HC Deb 30 April 1984 vol 59 cc39-40W

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he hopes to make a statement to the Nordic statement on acid deposition.

Mr. Waldegrave

My right hon. Friend wrote to Environment Ministers of the Nordic countries on 22 March in the following terms:

I have now been able to consider the statement on acidification made jointly by the evironment Ministers of the Nordic countries on 1 March and addressed to me.I understand that this statement was made on the basis of press reports about recommendations on acidification contained in the Tenth Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which was presented to Parliament on 22 February. I do not know whether you and your colleagues had seen the actual text of the Royal Commission's Report at time that you made your statement; but since some misunderstandings may be involved I think I should state clearly the position of Her Majesty's Government on this matter.The United Kingdom is proud of its record in reducing environmental polution, and in particualr of its achievements in the control of urban air pollution where very substantial changes have been brought about in the last three decades. The same environmental concern applies today to the effects of acidification; and we are determined to move, in collaboration with other Governments, towards defining and implementing appropriate action. On the same day that the Nordic statement was made the United Kingdom agreed with its partners in the European Community, including Denmark, at a meeting of Community Environmental Ministers in Brussels, to a directive on the control of air pollution from industrial installations. More widely, the United Kingdom is a contracting party to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution. And since 1970, while S02 emissions have increased overall in Europe, in the United Kingdom they have fallen by over 30 per cent. and are now at about the level at which they stood in 1940. Moreover the implication of the joint statement that the United Kingdom is the principal, or even the sole, cause of acid deposition in the Nordic countries is totally unjustified.Her Majesty's Government is now considering a current draft Community directive which calls for certin percentage reductions in specified emissions from major combustion plants by 1995. I cannot as yet say what our conclusions will be; but in reaching decisions we shall of course take proper account of concern about acidification of the environment. We shall also, however, ensure that any action on which we embark will not only be effective but will represent a sensible use of resources—in particular resources of energy.I should also make clear the status of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. This body is wholly independent of Government. Its members, who are all eminent in public life and include a number of distinguished scientists, are appointed by Her Majesty the Queen, and it is their duty to express their views on environmental pollution questions freely and honesty. Government Deprtments and other bodies may give evidence to the Commission, but the Commission's conclusions and recommendations are arrived at totally independently and represent no opinions but their own. These recommendations contribute to, but do not necessarily determine, the formulation of Government policy. (The Government's decision to require the use of unleaded petrol in new cars by 1990 at latest was taken in response to a recommendation of the Royal commission in their Ninth Report in 1983). We are currently considering the wide-ranging recommendations of the Commissions's Tenth Report, both on acidification and on other subjects, and will announce our response in due course.On acid deposition, the Royal Commission made two particular recommendations. The first is that high priority should be given to research, particularly on causes and effects, on the interaction with other pollutants, and on remedial action. The second is that the "Central Electricity Generating Board should introduce on a pilot basis, over the next five years, certain of the suphur dioxide abatement options that are already available. I see nothing in either recommendation to substantiate the suggestion in the joint statement that this will encourage the United Kingdom to postpone work on emission reductions or that it in any way involves a set-back for international efforts. On the contrary, I think that these recommendations represent a constructive approach to these difficult issues.