taxes were replaced. My personal preference would be to start with VAT. For this purpose, the tax rate would be set to raise the same amount of revenue that now accrues from VAT, and the same proportion would be rendered unto Caesar in Brussels as at present with VAT.

Fifthly, the rate of the new tax is set high enough to enable a basic income to be paid to every citizen, thus, when fully implemented, abolishing all existing social security benefits. That is clearly another area where political decisions would be paramount. However, I see the basic income as an integral part of the resource economics proposition.

The new energy tax is in fact a unit tax because it is levied on a unit of energy but it replaces virtually all existing taxes and so it has become known as UNITAX, which is also an acronym made up of Unified National Indirect Taxation.

One obvious and major effect of this change would be to alter the economic balance between people and machines. Wages and salaries would most likely fall by the amount of the basic income. People would also be cheaper to employ because, when UNITAX is fully implemented, the additional costs of employment such as national insurance and PAYE will have been eliminated.

Reducing the cost of employing people while increasing the cost of consuming energy, leads to more employment. It would also raise the priority that business managers gave to energy conservation. This would, I am sure, go far to redressing the present imbalance between intensive, high input agriculture with its reliance on relatively cheap energy, and more labour intensive low input agriculture. The pressure for change to more sustainable agriculture producing more wholesome food would have the support of market forces and so would occur—dare I use the word?—naturally.

One further major benefit of the basic income is the "flywheel" effect on the economy. Paying people to consume makes it impossible for economic activity to reduce beyond a certain level. Used as the operating basis for our economic life, resource economics will bring about the changes that I am sure most people, including the noble Earl who will reply to this debate, do, in their heart of hearts, hope to achieve. These changes would be phased in over a period of, say,20 years. They represent, in the words of the Prime Minister, a hard-headed approach to sustainability based on good science and robust economics.

5.1 p.m.

The Earl of Lytton

My Lords, I, too, wish to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for introducing the debate and for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important matter. I wish to express my appreciation of the contributions of our two maiden speakers, both of whom I am glad to see are, like myself, on the Cross Benches.

I declare an interest in that I am a farmer and landowner and also a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. I wish to put in a plea for those who are at the sharp end of working the land and who in many cases regard themselves as being very much in the front row of Pharaoh's army because there has been much play on the role of sustainable agriculture and the grant aid and government schemes put in place to achieve it. In reality, the situation on the ground is a good deal more pedestrian, I fear.

For 40 years and more farmers and landowners were encouraged to maximise production and to make two blades of grass grow where one grew before. They were given grants to plough up moorland, grub up hedges, drain wetlands and so on. A great deal of public money was expended and there was also a great deal of private financial commitment. However, that process created an economic momentum and resulted in an expectation in some of our poorer areas of a reasonable living among those who had had a low-grade economic existence previously.

Among the myriad of environmental agencies that are now involved, the same department that gave us those grants now has a generous range of awkward, complicated schemes seemingly designed to pay out as little as possible and to control land use to the maximum degree. It was far easier to get paid for doing acts which are now regarded as desecration than it is to get paid for doing things which are now regarded as desirable environmental objectives. I feel that that is wrong. I shall illustrate my point by referring to two instances from my own landholding.

My first example relates to a small five-acre area of grassland which is protected statutorily for nature conservation. It is remote from other grazing and was last ploughed in the 1960s. Recently, following its designation, half of it was ploughed with permission but subsequently that did not prove satisfactory and I applied to plough the other half. I was refused that consent and it was suggested that I manage half of a five-acre field—it is not sub-divided by any fence and it has to be seen in the context of 400 other acres—for a standstill mode that to me is neither cost effective nor practical in the context of farm management. I can only conclude that this is a precautionary policy because the biodiversity of the habitat may be important. The conservation agency concerned has certainly chosen well. It cannot force my co-operation to achieve the impractical and it is unable to fund its objectives to make them worthwhile. It has failed to convince me that its scheme will work or that the overriding conservation interest is even present. I am prevented from upgrading the pasture to make it economic. A management agreement would, I am afraid, simply add to the bureaucratic muddle already existing and impose new obligations upon me.

I turn to my second example. During the course of last year I applied to remove a particularly prominent and unsightly block of sitka spruce from an area adjacent to a public highway and replant it somewhere less intrusive. As usual the matter went through the glorious rigmarole known as consultation. However, none of the agencies seemed able to agree. One did not want conifers at any price while another did not want trees at any price. One wanted no change at all while another wanted to preserve the silvicultural mass that was already there. The consultation process took months. Again, I do not feel that that is a satisfactory way of dealing with the issue of sustainability in the countryside.

Where government and conservation agencies pitch their interpretations of policy in direct confrontation with socio-economic activity using non-recourse powers, and to my mind failing to pay a great deal more than lip service to the concept of involving landowners and farmers in discussions at the earliest stage, there can be no good forward and committed on-site management for the agencies' purposes and objectives. Indeed, I believe there is an increasing disillusionment today—I am sorry to record this—with environmental schemes. They simply demand too much and offer too little. What is more to the point, they circumscribe entrepreneurial activity.

If sustainability of environmental goods for the future is to be achieved, the co-operation of those at the sharp end is necessary. As regards agricultural activity and land management in our rural areas, we simply cannot turn the clock back. Those in the rural areas have to compete for goods and services in the general economic market at large and, more to the point, the countryside has an important role to play in responding to the demands of an increasingly mobile and largely urban society. I do not mean that in any pejorative sense.

On this small island we have to deal with the socio-economics of people, not the imposition of ideologies. Public: opinion is easily swayed and manipulated by those whose business is environmental public relations. If we do not achieve proper resource management, all the hypotheses, all the policies and a great deal of money will be wasted and, what is much more important, the environment with it. That will not happen through lack of knowledge but through bad handling. I conclude by saying that sustainability of good, committed land management is also a finite resource.

5.8 p.m.

Viscount Addison

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for asking us to focus our attention on sustainable development. For my part I wish to concentrate on biodiversity problems that lie at the root of the United Kingdom's, and indeed the Earth's, questionable sustainability. Where agriculture is concerned, the crux of the issue of sustainability lies in man's balance of the elements of sun, air, soil and water. Any gardener knows that management inputs to conserve and nurture his soil and to maintain its structure create an in-built productivity. On a world scale the productivity of soil is falling fast.

The once famous and fertile plains of the Russian fanning belts are swiftly being depleted and drained of their nutrients, their fibres, their life blood, and because of that, even their worms. Therefore, the country with over 60 per cent. of the world's arable land will be looking to other countries to balance its agricultural production targets in the future. Those problems must not be allowed to develop here. We need a more substantial, lasting framework for resolving the policy failures of EC agriculture. There are many organisations that have come together under one umbrella, so to speak, called the Safe Alliance; namely, Sustainable Agriculture Food and Environment. Those member organisations are proof of the recognition that many issues of public interest and concern are intimately interrelated and many members of such organisations are farmers. Mary of their concerns are justified, especially when we look at the vast payments being made to high input farmers in the form of subsidies both for over-production and under-production. On the one hand they are paid because too much of one commodity is grown, while on the other they are paid for growing nothing at all. Where is the balance in that: action? Just as the position of the fulcrum is paramount to the balance of a set of scales, so must production be in balance with nature.

Biodiversity objectives should be integrated into all policies that drive agriculture, forestry and land use issues generally. Unlike some countries, the UK is well placed to take urgent and effective conservation action and could set the standards for other nations to follow. In this country we have the scientific knowledge of our wildlife and the administrative structures, such as statutory conservation bodies, to deliver biodiversity objectives. But farmers must be included in the dialogue.

An example of the targets for species is the breeding population of the stone curlew, a farmland bird currently declining through changes in land use to a level of approximately 160 breeding pairs. Here I refer to the excellent maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon. I raise the point because, in the Government's sustainable development document, which I commend, the stone curlew is highlighted as an example of the role government departments might play in biodiversity action. A clear cut target is given of increasing the breeding population to 200 pairs by the year 2000. We need more such specific targets for the whole range of UK species and habitats, backed by action plans for their attainment and clear monitoring and review arrangements.

The local communities in the Brecklands of East Anglia are closely involved in the plight of the stone curlew. More than 25 farmers are involved in helping the stone curlew to improve its breeding success by protecting its nesting sites. Farmers and others are keen to help once the problem is properly discussed and an action plan agreed. This is an excellent example of species conservation, and the same is possible for the stone curlew's habitat, such as grass heaths.

Whichever way one looks at it, the arable set aside scheme will allow large areas of Breckland to provide nesting sites for the stone curlew. All that is required are clear targets to identify the hectares required, backed by generic conservation actions, such as the farm and conservation grant scheme, provided by the Government. That poses the question whether the Government will set targets and objectives for all vulnerable species and habitats in the United Kingdom for the year 2000. Will the Government ensure that the farm and conservation grant schemes and other agricultural schemes have those targets as their guide in assessing the application and the scope of the schemes?

We eagerly await the Government's planning policy guidance note on nature conservation, which we hope will reaffirm their objectives of conserving the abundance and diversity of British wildlife and its habitats. Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Temple of Stowe, will be asked to plant a hardwood tree on the set aside of the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, which may one day become period furniture for the great grandchildren of the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon. That would be seen as sustainable.

Almost 77 per cent. of the United Kingdom's land surface is in farming use. Within that area there is a great diversity of farming types—and I do not mean only the farmers. There is a variety of climate, geology, soil and local traditions. That diversity in itself can represent a managed biodiversity in which we can nurture and look after our earth, whether by improving livestock management to minimise pollution from wastes or through improved crop management to reduce the need for fertilisers and agrochemicals such as pesticides. There are many examples.

Free technical advice is made available to farmers on pollution and conservation issues. There are codes of practice, for example, on good upland management and good agricultural practice for the protection of water, of air, and, shortly, of soil.

Much of the countryside in the UK is of great beauty and a focus for recreation and tourism. Our national parks receive more than 100 million visits each year. That must represent our enjoyment of biodiversity and its importance for recreation and tourism. Here the countryside ranger can play a vital role in interpreting biodiversity for visitors, including school and community groups, and in holiday play and adventure schemes. Countryside rangers are to be encouraged.

In the light of the Government's recent documents on sustainable development strategy and the biodiversity action plan, I question whether the objectives of that plan measure up to the signed commitments agreed in May 1992—the so-called agri-environment regulation, which was the "green" part bolted on to the CAP reforms. I refer to the regulation under which the Government intend to introduce their organic aid scheme, which sadly seems to be wholly under-funded, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Kitchener. I ask my noble friend the Minister whether the Government will use their power under the regulation to implement other schemes to preserve biodiversity in the field.

I trust that the Government will not confine their commitments under the EC agri-environment pro-gramme, the biodiversity convention and agenda 21 to hedgerows, set aside land and environmentally sensitive areas. Many of the technical and economic difficulties in growing our food in more biologically diverse ways are no longer insurmountable. This is not the first time that I have mentioned the use of genetic engineering, especially when it can liberate food processing and manufacturing from specifications that force farmers into unsustainable and harmful farming practices. There is now an opportunity for the Government to integrate crop management and environmental protection into a single policy that can reach in from the hedgerows to the centre of every field in the land.

There are powerful interests vested in the status quo to keep farming the way it is—blinkered from reality yet eager to accept EC cash handouts. But we can get off the high input fertiliser and agrochemical syndrome yet still meet our food needs and the needs of future generations. The central organising principle for the development of that new harmony, the holistic approach between agriculture and the environment, is planned biodiversity in every field.

5.16 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, we must be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for giving us an opportunity to debate this very important and timely question.

"Sustainable development" seems to me to be an unsatisfactory term because its meaning is not entirely clear. In his foreword to the Government's document on sustainable development, the Prime Minister said: Sustainable development is difficult to define. But the goal of sustainable development can guide future policy". A policy based on a concept that cannot easily be defined may be subject to confusion.

I know that others have been worried about that aspect. The Secretary of State for the Environment has suggested a definition to the effect that our policies are not cheating on our children". I sympathise with that approach. We need to get away from jargon. For example, in Chapter 9 of the sustainability document relating to the sea, on page 66 it is stated: Inputs to the sea from anthropogenic sources are generally declining". Some of those outside the circle of professional scientists may not immediately recognise what anthropogenic sources are.

We need to focus the widespread public concern on these matters. I agree with everything that my noble friend Lord Bridges said about the matter, which was very important. I suggest that the use of plain English in defining the problem is very important.

The issue we are debating is how to ensure a good level of necessary economic activity and development while making certain that such activity is monitored and controlled so that it does not damage or destroy the things which all of us value—our heritage, our countryside, our wildlife, our rivers and lakes and, not least, our health and that of our children. I hope that some of the more imaginative of your Lordships can think of better terms in which to describe the problems and the solutions. I prefer a term such as "civilised development".

On the substance of the issue, we can all see what happens when development is allowed to take place without proper regard for the values we all respect. There are startling examples in Russia and Eastern Europe where the authorities pressed on with development and ignored environmental considerations, with damaging results not merely for wildlife and the environment but also serious consequences for people. In the North Sea we have grave problems of over-fishing and of industrial fishing. That may well be the reason that so many birds which have died from starvation are being washed up on the beaches of Scotland and Northern England at present. The RSPB believes that the number may be as many as 100,000. The problems were addressed in your Lordships' sub-committee under the chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. There are grave problems in the North Sea. For instance, over a year after the disaster of the "Braer", oil tankers are still able to go wherever they wish. It has been estimated that 72 per cent. of the oil in the world seas is the result of deliberate dumping by ships. That is a serious problem.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, raised the question of transport. Roads are important. Some time ago in your Lordships' House I raised the question of the battlefield of Naseby which was threatened by a link road. Every one of your Lordships who spoke, except the Minister who responded, shared my concerns. But that road is now being built. The road will be sustainable; the battlefield will not.

We must get away from the policy of simply building more motorways. You can see what happens to a beautiful part of the world if you go to Hampshire. There are roads all over the place and what was beautiful countryside 30 years ago has been severely damaged in many places. We desperately need a proper transport policy with the promotion of good alternatives to the motor car.

I understand that there will be a speech tomorrow in another place by the Secretary of State for Wales. If reports are correct, it will be encouraging because it seems as though he will introduce policies for roads in Wales which will take account of environmental considerations. If that is true, I shall welcome such a policy—and it wi11 be a case once more of Wales showing the way.

Another problern relates to superquarries in Scotland. Wonderful aspects of the coast are being threatened. Scottish Natural Heritage has stated that inappropriately sited superquarries could gravely damage Scotland's outstanding coastal and marine environments. I am sure that that is true.

Of course we have made progress. We have the Clean Air Acts. There is the excellent work of the NRA under the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. After much effort we have had success in including environmental responsibilities in agriculture and fisheries. But much more needs to be done. The recently published government documents were valuable but disappointing on targets and specific policies.

Perhaps I may say a brief word about biodiversity—another awful word. An admiral research paper on biodiversity was produced last year by the Library of another place. I commend it to your Lordships. It contains some startling information. The paper states: It has been estimated that 140 plant and animal species are becoming extinct in tropical rain forests every day and that perhaps half of all existing species will become extinct in the next 50 to 100 years". It states that such rates of extinction may be about 1 million times faster than the rate of speciation; and that forests are being felled at the rate of about 4,500 acres every hour. It points out that loss of species is irreversible. The paper is worth studying. The main problem is in tropical countries where the bulk of the species are. But we have problems in this country too. The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, has just referred to stone curlews, but there are problems too with corncrakes, both species of shrikes, partridges, skylarks and corn buntings, and now with song thrushes, and even sparrows and starlings. Those species have all declined, some of them very dramatically. The reasons for those declines are complex. However, it seems important that we should have much more vigorous research into the causes and then firm action.

I am glad that with regard to biodiversity the Government acknowledge the need for targets. The joint agencies can lead the way. It is important, too, that we fulfil our obligations in CITES, that we stop damage to SSSIs and that we implement fully the species and habitats directive.

I wish to ask the Minister one question. I have given him notice of it. What is the position regarding the exceptions that have been sought by Norway to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, and the habitats directive? Norway has asked for exemption for several species of fish, terrestrial mammals, seals and whales. I understand that its application to join the Community was adjourned! yesterday. What is the position about that?

In summary, there is a need for balance but, as stated in Article 4 of the Rio Declaration, In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it". I believe that that concept is vital and we must remember it all the time.

5.27 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I, too, should like to add to the congratulations which all noble Lords have extended to my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley on the wide ranging and impactive way in which he introduced the thoughtful debate we have had today. I wish also to say how impressed we all were with the two maiden speeches. I much admired the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Temple of Stowe, but for personal reasons I would have been very interested to have heard hi. m make his speech on Samuel Pepys. For one moment II thought that he might do so. It brings back early memories for me. In the distant period before the war, I was an undergraduate at Magdalene College, Cambridge, which has Pepys associations. It is where his library is housed. Every year on his birthday there was a feast. That was convenient for me because it happens also to be my birthday. It was the habit of the college, indicating the fact that they had read the Diary, to quote from it after each course. On one occasion, one of the courses was, rather unimaginatively, salmon and cucumber. The quotation was, This day Sir Wm. Batten died of eating concombers". That was one occasion when green was not particularly helpful.

There is no doubt about the timeliness of the debate. However, I was struck by some remarks by the right reverend Prelate. He reminded us that it is relatively recently that there has been a concern in philosophic and religious thinking about the environment and the animal kingdom. With the notable exception of St. Francis of Assisi, most thinking has been in the other direction. In fact, it has been a matter of only a few decades since we began thinking seriously about the environment. Now the subject is rooted in our minds. One of the reasons for the virtual disappearance of green parties is that all parties have now become green; and there is no specific role for a party totally devoted to that concept.

The Government are to be congratulated on the response that they have made to that move, and in many cases for the lead that they have given to it. They actively participated at the Rio conference. They produced the documents which they were committed to produce. They are responding promptly to the situation.

It is an issue which will obviously live with us. It has many major and various economic and social implications. Indeed, that was demonstrated by the contribution made by my noble friend Lord McNair when he deduced from the environmental issue that we might change the whole system of taxation—an interesting proposition which I am sure we would all like to read about and ponder on.

One of the most important aspects of the whole environmental issue is the threat of global warming. It is on that aspect that I wish to concentrate my remarks. The Government's aim, as we well know, is to ensure that the CO, emissions which are largely responsible for global warming will be no greater in the year 2000 than in 1990. They have deployed in some detail how that is to be achieved. What they have set out to do is to show that there can be savings of 10 million tonnes of carbon emissions because their calculations suggest that, starting with 158 million tonnes of carbon emissions in 1990, we would reach the level of 168 million tonnes if corrective action were not taken.

I wish to look at the various measures the Government propose and consider whether they are likely to lead to the desired results. Quite clearly, carbon emissions are directly related to levels of energy consumption on the one hand, and to the energy mix on the other, to which noble Lords have referred. That leads one immediately to the question of electricity generation because it is the single largest contributor to carbon emissions and it involves a mix of primary fuels which are converted into electrical energy, which is vital to our way of life.

If we consider the primary fuels which go into electricity generation, on the one hand there is coal which, used in the traditional and existing manner, contributes most to environmental pollution; and, on the other hand, nuclear which contributes least. However, nuclear has its own environmental problems which will no doubt be addressed when we receive the long awaited document on nuclear policy.

Having had some connection with the industry, what I feel about coal is that it is unfortunate that we have not tried harder to preserve the role of coal in electricity generation. That could have been done, had more resource been devoted to the development of clean coal technologies. Those technologies are perfectly capable of enabling coal to be used in such a way as to reduce harmful emissions. What surprises me is the number of other countries, including Holland—which, for years, has had no coal industry—who have gone much further into the area than we have here, with our massive coal reserves and great knowledge of coal mining which is being so rapidly dissipated.

Thus, I hope that even at this late stage we might think again about putting more resource into clean coal technology. One important way of improving the efficiency with which primary energy is converted in power stations is to develop combined heat and power. I am glad that the Government have paid much attention to that. Our present level of combined heat and power generation is in the order of 2,000 megawatts, which is a relatively small proportion of the approximately 50,000 megawatts generated in the whole country. The Government expect CHP to rise to about 5,000 megawatts by the year 2000. The Government themselves say—I believe rightly—that they have encouraged the use of CHP methods in the public sector. I suggest that they publicise what they have done much more. What they say about CHP is in general terms and I think it would make a much greater impact if they were to publicise in detail what they have achieved and what energy and cost savings have been made as a result.

A good deal of attention is devoted, in the document on climate warming to which I refer, to the use of energy in the home. There, the Government claim that a number of measures have been taken which can achieve reductions. The document mentions VAT on domestic fuel, which has been a controversial measure. I personally do not believe that it will achieve the energy savings which the Government say will be achieved. I believe that the consumption of energy in the home is relatively inelastic. People need to use a certain amount of energy to get warmth, heating and to cook meals. I do not believe that there is much elasticity there. Where I think the real saving could be made is if there were much more encouragement for higher standards of insulation. The Government have helped by providing more resource for the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme, which enables the homes of those on low incomes, particularly elderly people, to be provided with insulation. However, that only affects a small segment of the population and there ought to be much wider schemes to stimulate insulation.

The Government believe that much saving could come from the operations of the Energy Saving Trust, but that depends on the trust being adequately resourced. The original intention was that it should be resourced out of part of the proceeds of the sale of electricity and gas. The famous E-factor was to be used for that purpose. However, there have been recent suggestions in the press that the new director-general of Ofgas is very much opposed to that system. If the trust is to be starved of resource to do what it was set up to do, how will it work?

There are many other ways in which the Government indicate that they wish to save on energy in the home. The energy rating of appliances is another method and I am glad that the Government are going along with the Commission's proposals in that regard. I should like to see more done in the energy rating of houses. There is an effective scheme which has been developed by the National Energy Foundation, whose chairman is Dr. Mary Archer. I feel that we could do more of that. There have been many other proposals on energy in the business and public sectors, and transport has been referred to by my noble friend Lord Tordoff.

My conclusion is that, as concerns the period up to the year 2000, the Government have deployed a number of proposals, some of which may not have the effect anticipated. But because of other factors—namely, the rundown in the coal industry and the recession from which we have suffered in recent years—the targets set may be achieved. What is really worrying, however, is what will happen after the year 2000 when, as my noble friend Lord Tordoff said, the car population will double and we could get very much higher levels of emissions, going by the Government's own studies. While the Government have identified the problems, like many other noble Lords, I am worried that many of the solutions still need to be proposed.

5.37 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, first I must declare an interest as President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Temple of Stowe, will understand that I sympathise rather more with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, than with him on his conclusion to an extremely agreeabl and entertaining speech about wind farms.

We must again thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, for introducing the debate about sustainable development. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, had difficulty with the definition and I suggest that the Brundtland Commission got it about right. I quote from its definition: development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising: the ability of future generations to meet their needs". That sums up what sustainable development is all about.

I wish to make two preliminary remarks. The first is that sustainable development is not just about environmental protection. That point was made by my noble friend Lord Desai and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. It is also cross-departmental, multi-disciplined, and, above all, it requires social justice in the world between rich and poor. Although we think about sustainable development in our own country, we must also think about the balance between our country and the developed world and the under-developed world.

My second preliminary remark is that thinking about the environment must be at the centre of all thinking about policy. It is no good putting the environment in a pigeon-hole and saying,"That's there, and all other policies can carry on regardless of that particular pigeon-hole". There must be an environmental aspect in everything that we seek to do. That is why, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said, the Labour Party has set up a commission on the environment which is cross-departmental. It involves people from our transport, energy, Treasury, environment and employment teams, local authorities and the chairman of the European Parliament Environment Committee. We take the view that environment must be right at the centre of all our policy thinking.

Since the summit at Rio there have been some welcome policy developments. The United Nations has set up the Commission for Sustainable Development to review progress on Agenda 21. Two consultative bodies have been set up by the present United Kingdom Government to plan the future for sustainable development in our own country. And the Government have produced what I can only describe as four rather hefty documents which, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said, contain a great deal of very useful information about the state of play as it is at the moment. I am bound to say, with other noble Lords, that I did not see much of an action plan in any of the documents. But no doubt that will come as we move along. It seemed to me that they were more a rehash of existing policies than a plan of action for this country.

What is needed is not simply words or analysis—though analysis is important. We need deeds. Again,1[am bound to say that, when it comes to deeds, the Government do not have a terribly good record. As my noble friend Lord Ennals pointed out, we have not yet ratified the biodiversity convention. The hedgerows Bill was talked out. Between 1984 and 1990 we lost 130,000 kilometres of hedgerows—that is 23 per cent. of the total. These were important wildlife habitats, and the Government simply allowed the Bill to be talked out. We have not yet put the habitats directive into UK law. It is still in consultation. We have as yet done nothing about legislation on national parks. We have clone nothing about legislation on common land. All those measures were promised by the Government. At the moment it does not look as though the Government place the environmental issue very high on their political agenda. We would like to see them do what they can and have promised to do. And we would like to see them do it now. When they do it, they will gain a certain amount of credibility in our eyes in regard to the rest of the plan, however grandiose it may seem at the moment.

As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, quite rightly pointed out, many issues come under the umbrella of sustainable development. I cannot possibly cover them all. I agree entirely with what was said by the noble Lords, Lord Tordoff and Lord Moran, about transport. It is quite absurd that the Government are still considering widening the M.25, building masses of roads and doubling the car population when we know that such a plan will end up polluting the atmosphere, landing us all in the most tremendous traffic jams, and in the end destroying the planet. It makes no sense whatsoever. If we cannot get down to a proper integrated transport policy which places much more emphasis on public transport and much less on cars and roads, then I am afraid that everything else that we do environmentally will fail. That will be the crucial test of political will.

On CO2 emissions, again, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said about the need to set targets beyond the year 2000, and indeed to try even at this late stage to make sure that we put more funds into clean coal technology. That seems to me to be straight common sense. It is after all the DTI that is forecasting that after the year 2000 CO2 emissions will climb very steeply, and we have to do something about that.

On biodiversity, I see no coherent plan to prevent a new Twyford Down situation. There is nothing in the plans that the Government have put forward to prevent that happening again. I see no real action plan for wildlife habitats. The best plan that I have seen was produced by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and others. They produced a perfectly well-argued and well-documented action plan with which I was most impressed. I was sorry to see that it did not come from the Government. In the whole of the Government's so-called action plan there is no mention of hedgerows. There is not a word about this important wildlife habitat.

I turn to the question of forestry. I think everybody would agree that forestry provides a wildlife habitat of great importance. What do the Government do? They privatise it. If ever there were a case for keeping the Forestry Commission—which is now starting to develop policies on planting which are environmentally sensible—that case is established by sustainable development. Privatisation will destroy that sensible policy.

The final point that I particularly wish to mention is that we were promised an environment protection agency to enforce all these matters. Do we have an environmental protection agency? No, we do not. I very much hope that we shall soon have one. There is much to be done. We are by no means satisfied that the Government have credibility in this particular matter. They have produced documents which give us a great deal of information. It is time for action.

How do we go about it? Clearly, the Government have to take the lead. But in my view there also has to be action at local level. Much can be done at local level by voluntary organisations—wildlife trusts, for instance—if they are given some encouragement from the Government. At the moment, core funding from government is being taken away from such trusts. It is being taken away by the Welsh Office from CPRW. We are expected to go out to private companies to run voluntary organisations. That is not good enough. Voluntary organisations, particularly at local level, will have a vital role to play in sustainable development. It is known as primary environmental care. It is a well-established principle. Most environmentalists believe that it is an important contributor to sustainable development.

Lastly, I take up one of the most important points that was made this afternoon. It was made by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. The real problem that we all face if we are not to "cheat our children", in the words of Mr. Gummer, and if we are to exercise proper stewardship, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth put it, is that we have not yet engaged upon a wide programme of public education. I honestly believe that most people in this country are simply not yet aware that serious sacrifices will have to be made if the planet is to be protected. Environment is what I would call a middle-class issue. It is discussed among the middle class. We must be absolutely certain that all of us, of all creeds and classes, understand what is required if we are to preserve the planet on which we live. We shall no longer have unlimited and inexpensive freedom to drive wherever we want in our own cars. We shall no longer enjoy an unlimited ability to waste energy when and where we will, or pursue profit regardless of the effect on the countryside or on the air. That is a massive educational task, as the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, pointed out. It is one of the depressing facets of what has become, if I may say so, a very depressing Government, that not only have they failed to provide action where action would have been easy, but they have failed to prepare the public for the sacrifices that we all know will have to be made.

5.50 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, many of your Lordships this afternoon have said that this is a huge subject. It is indeed. It is an absolutely immense subject. I ask for your Lordships' sympathy if I am not able to mention every single speaker this afternoon. Were Ito do so, it would be well into the evening before I had finished.

As many noble Lords said, this is a very timely and important debate. Certainly, I am delighted that two maiden speeches have been made. I am glad that the inclination of the noble Earl, Lord Temple of Stowe, to 18th century furniture eventually gave way to wind power. I shall refer later to the extremely interesting comments made by the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon.

Throughout the whole of this evening we have been talking about issues which will have a significant impact not only on our lives but on those of future generations. The four documents, to which so many noble Lords have referred, on sustainable development, climate change, biodiversity and forestry, that were launched on 25th January by the Prime Minister, are the Government's response to the Earth Summit in Rio in June 1992. For the next few minutes that are available to me, it is my intention to show to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, precisely the action that the Government have taken and are taking.

The United Kingdom is one of the first countries to have produced a sustainable development strategy after the Earth Summit. It is the first country to produce a climate change programme. The four documents chart the way forward for the United Kingdom into the next century. Certainly I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for his general welcome of the part that the Government have played.

Noble Lords must not imagine that we regard the publication of those documents, however worthy, as sufficient in itself. They are the basis for actions at all levels; international, regional, national and local. In that context, I am pleased to report to your Lordships that I had the privilege of representing the United Kingdom last week at an important informal meeting of Environment Ministers held at the invitation of the Indian Minister of the Environment in Agra.

This was a very important and, I believe, successful meeting, which brought together Ministers from both developed and developing countries. It is an example of the extent to which the follow-up to the Earth Summit is stimulating new levels of international co-operation on our shared problem of delivering sustainable development.

The meeting, which took place over several days, agreed to send a strong political message to the negotiators, who will be meeting in Geneva on 14th to 16th March to discuss the global environmental facility, that agreement must be reached. That was a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals. The Ministers present also agreed that the Indo-British forestry initiative should play a key role in the preparations for the discussion on forestry at the 1995 session of the Commission on Sustainable Development. The next important step in that initiative will be an international workshop on the implementation of the Rio forest principles which will be held in Delhi in July.

Other useful discussions took place on the forthcoming session of the Commission on Sustainable Development scheduled for May of this year and on the increasingly important issue of trade and the environment. I am particularly pleased to report that the discussions, though frank, were animated throughout by a very positive and co-operative dialogue between North and South and marked a further development of the increasingly close relations between India and Britain in the pursuit of sustainable development.

The noble Lords, Lord Beaumont and Lord Desai, inferred that trade was not an absolute good. But trade is a very effective way of spreading know-how, stimulating wealth and raising standards in developing countries. Poverty is one of the greatest threats to the world's environment. We must not turn our backs on trade. But the Government and the European Union which lead for us in trade matters support the establishment of a permanent trade and environment committee of a new world trade organisation which will be set up to succeed GATT.

We must not lose sight of the European dimension. Indeed, the Prime Minister on his return from Rio in June 1992, persuaded his fellow EC Heads of Government to sign up to a common plan to keep up the momentum. The Community's energetic programme of environmental legislation has enabled us to make significant advances which have brought measurable improvements in the state of the environment in this country; for example, the water environment, air, and the handling of waste.

But let me now return to our documents and the principles on which they are based. Sustainable development is not an easy concept to understand. However, I find helpful the Brundtland Commission definition, to which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, referred—and I hope that this might help the noble Lord, Lord Moran—that sustainable development is: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". This emphasises that sustainable development is not anti-growth. Indeed it cannot be achieved except through growth and the maintenance of a prosperous economy. That certainly was recognised by many of your Lordships. There are many ways in which the right kind of economic activity can protect or enhance the environment; for example, energy efficiency measures, waste minimisation and environmentally friendly farming practices. Many of those subjects have been referred to by noble Lords.

The sustainable development strategy is not, of course, wholly new. It builds directly on the 1990 White Paper, This Common Inheritance. That White Paper report was a milestone; it provided a first comprehensive survey of all aspects of environmental concern and, through its annual updates, it has established a system of environmental auditing of which we can be proud.

But the strategy takes things further. It sets out, by environmental resource and by economic sector, the United Kingdom's position today and projections of where we might be in the year 2012,20 years on from the Earth Summit, on current policies. It looks at the principles of sustainable development; at the problems and opportunities which we face in the United Kingdom and internationally, and at the processes we have, or which we could develop, for implementing those principles and processes.

My noble friend Lord Crickhowell stressed the importance of discussion being open. But the sustainable development strategy was prepared in a very open way. There was a consultation paper last summer to which we received over 500 replies. Many meetings were held during the summer to discuss issues raised in the strategy. We shall shortly be setting up a national round table, to which I shall refer later and which will expose issues to public discussion.

I have to say that some people have been disappointed at the lack of specific targets in the strategy. That document did not set out to prepare targets; that was not its purpose. But the United Kingdom does have targets. I can tell the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, that the nuclear review is planned to take place this year. The climate change programme promises to return greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the year 2000; 35,000 hectares of new nitrate sensitive areas will be designated in 1994; and renewable energy is due to increase to 1,500 megawatts by the year 2000.

My noble friend Lord Clanwilliam stressed quite rightly the importance of developing all potential forms of energy. Indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Temple of Stowe, in his maiden speech made mention of the need to encourage wind farms. Certainly we are encouraging renewable energy through economic incentives such as the non-fossil fuel obligation and investment in considerable resources in research into their potential. Also, on the subject of renewable energy, your Lordships may be interested to learn of a potentially formidable initiative which I saw for myself during my time in Northern Ireland. At Enniskillen Agricultural College, the Department of Agriculture has set up an experimental combined heat and power plant. That uses willow biomass to produce both heat and energy and is the first modern small-scale installation specifically designed to use energy coppice as a fuel. Indications are that the plant will prove effective in practice.

This is one specific example of the way in which we will be responding to strategy targets. New targets will follow. Three new measures will be put in place to promote sustainable development: the Government's panel on sustainable development, a UK round table on sustainable development and a citizens' environment initiative.

The panel has already been established and had its first meeting. Sir Crispin Tickell—although the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, would wish him to be ennobled—is the panel's convener; my noble friends Lord Alexander of Weedon and Lord Selborne are members. The other members are Sir John Houghton and Dr. Anne McLaren. So, in the panel, we have a formidable body of very eminent individuals, independent of government and charged to monitor progress on sustainable development.

The noble Lords, Lord Moran and Lord Beaumont, asked whether the panel will be making public any reports or advice it may give. I can say that it is quite likely that the panel will wish to make public what it does. But it will be a matter for the panel to decide when and in what way it will do so.

Secondly, there is the round table on sustainable development. That will take a little longer to set up because it must involve representatives from all sectors—from business and industry, from agriculture, from local government, from environmental groups and voluntary bodies, from the academic world and from the countryside agencies. And it must include representatives from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. My department will soon be issuing a consultation paper inviting views on the membership of the round table and on the way in which it might work.

Thirdly, there is the citizens' initiative. The Secretary of State will be appointing a national committee or task force that can create a programme of activities to interest and involve individuals and households. That may be a campaign lasting about a year. It will need some months to plan properly and we shall be seeking views on how it can best be run. I welcome the message from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth on his support of the Churches for necessary changes in lifestyle.

Those three new bodies—the panel, the round table, and the citizens' initiative—provide three new independent centres outside government from which performance can be monitored; from which new initiatives can be taken; from which the challenge can be carried to all sectors of the economy, to all groups and to individuals throughout the country. And it is a challenge that we must all meet. The action to take this country forward on a sustainable path will only partly be required of government. We shall certainly do our part. We shall give it teeth and resources, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, stressed. But some of the initiative must come from other bodies, including local authorities, business, the voluntary sector and, above all, from individuals.

Sustainable development depends on changes in individual lifestyles. We need to use the car less, to recycle more, to save energy. It is those individual changes which people make in their everyday lives which together will determine how successful we are in following a sustainable path. Which is why the Government announced the new citizens' initiative which will promote the vital messages of sustainable development in clear unambiguous language. It will provide people with information which can influence the choices they make and it will show them how their actions can make a difference.

The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, stressed the importance of gaining public support. He is quite right. We are doing much to encourage and enthuse the public on a voluntary basis.

I shall now turn briefly to each of the other three documents. The Climate Change Programme sets out the measures we are taking to meet the Climate Change Convention commitment signed at Rio. That means reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the year 2000. The fastest and cheapest way of curbing emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, is by improving energy efficiency. The UK economy has grown by about 25 per cent. since 1979, but it still uses roughly the same amount of energy. With further cost-effective improvements—such as home and energy efficiency schemes, and others carefully outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra—some 20 per cent. of current energy demand can be cut. The Climate Change Programme is based on a partnership approach. The Government provided the right framework to stimulate the introduction of energy efficiency measures. We are also helping by providing advice and information on actions to achieve savings.

Nearly half of the savings we are looking for in the carbon dioxide programme are expected to come from reducing energy consumption in the home. The business and transport sectors are both expected to contribute a quarter of the savings; and one-tenth of the savings are expected to come from the public sector. So it is up to households, businesses and public sector bodies throughout the country to take the actions that will lead to lower emissions.

I now turn to the Biodiversity Action Plan, which brings together for the first time all the relevant policies and programmes into an overall strategy to promote nature conservation within the United Kingdom. The plan is based upon three principles: sound science, partnership and common sense.

Sound science must underpin all environmental policy. When it is established that species are endangered or vulnerable, as well as providing protection under legislation such as the Wildlife and Countryside Act, we are promoting specific action. The Species Recovery Programme, launched by English Nature to assist endangered native plants and animals, is already enjoying some success. Indeed, that was a theme strongly supported by my noble friend Lord Addison.

Common sense is also important when balancing the need for sustainable development with wildlife conservation. We believe that the best balance for development and conservation is achieved through voluntary management agreements. The Government have therefore been developing important initiatives such as the Wildlife Enhancement Programme for SSSIs and more widely in the countryside the programme of environmentally sensitive areas, other agri-environmental measures and countryside stewardship. All of those engage landowners and occupiers in management that contributes towards the conservation of our natural heritage.

My noble friend Lord Kitchener referred to the benefits of organic farming. We support organic farming and encourage more extensive livestock farming in selected areas. That is one of the action points in the biodiversity action plan. That plan was prepared through consultation and partnership with many people both inside and outside government. It enabled a general consensus on the way forward. The theme of partnership will continue through the new steering group, which will be chaired by my department with members drawn from central and local government, the nature conservation agencies, scientific and academic institutions and voluntary bodies. The group will have the important task of delivering the 59 progress points contained in the plan, and of developing specific costed targets for species and habitats for publication in European Nature Conservation Year in 1995. I can say to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, that we believe that farming and landowning interests should be represented in that group.

Turning to forestry, I am not sure from where the noble Lord, Lord Williams, obtained his idea of privatisation. The document on the forestry review group has not yet been published and therefore, as far as I know, there is no truth in what he says. Just over 10 per cent. of the UK land area is now covered by forests. The Forestry Programme sets out our policies to promote the further expansion of forest cover; to protect and prevent the decline and loss of woodlands; to enhance their economic value; and to enhance the social and environmental benefits of our forest resources. Over the past five years we have encouraged the creation of more than 100,000 hectares of new woodlands and forests through the Woodland Grant Scheme and Farm Woodlands Premium Scheme.

Those four documents—to which I regret I have only scantily referred but time prevents me from doing more—provide the framework within which we in government must work. We shall be pursuing the theme of sustainable development in all policy areas. Within my department we have kept careful track of the problems and opportunities flagged up for action. They also provide a framework for everyone else. The Government provided a lead. Now we must look to each and every one of us—in business, farming, local authorities, voluntary organisations—to people in their everyday lives, to play their parts. Sustainable development is not a giant leap to a known destination. It is a series of incremental steps which take us forward in the right direction, and we must take those steps together. We must all act responsibly to make sustainable development a reality for the United Kingdom.

6.9 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It has well justified the initiative of my noble friend Lord Ezra and myself in bringing it forward, and my colleagues on these Benches in backing it. We have had a notable series of speeches and two maiden speeches. Maiden speeches are often neither distinctive nor memorable, although they are always worthy. The two speeches were distinctive and memorable; and as long as the two people who made them continue to speak in your Lordships' House, as I hope they now will, their maiden speeches will be recalled. They were very splendid! occasions.

I am particularly grateful to the right reverend Prelate for underlining the theology of the debate. It is only if we understand the concept of stewardship of property that we are able to sustain our development and look after what we all share in common and what is both the human and the global inheritance. Perhaps I may pick out two speeches. I was especially pleased that at the very beginning the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, talked firmly about the need for openness of debate and for wideness of discussion. That point has been picked up again and again, not least, at the end of the debate, by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, for underlining that it will not be all that easy and that some very tough decisions will have to be made. I was pleased to receive the reply that we had from the Government. It showed that they take the matter seriously and it gave us some information that we did not know before.

Lord Williams of Elvel

About forestry.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

Indeed, my Lords, about forestry, among other matters. If there was one thing said in the debate which showed the need to have had the debate it was when the Government talked about sustainable development going alongside growth. One can have sustainable development and save the planet. But there is no such thing as sustainable growth as such. There is such a thing as qualitative improvement—that is, sustainable development. But we must give up the idea that we can have sustainable development: and have the kind of economic growth that we have all talked about for the past 30 or 40 years. The enormous majority of noble Lords who joined in the debate understand that even if the Government do not.

My Lords, I thank you all very much. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion standing in my name.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.