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House of Commons

Wednesday 26 July 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Birmingham City Council

(No. 2) Bill--

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered tomorrow.

City of London (Various Powers) Bill

(By Order) Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered tomorrow.

Hayle Harbour Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

Queen Mary and Westfield College Bill

[Lords] (By Order) Orders for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered tomorrow.

Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill


Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time tomorrow.

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Martlew : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what proposals he has to deal with homelessness.

4. Mr. Cohen : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has any proposals to increase the supply of accommodation for single homeless people in London.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Patten) : I am reviewing the homelessness legislation and hope to announce conclusions soon.

Mr. Martlew : Does the Minister find anything obscene about the contradiction between homelessness doubling in the past two years and the squalid episode of Cabinet Ministers trying to decide which country mansion they should have? I understand that the Leader of the House is satisfied with his home, if not with his job. Will the Minister compare that with the plight of young homeless people that we see day after day in London? Many of them have come from constituencies in the north and in Scotland and Wales. They have taken the Government's advice to come to London for jobs, but they find no hope, no jobs and no future. Now that the Housing Act 1988 has

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failed, will the Minister take as much interest in the problems of the homeless as the Prime Minister does in the housing problems of her Cabinet?

Mr. Patten : Perhaps I could deal with the serious part of that speech. In our review of homelessness legislation we are looking in particular at three matters. We are looking, first, at scope for greater consistency between authorities, secondly, at the need for improved management, and thirdly, at the need to achieve better use of existing stock by reducing the number of empty properties and cutting relet times. Some housing authorities have improved their performance on those scores, but we want to see all doing as well as the best.

Sir George Young : In the review to which my right hon. Friend has referred, will he ensure that the potential of the tenants' incentive scheme is fully explored? Does he recognise that the quickest and most cost -effective way of tackling homelessness, especially in London, is to use that scheme to persuade existing council tenants to move out, particularly if they have retired and no longer wish to live in the city?

Mr. Patten : That is one of a number of initiatives that we need to examine carefully. I know how much my hon. Friend knows about this issue and I shall, of course, want to consult people such as my hon. Friend before reaching any conclusions.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I apologise because in the excitement I forgot to call Mr. Harry Cohen.

Mr. Cohen : This week several Ministers are moving on, but the single homeless have a more serious problem. Does the Minister recognise that there are more than 50,000 homeless single teenagers in London alone and that the figure is increasing rapidly? The London boroughs' working party on the single homeless has said that there is a shortfall of at least 5,500 places per year, resulting in the hostels silting up with people who want more permanent accommodation. The working party describes it as an acute problem. Will the Minister provide resources and free the local authorities and housing associations to help the single homeless?

Mr. Patten : I refer the hon. Gentleman to our hostels initiative, which has helped to deal with the problems of young people without accommodation. We have provided about 20,000 places under that initiative, and are increasing our grants to voluntary bodies. It is also important to take into account the £74 million that we have provided for the authorities with the most acute problems to get empty property back into use for the homeless. That initiative was rightly welcomed by the Select Committee on the Environment.

Mr. Heddle : Does not homelessness have its foundations in rootlessness? Does my right hon. Friend agree that families, and particularly parents, have a real part to play in this? Will he confirm that the Housing Corporation and the voluntary housing movement also have a real part to play and that the corporation has had an extra £40 million this year and by 1991-92 will provide a further 24,000 homes for those in genuine housing need?

Mr. Patten : There are social reasons for at least part of the homelessness problem, and my hon. Friend was right

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to draw attention to them. He was also right to point to the importance of the Housing Corporation and housing associations. This year, a quarter of the Housing Corporation's increasing programme for rent is going to schemes designed to help the homeless.

Dr. Cunningham : Will the Secretary of State investigate Westminster city council's so-called "building stable communities" policy? Is he aware that the council's housing department has described the consequences of selling flats in eight key wards in the City of Westminster as resulting in the council being unable to meet its statutory obligations under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that even Conservative councillors such as councillor Patricia Curwen describe the policy as gerrymandering? Is he also aware that Queen's Counsel has given an opinion, on the record, that the policy has an "utterly unlawful purpose"? How much longer can Ministers keep silent in the face of overwhelming evidence of abuse of power right under their noses, in the heart of the capital city? Is it because they want to criticise local government only when it is Labour controlled, but turn a blind eye when councils are Tory controlled?

Mr. Patten : I can give the hon. Gentleman a simple and straightforward answer. The points that he has raised and the allegations that he has made are matters for the council's auditors.


2. Mr. Hind : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his estimate of the reduction of chlorofluorocarbons use which will be achieved in the United Kingdom by the end of the year.

The Minister for Environment and Countryside (Mr. David Trippier) : I expect that by the end of this year the consumption of chlorofluorocarbons in this country will have been cut by at least 50 per cent. This is required by the Montreal protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer, but only by 1999. We will therefore be 10 years ahead of our international commitments in this area.

Mr. Hind : I congratulate my hon. Friend on his well-deserved promotion, and we welcome him as our green Minister. His answer will be welcomed throughout the country, but he will be aware of the concern of the public generally about the need to accelerate the process of dealing with CFCs. What does he intend to do about that, and how will he deal with the little-known problem of halons?

Mr. Trippier : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his compliment. On the substantive point, we should like to move faster. The United Kingdom and the whole of the European Community are calling for cuts in CFCs of at least 85 per cent. as soon as possible, with the elimination of CFCs by the end of the century. Timing has to take account of the speed with which industry can move away from CFCs. Halons must also be phased out eventually, but as yet there are no acceptable substitutes. In the meantime, the emphasis should be on CFCs, although it is important to keep halons under careful scrutiny, particularly in the light of the welcome steps by the fire prevention industry to curb unnecessary and wasteful use of these substances.

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Ms. Walley : Does the Minister agree that although there has been some progress, it has not been as a direct result of Government action? Will he agree that there must now be Government intervention to deal with the rest of the CFCs, and that a reduction of 90 per cent. in 12 to 18 months would be a realistic objective? Is he aware that the Heating and Ventilating Contractors Association is concerned about the general level of uptake of refrigeration in recycling services, and will he give the House some idea of what provision there will be in the green Bill to deal with that? Finally, what advice has the Minister to offer the new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who will have to make a big contribution to ensuring that industry has Government support to deal with this great problem?

Mr. Trippier : It was less than generous of the hon. Lady to suggest that the Government had not taken a number of initiatives in this area. It was British scientists with the British Antarctic survey, sponsored by the Government, who first obtained conclusive evidence of the depletion of ozone in the stratosphere. In 1985, the Government were the first to sign the Vienna convention for the protection of the ozone layer, which was then ratified in 1987. It was this Government's initiative to host the saving of the ozone layer conference in London in March, which was so successful. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are determined that the United Kingdom Government should remain in the lead on these initiatives--a fact which is recognised in the international community, even if it is not acknowledged by the small-minded and ungrateful Labour party.

Dr. Michael Clark : Will my hon. Friend join me in praising the chemical industry for finding alternative propellants to CFCs and will he consider legislating in favour of those CFC replacements for aerosols and refrigerators?

Mr. Trippier : I cannot respond as positively as my hon. Friend would like in relation to legislation, but I am happy to take this opportunity to praise British industry for the way in which it has responded to the initiatives taken by the Government and within Europe. The British Aerosol Manufacturers Association has promised that at least 90 per cent. of aerosols will be CFC-free by the end of this year. The polyurethane foam manufacturers expect a 60 per cent. cut in CFC use by the end of 1993. Extruded polystyrene used as food packaging and in building installation should be free of CFCs by the end of the year. That is a good record on which we should compliment British industry and encourage it to do even more.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions

3. Mr. Wallace : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what information his Department has on the relative sources of CO emissions into the atmosphere in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley) : Statistics on carbon dioxide emissions for the years 1977 to 1987 from domestic, industrial, transport and other sources were published in the Department's digest of environmental protection and water statistics, no. 11, a copy of which is in the Library of the House.

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Mr. Wallace : I thank the hon. Lady for that helpful reply. It is clear that a substantial proportion of these emissions--up to 16 per cent.- -come from road traffic use. Given the Government's projections of increased road traffic, there will be an increase in carbon dioxide emissions from cars until the year 2005. The Minister's answer showed that the causes include energy, transport, industrial and domestic sources, all of which are the responsibilities of different Ministries. What powers are available to her Department to co-ordinate all those sources and to ensure that there is one co-ordinated policy to deal with carbon dioxide emissions? Does she agree that the problem should not be tackled by being dispersed among several Ministries?

Mrs. Bottomley : Having heard the hon. Gentleman's question, I hope that he will pay a warm tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for her seminar at Downing street on climatic change, which was precisely an attempt to draw together the various Government Departments concerned with carbon dioxide emissions. Fifty-seven per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions come from power stations, 14 per cent. from domestic properties and 16 per cent. from road transport.

Mr. Squire : As my hon. Friend mentioned the recent conference, can she confirm that the advice from the Harwell scientists to that conference is that 50 per cent. of the solution to our problems will come from energy efficiency, and some 15 per cent. from nuclear power? Is she satisfied that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) is fully prepared to go along with the outcome and the means of dealing with the problem, rather than merely raising it?

Mrs. Bottomley : I fully endorse what my hon. Friend has said. Energy efficiency has an important part to play, as do land use and the economic pricing of fuel. It is clear that there is a role for nuclear energy--which produces neither acid rain nor carbon dioxide, leading to the greenhouse effect.

Mr. Morley : Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Forestry Commission and the Countryside Commission on their initiative in urban fringe forestry? Is she aware that the pilot schemes are substantially limited by the amount of financial resources available? Does she agree that the extension of those forests will do a great deal to absorb carbon dioxide, improving our environment and providing recreation facilities? Will she give the House an assurance that more resources will be made available to extend that very worthy project?

Mrs. Bottomley : I congratulate the Forestry Commission and the Countryside Commission on that important initiative. More than that, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on his initiative in tackling the problem of the rain forests and forestry on an international basis. Although forestry in Britain may have a part to play, deforestation in the Third world is a far more significant factor in climate change.

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Bathing Water

5. Mr. Teddy Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will take steps to require water authorities to make public their long-term plans to improve the quality of bathing waters at coastal resorts ; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Michael Howard) : The Department is in discussion with the water authorities about the accelerated programmes of improvement that they have drawn up to bring bathing waters up to European Community standards by the mid-1990s. They will be made public in due course.

Mr. Taylor : While bathing waters at Southend on sea have been vastly improved by the installation of an extended sewage pipe which, happily, has transferred our problem to other constituencies, is my hon. and learned Friend aware that we do not have the slightest idea about the long-term plans of the Anglian water authority, despite the endeavours of energetic Members of Parliament to establish what they are? As the water authorities are wholly non-elected bodies, answerable to no one but the Secretary of State, would it not be appropriate to require the water authorities to tell the people what their long-term plans are, as it is the people who are paying for them?

Mr. Howard : I cannot accept my hon. Friend's assessment of the effect of long sea outfalls, which were recognised by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution as the most effective way of dealing with sewage. However, I agree that more information needs to be made public about the long-term plans of the water authorities. That information will be made public shortly.

Mr. John P. Smith : Does the Minister recognise that something must be done about the indiscriminate discharge of raw sewage into the sea, and in particular into the Bristol channel? Not only is the Welsh water authority failing to attain the standards that should be expected in this day and age, but the quality of water is declining. In my constituency, on Fontygary beach, the voluntary coast guards--the courageous men and women who safeguard our beaches--are advised not to go into the water except in emergencies because of the level of pollution, and I had the appalling experience of seeing those men and women coming out of the water covered in human excrement. That is not acceptable in this day and age.

Mr. Howard : A great deal is being done to improve present conditions. The water authorities are spending £100 million per year on improving the quality of our bathing waters. I have asked them to accelerate their programme of improvement, and I expect to make their plans public shortly.

Sir Hugh Rossi : Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that a long outfall policy is analagous to the tall chimney policy which led us into such great difficulty with air emissions, based on the principle of "dilute and disperse" which is now somewhat discredited?

Mr. Howard : I have great respect for my hon. Friend's views on the matter, but I do not think that his analogy is apt. All the available evidence suggests that long sea outfalls are an effective way of dealing with sewage, and

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that the action of the sun and the sea is a natural reproduction of the artificial method of treatment employed in sewage treatment works.

Mr. Allan Roberts : Now that there is a new boss at the Department of the Environment I expected that the Government might have started to tell the truth about the environment and our bathing beaches. Does the Minister accept that the 300 beaches designated as bathing beaches is a gross underestimate and that the Royal Commission on environmental pollution identified 600 bathing beaches? In any event only 30 per cent. of the 300 designated conform to EC standards. It is not surprising that all the beaches on the north-west coast are polluted, whether designated or not. It is not surprising that Albert and Mrs. Ramsbottom took their chance with the lions because if they had gone into the sea neither of them would have come out alive. When will the Government prepare plans and commit the necessary expenditure to stop raw sewage going into the sea, including through long sea outfalls, and when will they stop dumping sewage sludge in the sea?

Mr. Howard : The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. The number of designated bathing waters is not 300, but 403, and the proportion complying with the EC directive is 67 per cent. The hon. Gentleman's complaints are paricularly rich coming from a party which when in government failed to designate any bathing waters at all in this country four years after the directive came into force.

Mr. Paice : Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell us a bit more about bathing beaches on the other side of the Channel? Is it not true that many European bathing beaches fail to meet the EC directive? Surely it is more important for the Community to consider the problem throughout Europe rather than concentrating on the state of British beaches.

Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is entirely right. France is one of five countries in respect of which the Commission has made complaints about the standard of bathing waters. In this, as in so many other respects, our record compares extremely well with the rest of Europe.

Inner Area Programme

6. Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he proposes to increase funding resources available for the inner area programme above the inflation rate.

The Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities (Mr. David Hunt) : Future resource allocations for local authorities preparing an inner area programme will depend on the outcome of the public expenditure discussions now under way.

Mr. Pike : I congratulate the Minister on his new post. Will he confirm that dealing with areas of urban deprivation is still a Government priority and that adequate resources will be available to deal with that problem? Will he also categorically state that there are no plans to remove from the inner area programme any area currently receiving help from that programme?

Mr. David Hunt : I agree with the hon. Gentleman's first two propositions. With regard to the cities involved in the inner area programme, I have received a number of

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representations from right hon. and hon. Members for further inclusions in the programme. I can therefore give no categorical assurance about future numbers involved. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's constituency of Burnley, where the IAP strategy is clearly presented and soundly based. That is why so much increased funding has been made available to Burnley.

Mr. O'Brien : It is a fact beyond dispute that since the "Action for Cities" statement was made little has been achieved by the Government. Even the £34 million allocated for city grant has proved abysmal and is less than a quarter of that requested to meet demand. Will the new Minister pursue the argument in favour of the inner area programme and urban regeneration and seek to convince his colleagues the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister that it is important that resources should be made available to meet the demand for inner city and urban regeneration?

Mr. Hunt : I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would like to say all that again, as he not only got his facts wrong, but he got most of the statistics wrong as well. The urban programme was the first major public spending programme targeted solely on inner cities. It has been a tremendous success. The latest expenditure plans show that substantial increased resources are available. Within urban block expenditure there are more resources for the urban development corporations and city grant, because these items are much more successful in attracting private sector investment to inner cities.

Sewage Discharges

7. Mr. Speller : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will seek powers to enable him to override those local authorities which permit new outlets for the discharge of raw sewage into the sea.

Mr. Howard : Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution is responsible for granting authorisations for the discharge of sewage into the sea, although this responsibilitywill transfer to the National Rivers Authority from1 September 1989.

Mr. Speller : May I ask my hon. and learned Friend, who represents Folkestone--another seaside town--how long it will be before his Department accepts responsibility for what goes into the waters around our coasts? Does he recall that, over the past four weeks his Department has told me in answer to questions first, that there is no target date for our beaches and water meeting the EEC standards ; secondly, that all planning requirements are the responsibility of local government ; thirdly, that all matters relating to pollution are matters for water authorities, but those concerning new pollution are within the responsibility of Her Majesty's barely formed inspectorate of pollution ; and, fourthly, that all new sea outfalls are to be considered as the logical way of disposing of raw sewage? May I finally ask my hon. and learned Friend--

Mr. Speaker : Order. That will be the fifth question.

Mr. Speller : Fifthly, may I ask my hon. and learned Friend whether, in answer to my question, which he has not answered, he will seek to revoke the permission whereby Welsh Water, Wessex Water and South West

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Water may each pollute the Bristol channel over the next 12 months? Will my hon. and learned Friend stop that happening?

Hon. Members : Answer.

Mr. Howard : The accelerated programme of dealing with bathing waters is intended to achieve compliance with the European Community's directive by the mid-1990s. Although we are always prepared to examine new evidence that will help us assess the effect of the schemes to which my hon. Friend referred, all the evidence, including that of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution, suggests that dealing with sewage by long sea outfalls at coastal resorts is in many circumstances the most effective way of dealing with the problem. If my hon. Friend has fresh evidence to bring before us, of course we will be happy to consider it.

Mr. Loyden : Does the Minister agree that in most cases we are talking the lack of investment in what amounts to a massive slum below the surface for almost every major city and town? When will the Government recognise that only by tackling this problem will they begin to deal with the pollution of rivers and streams?

Mr. Howard : The hon. Gentleman will remember, no doubt, that the Government that he supported cut investment in sewerage services by 50 per cent. The Sandown dock scheme in Liverpool, which will shortly be in operation, will provide a method of treating sewage produced in Liverpool which, until now, has been pumped into the Mersey--not through long sea outfalls but in a way that I imagine no hon. Member would condone. Vast improvements will be achieved as a result of the Sandown dock scheme. That is an example of the investment in these facilities that has taken place under the present Government.

Mrs. Ann Taylor : Does the Minister realise that the majority of the British public cannot accept his complacency on this issue and that they believe that the Government should take a lead? Is it not a fact that at present only the British EEC representatives object to an EEC proposal for a directive that will prevent the dumping of sewage sludge at sea and long sewage outfalls for raw sewage being put into the sea? Why is Britain out of line, given all the recent evidence on this subject? Do the Government object because they favour the dumping of sewage at sea, or because they do not want the privatised water companies to have to pick up the bill for compliance?

Mr. Howard : The hon. Lady is wholly wrong ; we are not objecting. We have yet to see the text of the draft European Commission directive on these matters because it has not yet been published. The hon. Lady should recognise that there is no easy solution to the problem and that many people would regard with dismay a requirement to construct sewage treatment works on the front at every seaside coastal resort with the consequent lorries going to and fro taking sludge away from the works. Perhaps the hon. Lady would prefer an incinerator with all the environmental consequences which would follow from that method of dealing with the matter.

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Housing Corporation

8. Mr. Beaumont-Dark : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what was the level of funding for the Housing Corporation in (a) 1987-88 and (b) 1988-89.

Mr. Howard : The Housing Corporation's gross capital expenditure was £752 million in 1987-88 and £791 million in 1988-89.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark : Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that over the years, the Housing Corporation has done an excellent job, but that there are two matters about the Housing Corporation that concern people at present? First, they are concerned about alms houses because of the change in the law. I have had letters, as I am sure other hon. Members have from alms house residents who are fearful of the bureaucracy and heavy handedness of the Housing Corporation in regard to well-established alms houses. Secondly, has my hon. and learned Friend had time to read the Housing Corporation's recent report about housing associations, in which all money spent is meant to be for those on lower incomes? As a result of changes in the rental system, too many people are stuck in the poverty trap. Housing benefit is too little and those who have little housing benefit have too low an income to pay the increased rents. Will my hon. and learned Friend examine that problem and ensure that the Housing Corporation is helpful?

Mr. Howard : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his tribute to the Housing Corporation. I have studied the advice given by the Housing Corporation to alms house charities that are registered with the corporation. Its advice is useful and wholly innocuous. I have seen the remarks by the chairman of the Housing Corporation in his introduction to its latest annual report and I hope to meet him soon to discuss his observations.

Mr. George Howarth : Does the Minister accept that although there is a growth in the approved development programme available to the Housing Corporation to fund housing association schemes, the system that his predecessor introduced last year is in such a mess that the budget is likely to be dramatically underspent? Instead of producing more houses, as was predicted, the system now produces fewer.

Mr. Howard : I do not accept that. These are relatively early days in the new system and we should study how it works before rushing to such judgments.

Mr. Raison : Given the drying up of council building, will my hon. and learned Friend ensure that in areas such as mine there is a substantial expansion of the funding made available to housing associations? There will not otherwise be enough housing to rent.

Mr. Howard : I understand my right hon. Friend's concern. That is the objective of Government policy in this area. I shall examine my hon. Friend's comments when I come to consider these matters.

Mr. Soley : It says something about the Government's housing policy that they give responsibility for housing to a Minister who is already overworked with the water privatisation problem. How is it that the housing associations, which have not yet reached the level of provision they achieved in the mid-1970s, are expected to

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solve the acute crisis of a lack of low- cost accommodation for rent or sale when we have such an absurdly inadequate programme through the Housing Corporation and through other means under this Government?

Mr. Howard : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his concern about my work load. I assure him that the whole range of Government policies in these matters is designed to deal with the problem to which he referred and that we will be seen to be dealing with that problem with increasing effectiveness as time goes on.


9. Mr. Adley : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what further steps he is taking to reduce environmental pollution.

Mr. Chris Patten : We are setting higher standards to reduce pollution ; we have brought forward, and will bring forward, legislation to reform pollution control systems and to strengthen the powers available to control pollution at source and we have taken the lead in developing international initiatives on the environment.

Mr. Adley : I do not recall any hon. Member doing this so far, but let me welcome my right hon. Friend wholeheartedly to his new position-- [Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] The whole House looks forward to his achieving the objectives that he stated in that answer.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that he now has the opportunity to stamp his mark irrevocably on the environment of Britain and that the internal combustion engine might be a good place for him to start? Does he agree that the oil companies and the motor manufacturing industry have for years dictated a slow pace of change in cleaning up the environment? Will he examine what is happening in California, where legislation is contemplated to eliminate the internal combustion engine by the year 2007 and to replace vehicles that use it with electric vehicles? Does he agree that, if we could do that here, the Patten Act, if it ever came to pass, would stand the test of time on the statute book?

Mr. Patten : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I should quite like to be in California at the moment-- [Interruption.] --or, indeed, at any time. The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) will know that in California there was a revolt against a tax based on the value of property rather similar to the tax that he proposes.

Let me answer my hon. Friend's question. California's problems are much worse than anything that we face here, partly because of the number of cars, partly because of the climate and partly because, as I understand it, meteorological factors trap pollution in the air at a lower level. That said, I think that we should examine evidence from other countries and be ready to learn from them when we can. The environmental problems that we face are global and we must co-operate in solving them.

Mr. Alton : I endorse the congratulatory remarks that have been made to the Secretary of State. As he goes about making his mark, will he give some thought to part II of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and in particular to the way in which it is enforced by the water authorities? Is he aware that last year the North West water authority brought just 23 prosecutions against companies involved

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in pollution and that the average fine was £670? Given the scale of the problem, does the Secretary of State agree that that is a paltry fine to impose on those responsible for pollution and that fines need to be looked at again in accordance with the principle that the polluter must pay?

Mr. Patten : Whether deliberately or inadvertently, the hon. Gentleman has made a powerful case for the establishment of a strong new pollution control body, such as the National Rivers Authority proposed by the Government, which will enforce controls on a consistent national basis.

Mr. Marland : On environmental pollution, is my right hon. Friend aware that substantial efforts are being made by some private firms to rebottle CFCs from the back of old refrigerators and deep freezers? Bearing in mind that it is estimated that there are some 30,000 tonnes of CFCs banked in refrigerators, does my right hon. Friend think that his Department may be able to give some assistance in that vital development work in the interests of a cleaner environment?

Mr. Patten : It should be in the interests of industry itself to produce the technology to deal with the problem, although I shall certainly look into my hon. Friend's suggestion. It is, of course, difficult to deal with existing CFCs in the back of refrigerators, but it is a technology which must be cracked.

Mr. Tony Banks : Does the Secretary of State agree with me that perhaps the single most important step taken by the Government recently to reduce environmental pollution was to remove the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) to the Department of Trade and Industry where he can pollute officially to his heart's content?

Will the Secretary of State, who is new to his job, look closely at the problem of acid rain which is causing so much concern not only in this country but in Scandinavia?

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