HC Deb 18 June 1997 vol 296 c170W
Mr. Mackinlay

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when the Government plans to issue its response to the House Environment Select Committee's third report of the 1996–97 session, on the environmental impact of cement manufacture. [4830]

Mr. Meacher

The Government's response to the Environment Committee's Report has been issued today and copies have been placed in the Library. The response addresses the Committee's conclusions and recommendations relating to Government policy on pollution control, planning, waste management and health issues. It also comments on the Committee's criticism of the Environment Agency. The Environment Agency has issued its own response, which covers the majority of the Committee's recommendations, since these concern the Agency's enforcement role.

The Government has welcomed the Select Committee's careful consideration of this issue and sees the report as a very valuable contribution to public debate, not only on this important subject, but also on broader issues of environmental protection. The Government's response affirms its commitment to regulation industry to prevent harm to human health and minimise impacts on the environment as a whole. The Committee has made a number of trenchant criticisms of the Environment Agency's regulation of the cement industry. In particular it found inadequacies in the Agency's public consultation procedures, lack of consistency in application of environmental standards and deficiencies in the regulation of Castle Cement's Clitheroe works. The Government is deeply concerned that the Committee should have felt it necessary to make such criticisms. The Environment Agency has accepted the Committee's criticism and responded to it positively, with an extensive plan of action designed to bring about better public consultation, improve research and guidance and contribute to further studies of the health effects of pollutants.

I have made clear in discussions with the Agency that the Government expects it to be a fair and rigorous regulator in all its dealings with industry. It must set appropriate standards which fully protect public health and the environment, and then enforce them firmly. The Agency's management has assured me that it is committed to the changes which are needed to ensure that industrial pollution is controlled in a manner which will command the full confidence of Parliament and the public. I can assure Members of this House that I intend to hold the Agency to that promise.