Considered ; to be read the Third time.
Mr. Hughes : Does my hon. Friend agree that catalytic converters are not the complete answer to the problem and that it is most important to develop a strategy to control carbon dioxide emissions and the so-called greenhouse effect on the atmosphere?
Mrs. Bottomley : We have always recognised that catalytic converters play an important part in controlling car emissions, but they do not do the whole job because they have no effect on carbon dioxide emissions. The three-way catalyst rules out the use of lean-burn engines, which offers a promising way of saving fuel and reducing carbon dioxide. The United Kingdom treats carbon dioxide emissions and climate change with great seriousness and it is for that reason that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is today hosting a seminar on global climate.
Mr. Turner : Is the Minister aware of the excellent campaign being launched in my part of the world by the Wolverhampton Express and Star inviting companies large and small, local authorities and the private motorist to go lead-free? Even I have gone lead-free as a result of its persuasion. Would the Minister care to make a statement on that?
Mrs. Bottomley : The campaign run by the Wolverhampton Express and Star has been mentioned to me by several hon. Members and I have met the journalist, Marion Brennan, who has worked so hard on the campaign. It has performed a magnificent task and we wish it well this weekend when it hopes to adjust 1,000 cars in one day and thus get into the "Guinness Book of Records".
Mrs. Maureen Hicks : Last but not least in my green dress, I thank my hon. Friend for those sentiments and join my colleague the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner) in supporting the lead that the Wolverhampton Express and Star has taken in encouraging people to use unleaded petrol. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential that unleaded petrol should be made widely available in Britain so that cars fitted with the latest emission control technology can be sold here?
Mrs. Bottomley : My hon. Friend is right. The widespread use of unleaded petrol paves the way for the stricter emission standards that we shall be introducing in Britain. The Wolverhampton experience is magnificient. I understand that 50 of its 52 garages are now stocking unleaded petrol, which means that when we introduce the stricter emission standards there will be no difficulty in complying with them.
Mr. Allan Roberts : Is the Minister aware that car exhausts make a significant and growing contribution to greenhouse gases and that the European standards of allowable car emissions are 400 times more polluting than those of the United States? The imposition of United States standards in Europe was supported by Tory Euro-MPs only this April, but it is opposed by the British Government, who intend to veto the move in the Council of Ministers. Once again, Britain is seen in Europe as the friend of the polluter and the enemy of the environment.
Mrs. Virginia Bottomley : It will come as no surprise to the House to hear that in our view the way to protect the environment is by sound science and responsible action, rather than hot air and toxic words. We shall, of course, be considering the vote in the European Parliament. I have made it absolutely clear that catalysts--either oxidation or three-way catalysts--have an important part to play in protecting the environment. We have no wish, however, to rule out the use of lean-burn engines, which offer very important savings in reduced carbon dioxide and in increased fuel efficiency.
Mr. Malcolm Bruce : Will the Minister stop ducking awkward questions and trying to cause confusion? There is no fundamental conflict between catalytic converters and lean-burn engines, which have not even been developed. Will the Minister take action now to ensure that existing technology is applied in this country to reduce the greenhouse effect? Will she also recognise that if the Prime Minister is to be properly briefed she must be told that the best way to reduce the greenhouse effect is to use existing technology to promote energy conservation rather than multiplying the number of nuclear power stations being built?
Mrs. Virginia Bottomley : I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should brush up on his GCSE science. Three-way catalytic converters entail greater use of fuel and increased production of carbon dioxide. We shall, of course, be considering carefully the Commission's response to the European Parliament before deciding on the best way forward. The Government have already accepted the strict emission standards agreed in November in the Luxembourg package and we are determined that air emissions from motor cars of a variety of types should be dealt with properly and effectively.
2. Mr. Charles Wardle : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what costs would be involved in introducing a system of local government finance based on capital values and a local income tax.
Mr. Wardle : I thank my right hon. Friend for that information. Does he agree that a local income tax system would do very little to improve accountability, would be complex as well as expensive, and would be grossly unfair to all inner-city residents, while a capital value system would be a disaster for many people in London on relatively low incomes whose house values have risen rapidly?
Mr. Gummer : The two-tax system proposed by Labour would produce all the worst aspects of all the other systems. It would produce the worst side of the rating system and the worst side of local income tax. Last year a ward sister in my hon. Friend's constituency earning £13,000 per year and living in a flat in Bexhill would have faced a community charge of £196, compared with £425 under the Labour scheme. [Interruption.] It is no wonder that Labour Members are trying to make enough noise to drown out the facts about their scheme.
Mr. Gummer : First, the community charge will cost about half as much as the Labour party's scheme would. Secondly, I hope soon to be able to send the hon. Gentleman a pamphlet on the morality of the community charge.
Mr. Heddle : Will my right hon. Friend take every opportunity between now and the county elections next Thursday to explain to the 65 per cent. of owner-occupiers in this country that the financing of local government partly by capital valuation would amount to no more than a wealth tax and would hit especially hard pensioners and people on fixed incomes throughout the nation? Will my right hon. Friend also take this opportunity to denounce the campaign of fear and distortion by Labour party headquarters in Walworth road and the issuing of letters by Labour- controlled local authorities provoking fear and concern about the cost of the community charge?
Mr. Gummer : The community charge is fairer because everybody pays their bit. It is fairer because those who cannot afford it get help with the cost. It is also fairer because it makes a local council accountable. It is the last reason that the Labour party hates, because for the first time councils will be accountable to the electorate rather than to their local management committees and to Militant.
Dr. Cunningham : Why are the Tories running so scared about the poll tax that they have to wrack themselves with dishonesty about the issues? Why are Ministers so terrified that they postponed the canvass to introduce the poll tax until after the county council elections? If the poll tax is so good, why have the Government refused to debate the six poll tax orders currently on the Table before 4 May? If the poll tax is so good, why do the Government keep ducking those issues? In view of the Minister's remark that everyone will pay something, will he explain why at the Tory party local government conference the Prime Minister wrongly and dishonestly said that under the poll tax-- [Interruption.] Yes, dishonestly.
Dr. Cunningham : The Prime Minister said, wrongly and misleadingly, that 5 million people will pay nothing under the poll tax proposals. How does the Minister explain that? The Minister says that the poll tax is fairer. Perhaps he will also explain-- [Interruption.] We have listened to enough drivel from the hon. Members for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). Perhaps the Minister will also explain why it is that people with incomes as low as £54 per week will receive no poll tax rebate.
Mr. Gummer : It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman wants to ask all those questions when he has refused to answer the simplest questions about his own party's proposals. He is afraid that on the doorstep Labour's two-tax scheme will be given the thumbs down by millions of people throughout the country. Five million people will receive 80 per cent. rebates, and they will receive money to cover the other 20 per cent. in their benefits. In effect, therefore, they will not pay the poll tax. They will not pay the poll tax because it is not a poll tax. The Labour party keeps using the term "poll tax" because it wants to confuse the public and make them believe that everybody will pay the same. Nine million people will have a rebate. Labour councils are trying to frighten people by pretending that they will not get help. When the hon. Gentleman comes clean about the worst proposal for local tax since the window tax, we shall begin to answer his silly questions.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. I gather that the county council elections are some time next week, but right hon. and hon. Members should keep to the subject of questions to Ministers and deal with them in a responsible way.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Colin Moynihan) : The maximum penalties that may be imposed by magistrates for offences under section 32 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 are fines not exceeding £2,000 and terms of imprisonment of up to three months. On indictment in the Crown court there is no limit on the fine that may be imposed, and terms
Column 937of imprisonment can be up to two years. Penalties for pollution offences are kept under regular review but there are no immediate plans for increasing them.
Mr. Knight : Is there not a good case for making farms and businesses which break the law and pollute rivers pay the cost of cleaning them up? Does my hon. Friend agree that one current problem is that water authorities are both gamekeepers and poachers? Should not the whole House warmly welcome the establishment of the independent National Rivers Authority as the only effective way of clamping down on those who unlawfully pollute our waterways?
Mr. Moynihan : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's remarks about the effectiveness of the National Rivers Authority. At present, water authorities are empowered to recover the cost of work to prevent or to remedy pollution. We firmly believe in an extension of the principle that the polluter pays.
Mrs. Clwyd : Is the Minister aware that one of Britain's worst industrial polluters is the so-called smokeless fuel plant in my constituency owned by British Coal? Is he aware that twice in the past three months that company has been found guilty of, and fined for, discharging pollutants into the river at six to nine times the permitted level? How does the Minister intend to get British Coal to clean up its act? Is he aware that according to the Welsh Development Agency the existence of the works is a major disincentive to bringing new jobs into the worst unemployment black spot in the whole of Wales?
Mr. Moynihan : As the hon. Lady knows, I am unaware of that particular case and would not have responsibility for it as it is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. However, giving due courtesy to the hon. Lady's question, I will bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
Mr. Ward : Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the reasons why both business and agriculture continue to discharge pollutants into rivers, apart from the fact that they do not economically care very much, is that when they are hauled before the courts the fines are so small--nothing approaching the £2,000 to which the Minister referred--that they are not effective? Does the Minister agree that until the courts impose realistic fines, the poisoning of our rivers and harbours will continue?
Mr. Moynihan : The Government agree that fines should be at a deterrent and not a nominal level. That is why my right hon. Friend the former Lord Chancellor urged magistrates to impose fines for pollution offences sufficient to act as a deterrent. I accept my hon. Friend's point and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has again drawn the attention of magistrates to the need to impose realistic fines for water pollution offences.
Mrs. Ann Taylor : Does the Minister agree that it is not only the level of fines that is important but the frequency of prosecution? Is it not a fact that many polluters take a calculated risk that it is cheaper to pollute a river and risk a rare prosecution and a small fine than to invest in controlled pollution prevention? Is the Minister aware that his concern on this issue is not taken seriously in the light of the Government's decision to exempt from prosecution
Column 938many sewage treatment plants which are in breach of their consents? When can we expect some consistency from the Minister on the principle that the polluter should pay?
Mr. Moynihan : The hon. Lady will continue to have total consistency from the Government when it comes to the importance of upgrading sewage treatment plants. That is why we are putting £1 billion behind that programme by 1992. I totally refute the hon. Lady's initial premise. It is obviously important to make sure that programmes of remedial treatment are put in action and agreed with the Department. That is the first and foremost priority and it will be reinforced by the National Rivers Authority.
Mr. Allason : Is my hon. Friend aware of the very grave disquiet in South Devon about the Hope's Nose outfall, and has he seen the latest photograph of the discharge of untreated sewage, even if the photograph is three years old? Does he agree with me that it is unacceptable to have untreated sewage pumped either into our rivers or into the sea?
Mr. Moynihan : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the facts about the picture published recently to the attention of the House. He will be aware that the Government share his concern that we need major improvements. That is why we are committing substantial capital expenditure towards achieving the very improvements that he and the House seek.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. David Trippier) : As required by the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, all urban development corporations have prepared or are in the course of preparing codes of practice as to consultation with the local authorities in their areas. UDCs are not required to publish them.
Mr. McKay : According to evidence given to the Select Committee on Employment, the London Docklands Development Corporation failed to provide such a document in 1982. It took the corporation another seven years to find it. Is that not a clear contravention of section 140 of the 1980 Act? Will the Minister ensure that the requirement is complied with by all development corporations, both in spirit and intent?
Mr. Trippier : I am happy to give that assurance to the hon. Gentleman. We have made it clear to all UDCs and to local authorities in the areas in which UDCs operate that they should consult one another. As I indicated in my substantive reply, if they both agree, they should publish.
Mr. Knapman : On the subject of underused land, can my hon. Friend confirm that the canal port of Sharpness in my constituency faces a bright and prosperous future, and that three factories are currently being built in the area? Can he also confirm--
Mr. Simon Hughes : There is considerable concern in London about the delay in setting up any consultation process in the docklands. Will the Minister consider introducing an amendment to the Local Government and Housing Bill to allow parish councils to be constituted in the docklands corporation part of London, which would fulfil such a purpose?
Mr. Trippier : The simple, straightforward answer is no. I am not aware of a problem with consultation at present. Indeed, it is my clear impression that consultation with local authorities in the LDDC area is better than it has ever been.
Mr. O'Brien : Is the Minister aware of the damage and danger caused by lack of consultation, which applies particularly to the LDDC, because of its failure to consult adequately and the lack of proper social facilities? Is the Minister aware that the errors that have been made include failure to match the provision of transport and other services, and failure to consider what the development is for and who will gain and who will lose?
Will he investigate what is happening in the London docklands area? In the words of Sir Andrew Derbyshire,
"the free play of market forces is not going to produce the best results in terms of quality".
Mr. C. J. Shepley, president of the royal town planning institute, has said :
"I fear that in 25 years we will look back on Docklands in exactly the same way that we now look back on 1960s housing schemes." In other words, we shall see it as a total failure.
Mr. Trippier : I entirely reject all that the hon. Gentleman has said. He and his colleagues should break the habit of a lifetime and say something nice and positive about urban development corporations, especially the LDDC. The corporation's single-minded and single-purpose approach has regenerated an area of London which has been stagnant in the past and was certainly going downhill under the last Labour Administration. We have revived it, creating wealth and work. That means jobs, and the hon. Gentleman should recognise that.
12. Mr. Nicholas Baker : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many acres of unused and underused land will be removed from the register as a result of the privatisation of the water authorities.
20. Mr. Bevan : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many acres of unused and underused land will be removed from the register as a result of the privatisation of the electricity boards.
Column 940In all 2,933 acres of electricity board land and 2,243 acres of water authority land are currently on the register. I cannot predict what the figures will be immediately prior to privatisation.
Mr. Steen : Does my hon. Friend realise that 17 per cent. of all land--vacant, public, derelict, dormant land--on the register in 1983 has been disposed of, but that 83 per cent. remains on the register? In his answer my hon. Friend said that more than 37,000 additional acres of public land--vacant, dormant and under-utilised--had been added to the register. Is he aware that even without any extra land being added it will take more than 30 years to get rid of the surplus public land that is vacant and it will cost the Government about £19 million in Civil Service costs to the Department to run the register for that period? Surely my hon. Friend should do something more dramatic. Why does he not auction off the land?
Mr. Trippier : I think that my hon. Friend is being unfair. If he looks carefully at the figures he will see that the Department's policy has been very successful. Since 1981, 164,900 acres have been entered on the register. By 31 March 1989, 80,700 acres had been removed, which is about half, mostly because the owners had sold it or brought it into use. There were then 84,200 acres on the register. There has been a net reduction of half in a very short time, and I consider that most impressive.
Mr. Baker : Does my hon. Friend accept none the less that the amount of unused and underused land on and off the register is still far too large? Will he do everything that he can to ensure that that land is brought into use? Does he agree that without in any way avoiding the planning rules, weak as they are, the privatisation of water will help to bring some of that unused and underused land into use to save our green fields and our environment?
Mr. Trippier : I certainly agree with my hon. Friend's last comment. The difference between land in private ownership and land in public ownership is that the publicly owned land is not subject to the market conditions and disciplines which apply in the private sector. Of course I am not satisfied--it would be silly for me to say that I was--with the amount of public land registered as unused and underused. But we are making significant strides in reducing that amount. Ministers in various Departments should set an example to local authorities, and we are undergoing a period of consultation to produce a code of practice which will enable us to set that example.
Mr. Bevan : Why is my hon. Friend so resistant to bringing more public vacant land on to the market by the utilisation of the public land urban management scheme, which is supported by nearly 200 Conservative Members, or by some other private scheme which will result in an even greater amount of public land being brought into beneficial use for society?
Mr. Trippier : My answer is very simple and straightforward. My right hon. Friend and I have listened very carefully to the case put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) and we are not convinced that the PLUMS alternative is in any way better than the existing system. As I have said in my substantive and supplementary replies, we are achieving the desired objective in a speedy fashion.
Mr. Hardy : Will the Minister comment on the extending and intensifying problem of land which is surplus to British Coal's requirements as a result of the rapid contraction of that industry? I think that he recognises, but will he maintain, that we need urgently a dramatic, imaginative and extensive additional programme of derelict land grant?
Mr. Trippier : The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed the matter at some length in the past. I was pleased to respond to his request and to give an additional allocation to the Dearne Valley after he showed me round his constituency and explained the problems that exist there. I and my colleagues in the Department of the Environment recognise that where there are mining closures there needs to be a concentration of derelict land grant. However, I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we have met his concern, at least for the moment.
Mr. Cryer : Will the Minister bear in mind that some unused land is available as a green lung to urban areas such as Low Moor in my constituency? Will he ensure that local authorities do not try to corrupt the local plan to avoid submitting proposals for change to his Department so that the wishes of local residents to keep areas of unused land are frustrated--particularly in areas such as Low Moor, where there are two major chemical plants--because areas of unused land are an extremely valuable asset in those circumstances?
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Nicholas Ridley) : In England, simplified planning zones have been adopted and brought into operation by Derby and Corby. Schemes are at various stages of preparation in Birmingham, Rotherham, Cleethorpes, Glanford and Scunthorpe, Enfield and Slough. Other authorities are considering possible designations.
Mr. Riddick : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the response by local authorities and others has been somewhat disappointing? Does he agree that some of the obstacles placed in the way of entrepreneurs and developers, who are trying to regenerate our inner cities and urban areas, are put there by planners and planning regulations, which, in turn, puts more pressure on green field sites to be made available. Is it not, therefore, important to encourage the greater use of simplified planning zones? If my right hon. Friend agrees with that, can he tell the House how he intends to go about encouraging councils and developers to set up more simplified planning zones?
Mr. Ridley : I agree that it is somewhat disappointing that so few simplified planning zones have come forward and I agree that the existence of a relaxed planning regime is an essential ingredient in getting redevelopment going in derelict industrial areas. The difficulties often stem from
Column 942councils--sometimes even under Labour control--having an antipathy to relinquishing their detailed powers of development. I do not know why they should have that antipathy if they believe in the renewed prosperity of their areas. I wish that there was something that I could do to encourage them to be more bold. The electorate will have a chance to do something fairly soon at the coming county council elections.
Mr. Loyden : Does the Secretary of State agree that in the climate that exists in many inner cities, the value of planning has been demeaned by economic and financial pressures and that planning permission is given which is not necessarily to the long-term benefit of those who have to live in inner cities? The marjority of people who live in green sites areas see what little there is in the inner cities in terms of land available for leisure, which is at a minimum, to say the least.
Mr. Ridley : The hon. Gentleman, who comes from a declining industrial area in one of our inner cities, must realise that there is a choice between detailed and over-fussy planning control and the regeneration of areas leading to jobs for the people and the rebuilding of prosperity in his city. He seems to imply that he is taking the wrong choice in that dilemma.
7. Mr. Franks : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will publish tables showing the average community charge in each local authority if introduced in 1989-90 ; and if he will make figures available arranged by reference to the controlling party in each such authority.
Mr. Franks : Does my right hon. Friend agree that roughly £4 out of every £5 spent in county council areas is spent by the county councils themselves and that the level of community charge over the next few years will be determined largely by which party gains control of county halls next week? Is that not the best reason why in counties such as Cumbria, which has a minority Labour administration sustained by Liberal support, the electorate should vote Conservative for lower community charges and better value for money?
Mr. Gummer : My hon. Friend may have noticed that the 10 councils with the lowest rate poundage are all Conservative. None of the 10 with the highest rate poundage are Conservative. The community charge will reflect largely whether there is a prudent authority in county hall or whether Labour, which is always followed as fast as possible by the SLD, Liberals and the rest, continues to control them. It is good to see one Liberal present in the Chamber.
Mr. Pike : If the poll tax had anything to do with accountability, as the Government have claimed repeatedly, why did they not accept the option when the Local Government Bill was going through Parliament to allow county councils to collect their own poll tax? Is it not true that areas such as north-east Lancashire will have massive
Column 943increases in the poll tax next year, regardless of political control, because the Government will give less money to local government to run essential local services?
Mr. Gummer : The community charge will be collected by district councils, just as the rates are. It will be quite clear from the bill which portion comes from the county council. In Lancashire, it will be clear that Lancashire county council has been over-spending permanently during the period of Labour control.
Mr. Oppenheim : In the black roll of dishonour of the highest spending county councils in England and Wales, does not Derbyshire have a prominent and special place as one of the most irresponsible, profligate and high-spending councils in the country? Does my right hon. Friend agree that if people in Derbyshire want a lower community charge next year the best way to achieve that is to vote out the pack of pocket Lenins who have made Derbyshire among the highest-rated counties?
Mr. Gummer : Derbyshire is, in fact, the worst-run county in Britain and until this year it had the highest rate in England. It has just been beaten by Labour-controlled Cleveland. The only way in which Derbyshire ratepayers can get a reasonable deal is to remove the leader and his followers of Derbyshire county council, which has a bad record of overspending and underproviding. The cost per library book in Derbyshire is unbelievably high because its services are unbelievably badly run.
Mr. Harry Barnes : Why did the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) sign an early-day motion in support of Derbyshire county council's initiative in connection with Toyota if he feels that it is such a disastrous authority? What will be the impact of the poll tax on local authorities in view of the fact that figures published yesterday show that 35,000 people are missing from the electoral register in Liverpool, 14,000 from the electoral register in Glasgow, 14,000 in Manchester and 9,000 in Birmingham?
Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the electoral register is wholly different from the community charge register. The only reason why anybody should make the mistake that they are the same is because of Labour party propaganda using the phrase "poll tax". If anybody is off the register for that reason, it is the dishonesty of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends that has led them in that direction.-- [ Hon. Members :-- "Withdraw".]