HC Deb 09 May 1986 vol 97 cc261-2W
Mr. Nicholls

asked the Prime Minister what measures her Government have taken to promote or protect the environment: and if she will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

The Government have taken many important measures to protect and enhance the environment. The principal ones are as follows.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 has proved to be the most important piece of legislation in its field for many years. It has strengthened measures for the protection of native flora and fauna, and provided powers for the conservation of the countryside including natural habitats which are essential for the survival of wildlife.

Since 1979 we have increased funding for the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council in real terms by 49 and 142 per cent. respectively.

A number of initiatives have recently been taken to integrate environmental objectives into agricultural policies. These include changes to the farm capital grants system to provide clear incentives for environmentally beneficial projects, and statutory powers under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 to control pesticide use and supply.

We have taken an active part in the European Community, including the initiative in measures to eliminate lead from petrol, the agreement on vehicle emissions, the prohibition of trade in endangered species, and the protection of whales and seals from slaughter. We will play our part in the European Year of the Environment 1987.

We have negotiated a European directive requiring environmental assessment of certain major types of project and have recently published a consultation document outlining proposals for implementing it within the context of the town and country planning system.

In 1982 we launched the Mersey basin campaign, a major long-term project involving combined effort by the public, private and voluntary sectors. Its aim is to remedy severe pollution in the water courses of the Mersey basin and to promote matching improvements in the appearance, use and jobs prospects of the water front.

We have supported the development of the groundwork initiative which is dedicated to the regeneration of rundown land at the urban fringe through community effort. Starting in the north-west, groundwork trusts have been established in nine areas; more are in the pipeline.

Regulations have been introduced to control the use of organotin compounds in anti-fouling paints for boats, so as to protect sensitive marine organisms in coastal waters.

We have implemented part II of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, extending the effluent discharge consent procedure to coastal and estuarial waters.

A hazardous wastes inspectorate has been established within the Department of the Environment.

By the end of 1985 the permitted level of lead in petrol was reduced by over 60 per cent., and important steps have been taken to reduce exposure to lead from other sources including food, water paint and industrial emissions.

We have secured a progressive reduction in radioactive discharges from the BNFL reprocessing plant at Sellafield to less than one sixth of their 1979 levels. On 30 April we announced our intention to impose still tighter controls on discharges and, for the first time, to set specific limits on a wide range of individual radioactive substances.

The Housing and Planning Bill now before Parliament contains a number of proposals designed to improve the protection of the environment. In the circular accompanying the White Paper "Lifting the Burden," published cn 16 July 1985, we accepted that quality of the environment was a planning consideration.

The policy of the Government is to achieve the highest environmental standards that are cost-effective and do not place unnecessary burdens on industry. We shall continue to play a full role in Europe and on the wider international stage. We place a high priority on preserving and improving the quality of the environment.