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Mr. Trippier : My right hon. Friend has no plans to visit Leicester. However, I was there on 6 December and I discussed a number of housing topics with the council.
Mr. Vaz : As the Minister was in Leicester so recently, he will know that there are currently 10,500 people on the housing waiting list in Leicester and that last year the city
Column 902council did not build a single new council house. That contrasts with the position 10 years ago when it used to build an average of 1, 000 new houses a year. Does the Minister realise that the appalling statistics are a direct result of the Government's miserable housing policies? When will the Minister return to the people of Leicester the £15,274,000.18 stolen by the Government from the council's housing allocation grant? Will the Minister confirm that if the money was given to the city council--it is its rightful property--it would considerably ease the housing crisis in Leicester?
Mr. Trippier : The hon. Gentleman's point was not specifically touched on by the Labour councillors I met on my official visit. Perhaps I told them rather too quickly that the amount of money they had received in capital receipts had ensured that there was a gradual increase in the total spend in the public sector housing market. Perhaps that is why the matter was not raised. I am glad to have the opportunity to remind the hon. Gentleman of that fact. I also made the point that, wherever possible, the Department had given additional resources over and above the council's allocation at the beginning of the year. That is especially appropriate for estate action. I was asking the council to spend a darn sight more money from its resources, together with ours, to deliver new building through housing assocations, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, form the thrust of the Government's new housing policy.
Mr. Ashby : Does my hon. Friend agree that waiting lists are often fiction, based on expectations rather than need? Does he agree that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) would do better trying to persuade Leicester council to use its resources more efficiently rather than indulge in political posturing?
Mr. Trippier : I agree with my hon. Friend. The local authority in Leicester could do more in turning round its empty properties on various estates. It acknowledged that it has taken far too long in the past, and that process has speeded up. I am glad to see that, but there is still considerable room for improvement.
11. Mr. Gill : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what further measures he is proposing to ensure that unleaded petrol is made more widely available.
Mrs. Virginia Bottomley : The number of petrol stations selling unleaded petrol is increasing rapidly. By the end of the year, it is expected that one in four refuellings will take place at a petrol station at which unleaded petrol is available. Further measures to promote the availability and use of unleaded petrol are co-ordinated by the unleaded petrol group, which I chair.
Mr. Gill : I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. May I exhort her not to spare any effort to encourage petroleum companies to make unleaded petrol available as widely as possible? That holds out the greatest scope for individual citizens to make worthwhile and valuable contributions to solving the problem of pollution. Does she agree that the role and responsibility of individual citizens in the battle against pollution cannot be underestimated?
Mrs. Bottomley : I agree with my hon. Friend. In his area, taking Shropshire, Hereford and Worcester together, the number of petrol stations selling unleaded petrol has risen from four to 43 in the past year. What matters is that individual citizens should realise that lack of availability and financial disadvantage are no longer excuses. Two thirds of cars can use unleaded petrol, possibly with a small alteration, and it is up to citizens to take steps to help the environment and their wallet.
Mr. Eastham : Is it not a fact that a Government Department has been monitoring lead pollution near motorways and busy roads in built-up areas? Is it not also a fact that there is great concern about damage to children? When will the Department publish figures showing the level of lead pollution, which would heighten awareness and encourage people to buy unleaded petrol?
Mrs. Bottomley : The amount of lead in the air has dropped by half since the maximum amount of lead in petrol was reduced by two thirds in 1985. Although the amount has been reduced, we need to tackle the remaining 80 per cent. of lead in the air that comes from petrol. It is essential for people to realise the damage that lead can cause to children. We are making every effort to spell that out. The information is readily available and the amount of lead in the air is monitored by a number of sources.
Miss Emma Nicholson : I congratulate the Minister on her splendid efforts to encourage companies as well as individuals to alter cars and company vehicles to run on unleaded petrol. I am delighted that this week my hon. Friend has written to all the major companies encouraging them to make that alteration. Will she confirm that the tax differential between leaded and unleaded petrol is among the highest in the European Community?
Mrs. Bottomley : I thank my hon. Friend for her kind remarks. I have written to the top 100 companies asking what steps they can take to change their fleets. Our differential is the second highest in the European Community. However, it is important for people to realise that there is already a 6p advantage over four-star petrol. Together with the Department of Trade and Industry we intend to alter the Petrol Marking Order so that the motorist is made immediately aware--because it will be highlighted at the roadside--of the saving he can make if he buys unleaded petrol and of the help that that will provide for the environment.
Ms. Walley : The use of unleaded fuel is most important if we are to have a healthy environment. It is much too important to leave to market forces. If the Government's boasted uptake of 15 per cent. in all petrol stations is to be achieved by the end of the year, it will still compare unfavourably with the uptake in most other European countries. In West Germany it is 75 per cent. When do the Government intend to make as much money available to deal with this problem as they have made available, through the Department of Health, to overcome the problems that have arisen in the egg market? The Government ought to provide funds immediately for a
Government-sponsored national information programme so that citizens are encouraged to buy unleaded petrol.
Mrs. Bottomley : The uptake of unleaded petrol has increased tenfold in the last year. If we can achieve the same tenfold increase next year, we shall have made good
Column 904progress. It is essential to work with the petrol industry, the motor manufacturers, the consumers and the motoring organisations and encourage them to spell out in detail the advantages of changing to unleaded petrol. There is already a substantial financial advantage, but it is important that each person should realise what the advantages are. That is why, through the Campaign for Lead Free Air, with which we have worked for many years and have helped to fund, we are determined to ensure that every step is taken to promote the important action that each individual can take.
Mr. Mans : Does my hon. Friend agree that, far from increasing the differential, the best way forward is to encourage more car manufacturers to tune cars to run on unleaded petrol, particularly car manufacturers in countries such as Italy and France that refuse to do so because their attitude towards unleaded fuel is way behind ours?
Mrs. Bottomley : I congratulate my hon. Friend on the important contribution he has made to this subject and the steps that I know he has taken to encourage motor manufacturers to take action in this important area. By 1990, all cars will have to be able to take unleaded petrol ; we shall all be using it. I have also discussed with manufacturers whether they have been able clearly to identify those cars that are able to take unleaded fuel. Four out of five new cars are able to take unleaded fuel, and 2 million people are driving cars that could run on unleaded fuel. We want to encourage them to take that step.
12. Mr. Janner : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement concerning the availability of further funds for the repurchase of Smith houses by Leicester city council.
Mr. Trippier : Leicester city council received additional housing investment programme allocations of £584,000 in 1987-88 and £235,000 in 1988-89, specifically to help it meet its housing defects obligations. For 1989-90 we have set aside £15 million nationally for housing defects, for which individual authorities will be able to make bids. These will, of course, be considered on their merits.
Mr. Janner : Is the Minister aware that these amounts are totally inadequate? Leicester city council is fulfilling its obligations to protect people who bought their council houses in accordance with Government policy, but the Government are doing precious little to help them. Those who live in the remaining Smith houses in my constituency will share a wretched Christmas along with the thousands of families who cannot get council houses because the Government have taken money away from Leicester city council, which means that it cannot do its job in other respects.
Mr. Trippier : The hon. and learned Gentleman is being uncharacteristically unfair, and I think that he may have prepared his supplementary question before hearing my answer to his substantive question. Only last month the Department of the Environment gave Leicester city council additional funds to meet the problem of housing defects that the hon. and learned Gentleman has outlined.
Mr. Janner : It is not enough.
Mr. Trippier : It never is for the hon. and learned Gentleman. He will continue to say that it is not enough. All I can say is that there was a redistribution of resources in his region and we responded positively to the case put to us by Leicester city council. The additional HIP allocation, with the council's normal resources, means that the council will be able to help owners who are still awaiting assistance.
13. Mr. Adley : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he next plans to visit Dorset to discuss public opinion on planning matters.
Mr. Chope : Neither I nor my right hon. Friend have any plans to do so.
Mr. Adley : That is a pity. Will my hon. Friend please accept from me that overdevelopment in Dorset is now the overriding concern of many of my constituents and those of my neighbours? Is he aware that there is widespread disillusionment and even a feeling of helplessness at what seems to be an alliance between certain developers, land owners and even certain county councils who favour the seemingly inexorable creep of development? Will he accept, on behalf of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, my constituents' thanks for the decision to throw out the Carroll group proposals? Will he reconfirm the answer given to me by his fellow Under-Secretary of State on 20 July that it is definitely not the Government's policy to encourage the development of new towns on existing green belt land?
Mr. Chope : I am very happy to confirm the last point and I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments about the Carroll decision. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State upheld green belt policy by overturning a recommendation from the inspector. He was challenged in the High Court but won the case.
Mr. Nicholas Baker : Will my hon. Friend do everything that he can to protect the green belt in Dorset and elsewhere in the south of England? When any changes are made to structure plans, will my hon. Friend ensure that control of local planning authorities over planning matters is in no way diminished?
Mr. Chope : Yes, certainly. Indeed, we want to go further than that. We want to encourage more local planning authorities to draw up their local plans and thereby to have greater control over their own environment.
14. Mr. Bellingham : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he proposes to issue a consultation paper on the permitted days for clay pigeon shooting under the General Development Order 1988.
Mr. Howard : Before Christmas.
Mr. Bellingham : Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that, if the order goes through, hundreds of small clay pigeon clubs will go out of business? If he further aware that they were not consulted and are outraged? Surely this is no way in which to treat a responsible and law- abiding sector of the community. The Government are trying to
Column 906encourage alternative land uses, so surely it makes no sense to push this policy through in contradiction of that aim.
Mr. Howard : I am fully aware of the points that my hon. Friend makes and they will be given full weight in the consultation process to which his original question referred.
Sir Hector Monro : Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that, if consultations are to go through quickly, he must try to bring in an amending order by, say, 1 March? If he does not, clay pigeon shooting clubs cannot plan their season and many individuals will not be able to use clay pigeon traps to practise in fields. Is he aware that there is a voluntary code of practice, which is approved by his Department, to reduce noise and any form of local inconvenience? He must act very speedily indeed.
Mr. Howard : I am aware of the code of practice to which my hon. Friend refers. We shall do what we can to reach a speedy conclusion of this matter.
15. Mr. Fearn : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what action he is taking to ensure that all beaches meet the standards set by the European Community bathing water directive.
Mr. Howard : Some 60 per cent. of our bathing waters now meet the mandatory EC standards. Spending programmes for improving the remaining waters are running at £70 million a year, and we are considering the implication of accelerating these programmes to achieve general compliance by 1995.
Mr. Fearn : As one third of bathing waters still do not comply with the EEC directive, what action is the Minister taking about raw sewage which is being pumped into seas and which affects tourism, fishing and local people?
Mr. Howard : I thought that I had answered that question. We are considering ways of accelerating the programme to achieve general compliance with European Community standards by 1995.
Mr. Oppenheim : Is it not true that all the pollution has occurred while the water authorities have been in the public sector? Will not any price rises in water after privatisation be largely because of the need to clean up that pollution?
Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is quite right. The Select Committee reported that the problems which we now face are largely due to the cuts in investment by water authorities between the mid-1970s and the early-1980s when the Labour party was in power.
16. Mrs. Margaret Ewing : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he next expects to meet the chairman of United Kingdom Nirex ; and what matter will be discussed.
Mrs. Virginia Bottomley : My right hon. Friend has no plans at present to meet the chairman of Nirex.
Mrs. Ewing : In the light of that reply, will the Under-Secretary tell us when she expects Nirex to announce the sites that have been selected and the exact method of disposal of the waste? What is her Department doing to ensure that there will be a full debate in the House to enable all hon. Members to express their views on the selected sites and the proposals by Nirex?
Mrs. Bottomley : We understand that Nirex hopes to bring forward its proposals based on the results of its consultation exercise and technical and geological studies early next year. The Government will then make a final decision after a full public debate.
Mr. Ian Bruce : Does my hon. Friend agree that we should accelerate the Nirex programme? She will be well aware that for decades we have been storing the waste that Nirex wishes to over-engineer in its disposal and storage, in nuclear power stations throughout the country. We have to get across to the general public the message that there are many places--
Ms. Short : Does the hon. Gentleman want it in his constituency?
Mr. Bruce : I have it in my constituency. There are many places where it can be safely stored. Unless we bite the bullet we shall never keep nuclear energy progressing as it ought to be for the good of the environment.
Mrs. Bottomley : I appreciate my hon. Friend's point of view. He is absolutely right, but uncertainty can cause greater difficulty and problems. The Government are satisfied that safe disposal facilities can be developed, but any facility would have to meet the stringent safety requirements of the authorising and regulatory bodies. I know that my hon. Friend would not want to accelerate those procedures.
Dr. Cunningham : In addition to the commitment to a necessary debate in the House, will the Minister confirm that if there are any proposals for new methods of monitored storage of nuclear waste, there will be a wide- ranging public inquiry before any decisions are taken?
Mrs. Bottomley : My right hon. Friend has given a commitment that when Nirex comes forward with its proposals there will be a public inquiry and widespread public debate. It has been agreed by the Environment Select Committee and the House of Lords European Communities Select Committee that on-site storage is unacceptable because of the higher risk, that disposal is the right approach and it is time that the Government proceeded to deal with the problem.
Mr. Bill Walker : When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman of Nirex, will he bring to his attention the fact that the Scottish National party in Scotland has been distributing leaflets which give completely misleading information or lies about the proposals that may or may not be made, and that has been causing much unnecessary concern?
Mrs. Bottomley : Nirex has made efforts to consult very widely and put forward responsible and reasonable information. I shall certainly draw my hon. Friend's point to my right hon. Friend's attention.
17. Mr. Archer : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement on the report of the Association of District Councils called, "Social Rented Housing : Supply and Need", issued in September, a copy of which has been sent to him.
Mr. Trippier : This is an interesting report which we have read carefully.
Mr. Archer : In view of the revelation that there are now 1.3 million families on council waiting lists, is the Minister at last persuaded of the need for increased provision in the public sector, as urged in the report, or will he emulate the Prime Minister's reaction and dismiss the Association of District Councils as one more institution which has become infected by Socialism?
Mr. Trippier : I am convinced of the need to provide houses at affordable rents, and the Housing Act 1988 is designed to meet that need. This will happen through extension and expansion of the housing association movement. That is precisely why we have been fortunate in securing substantial resources from the Treasury to expand that policy and give a great increase to the Housing Corporation, which eventually will find its way to the housing associations.
19. Mr. Stern : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will list the major areas of opportunity for protection of the national environment which he expects his Department to pursue over the next 12 months.
Mrs. Bottomley : We will be taking action both nationally and internationally to protect all aspects of the environment. We are moving forward our policies to revise and refine our waste disposal legislation, to establish an integrated pollution control system, to tacke air pollution by cleaning up power station emissions and promoting lead-free petrol, to invest in research into greenhouse gases and to take a lead on protecting the ozone layer.
Mr. Stern : On my hon. Friend's final point, would she care to comment on the efforts being made by the major companies in the chemical industry to assist the Government in that endeavour.
Mrs. Bottomley : The major chemical companies have been investing heavily in research into alternatives to damaging CFCs and halons. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that he is to host a conference here in March to encourage other countries to sign the Montreal protocol and to raise the limits so that we can look for a reduction of 85 per cent.
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