Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you will be aware, great harm is being done in this country by religious cults, but are you aware that, judging by the invitation that I have here, a cult is planning to hold a meeting in one of our Committee Rooms tomorrow? The cult is Sri Chinmoy, whose leader caused you, Mr. Speaker, personal embarrassment earlier this year. He has been taken to task by the United Nations for claiming official links with that organisation. If the meeting goes ahead, there will be claims that we support the cult, and more young people will be tricked into signing up for total obedience to a cult, the leader of which claims to be able to lift elephants and paint 16,000 pictures a day. Do you have power to stop the meeting?
Debate on the Address
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [22 November]
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows : Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.-- [Sir Giles Shaw.]
Question again proposed.
In view of the pressure to speak in this debate today, I will impose between 7 and 9 o'clock the 10-minute limit on speeches. I say to those hon. Members who are called before that time to bear in mind that their speeches should not greatly exceed the limit of 10 minutes so that as many hon. Members as possible may be called.
"But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech contains proposals to create private monopolies by the sale of the nation's water and electricity industries to foreign and British commercial organisations, thus damaging the interests of consumers, taxpayers, and the environment ; regret the absence of a Bill to safeguard comprehensively the nation's environment and heritage, and further regret the inclusion of proposals to discriminate against council house tenants whilst ignoring the problems caused by record levels of mortgage rates and homelessness in urban and rural areas alike." In 1986 the Labour party adopted a radical and comprehensive policy document setting out its policies on the environment. That statement, although requiring updating in part, remains the most coherent statement of environment policy by any party in the House. It is a policy based on realism and experience, and sets out a bold strategy for Britain under a Labour Government. It is firmly based on our aims and values for a safer and cleaner environment nationally and internationally.
We welcome the challenge to political parties thrown down recently by the Worldwide Fund for Nature and other environmental groups, because the overwhelming majority of the issues that they cover are already part of our policy. I am confident that the rest will be covered by the existing policy review. We note that the Prime Minister has belatedly, after almost a decade in office, moved the environment to the top of her agenda. It has been at the top of ours for a considerable time. I suspect that, like us, the Prime Minister is aware that 81 per cent. of the British people believe that the Government should be doing more to protect the environment. The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for the Environment and I are all scientists. It is said that the beginning of wisdom is to look facts in the face and to call
Column 439them by their right names. Therefore, there should be some opportunity for agreement. Has there really been a conversion on the road to the Royal Society? Has the Secretary of State suddenly and uncharacteristically been transformed from the 19th century market forces guru that he has so often boasted of being, when deregulating buses, for example, or when trying to end the interference of councils in the housing market, into something different? Has he suddenly become the interventionist people's Nick? I doubt it. The problem for the Government is that their ideology is completely out of phase with the demands of ecology--the science of people and the environmnent. In order to be complementary to sound environmental practice, successful policies demand intervention on a consistent and wide-ranging front and in every facet of policy. They also demand planning and interference in the market in a way that can only be anathema to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. We especially welcome the Prime Minister's speech at the Royal Society because it has focused attention on this need. In doing so it has moved the debate on to our political ground.
We believe, and history shows, that left to themselves market forces are environmentally damaging and destructive. The Government and the Secretary of State are in head-on collision with their own most cherished dogma that the market will provide a solution. However, our countryside, our heritage, the poor people of the world, the oceans and the atmosphere cannot take that gamble any longer--the risks are too great and the damage already too serious not to call a halt. I know that the Secretary of State, as a scientist, would agree that the market is not scientific.
It is also important to compare the recent rhetoric of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State with their records. Many hon. Members would agree that the pressures on land, housing, social facilities and on the infrastructure in London and in the south of England have become intolerable. Many Conservative Back Benchers are deeply uneasy about the consequences of their Government's policies, and we share that unease. The grotesquely distorted developments of the north-south divide in Britain are a direct consequence of Government policies since 1979.
The devastation of industry and employment in Scotland, the north and the midlands has produced the equal and opposite reaction in the south. In reality, many Tories are now getting what they voted for, but they are discovering that it is not what they really want. In Berkshire, Dorset, Essex, Hampshire and elsewhere protests mount as development rolls over towns and villages. It is impossible, however, not to feel a little sorry for the current Secretary of State-- [Hon. Members :-- "Oh!"] Oh yes. He shares my view that all this is not really his fault and that it all began back in 1980 when the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) opened the floodgates to developments in the south--Berkshire and elsewhere.
At that time the Conservative Government issued strategic planning guidance to
"sweep away obstacles to commercial enterprise"
in the south. That guidance reduced proposals from Tory Berkshire and Surrey county councils in particular to extend the green belt to protect their communities. Of
Column 440course many people in the Tory party and many business people have taken their lead from that early guidance issued by the Tory Government.
Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley) rose --
In Dorset, the Tory county council is now proposing a new town in its own green belt land in the parish of St. Leonards and St. Ives. Several Tory councillors are also landowners and developers in the area and the former planning officer of the east Dorset district council has gone into busines to advise developers seeking planning permission in the local authority area. Bewildered and disillusioned local people are entitled to ask what is going on because it is not what they voted for. I know that some Tory Members share their concern.
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) The hon. Gentleman has referred to an area in my constituency, and I regret that what he has said is true. There is widespread concern about what has been done and proposed by the Dorset county council. Does the hon. Gentleman share my hope that the Secretary of State will do to the county council's ideas what he has already done to a similar proposal by the Carroll Group--throw them out lock, stock and barrel?
Dr. Cunningham : Of course I share that view. I further hope, however, that the Secretary of State will, at long last, recognise that such unbalanced development in Britain is as bad for the people of the south as it is damaging for the people of the midlands, the north and Scotland. That is the failure at the heart of the Government's policies.
Mr. Heseltine : Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that what we did in 1979-80 was, if anything, to reduce the consequences of the planning assumptions that the last Labour Government put before the county councils? Can he give one example of a county in which we increased the number of houses over and above the assumptions of the outgoing Labour Government?
Dr. Cunningham : I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, when he was Secretary of State, he granted on appeal for almost 1 million sq. ft. of extra office space in Berkshire. Such commercial development inevitably brought in its train huge increases in demand for housing in the Thames valley and elsewhere. That is what the right hon. Gentleman did when he was Secretary of State, and the present Secretary of State wrote on 18 March to remind him of it. Whatever he might say about the previous Labour Government, the growth in pressure for development in Greater London and in counties surrounding London is a direct result of the Government's policies since 1979.
The highly respected photographer, Mr. Norman Parkinson, recently expressed his fears about those policies in the Thames valley when he talked of it becoming "another synthetic community". How right he was. The dilemma was perhaps posed more graphically by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) in an article entitled, "Southern California--a suburb coming near you soon".
Column 441The Secretary of State, as a scientist, recently wrote of the need to put "evidence before emotion" in the discussion of these issues. I am pleased to see that he recognises the need for that. I wish that he would put evidence before the House a little more often and practise what he preaches. Why does he not put before the House the evidence of his expenditure on housing action trusts which he has refused to do in answer to questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon)? Why does he not put before the House the evidence that he is commissioning on the value of the assets of Britain's water industries before he sells them? If he believes in putting evidence before emotion, why cannot everyone, including taxpayers, know of that evidence before decisions are taken? Unfortunately for the Secretary of State, although he does not practise what he preaches, many environmentalists and scientists have taken him at his word. For example, Mr. Hugh Fish, retiring chairman of the Natural Environment Research Council, said recently that, if the squeeze on funding is not halted, environmental research could suffer damage from which it would take years to recover. His successor, Professor John Knill, warned that
"the council could no longer support some important environmental monitoring programmes."
This year, the council is losing perhaps up to 160 jobs as a direct result of Government policy. The Department of the Environment's expenditure on environmental research has fallen in real terms from £40.6 million in 1979-80 to £28.8 million now, according to a written answer from the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment on 24 October this year.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has also announced wide- ranging cuts in research. At a time when eggs in Britain now come with a Government health warning because salmonella bacteria are endemic in chickens and eggs in this country, the research programme of the Food Research Institute at Bristol into microbial intestinal flora has been axed as a result of the Government's policies. Recently, on Radio 4's "Food Programme", Dr. Geoff Mead of that institute said :
"Unfortunately our work has recently fallen victim of the Government's cuts in food and agriculture. So the work will now cease. The industry needs all the help it can get in applying whatever control measures are available."
Work in other important areas of public concern affecting pesticides, animal disease and pollution has also been cut. The secretary of the Agricultural and Food Research Council, Professor Stewart, has condemned the cuts, which he said
"would have a drastic effect on the biological science base of the UK."
As recently as last Wednesday, the chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council, the inoffensive but effective Mr. William Wilkinson, said that the Government had cut the council's grant for next year by 5 per cent. He added :
"The question of money is probably the matter that gives me the greatest anxiety as to whether or not we can carry out what is required for the future."
Since 1979, scientific research has been continually squeezed deliberately by the Government, with cuts affecting both research councils and universities. The cuts have been especially damaging to environmental monitoring programmes, including those directed to the atmosphere. Some, including the measurement of
Column 442long-lived radionuclides in estuarine sediments, have been axed altogether. The Chancellor of the Exchequer's recent announcement of increased funding for science falls well short of the minimum sum recommended by the Government's own advisory board for the research councils. The Government's policy of stopping the funding of what they call near market research can lead only to further cuts in long-term scientific work. The evidence from the Government's budget is that Ministers continue to downgrade long-term environmental monitoring and research when they allocate resources.
Examination of the Government's performance in other environmental matters exposes the Tories' record on the environment, which is abysmal. Britain has the dirtiest beaches in Europe, with the Commission taking legal action against the Government in five of the worst cases. Nearly 11 million people are forced to drink water of a quality below that required by Community standards, including those in many areas of the country where there are excessive nitrate levels in water. Again, the Community is taking Britain to court in respect of six serious breaches. There is a total absence of any strategy for managing the rising quantities of toxic and hazardous chemical wastes. This was graphically illustrated by the recent Karin B fiasco. Furthermore, there is a complete absence of any strategy for managing nuclear wastes. The Radioactive Wastes Management Advisory Committee reported in July,
"policy remains disappointingly confused or deficient."
The Government's dilatory attitude towards tackling the problems of acid rain is well documented. Britain remains the largest emitter of sulphur dioxide in western Europe, with an increase of 200,000 tonnes last year. Between them the three power stations in the entrance to the Aire valley in Yorkshire--Ferrybridge, Eggborough, and Drax B--burn 20 million tonnes of coal a year, producing one fifth of the nation's electricity. They will be sending into the air annually about 800,000 tonnes of gases that can be converted into acid rain--600,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide and 200,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxides. That is more than one sixth of the entire national outputs of Portugal, Norway, Switzerland and Ireland put together.
The Government have encouraged the import of hazardous and domestic wastes for purely financial gain while they have refused to consider the major implications for national land use and planning, the environment and public health. In addition, the Department of the Environment has just five inspectors to supervise more than 5,600 tips in England and Wales. That is simply not credible. Even responsible companies in the waste treatment industry are highly critical of the Government's policies.
The Government have also refused to meet their obligations under the convention on the international trade in endangered species. Again, the European Community has initiated legal proceedings. The Government still have a confused and lamentable response to the environmental consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe. They also made a churlish, miserly and dishonest response to last year's unprecedented storm damage. The Tory- dominated Select Committee on Agriculture condemned that response in March. As a consequence of the Government's response, much of the
Column 443woodland areas of southern England appear set to remain devastated for decades as a result of the Government's policy.
Britain remains the worst offender in dumping materials in the North sea, with untreated sewage sludge and waste materials predominating.
Earlier this year, following an incident at the Lowermoor water treatment works, more than 20,000 people in the Camelford area were poisoned by their own domestic water supply. Of course, the regional water authority, thanks to the Government, now meets in secret and the press and public are excluded. There has been an internal inquiry into the biggest scandal involving the poisoning of people in this country in living memory. If the Secretary of State had any sense of duty and responsibility, he would set up a public inquiry into the matter now. However, he has consistently refused to do so.
Mr. Leigh : Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with the level of investment by the water industry in sewage treatment over the past 20 years under Labour and Conservative Governments? If not, how would he re-order the priorities of a Labour Government to refresh those parts of the water authority which no Government has ever tackled?
Dr. Cunningham : Of course I am not satisfied. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that no Opposition Members are content with the status quo. However, we do not have to sell the nation's water assets to increase investment and improve pollution control ; and we do not have to dun the consumers of water in the process either. Nations bordering the North sea, our Community partners, the Nordic Council countries, Environment Select Committees of both Houses of Parliament and most recently the Royal Commission on environmental pollution are all strongly and persistently critical of the Government's policy failures. It is little wonder that the Government have been arraigned by the European Commission on more charges than all the other Community countries combined.
The Secretary of State argued last week that the nouveau riche were the best guardians of our heritage. Unfortunately for the Secretary of State, he was pre-empted by the nouveau riche Mr. Frank Bayada, who outbid conservationists to buy 34 acres of the New Forest in anticipation of the Secretary of State's thoughts. However, he ruined the policy promptly by taking a bulldozer to more than 500 ancient trees, felling the lot. In hours a 900-year-old habitat was wrecked, as was the Secretary of State's policy. The Sunday Telegraph says that our heritage is under the hammer. It is right : metaphorically and actually our heritage is being sold, and too often destroyed. People are dismayed at the proposed disposal of the Mappa Mundi and other church treasures. The British Coal sale of Thoresby hall in Nottinghamshire, against the views of English Heritage, is a disgrace, and I ask the Secretary of State to inquire into it.
Although the Government can find time in their programme for yet another Local Government Bill--there have been about 50 in 10 years--they can find no room for a Bill to safeguard more effectively our environment and
Column 444heritage. That is a deplorable omission. If the Government had been considering those issues seriously they would have approached the Opposition months ago to seek out common ground, but they have not done so, and their recent flurry of speeches--caused, no doubt, by alarm at public opinion--is exposed as bogus.
The Government have given no serious long-term thought to these crucial issues. I emphasise that we, for our part, are willing to begin now to explore the opportunities to achieve some consensus on them. But there can be no compromise on Bills on housing, or on the selling off of the nation's electricity and water industries. The next Local Government Bill will demonstrate the triumph of dogma over reason in Tory policy. The Government's new financial regime for local authority housing could mean the end of central Government's housing subsidy to local authorities, and will also prevent housing departments from subsidising their housing costs from the general rate fund. Rents will rise, and tenants who can afford to pay the full rent will be asked to subsidise their neighbours who are in receipt of housing benefit. The cost of housing benefit will be transferred from general taxation to the rates, while surpluses on council rent funds will be transferred to the general rate fund. Thus council tenants will be taxed twice, first, to support housing benefit and, secondly, to subsidise the poll tax.
The Government are guilty of inefficiency and incompetence on housing finance. One in 10 homeless families are in their present dificulties because of mortgage failures and repossessions. That is the fastest-growing cause of homelessness in the country. House price inflation has put housing out of the reach of many young people who cannot afford a home in the communities in which they were born and have grown up, particularly in the south.
Central Government housing subsidy has been reduced by no less than 80 per cent. since 1979. That has resulted in a shortage of affordable rented housing. Public sector housing starts have fallen from 73,000 in 1979-80 to 15,000 at the latest estimate. That has placed local authorities in an impossible position, and they are spending millions of pounds of ratepayers' money on bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Council waiting lists in some parts of the country have simply stopped operating sensibly. The number of people on waiting lists in England has almost doubled in the past five years, from 750,000 in 1983 to 1.29 million in 1987. Transfers are rare, and growing families are often cramped in flats or other accommodation unsuitable for their needs.
The system of mortgage interest tax relief favours owner-occupiers over tenants and helps wealthier owner-occupiers most of all. In 1979-80 it was worth £1,450 million, and local authority housing subsidies amounted to not quite twice that amount. By 1985-86 mortgage tax relief had risen to £4.75 billion, but local authority housing subsidy had almost stabilised. So much for Government targeting. Twenty-five per cent. of mortgage interest tax relief goes to those earning over £20,000 a year. Housing benefit cuts penalise poorer tenants, especially young people and pensioners. What kind of targeting is that? We need to reform housing finance, to make it fairer both within and between the rented and purchase sectors of the housing market and to ensure an adequate supply of affordable rented housing.
Column 445Under the present Government, mortgage rates have been higher for longer than under any previous Government. It is all going wrong for the Chancellor. His top-rate tax-cutting strategy has resulted in only the most wealthy being guaranteed any improvement in living standards. For millions of families the spring tax cuts have been cancelled out by the price rises and mortgage clawbacks of the autumn, and social security cuts make many worse off than ever. Low and middle-income families unable to afford private sector provision are seeing their quality of life suffering from underfunding of the public services. Cuts in real spending and investment in many services have been confirmed in the Autumn Statement, ensuring continued neglect well into the 1990s, and increasingly the British people regard that as unacceptable.
How is this for a quotation :
"The Government's panic hike' in minimum lending rate demonstrates the continuing collapse of its economic policies."?
That was said about a Government who put interest rates up to their present levels. But it was said by the present Foreign Secretary in October 1976 after two years of Labour Government, in the middle of the worst world oil price hikes ever experienced. We have now reached those levels after 10 years of the present Government, and we are the only country in the western world that is self-sufficient in energy supplies. What have the Government to say about that now? We also have serious misgivings about proposals to change the basis of funding under section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972. A change to per capita funding will in many cases have a profoundly adverse effect on councils' discretionary spending and on local schemes, whether in partnership with the private sector or with the highly valued voluntary organisations.
We are implacably opposed to proposals to sell off our nation's electricity and water assets, and to the possibility of control of such fundamental and strategic resources passing abroad. It is difficult to believe that any national Government would elevate the pig-headed pursuit of dogma to such levels.
In electricity supply we shall see the end of coherent, strategic planning of the industry. We face a nuclear power imposte on consumers. Private enterprise gets the assets ; consumers get the bill to deal with decommissioning and nuclear waste--if the Government ever have a policy to deal with it, that is. Confusion reigns as the Secretary of State for Energy contradicts the Secretary of State for the Environment, and vice versa. Confusion reigns as the Government refuse to let the market decide, and insist on the building of nuclear power stations regardless of the economics and of the cost to the consumer.
Was it evidence or was it emotion that caused the Secretary of State's outburst about the need for a massive expansion in nuclear power to counteract the greenhouse effect? It certainly was not historical fact that guided him. He quoted the French. The French embarked on nuclear power expansion in the 1970s, but not to protect the environment. The French Minister of the time said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and me when we queried public reaction to their policy, "When you are draining the swamp you do not consult the
Column 446frogs." It was hardly environmental concerns that drove the French ; it was because they recognised that they had no oil or gas and very little coal of their own.
It was not the fact of his own Government's track record on nuclear power that could have guided the Secretary of State. For all their boasting, the Government have begun but have not yet completed one nuclear power station in a decade. It was no analytical, scientific assessment, either. The presence of pollution in the world's atmosphere traps too much heat near the earth instead of allowing it to escape into space. According to the United Nations environment programme, only 50 per cent. of the 3 deg warming effect that is expected early in the next century will be caused by carbon dioxide, and only one third of the 50 per cent. is caused by fossil- fuelled power stations. That is an essential scientific fact that the Secretary of State does not seem to have grasped.
Let us suppose that the nuclear solution is imposed and that we replace two thirds of our fossil-fuelled power stations with nuclear power. The result will be a less than 12 per cent. reduction in the United Kingdom's total contribution to global warming, achieved by building about 30 nuclear reactors. If the Secretary of State had talked about a massive expansion of public transport, he would have been widely applauded because 25 per cent. of the carbon dioxide comes from vehicle emissions, and that figure is expected to increase by 50 per cent. before the end of the century.
The answer that the Secretary of State is grappling for is not a massive expansion of nuclear power, for which there is no place, but a major programme of energy conservation and intervention to reduce demand and to increase the energy efficiency of our homes, industries and public buildings. However, this Government have frittered away the major programme of energy conservation policies that they inherited precisely because they were interventionist.
The BBC says that the Secretary of State's "On The Record" interview was arranged to take place in his home to prevent a walk-out when he was confronted with the evidence of his own confusion. When confronted earlier by ITV over his inconsistency, emotion overcame evidence. The Secretary of State walked out of the studio in the middle of the interview. To obscure his confusion even further, the Secretary of State now attempts to present water privatisation as an environmental measure.
It is completely unnecessary to sell the nation's water assets to achieve the environmental improvements that the Government say are their objective. The proposals ensure that private enterprise will obtain huge and important environmentally sensitive assets while the taxpayer and water consumers are expected to foot the bill for cleaning up the appalling pollution that already exists.
The Secretary of State for the Environment has made no attempt to quantify the value of the assets to be sold, as recommended by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee in its recent report, following the Royal Ordnance fiasco. A huge rip off of the taxpayer is being planned by the Secretary of State. Consumers will have no choice. The proposals contain no iota of competition. They will result in powerful private monopolies deciding their policies for our water supply in secret.
Column 447It was this Government who acted to exclude the press, the public and local authority representatives from the meetings of regional water authorities. They have a lot to answer for.
The Secretary of State says that water supply and sewage disposal will be subject to the disciplines of the private sector, but such disciplines as the private sector affords result from the market. There will be no market. Furthermore, there will be no competition and no choice over water supply or sewage disposal. How, therefore, can any disciplines apply? "Ah, yes," said the Secretary of State at his press conference last week, "I know that. Let them use Perrier." Thus spoke Nicholas Antoinette. Picture the scene. "It's time for granny's bath," mother says. "Come now, children. We can't afford a jacuzzi, but pass up the Perrier." It is a joke. It is preposterous. Water consumers will have no choice and no option. They will be at the mercy of massive private enterprise monopolies.
As with the electricity proposals, water privatisation will cost the consumer a great deal. This Government's inflationary dogma will be a burden on the whole economy.
In a speech to the Bow Group on 11 October 1988 the Secretary of State said that this Government were
"Taking the lead in getting the other Governments of the world to accept their responsibilities."
Will he confirm that at a meeting of Environmental Ministers in Brussels this weekend the British Government blocked a proposal to introduce a new European Community directive to protect threatened flora, fauna and habitats? Is that encouraging other Governments to accept their responsibilities for the environment?
In the same speech on 11 October, the Secretary of State said : "The Government does have first-class scientific advisers" perhaps that should be, "did have first-class scientific advisers"--
"and we must enable everyone to share the information they give us. We spend a lot of taxpayers' money on research and advice and indeed we have the best advice. The taxpayer has every right to know the results."
We look forward, therefore, to a green Bill encompassing the freedom of information proposals that are essential if those commitments are to be guaranteed.
We know that under this Prime Minister there is no such thing as society. If she and her Secretary of State remain in power for much longer, there will be little, if any, science, either. It is not just a question of their lack of commitment, their failure to face the evidence and put it before the emotion of their ideology. It is their failure to maintain, let alone improve upon, an already inadequate and fragmented framework of environmental legislation, protection and enforcement.
We are now asked to believe that this Government--red in market forces tooth and claw--have become ideologically colour blind and have taken on a green mantle. We do not need carbon dating to prove that it is a fake. Environmentalists do not believe them. Industry does not believe them. The Secretary of State's pollution inspectors do not believe them, either--that is why they have resigned. And we do not believe them.
Column 448just made about planning policy and research. I shall deal quickly with the research figures and then move to the amendment itself. The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) may be interested to know that, contrary to the figures that he gave, the total of Government-funded research will increase from £825 million this year by a further £93 million next year. I do not know how on earth he can describe that as a cut. He may also like to know that within the increased budget for environmental research that is received by the Natural Environment Research Council the council may change its priorities within the increased total--which is what it has done. The hon. Gentleman seemed to ignore totally a Bill that is probably the biggest contribution to cleaning up the environment ever to be put before the House. I am referring to the Water Bill, which has been published.
The privatisation of water and electricity will achieve two vital objectives. First, it will open those industries to the private capital markets for the huge investments that will be needed in future in both industries--mainly to clear up the backlog of pollution, which resulted from the Labour Government's stewardship. Secondly, it will give the managements of those industries the incentive to increase efficiency, to innovate and to diversify for the benefit of their customers and the economy generally.
Much has been said recently about the three big French water companies that are buying some of our statutory water companies. Those three French water companies have been privately owned for a long time and they supply water in France and in many other countries with great efficiency as a result of being in the private sector. I want our English and Welsh water authorities and companies to be equally enterprising, efficient and profitable. I know that the Labour party does not want that. I look forward to the day when they operate efficiently and profitably, not only on their present territory, but perhaps in France, Europe and further afield still. The hon. Member for Copeland scarcely mentioned the Water Bill. However, I happened to hear the interview that he gave on Radio Cumbria on Thursday night. No doubt he thought that as he was well away from Westminster and had left the House early on a Thursday evening he would be out of earshot. But I heard the broadcast. [Interruption.]
Mr. Ridley : For the sake of greater accuracy, to use your phrase, Mr. Speaker, I obtained a transcript. I shall quote four sections of it to prove how extravagantly inaccurate the hon. Gentleman is. He said :
"There are huge gaps in the Bill which ensure that existing pollution will continue and that people who are the polluters will be able to drive a coach and horses through the provisions. So there are no real improvements and safeguards for the environment in this Bill."
The truth is that the change in the structure of the water industry that will accompany privatisation will bring out the inherent weakness in the current arrangements, under which the poacher and the gamekeeper have been and are the same person, in the terms used by the Select Committee on the Environment. The water authorities, which are some of the greatest dischargers of polluting substances into rivers, have had also to fulfil the role of controlling pollution of those rivers. We shall change that unsatisfactory situation so that, for the first time, there will
Column 449be a major national body with a single dedicated remit to tackle water pollution. It will have comprehensive powers to regulate all discharges into rivers, estuaries and the sea and to take action to forestall or remedy pollution.
I shall now quote from an article in the Financial Times of last Friday to show how wrong the hon. Member for Copeland was. [Interruption.] I hope that the House will listen.-- [Interruption.]