HL Deb 27 October 1997 vol 582 cc875-7

2.50 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will request that the United Nations Conference on the Environment undertakes a comparative analysis of the various risks, nuclear, environmental and other, facing humankind with a view to the formulation of international policies calculated to give world civilisation the best possible chance of surviving.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, better known as the Rio Earth Summit, agreed a comprehensive blueprint known as Agenda 21 designed to achieve worldwide sustainable development. In June in New York a special session of the United Nations adopted a programme of action for the next five years with the aim of accelerating the implementation of Agenda 21. This was based on a detailed analysis by the UN system of progress made since Rio and the challenges facing the world, including in areas of particular interest to my noble friend such as radioactive waste.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that Answer which is, frankly, more encouraging than I had expected. However, we are here, as the gracious Writ which has recently been read draws to our attention, to consider the difficulties and dangers of current affairs. That is precisely what this Question and the Answer of my noble friend address. I hope that my noble friend will consider my next point. I am aware, of course, of some of the work which has been done, but so far I believe there has been no attempt to make a comparative analysis. I recognise the difficulty of that, but it is important that such a thing should be attempted. I hope that my noble friend will be able to assure us that such an attempt is not beyond the range of the United Nations conference.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, in my reply to my noble friend I mentioned that a detailed analysis by the UN system has already taken place. We share my noble friend's concern with regard to the importance of the UK commitment to environmental protection. Therefore the Government have identified Agenda 21 as one of the main vehicles for achieving that protection. The Prime Minister made it clear in New York that we must bring international, national and domestic agencies into play.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if the objective of sound environmental management for the world community as a whole is to be achieved it will be essential that the countries of the developing world and third world play their part? For that to be possible, does my noble friend agree that it will be essential to ensure a transfer of resources to the third world to enable it to introduce environmentally friendly policies? Will she assure the House that significance will be attributed to this crucial issue in the forthcoming White Paper on development?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, proposals have been made with regard to following up discussions held at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting which has just concluded in Edinburgh. The matter that the noble Lord mentioned was discussed in some detail. The Edinburgh Commonwealth economic declaration contains a strong and clear message on the environment. Heads of Government stressed that it is incumbent upon the global community to strengthen co-operation on sustainable development. They underlined the need for a successful outcome of the forthcoming Kyoto conference. Commonwealth Heads of Government also discussed the importance of working to halve the proportion of people in extreme poverty by the year 2015, and to seek to reverse the decline in development assistance, recognising the role of the ODA as an essential instrument of partnership for promoting development and for poverty reduction.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of the increasing concern of research scientists who find that endocrine disruptors, for example, DDT and its breakdown products, pthalates, PCBs and organochlorine pesticides, cause tremendous trouble because they pass to the foetus through the placenta and to new born babies through breast milk? They cause reproductive problems and cancer in the reproductive organs of both males and females. This is a worldwide problem. Will Her Majesty's Government consider asking the multinational chemical companies to fund research to make sure that their products are safe and do not have long-term effects on the reproductive systems of the human race?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I thank the noble Countess for that question. As regards approaching international companies with a view to establishing specific research, I prefer to write to the noble Countess with details of work that is being done and approaches that could be followed in the future. The Government have analysed risks as regards endocrine disruptive products. We are taking a leading role in international activities to evaluate the risks of such endocrine disruptors. If serious risks to people or to wildlife are identified, precautionary action will be taken at an early stage.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, does the Minister agree that given the previous government's undertakings on nuclear and environmental issues, including the negotiation of the comprehensive test ban treaty and the preparation of a detailed strategy for meeting our Rio commitments, Britain is in a unique position to lead the world by example in developing sustainable development policies? How does the Minister intend to encourage the United States to follow suit?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, it is obviously extremely important to the Government to work in co-operation with all other countries. I am having trouble reading my brief as I am unable to see without my glasses. I shall try to find the appropriate response. I apologise for that. I shall write to the noble Lord. The US recognition that this issue must be addressed is welcome. We are pleased that the US has now put a proposal on the table for the Kyoto conference. The real negotiations can now start. Obviously we should like the US to do more, but it has made a welcome first step. Both the UK and the EU have welcomed the stance of the US. We shall encourage it to seek to meet the EU target with regard to a 15 per cent. reduction in CO2 emissions by the year 2010.