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Mr. Patten : The great thing about the hon. Gentleman's jokes is that one can see them coming from the bottom of Victoria street. We are spending a considerable amount more on reducing emissions and the right hon. Gentleman--sorry, I was presumptuous--the hon. Gentleman--
We are spending £2 billion on reducing sulphur dioxide emissions from existing large plants and we will continue to give the issue the priority that it deserves.
Dame Peggy Fenner : Will my right hon. Friend accept that my delight at his new role is tempered only by my disappointment that he has left a role in which he could have been the first international Minister to try to do something about the destruction of the rain forests? Will he join me in commending the action of the Countryside Commission in establishing forests in this country, recognising that the rest of the world should follow that example to counter the destruction of the rain forests?
Mr. Patten : I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a bit thick for us in Europe and north America to lecture developing countries about the destruction of the rain forests when we have made such a fist in the past 200 years
Column 1017of destroying our own forests. The work carried out by the Forestry Commission is particularly important both nationally and internationally and we must consider issues such as reforestation from an economic as well as a topographical and ecological point of view. That is why I appointed today Professor David Pearce, the professor of economics at University college London and director of the London environmental economic centre, as a special adviser to provide me with economic advice on environmental matters.
With regard to safeguarding the environment, has the Secretary of State had time yet to study the paper produced for the Prime Minister by the energy technology support unit about global warming and the greenhouse effect? Does he recognise the force of the argument in that paper which points out that energy conservation can make a four times bigger contribution to reducing those problems than developing nuclear power? Will he therefore, in developing his policies to safeguard the environment, press for a major programme of energy conservation on which he will have the support of Opposition Members?
As the Secretary of State's predecessor said that it was the Government's intention to produce an environmental protection Bill in the autumn, will the Secretary of State consider discussions across the House about the nature and content of such a Bill? There should be a great deal of room for agreement on what such a Bill should include. I can tell the Secretary of State, as I told his predecessor, that the Opposition are willing to bring that co-operation to the House if there can be discussions.
Mr. Patten : On the first point, I totally agree that improving energy efficiency has a vital role to play in dealing with the problem of global warming and in dealing therefore with the associated problem of climate change. That is true of this country and of all developed and developing countries. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's second point, I want to make it clear straight away that I would not regard legislation that we might bring forward this autumn as our last word, or anyone's last word, on environmental protection.
There is an argument, which many people have put forward, that in addition to the legislation that we introduce this autumn, we should in due course publish a White Paper setting out longer-term objectives for the environment. I will want to consider that with my right hon. and hon. Friends.
I shall be happy at any stage, both in regard to legislation and in regard to any further statements of national policy that we produce, to talk to the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and to his hon. Friends about how we can try to ensure that we meet the priorities of the environmental agenda as effectively as possible. It would help if, just from time to time,
Column 1018Opposition Members would not regard every environmental statistic from the Government as a provocation. It would be nice if, occasionally, the Labour party would recognise achievements when they are made.
11. Mr. Bill Michie : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will increase the amount of money allocated by urban development corporations for the purpose of community projects and voluntary sector initiatives ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. David Hunt : It is for each urban development corporation to decide, within the total budget we have provided, what degree of resources to devote to community projects and voluntary sector initiatives.
Mr. Michie : On 24 May, the Minister told the House that a miserly 0.7 per cent. of the budget for the Sheffield UDC would be allocated to the voluntary community initiative. If the Government want to convince the community that UDCs are good for it, instead of criticising hon. Members who, with good reason, continue to knock UDCs, why do the Government not get their own house in order and guarantee that more money and more resources will be available for the community initiative?
Mr. Hunt : It is for the hon. Gentleman's own UDC to decide how to allocate funds, and the proportion of the budget that it allocates to community groups and projects. I pay tribute to Sheffield, which is one of the few areas that have actually appointed a community director. That is a very good move. UDCs should actively seek good relations and co-operation with local community groups.
Mr. Rowe : Does my hon. Friend agree that there are alleged to be two great problems? One is the rundown of the inner cities and the other is the enormous increase in the number of elderly people? Does he agree also that the second is not a problem but an opportunity? If more elderly people could be persuaded and helped to offer their skills and experience as volunteers, they could make an enormous impact on the problems of inner cities. To do that, they require a certain amount of pump-priming finance, and I hope that his Department will carefully look at that matter.
Mr. Hunt : I certainly hope that those involved in decision making within UDCs will pay attention to what my hon. Friend has said. I prefer to recognise the problem as the challenge of the young-old. Those who retire earlier have a tremendous potential contribution to make to the community, particularly to inner cities.
Mr. Rooker : Does the Minister accept that there is nothing at all wrong with new administrative organisations and activities to solve new problems? We accept that UDCs have a role to play. Will he look at what has been happening in docklands and the UDC there? It is reported that hundreds of new dwellings that cannot be sold are being rented by the private sector at over £200 a week, fully funded by housing benefit. Surely it was not the intention that urban development corporations should result in such mismanagement of public funds.
Column 1019again in those crucial areas. The docklands UDC has been a marvellous example of a stimulus to that area. I would not want to deride its progress as the hon. Gentleman has.
12. Mr. Bevan : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment which bathing waters were identified for the purposes of the 1975 European Community bathing waters directive in (a) May 1979 and (b) May 1989.
Mr. Howard : The European Community's bathing water directive was adopted in December 1975 and gave member states two years to identify suitable bathing waters. By May 1979, no bathing waters had been identified by the then Labour Government. By May 1989, 403 coastal bathing waters had been identified. A full list of the identified bathing waters has been placed in the Library.
Mr. Bevan : While thanking my hon. and learned Friend for that reply, I invite him to contrast the non-existent policy of the previous Labour Government with that of this Government. When he considers the challenge of clean beaches and holidaying, would he prefer a warm resort with beautifully clean water in Britain or one in the mucky Mediterranean or the atrociously dirty Adriatic, particularly in Italy?
Mr. Howard : I would, indeed, no doubt in company with my hon. Friend, prefer a beach in this country. My hon. Friend is entirely right. The figures speak for themselves and no further comment would be necessary if it were not that the Labour party consistently criticises the Government's performance and record on these matters, while it is blind and deaf to its own.
13. Mr. Barron : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what consultations he has had with local authority organisations over changes in the Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980 ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Barron : Will the Minister take notice of the comment of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities that the consultation on the new definition of emergency work is unworkable? It believes that the extension of competitive tendering to maintenance contracts where the value does not exceed 10 per cent. of the original contract would create chaos, not only in the direct labour organisations in the public sector but in the private sector. The tenders would be for small amounts and the administrative costs would be higher than the costs of doing the job.
Mr. Hunt : On the first point, we are trying to redefine the exemption of emergency work and I shall take note of the comments to which the hon. Gentleman referred. We want to make sure that only genuinely unpredictable work is exempt and we are considering comments on our proposed redefinition. On the second point, it is important to extend competition to all building and maintenance work, to increase value for money for ratepayers and, in future, community charge payers.
Mr. Latham : Before my hon. Friend proceeds with legislation to implement the proposals in the town and country planning White Paper of a few months ago, will he consider it again carefully? It has the unique disadvantage of annoying county councils, district councils, house builders and the Council for the Protection of Rural England.
Mr. Blunkett : On 4 April, the Under-Secretary of State told us in the Local Government and Housing Bill Standing Committee that treasurers and directors of finance knew exactly the implications of the Bill's proposals for capital expenditure. Does he accept that that is simply not the case and that unless local authorities are informed quickly of the implications of that legislation, capital programmes in education, buildings, social services, roads and housing will be considerably disrupted? The result will be a threat to services and jobs, brought about by the inability of the Department of the Environment to come up with the answers.
Mr. Hunt : The hon. Gentleman will recall that before the Bill setting out the proposals for this new system of capital finance was drafted, a consultation document was produced outlining the main objectives of the new system. We had the widest possible consultation on it and all the views expressed were taken into consideration when drafting the Bill. Since then, there have been six meetings of the capital programmes working party, at which proposals were discussed. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the working party is attended by representatives of the local authority associations and Government Departments.
15. Mr. Cousins : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about the decision by the Tyne and Wear urban development corporation to concentrate the £20 million subsidy on the East Quayside development in Newcastle ; and if he will make a statement.
17. Mr. Nicholas Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received on the decision by the Tyne and Wear urban development corporation to concentrate £20 million of subsidy on the East Quayside development in Newcastle ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Cousins : The Minister may not yet appreciate the enormous potential for commercial and financial services development in the city of Newcastle, so will he investigate why the urban development corporation in the city is obsessed with that one site on East Quayside, when at the west end of Central station there is a larger, flatter and more accessible site already in its ownership, but which does not figure in its plans or programmes?
Mr. Hunt : I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has discussed what he has just said with the city council, but as I understand it, the city council supported this proposal which I believe represents a major opportunity for a comprehensive redevelopment of a prominent riverside site, which will help change the perspective of an area which was previously semi-derelict.
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