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House of Commons

Wednesday 28 June 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


London Local Authorities Bill


Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered tomorrow.

Queen Mary and Westfield College Bill

[Lords] Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time tomorrow.

Oral Answers to Questions


Home Insulation

1. Mr. Buckley : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what advice he is giving to local authorities that wish to help low-income households with draughtproofing, insulation and other means to keep warm in cold homes ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. David Trippier) : Advice to local authorities on the availability ofGovernment-funded loft insulation grants under the homes insulation scheme 1987 is contained in Department of the Environment circulars 29/87 and 17/88, and advice on the extent to which energy-related works may be funded by home improvement grants is included in Department of the Environment circulars 21/80 and 16/88.

Mr. Buckley : In view of the retraining scheme, which has stopped local authorities using charitable organisations to deal with the problem, will the Minister consider improving the allocation to local authorities under the housing investment programme? In my local authority area pensioners face continuing and increasing problems because of the coldness of their homes.

Mr. Trippier : We are certainly prepared to consider a more flexible attitude towards the HIP allocation for public housing. I had the opportunity to mention that in the Standing Committee that considered the Local Government and Housing Bill. We must consider the difference between public housing and private rented housing. We have brought forward a scheme in the legislation currently before Parliament that will cover the points that the hon. Gentleman has made on the Order Paper. It will be much wider ranging and will meet the requirements that he specified.

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Mr. Holt : Recently I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy why we do not change the law and prevent builders from equipping new houses with ordinary windows instead of with double glazing or triple glazing. That would save the need for insulation later and a great deal of harassment from cowboy operators. It would make buildings warm and proper as soon as they were built without messing around later. Is it not time that the Government woke up to a technological innovation that has been with us for 50 years?

Mr. Trippier : I am certainly prepared to liaise with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, but my principal concern and that of the Department of the Environment is building regulations. Rather than stipulating what everyone should have in their homes, we should preserve freedom of choice.

Mr. O'Brien : Is the Minister aware of the reply that the Minister for Local Government gave when the matter was mentioned in a debate on the Local Government and Housing Bill? In his wisdom, the Minister for Local Government advised people to wear an extra jumper to keep warm in the winter months. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Buckley) suggested that additional HIP resources should be provided, covering local authority and private housing, to stop draughts and keep houses warm. Will the Minister take note of that?

Mr. Trippier : As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government has a superb sense of humour which emerged many times in Committee. Speaking in my capacity as his vicar here on earth, I can confirm that it was said in precisely that spirit. The Local Government and Housing Bill allows a wider qualification for the receipt of improvement grants, which I seem to remember the Opposition welcoming. We did not divide on the issue in Committee.

North Sea (Pollution)

2. Mr. Brandon-Bravo : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what proportion of pollution in the North sea comes from the Rhine.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Nicholas Ridley) : According to the North sea quality status report of November 1987, about 50 per cent. of contaminant inputs from rivers to the North sea are accounted for by the Rhine and the Meuse together.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : The public will be surprised and shocked by what my right hon. Friend has told the House. They will be surprised because Britain is supposed to be the dirty man of Europe, and they will be shocked to learn of the damage done to the environment by German rivers. They are entitled to be angry at the lecturing we get from Europe. On a more positive note, will my right hon. Friend look to the future? Does he agree that it is not just a question of money and how deep our purse is, but of the long period that will be necessary to do what we can on this side of the Channel to improve the environment and our rivers?

Mr. Ridley : My hon. Friend is right and I will give him further details. Of the nitrogen entering the North sea, the eastern North sea receives 768,000 tonnes from the continent as opposed to 75,000 tonnes from Britain. The

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continental contries discharge 14.6 tonnes of mercury into the North sea, as opposed to 1.9 tonnes from Britain. On cadmium, the figures are 31.6 tonnes against 5.8 tonnes. For industrial waste, the figures are 1.2 million tonnes as opposed to 0.2 million tonnes from Britain. For incineration, the figure for Britain is 2 per cent. and for continental countries it is 55 per cent. It is questionable who is the dirty man of the North sea.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce : Does the Secretary of State accept that it is invidious to come to the House and pass blame on to the continental countries for the pollution that we are causing? Will he acknowledge that the Irish sea is the most radioactive sea in the world as a result of pollution from this country--

Mr. Speaker : Order. This question relates to the Rhine.

Mr. Ridley : I never know why Opposition Members want to knock this country and its excellent record. The Irish sea is not the most radioactive sea by any means. It is 80 times more dangerous to live in Cornwall than in the constituency of Copeland because of natural radiation from radon.

Mr. Devlin : It would be of great interest to the House and to people in the north-east if my right hon. Friend would give us some idea of how much industrial waste is put into the North sea by Britain and West Germany respectively. How much waste is incinerated at sea? As my right hon. Friend will know, the ash and other contaminants that are not incinerated fall into the sea, thus polluting it.

Mr. Ridley : I shall give my hon. Friend the figures on industrial waste. Germany puts in 1.2 million tonnes per annum, which is 60 per cent. of the total. The United Kingdom puts in 0.2 million tonnes, which is 10 per cent. For incineration, the figure for Germany is 58, 000 tonnes, whereas for Britain the figure is 2,000 tonnes per annum. I want merely to establish the facts in this matter.

Mrs. Ann Taylor : Does the Secretary of State accept that his criticisms of other countries would carry more force if we put our own house in order? What is the cost to the United Kingdom of stopping the pollution of the North sea by sewage sludge, which is expected to be banned by next year's North sea conference, and the cost of stopping the dumping of raw sewage from coastal outflows into the North sea? Should not the Government disclose the costs of those developments, especially as the European Commission is preparing the directive on sewage, or will the Secretary of State suggest that this is another directive on pollution prevention that will be flouted by the Government?

Mr. Ridley : I do not know why the hon. Lady continues to knock the United Kingdom in the face of the figures that I have just given-- [Interruption.] I am not knocking anybody ; I am merely giving her the figures, which she does not seem to like very much. I dispute the hon. Lady's view on sewage sludge. Putting sewage sludge into the sea may be the best way to deal with it. No doubt the hon. Lady has seen the recently published report on dioxins, of which one of the main sources is the incineration of sewage sludge. Incineration may be the worst environmental option. The hon. Lady should get her science right ; she is ill-founded in science. Furthermore, the hon. Lady does not seem to realise that the Royal Commission on

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Environmental Pollution has recommended that long sea outfalls are the best way of dealing with sewage from coastal towns.

City Grant Initiative

3. Mr. Heddle : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many jobs the city grant initiative is currently creating.

Mr. Trippier : Projects approved since May last year are expected to provide over 8,500 permanent jobs and about 4,600 temporary construction jobs.

Mr. Heddle : Although I welcome those encouraging figures, how many derelict acres have been recovered, how many new homes and factories have been built and, most important, how much private sector investment has been brought in on the back of the city grant initiative?

Mr. Trippier : The answer to the latter question is that for every pound of taxpayer's money that we have invested through city grant, we have attracted four times that figure from the private sector, which is most impressive. About 1,200 homes have been built, 230 acres of derelict and rundown land have been brought back into use, and approximately 3.5 million sq ft of industrial and commercial floor space will be created as a result of city grant.

Mr. O'Brien : What is the Minister doing to ensure that city grants are not used as a vehicle to generate greater tax dodges, as is happening with property enterprise trusts? When will the Minister make available to the House the details of the city grants that are given to private developers so that we can investigate where the money is going and how it is being spent? The reply that the Minister has given to the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) does nothing to encourage the availability of information or accountability for the money that is spent through city grant. When will the House be given the information about where the money is going?

Mr. Trippier : That question is outrageous. I have never heard an hon. Member of any party ever say that city grant has been used for a dubious purpose. It has been widely recognised as a successor to the urban regeneration grant and to the urban development grant, but it is a much more efficient system. I have made clear to local authorities their significant part in this, because I will not accept an application for city grant unless the project has received planning permission. Therefore, it has been widely welcomed by the local authorities. I am only too happy to give the details to the hon. Gentleman and to the House and to answer any specific questions that he might table. We have absolutely nothing to hide and a great deal of which to be proud.

Association of County Councils

4. Mr. Oppenheim : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he last met the Association of County Councils ; and what was discussed.

Mr. Ridley : On 29 November last, to discuss local authority capital finance and local authority interests in companies.

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Mr. Oppenheim : Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of the duties carried out by county councils could be devolved down to district authorities and be more effectively carried out by them? Does he further agree that the policy of abolishing county councils would command almost universal support, bearing in mind that even the Opposition have come out in favour of abolition, perhaps in recognition of the damage done to them by the leader of Derbyshire county council?

Mr. Ridley : A short month after we regained control of one of the major local authority associations--the Association of County Councils--it would be strange for me to say that we should abolish them. In that context, I congratulate John Chatfield on becoming the Conservative chairman of the Association of County Councils. I invite the Opposition to consider how they think they will ever win an election when they cannot even hold a local authority association of that importance in mid-term. I advise my hon. Friend that we have no plans to abolish the county councils.

Mr. Pike : When the Secretary of State discussed capital finance with the county authorities, did he recognise that many counties have a problem meeting the large capital costs of developing new waste disposal sites that meet adequate safety levels? Does he recognise that that is an important problem, and will he ensure that the county authorities receive sufficient allocations in future years to meet that need?

Mr. Ridley : I realise the importance of that. As the hon. Gentleman may know, we hope to have early legislation on the counties' responsibilities in relation to waste disposal. We must ensure that the capital allocations follow the policy that we will lay down. If county councils are short of capital, one option is to ensure that the disposal operations are carried out by the private sector and that they are properly regulated by the county councils.

Mr. Raison : Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people, including my constituents in Buckinghamshire, believe that they are well served by their county councils? Will he accept my thanks for the fact that he does not at present intend to introduce further changes in the structure of local government?

Mr. Ridley : I agree with my right hon. Friend. The Government have in many respects carried out a major reform of local authorities. We should give them a period to adjust to the new circumstances, which they are beginning to do. They are also beginning to perform much more in the interests of their electors and chargepayers-to-be. We should allow them a period to consolidate.

Mr. Michael : Is the Secretary of State aware of the county councils' concern for the elderly for whom they are responsible? They are especially worried about the way in which the cold affects old people. Is he aware that the reply of the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment was entirely unsatisfactory, because what is needed to improve insulation is not only more flexibility, but more money? The amount of money available has been slashed because the Government have reduced the number of people in training places. They were doing a tremendous amount of good work in that area.

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Mr. Ridley : The hon. Gentleman cannot ask a supplementary to question No. 1 on question No. 4, which refers to county councils. We are not responsible for the matters with which my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State was dealing.

Local Government Finance

5. Mr. Hind : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has had from tenant groups in favour of a system of local government finance based on capital value rates.

10. Mr. Burt : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has had from tenant groups in favour of a system of local government finance based on capital value rates and local income tax.

Mr. Ridley : Not surprisingly, I have received hardly any representations in favour of a system of local government finance based on capital value rates or a local income tax.

Mr. Hind : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be monstrous for tenants to have capital value rates based on the value of their properties? Does he agree that about 20,000 people living in council houses in my constituency would consider it a major injustice if they had to pay rates based on the price of a house in which they have no financial interest?

Mr. Ridley : It is impossible to contemplate basing local authority payments, of whatever description, on the capital value of the houses of those who rent them. It is inexplicably unfair. Council property in central London will be up to four or five times more valuable than council property in, say, my hon. Friend's constituency. Why should those council tenants be expected to pay four or five times more for the same services? Our system is based on the cost of the services that are provided, and is infinitely fairer. The community charge in Lancashire, West, if it had been in place last year, would have been £230 in total. But if there had been a system of local income tax, a single person earning £11,000 a year-- about the national average wage--would have paid a tax bill of £495.

Mr. Burt : Does my right hon. Friend agree that he has received no representations from tenant groups because they have been working out--as they have been in my constituency--how badly stung they would be by a system of double taxation, not only in the extra burden of the ridiculous administration costs needed to run two tax systems, but in their failure to control their local authority spending, because local income tax would make the local authorities less accountable? Is that not why they have not been pestering him with demands to bring in that outrageous system?

Mr. Ridley : To be fair, my hon. Friend should admit that they never dreamt that it could happen because they could not contemplate the nightmare of a Labour Government. Just in case they should have that nightmare, I should reinforce what my hon. Friend has said. A system based on capital value rates and local income tax would cost up to four times as much to administer as the present rating system. In my hon. Friend's constituency the local income tax rate alone, if that was the system adopted,

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would be 6.4p in the pound, which is about as much as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has knocked off national income tax.

Mr. Rooker : Does the Secretary of State appreciate that he cannot back up with factual background analytical material a single figure that he has quoted from the Dispatch Box today? Will he explain to the House how it is that, up to now, he has defended the idea that, among domestic ratepayers, owner-occupiers should pay a tax on occupancy based on rental values, and that it will continue for business men as a tax on the rental value of the property that they own as a means of collecting local authority rates? The right hon. Gentleman has mixed those two up, and the way in which he has answered the question is disgraceful. Capital value taxes or rental value taxes are a tax on occupancy, not a tax on ownership. It is simply a means of raising the revenue. Does not the Secretary of State appreciate that? The revenue should be raised in a fairer way than through a flat-rate poll tax.

Mr. Ridley : I know that it hurts the hon. Gentleman, but I am going to rub his nose in it. The other day he was talking about the iniquities of capital value rents. Why does he support a party that advocates capital value taxes for local authorities based on the capital value of a tenant's house? By advocating that policy rather than the community charge he is selling his constituents down the river.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Why will not the Secretary of State stop misrepresenting Labour policy? Why does he not look at what it says as against what he wants to believe it says? Does he understand that that policy is eminently more sensible than the poll tax? The simple truth is that the right hon. Gentleman is on his backside with the poll tax. The Cabinet is considering paying an extra subsidy to local authorities so that they can reduce the poll tax by £30 per man and woman because the Cabinet knows that it is unpopular. Is that not the truth?

Mr. Ridley : I say to the hon. Gentleman in all humility-- [Interruption.] --that if I have made any false assumption in working out the figures that I have given this afternoon it is because I have written three times to the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) asking for full details of what the Labour party proposes, but on none of those occasions have I had an acknowledgement, let alone a reply. If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me to tell me on what assumptions he bases his twin-tax horror regime--his twin-tax nightmare--I will rework the examples and take the hon. Gentleman through them so that he is satisfied about the enormous havoc that his party's policy would wreak on his constituents. I will not hesitate to tell his constituents on every possible occasion the horrors of the policy that he has advocated.

Mr. Norris : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is appalling that the Labour party should make such outrageous suggestions when it is well known that one of the groups most likely to benefit under the community charge arrangements is the single elderly who live on their own? Are not the people who live in that poverty trap among those to whom any party pledged to care for the less fortunate should pay attention?

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Mr. Ridley : My hon. Friend is right. When opposition for opposition's sake is at an end, our system will be seen to be far fairer to people who deserve help and relief than anything that has come from the Labour party.

Dr. Cunningham : Humility is a facet of the right hon. Gentleman's character which he has hitherto kept well disguised. I fear that its sudden emergence is rather late to save his skin. If he checks the records of his correspondence he will find that he has received a reply to his letters. Since he appears to be so concerned about the financial well-being of council house tenants, perhaps he should explain to them and to the House why he and his right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government plan to increase tenants' rents to make them pay the rents of those who do not pay. Why is he planning to increase council house tenants' rents to make them subsidise the poll tax of those who are much better off? Since, as a scientist, the right hon. Gentleman says that he is always interested in evidence, why does he not consult the records and studies of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Rating and Valuation Association, both of which show that a system of capital values will not only be more efficient, but fairer.

Mr. Ridley : Openness is not a facet of the hon. Gentleman's character which he has ever failed to disguise. Please may we be told what proportion of new local authority revenue will come from capital revenue rates and how much from local income tax? Does the hon. Gentleman plan resource equalisation and is there any system of rebates? Will he answer any of the questions about the Labour party's system? I shall not desist from exposing the figures implied by his system until he gives the proper data to change the figures, and when he does so I will change the figures, and he will not like them either.-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Perhaps we can now settle down to question No. 6.

Community Charge

6. Dr. Goodson-Wickes : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any plans to harmonise the design of community charge registration forms.

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. John Gummer) : My right hon. Friend produced a model form in consultation with local authority associations last autumn. He has no powers to prescribe the form.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes : Does my right hon. Friend agree that several local authorities have, by ignoring the guidelines issued by his own Department, fallen foul of the Data Protection Act 1984? Who is expected to pick up the bill for those forms which will now have to be processed manually?

Mr. Gummer : My hon. Friend is right in saying that local authorities have the right and the powers to produce their own forms, which is perfectly proper. Local authorities often say that they want more independence and this is one area in which they have it. If they decide to do differently they must also take the advice of the Department which is that they should check whether their forms comply with the Data Protection Act. If they do not, that is their responsibility and they must pay the bill.

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Mr. Nellist : Is not the Minister deluding himself if he thinks that any cosmetic changes made to the forms will minimise the hatred of the poll tax felt throughout the country? Is it not a fact that despite any design changes which his hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson- Wickes) may propose, the tax is a savage attack on the living standards of the low paid, young, old and women who are presently living in low-rated properties? Almost 1 million people in Scotland have not paid the poll tax and it is likely that by next April, four or five times that number will not be paying the poll tax in England and Wales, notwithstanding any suggestions from the hon. Member for Wimbledon.

Mr. Gummer : No. The facts are that first, the poorest group of the population will pay 25 per cent. less towards the community charge than they presently pay towards the rates, so there will be a cut in the cost of rates or community charge to the poorest. Secondly, the top 10 per cent. of earners will pay 15 times as much towards local authority costs than the bottom 10 per cent. Thirdly, one in four of the population will receive a rebate. Fourthly, 5 million people will, in effect, not pay the community charge because they will receive an 80 per cent. rebate and sufficient to cover a sensible community charge in their area. The policy of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), which was originally to support the rates, would hit the poorest much more than the community charge.

Mr. Dykes : Would it not be a good idea to have different coloured forms for the three different kinds of tax? We could have a blue form for the personal community charge, a green form for the standard community charge, which is a classic property tax, and a red form for the collective community charge.

Mr. Gummer : I prefer to keep the red form for any area that tries to bring in the Labour party's two-tax proposals.

Mr. Blunkett : As the Minister has already said this afternoon that poll tax registration officers have already breached the Data Protection Act 1984 with the intrusive and non-statutory questions that they have asked, what advice would he give to people who think that they have a form that includes intrusive questions?

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that these officers are not responsible to local authorities but are directed under the Act by the Minister? Is it not time that the Government accepted responsibility for the chaos in registration?

Mr. Gummer : I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to create chaos out of a system that is working rather well. Labour authorities are saying how well it is working, in the sense that they are getting the forms back. I was in Ipswich--a Labour-controlled authority--only last week. The council there compliments itself on the degree to which it is obtaining results-- [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can take it from me-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. This all very entertaining but it takes up a great deal of time. We are making very slow progress.

Mr. Gummer : Anyone who is asked a question for which there is no statutory backing need not respond to it and if he does not want to answer it he should not.

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Global Warming

7. Mr. Wallace : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the effects of global warming.

Mr. Ridley : I hope that global warming will reduce Chamber warming.

The potential impacts of global warming and climate change are currently being reviewed and assessed by the intergovernmental panel on climate change, established under the United Nations environment programme and the World Meteorological Organisation last November. The panel will report in the autumn of 1990.

Mr. Wallace : I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that one of the important factors contributing to global warming is the destruction of many tropical rain forests. Is his Department encouraging and helping local authorities--many of them controlled by my party--that are trying to adopt purchasing policies to find alternatives to tropical hardwoods from non-sustainable sources?

Mr. Ridley : We must take this problem extremely seriously, and internationally. That is why we have proposed in the United Nations and in the United Nations environment programme general council that there should be a global framework convention on climate change, under which various protocols can be negotiated, including one on tropical rain forests. The right way forward is to involve all the nations of the world ; our initiative in this field has been taken very seriously and has received a great deal of support. We cannot do this at only the national level, let alone at the local authority level.

Mr. Squire : I support what my right hon. Friend says about the inevitable international impact of this issue, but does he agree that the problem of carbon dioxide, which is not covered by the steps that have already been taken to control power station emissions, and which will be exacerbated by the catalyst solution for cars, remains one of the single most pressing problems?

Mr. Ridley : My hon. Friend is right. One of the worries is that the drive to improve nitrogen oxide emissions from motor vehicles and to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power stations has the result of increased fuel consumption and hence increased emissions of carbon dioxide. I am afraid that carbon dioxide, which is the most important greenhouse gas, has become the Cinderella of environmental policies, and we must watch out and make sure that our policies have the effect of reducing, not increasing, carbon dioxide.

Mr. Allan Roberts : Does the Minister agree that only two thirds of the 50 per cent. of the CO that goes into the environment comes from burning fossil fuel and that methane, chlorofluorocarbons, nitrous oxide and surface ozone are also significant contributory factors? Will he admit that the experts who attended the Prime Minister's special seminar on the greenhouse effect pointed out that a 15 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, which a change of emphasis to nuclear power stations would produce, is three times less than the reduction that would take place from the major energy conservation initiatives that the Government not only refuse to contemplate but are cutting back on?

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Mr. Ridley : The hon. Gentleman says that only two thirds of carbon dioxide comes from burning fossil fuels. Therefore, one would have thought that that would be the area where one would start to seek to make reductions. Secondly, since I was at the Prime Minister's seminar and he was not, may I tell him that his account of it is far from accurate.

Unleaded Petrol

8. Mr. Jacques Arnold : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what percentage of garages now stock unleaded petrol.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley) : It is estimated that well over 50 per cent. of petrol stations are now selling the fuel, and that two out of three refuellings take place at a petrol station where unleaded is available.

Mr. Arnold : Does that not show the effect that the Government's green policies are having both on environmental pollution and on public health? Can my hon. Friend tell us what further progress has been made as a result of the Budget provisions?

Mrs. Bottomley : Certainly the uptake of unleaded petrol is a clear indication of action, not words, in regard to environmental protection. The Chancellor increased the differential in the Budget. It is now the second highest in the European Community. Since then the uptake of unleaded petrol has risen threefold. It was 6.4 per cent. in March and it is now approaching 20 per cent. This is an indication of the popularity of environmental policies and the success of the Chancellor's differential.

Mrs. Maureen Hicks : Is my hon. Friend aware that in addition to the lead that Wolverhampton has taken with its recent highly successful lead- free campaign, the town can now proudly boast that 98 per cent. of its garages stock unleaded petrol?

Mrs. Bottomley : I think that the entire House would like to pay tribute to the success of Wolverhampton's initiative. In one day alone mechanics managed to adjust the magnificent total of 1,126 motor vehicles. As a result it is now able to enter the "Guinness Book of Records". I hope that others will follow Wolverhampton's example.

Dr. Kim Howells : Does the Minister agree that the important measurement is the percentage of unleaded petrol that is used in cars and not necessarily what is stocked in garages? Can she tell the House how that percentage compares with West Germany's progress?

Mrs. Bottomley : West Germany is already making greater progress than we are in the uptake of unleaded petrol. We have made rapid and fast progress. We want others who have cars that can be adjusted to get that done. Several million cars that could use unleaded petrol still need adjustment. It is an area where helping the wallet also helps the environment. The Government are committed to take all possible opportunities to promote and encourage the uptake of unleaded petrol. We hope that environmentalists will take steps that are already within their power and use unleaded petrol which protects the environment.

Mr. Adley : Welcome though the progress in unleaded petrol is, does my hon. Friend agree that if we are seriously

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concerned to deal with the major environmental problem called the internal combustion engine, we should look at the Californian example? Will my hon. Friend, therefore, please obtain from the state government of California full details of their proposal to eliminate completely the internal combustion engine by the early years of the next century? Will she put those details in the Library and give the Government of which she is a member a target of achieving the same objective here?

Mrs. Bottomley : Perhaps I should ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State whether I can go on a ministerial visit to California to look at the arrangements there. I shall look into this matter further. Already, people can avoid churning the equivalent of 300 double-decker bus loads of lead into the environment every year. Lead is a cumulative poison, which is potentially damaging to children's health and development, and it is time that people made sure that they were not unnecessarily polluting the environment.

Rent and Rate Arrears

9. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the level of rent and rate arrears in London.

Mr. Gummer : At 1 April 1988, the rent and rate arrears of London authorities amounted to £350 million--just under half the total for England. Arrears ranged from less than 5 per cent. of the annual rent and rates due for such authorities as Hillingdon and Barking and Dagenham, to some 20 per cent. or more for Brent, Lambeth and Southwark. High arrears can be attributed only to the boroughs' poor management. It is for authorities to see that rent and rates are collected, but the measures that I announced last Monday should encourage greater financial discipline.

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