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Column 1237would not be given a grant unless it allowed shooting on its nature reserve. Shooting and a nature reserve are incompatible, so the society proceeded without a grant.
The NCC negotiated with landowners on the Solway firth to buy their shooting rights for £750,000. The EEC, because of the international importance of the Solway firth for wintering wildfowl, was prepared to pay 50 per cent. of that sum. I understand that the previous Secretary of State spent some time shooting in that area and that when he heard about this deal he intervened and instructed the NCC to scrap it. The 50 per cent. grant, which was not an inconsiderable amount, was lost to that major conservation area.
People who get their pleasure from chasing innocent animals to death or torturing them have no place in such organisations. They would be better off seeking psychiatric or medical help than being involved in conservation bodies as a way of pursuing their pastimes. The NCC should not be involved in that role.
I do not object, and most reasonable people would not object, to the NCC being broken up on a regional basis, with one council for Scotland and one for Wales. There is nothing wrong with that, but its national structure must be safeguarded. The NCC has funded long-term research projects, such as the common bird census, constant effort sites and the national ringing programme. The main agency is the British Trust for Ornithology which is negotiating a new five-year contract with the NCC. The work must be funded, controlled and monitored nationally.
Furthermore, the NCC must have real influence and control over its work. I am worried that attempts are being made to dilute it. I have already explained the effect of the previous Secretary of State's appointments. In Scotland, the NCC has come into conflict with local landowners and regional councils on several issues. In the flow country, the NCC has rightly held out against extensive planting of trees in an area of international importance which has never in its history been planted with conifers. The planting of conifers is alien to the habitat and landscape.
There is conflict about the development of the Cairngorms and the extension of the ski lift and skiing facilities into Lurchers gully. The regional council has tried to change its structure plan to allow that to happen even though that proposal was defeated in a public inquiry a few years ago. There is much conflict about grants for planting trees in Scotland where 90 per cent. of new planting is conifers.
If the NCC is broken up, will the Scottish NCC be dominated by Scottish landowners who are involved in tree-planting, grouse moors and shooting? What confidence can we have that the NCC in the hands of such people will fulfil its role? The position is serious when one considers that some parts of Scotland should have a certain breed of bird of prey--the hen harrier-- but do not. Where they have tried to nest and establish themselves, local gamekeepers have illegally put down poisoned baits, or, in a recent case, shot the sitting bird on the nest and stabbed the young into the ground. Will such people be appointed to the NCC? Can we have confidence in them to protect our wildlife?
Wildlife is not just there for aesthetic purposes. It is a biological indicator. What happens to wildlife is a sign of
Column 1238what is happening to the health of our environment, as we saw in the 1960s with the effect of DDT on animal species in the food chain.
In my area there is great anxiety about the levels of pollution in the River Humber. The flora and fauna are particularly impoverished in the upper reaches. That is because of excessive pollution which the Government have made little attempt to control The position will be made worse by the proposals in the Water Bill, as sewerage works are given permission to carry on polluting the river at levels far higher than the EEC agreed maximums. Other industrial outflows will also exceed the maximums, yet sufficient action is not being taken to tackle the problem.
A document has been leaked to me. Unfortunately the identification marks have all been removed, so that I cannot tell where it came from. It is a scientific survey of the Humber. It draws attention to some of the main problems, which must be tackled as a matter of priority. It identifies that at certain times of river flow and high temperatures there is a complete lack of oxygen in the vicinity of the Trent falls. The document states that oxygen levels in the mid and lower Humber are of concern in summer resulting from a significant input of organic matter, sewage. That means that at certain periods of the year or indeed of the month, some stretches of the Humber are biologically dead. Life cannot exist there. It is a barrier to the migration of fish upriver. Pollution has reached such levels that there is no oxygen.
The document continues :
"Compared with other estuaries the fauna is extremely limited in terms of the number of species found.
The Ouse system was originally a prolific salmon fishery, fish being taken regularly along a considerable length of the system. Whilst very occasionally fish get through the estuary, commercial fishing is non- existent. The decline is attributable in the main to lack of oxygen.
There is very little information of a reliable nature on the concentrations of heavy metals in the estuary. There is no systematically collected data available as to the concentrations of alien, man-made organic contaminants in the estuary. No baseline data on which to base predictions of true nature and impact of man's activities on the estuary."
Recently Greenpeace took samples in the Humber which showed alarmingly high levels of heavy metal contaminants from various sources. The document states :
"Measurements of Arsenic have shown that the concentration of this element is significantly increased in the neighbourhood of Read's island emanating from Cappa Pass on the North Bank of the Humber. There are 216 potentially polluting discharges to the tidal waters of the Humber, 67 to the Ouse system, 70 to the Trent and 79 to Hull and Humber.
Acid iron waste discharged from two titanium dioxide plants (Tioxide UK Ltd. and the SCM Corporation) affects an area of the Humber in excess of 17 km. Every other nation in Europe has taken steps to reduce emissions from this internationally recognised polluting industry."
It is true that we have recently debated EEC directives about controlling emissions from titanium dioxide, but little progress appears to have been made and the steps that have been taken have been far too late.
The document mentions that a disease called epidermal papilloma in dab is as high in the Dogger bank area just off Humberside as it is in the German bight. The document suggests that in November 1984, upon completion of a report on this matter, the Government were so alarmed that they immediately drew up plans to terminate the dumping of sewage and industrial waste. As far as I know,
Column 1239that has never been carried out. Industrial waste and sewage sludge are still being dumped in the North sea off the Humber, with the results that we have seen.
The Government have not tackled the problem of the environment or the issue of the NCC. To break it up would be a retrograde step. It needs the reassurance that I have outlined. Many organisations are watching the Government carefully on these issues and they want some action.
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : I am not sure what a Leader of the House does during the summer recess. I suspect that he puts his feet up. I am sure that a deputy Prime Minister does no such thing, but races round keeping his colleagues in order. That is what I should like my right hon. and learned Friend to do with two sets of his colleagues.
The first are his colleagues in the arts, the Department of the Environment and the Treasury on the matter dealt with by early-day motion 1179 on the English National Opera and the English National Ballet, formerly the London Festival Ballet. If we do not find a solution to their funding problem within the next month we shall have serious trouble keeping those two excellent national institutions in being. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will take that on board and ensure that we find a solution during the recess. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will also pursue his colleagues in the Department of Transport. An advantage of the type of life and hours that we in the House have is that we usually go home long after the traffic jams have ended. Last night, however, even after 11 o'clock, the traffic jams were by no means at an end in London, and the A3 was blocked solid.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend, perhaps no longer being burdened with international travel, will experience some of the domestic forms of travel--or perhaps I should say, the inability to travel--that Londoners have faced for many years. If he would care to visit south London, I will take him on a slow guided tour round the traffic jams and blocked bus lanes and then, if he has an hour or two to spare, I will accompany him down to a couple of stations on the Northern line, and then to an area where neither the Northern line nor the District line or any other Underground line runs. That might lead us to try some of the railway stations in my part of the world. Although trains run there, they do so with inadequate numbers of coaches, so that when they pull in at stations the passengers fall out rather than try to get in.
Having experienced some of the delights of travelling around south London and having sat in traffic jams, my right hon. and learned Friend will doubtless return to his colleagues at the Department of Transport and ask, "What are we to do about this problem?" The officials in that Department will tell him, "We are thinking of putting some more traffic into the area." That represents the real problem at which I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will look. The Government, having rightly listened to people such as I who call attention to transport problems in London, invited consultants to come up with some analyses of the problems and then to put forward some solutions.
The solutions that are being suggested would drive not coaches and horses through London--if only that were the
Column 1240case--but major roads through London, knocking down houses on the way, carving through common land and introducing yet more traffic into London. As those of us who understand a little of traffic engineering and mathematics and a lot about the burdens and desires of our constituents know, more roads result in more traffic. Even worse, bigger roads result in bigger volumes of traffic. Faster roads do not produce faster traffic but result in moving traffic faster into traffic jams. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will encourage his colleagues in the Department of Transport to drop those schemes.
The first scheme that might be dropped is a project known as weir, which should have a "d" at the end. The words which form the acronym weir include the word "improvement." It is known as the western environmental improvement route. It is difficult to appreciate what the project would achieve, for the road would be a great hazard to the people of Hammersmith, depositing traffic at a great rate of knots--about 11,000 additional vehicles a day--on to the river embankment, where it would have nowhere to go except on to the overcrowded roads of Wandsworth. We are told that it would produce an increase of 27 per cent. in traffic volume and that it would not be a motorway but only a small road that would use a railway line that is no longer needed.
We are told not to worry about what is proposed. We are bound to worry because it is destined to bring 85,000 vehicles a day along that stretch of road to the river. That number of vehicles is as much as the elevated section of the M4 can carry, and it is probably the heaviest used two-lane motorway in Britain. If it is not a motorway, I am not sure what it is. It has all the appearance of a motorway. There are no cyclists or pedestrians allowed on it and there are no junctions of the non-motorway type. It brings all the traffic to my part of the world. I hope that that road scheme will be the first to be thrown out, and thereafter the other schemes and option that have been put to the Department of Transport should also be thrown out. Our road problems are due to the history of London, which was designed largely for the narrow gauge cart and its horse. The problems are increasing because of London's increased prosperity. There are other ways of achieving the solutions we need, and I hope that careful consideration will be given to the four-borough alternative that has been put forward by the boroughs of Richmond, Wandsworth, Hammersmith and Lambeth. That four- borough, three-party scheme looks to public transport as a solution to London's traffic problems.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) along with myself and others have brought forward the scheme of red routing, a plan that would enormously help the flow of traffic in London and would stop thoughtless and selfish parking or waiting on roads. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point, (Sir B. Braine), the Father of the House, referred earlier to the Serjeant at Arms and to this place having wig, pen and sword. I would use all three of those on motorists who park thoughtlessly on some through routes into London.
Aside from that and some minor improvements, such as widening or straightening roads, it is clear that providing more and bigger roads is not the answer. We must deter people from using roads to come into London, including stopping firms providing car parking spaces. The City of London follows that course to a certain extent and I should like to see the rest of London doing the same. Much would be achieved quickly by improving public transport.
Column 1241If we had better rail and Underground services, looked carefully at the central London rail study and threw out the road options, we would achieve a great deal.
If we did that, my right hon. and learned Friend would have earned his rest in the second half of the summer recess and many Londoners would have rest granted to them as a result of the quick and merciful killing off of the road options that are being put to the Department of Transport.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : I, too, am concerned with the environmental conditions in which the people of London live. I agree with the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) that the assessment studies now under consideration are far from what Londoners want or need. They require a rapid, considerable improvement in public transport and a reduction in the number of cars coming into central London.
We live in a dirty, polluted and dangerous city and I get more and more angry as I cycle round London having my lungs blasted full of exhaust from cars. My constituents suffer because of the vast number of commuter cars that come through my area. They are only too well aware of the major road building proposals, and earlier this week I presented 24 petitions signed by 3,000 people who live in various parts of my constituency and who oppose the road assessment studies, and there will be plenty more from where those petitions came. My constituents are not prepared to have their homes and communities torn apart to make way for motorways which will bring even more traffic through the inner London constituencies to clog up the rest of London, as has happened this week. We must have a different approach to transport in London from the schemes that are on offer.
The other main issue that I wish to raise is poverty in London. A sense of horrible complacency descends over the House at this time of year as hon. Members seem to have a mad desire to get away to Bermuda or the Caribbean or wherever else people spend their summer holidays, leaving behind all the problems.
Despite all the press publicity that has been given this week to the reshuffling in the Government, nothing has changed for many people in London. When, later tonight, hon. Members who stayed for the Consolidated Fund debates leave to go home, the same people will be sleeping in cardboard boxes outside the law courts and on the pavements outside Charing Cross and Waterloo stations as were sleeping in those places last night. If one went out now to the theatreland area of London, one would find the same people begging around the theatre queues. People are walking round London begging for food and sustenance. The fact that that is happening in one of the world's major capital cities, in one of the richest countries and in what we are told is one of the most successful economies in western Europe is not just a standing disgrace : it is a shame on everyone. People should not be reduced to sleeping on pavements and to begging, as is happening in this capital city.
When people come to my advice surgery, as they no doubt will tomorrow evening, and to the surgeries of my hon. Friends who represent inner-London constituencies, we will hear about the horror facing people who live in
Column 1242grossly overcrowded flats and the horror of young people who know that they have no chance of getting their own place in which to live. They must stay in the already overcrowded flats of their parents simply because local authorities have lost a net figure of 31,000 council properties in the past 10 years. Very few council properties are being built and many more are being sold off. There is no way in which those young people can get a place of their own because if one wants to buy anywhere in central London on a mortgage one needs an income of about £20,000 a year--unless one has considerable savings. We are dealing with a crisis of immeasurable proportions that affects the lives not just of people already on the housing lists but of their children who suffer in school because they live in overcrowded accommodation. Earlier this week I spent several hours talking to primary school teachers in my constituency. Not only are schools increasingly short of teachers ; they are increasingly becoming centres for the social problems caused by a combination of poverty and bad housing. Children are continually ill, and whenever one child gets an illness, it is immediately passed on to the rest of the family because of the overcrowded living conditions. Increasingly, children are under- achieving at school because they are unable to do any kind of homework at home. Often they cannot get enough sleep because they all sleep in the same room and somebody may want to have the radio or television on, or simply because of the comings or goings of the people in the room. It is an absolute disgrace that that is happening in the richest part of a rich country.
As my hon. Friends and I are well aware, those problems are compounded by the social security legislation that has been enacted in the past few years. I served on the previous three Standing Committees considering social security legislation. None of those pieces of legislation has achieved any improvement in people's living standards. The legislation has simply increased arbitrary control by officials of the Department of Social Security, who often do not want that control, over poor people who are suffering increased poverty, increased homelessness and increased misery in our inner-urban areas.
The people who have come to London and who have been reduced to begging on our streets should be able to look to a social security system that will not force them into that position. Nobody enjoys lowering himself to the level of begging on our streets and sleeping in cardboard boxes. It might be a bit of a laugh to sleep out for a couple of nights in the summer, but in six months' time, on cold winter evenings, sleeping in a cardboard box outside the law courts or within sight of the Savoy hotel is no joke. It shames us all. In relation to a social security problem in my community, I quote from a copy of a letter sent to the chair of the social security advisory committee by the leader of Islington council, Margaret Hodge, because it emphasises my point :
"Dear Peter Barclay,
I enclose a report produced by this Council's welfare rights team which describes the inadequate, demeaning and counter-productive nature of the Social Fund as experienced by claimants and advice staff in this borough. The Council agreed to give local DSS offices the opportunity to comment on the report and to carry out any improvements that might be feasible. However, in the three months since the report was produced, there has been a substantial deterioration in the scheme. I take no comfort from the fact that this was forecast in the body of the report.
Column 1243What has happened is that expenditure on community care grants has hit 100 per cent. of the very limited local budget. In Islington, this budget was set at only one-fifth of single payments expenditure in the year prior to April 1988. In the case of Finsbury Park DSS, their expenditure hit 131 per cent. of the monthly budget target in May, supposedly a light' month, with the result that they will have to make up this overspend by cutting back on their expenditure this year. They, and other Islington offices, have developed more stringent' local guidelines to achieve this. Obviously, these stringent' guidelines will be even more Draconian than the Secretary of State's Directions which still provide the legal framework for the scheme.
Reports are coming in from all over the borough that people who qualify under the Directions for a Community Care Grant are being offered loans. This is totally unacceptable."
I heartily agree with and endorse the contents of that letter. I have placed a copy of the Islington report on the operation of the social fund in the Library and have sent another copy to the Department of Social Security. We warned the Department about what was happening and said that cash-limiting the social fund locally was not only disastrous, but meant that a proportion of what was available to poor people two or three years ago was already overspent. Local DSS staff have been placed in the appalling position of having to say to deserving people, "You cannot have the grants that you could have had a year ago and which we believe you should have under the guidelines because the money is simply not there." A letter from the manager of the Finsbury Park DSS office to his staff about social fund priorities and community care grants states :
"I have detailed below the Community Care Grant expenditure for the period 1 April 1989 to 30 June 1989 which shows that, despite arrangements to restrict awards to essential items of furniture and household equipment and thereby remain on profile, expenditure has still exceeded the budget profile."
The manager then gives the figures, and says :
"As you can see, payments for furniture and household equipment on their own, have exceeded the budget for the period in question. In order to ensure that future expenditure can be contained within profile, I have had to introduce the following measures from 3rd July 1989 :--
(1) All claims for items of low to medium priority--clothing, redecoration, leisure items, Hire Purchase and other debts are unlikely to be met in view of their priority status and ; (2) Community Care Grant awards for furniture and household equipment will be limited to the amounts in Annex 4 of Social Fund Manual i.e. £500.00 for a single person, £750.00 for a couple with £220.00 additions per child. Additionally, it may be necessary to refuse claims for high priority items if expenditure continues to outstrip budget profile.
So far as budgetary loans are concerned, expenditure remains within profile".
Loans in certain categories are available, but they are loans to people who are already poor. For those who are eligible and deserving of a community care grant, the money will simply not be available. I hope that the Leader of the House will undertake to refer the serious and legitimate concerns that I have voiced to the Department of Social Security. I am horrified that throughout August, September and for most of October, there will be no opportunity for me to raise these matters in the House and that the people in my area will have to go without what should be theirs by right. The House must resolve the problem of the serious urban poverty in our capital city.
Column 12447.57 pm
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham) : Before I follow the hon. Members for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) on a brief trip to the far east, I remind the House that exactly one week ago the water to a substantial part of my constituency was cut off. That caused distress and discomfort to many of my constituents and put several at real risk.
Yesterday I received a letter from one constituent which read : "I am writing to you on my mother's behalf. She is 95 years old, blind and housebound. Her supply of water was turned off on Friday without any warning or without any provision being made for her to obtain water. The Thames Water Authority over their answerphone' could only say there was a tap somewhere locally--no address given." Although Thames Water had known for 48 hours before the taps had to be switched off that a crisis was imminent, during that time no warning was given to the people of south London and no appeals to save water were made to offset the drastic step that was taken. I believe that there should be an inquiry into why the water was cut off without warning, in view of the public health risk involved. In the weeks ahead, a firm statement should be made about the amount of compensation that will be paid to those people who were put at risk. My primary concern this evening is the plight of the Vietnamese boat people. I often corresponded with my right hon. and learned Friend on this subject when he was at the Foreign Office. All hon. Members know that tens of thousands of boat people from Vietnam have crowded into Hong Kong in recent weeks. They live in dreadful conditions and, if authoritative newspaper reports are to be believed, men, women and children will be forcibly shipped back to Vietnam before the House reassembles in the autumn.
The argument used by the Hong Kong authorities, the Foreign Office and the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in favour of such a scheme is that these people are not proper refugees, but economic migrants. It is rarely easy to draw a sensible line between economic oppression and political oppression. In Poland, the founders of Solidarity began by striking against dreadful economic conditions, but the economic strike soon became a political protest. In the Soviet Union in recent weeks, coal miners have been striking against economic failure, but the strikes also seem to have political overtones.
If a family risk their lives by fleeing from Vietnam in a leaking, overcrowded boat--scores of boat people have been drowned when trying to escape this year--will the authorities in Vietnam consider that an economic and not a political gesture if the family is forced to return? We cannot be sure.
We know that some of the officials of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Hong Kong are unhappy about the screening procedures for new arrivals from Vietnam. There is also the argument that it is all right to send them back because Vietnam has changed. Thanks to the Foreign Office, I had an opportunity recently to meet the Foreign Minister of Vietnam--a hardened Communist with some 15 years' experience in the upper echelons of one of the most rigidly orthodox Communist countries in the world--who has been converted to free enterprise. When I talked to him, he sounded as though he was standing for chairmanship of the Back- Bench Conservative finance committee. He was
Column 1245sure that political freedom would follow economic freedom. He certainly sounded more pro-capitalist than many of the South Vietnamese Ministers to whom I talked in Saigon in 1965 and in 1973. Vietnam is still a closed society, and I do not believe that it is safe to send families back until Vietnam as a whole is open to diplomats, journalists, relief workers and tourists.
Conditions in the boat people's camps in Hong Kong are exceptionally bad. About eight weeks ago I visited the Shamshuipo camp in Hong Kong, where about 4,500 people live in conditions so bad that if we kept dogs in similar conditions in this country, the RSPCA would lead an outcry. Since then, conditions in many camps have deteriorated quite sharply. We know that the Hong Kong Government are unwilling to make any more money available.
Ultimately, we have responsibility for the conditions in those camps. I know that, in the first six months of this year, the British taxpayer provided £12 million to help with the problems caused by the influx of another 35,000 boat people, but it will take at least another £20 million before the end of this year to maintain standards that were barely tolerable before the new flood of boat people arrived.
I hope that the new Minister for Overseas Development will make it plain that the money will be available. If we pay the piper, we should also call the tune. In this country, we have many people who are expert in dealing with displaced persons and refugees. We should immediately send a high- level delegation of experts to Hong Kong to inspect the camps and if they recommend it, the British Government should take over direct responsibility for running some or all of the camps for new arrivals.
Urgent action is needed. I hope that the new Foreign Secretary will treat this as a matter of urgency.
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : There have been many interesting speeches in this Adjournment debate. I do not think that any hon. Member has advocated that we do not break for the summer recess, and that is advantageous, as it steers us clear of hypocrisy. This debate gives us an opportunity to raise issues which are of concern to individual hon. Members.
The most common theme tonight has been the environment. I shall leave it to the Leader of the House to respond to each individual speech, and I am sure that he will deploy the considerable skills that he acquired over many years in the courts to summarise the cases that have been made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) mentioned the environment, particularly the North sea. During this Session of Parliament, there has been a considerable increase in public concern about the environment. I think that that concern is likely to grow during the recess, as there seems to be evidence that people's concern for the environment grows when they are on holiday, and they go to places that they are not familiar with.
Many people visit the seaside on their holidays or cross the sea in boats or aircraft. Most people who fly across the North sea, or the Irish sea, cannot fail to be impressed by
Column 1246how small they are. Their small size makes them vulnerable. The problems of the North sea and the Irish sea are legion, and they are not being dealt with as well or as quickly as they should be. One sad example is the death of the majority of the seal population around the United Kingdom. That shows how little we know about the ecology of our seas. Although scientists warned that there was some danger to the seal population, none predicted such a disaster. We must be increasingly cautious when we make assumptions about the environment. Perhaps "precautious" would be a better word to describe what our attitude to the sea should be.
Owing to the current fears of holiday disruption abroad, the United Kingdom's seaside resorts are experiencing something of a revival, and it would be preferable if people were to encounter rather less sewage on the beaches. The response of the previous Secretary of State for the Environment--the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley)--to sewage dispersal into the sea was, I, understand, to favour longer discharge pipes ; those, however, provide no solution in our small and landlocked seas. They are really horizontal marine equivalents of the tall chimneys that have been exporting acid rain for some years. It appears that the Government never learn.
A development which, over the past few years, has revealed the Government's attitude to the marine environment is the massive and continuing failure of sea-bird breeding in the Shetlands, caused by the overfishing of sand eels, which, in theory, is regulated by the Government. The massive sea-bird colonies of Northern Britain are a unique biological feature of major international significance. In that area--I take just one example--Arctic terns have failed to breed because the chicks starved to death in 1984, 1985, and 1986. On some major sites, no chicks at all were reared in 1987 and 1988, and this year's breeding has also failed. Other species, such as the puffin, have also suffered massive breeding failure.
The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland--DAFS for the sake of brevity--has repeatedly told my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) the Royal Society for Birds and other such bodies that that failure has nothing to do with the adjacent industrial sand eel fisheries. It now turns out that the Department's own experts had been warning it of the consequences of overfishing the sand eels since as long ago as 1983. The disastrous belated decision of DAFS to license the Shetland sand eel fishery is a typical example of its dilatoriness. We now need a similar ban on the sand eel fishery in the Minch, unless more birds are to die and to cease to breed.
The problem is that the fate of the sea-bird colonies seems to be irrelevant to DAFS, which sees its responsibility as regulating the fishery rather than upholding the Government's obligation to protect the birds. That is symptomatic of the Tory approach, which is to maximise economic exploitation of the environment, not to protect it.
The newly appointed Environment Secretary, the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) comes to the job with a reputation of being more sensitive, but I think that this is a bit of a rerun. The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave)--now Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office--when in a more junior Environment post, also had the reputation of being "green", saying the right words and even appearing at ease
Column 1247for his numerous photo opportunities. When it comes to matters of substance, however, he did very little, and his presence in that Department has already been forgotten.
Next March, there will be a third ministerial conference on the protection of the North sea. It will be a crucial test for the Government, because so many of the pollution problems that we create have their ultimate impact on the narrow seas that surround us. The last conference, held in 1987, agreed some measures. It agreed to give the environment the benefit of the doubt when faced with uncertainty--what is described as the precautionary principle--and assented to 50 per cent. reductions in some of the most obviously risky substances being discharged into the North sea.
Pollutants continue to accumulate, however, especially in the vulnerable coastal areas and in the narrowest part, the southern North sea. To halve the rate of discharge is no solution ; it only buys time for a more fundamental shift of policy. That must be a shift from a society that is dependent on creating waste and then disposing of it to one that gives proper attention to not creating the waste in the first place. There is an opportunity here and now to do something. Public support for cleaning up the environment has never been so strong, but what is new, and what offers to make hopes of improvement a reality, is the significant thinking that is going on--even in the industries that, up to now, have been creating the waste.
The spring 1989 issue of the magazine Process Engineering was devoted entirely to the environment. It produced some interesting conclusions : that engineers are worried about the state of the environment, that there is vast potential for clean, no-waste and low-waste technology and that that could be economically viable, often with a rapid payback on the investment. However, the framework within which such companies must work is not conducive to the development of clean technologies, because there is no incentive for them to take action while waste-dumping costs are so low and regulations so lax.
Governments must act to achieve prompt and effective change. They can provide the long-term framework and objectives, and make it absolutely clear that the only way forward is a fundamental switch from our present culture of waste creation and disposal to one geared to placing a primary emphasis on clean technology and avoiding the creation of waste. That means thinking about what is being produced, as well as about the waste created during its manufacture. Because the North sea is the sink for so much of our waste, and because the North sea conference has the scale and political clout to mean something, the forthcoming third conference must do much more. It must shift from ad hoc pollution control measures to working out a long-term planned strategy to achieve the necessary shift to clean technologies. That will give industries the guidance, structure and time with which to achieve the changes that are now possible. If that is to happen, however, countries such as Britain must realise how urgent it is for the third North sea conference to shift what has in the past been an emphasis on short-term "fix-it" measures. If we do not move on, there will be nothing left to fix.
Apart from the environmental benefits, it will be to our economic advantage if we are a prime mover. If the problem is to be resolved by united action at an international level, the growing United Kingdom pollution control industry will be presented with a wider market. If we are in the vanguard of the change, we can
Column 1248profit from it, but if we tag along in the rear, whingeing and moaning, we shall end up having to import products and skills when the international community finally forces us to catch up with others.
Unfortunately, there is little sign of that happening. The new Environment Secretary is supposed to have been appointed to improve the presentation of Government policy, but he will have to do more. We cannot rely on improved presentation ; we shall need policy changes. I can say now that one test that will distinguish presentation from substance will be whether the right hon. Gentleman--during the current preparations for the third North sea conference, and at the conference--calls for those structural changes necessary for a clean environment. If he does not, he will have failed, and no amount of presentation will cover up his failure. The new Secretary of State is renowned as a communicator, the implication being that his predecessor was not one. I consider that unfair : the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury was a very good communicator. He made it blindingly obvious that protecting the environment could not be reconciled with the Thatcherite policies of deregulation. No amount of presentation can change that. I hope that the new Secretary of State will be able to bring some pressure and influence to bear on his colleagues to try to ensure that, when the future of everyone in this country and indeed in northern Europe is affected, we make the necessary effort and the necessary change both here and abroad. At home, and in partnership with our neighbours in northern Europe, we must work to clean up the North sea and the Irish sea. If we do not, succeeding generations will never forgive us.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : I do not intend to try to follow the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) who gave us a somewhat discursive presentation of an important case involving environmental matters. I welcome his perceptive observation that there was not much of a sustained chorus of opposition to the motion for the summer adjournment. One or two hardy souls said that they would be glad to stay, as long as nobody made them do so. That is understandable.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras spoke about a wide range of environmental matters. The new Secretary of State for the Environment recently left my former Department to join my former parliamentary private secretary in the Department of the Environment. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will study the hon. Gentleman's remarks with care and enthusiasm.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) made what seemed to be a serious set of allegations about what he described as inexcusable, bureaucratic mistakes in the operation of the insolvency service. That service deals with about 12,000 personal bankruptcies and company liquidations each year. That is a large number to deal with effectively. The service sets a high standard, but clearly the case that my hon. Friend cited did not measure up to that standard. I shall invite the authorities to investigate it if my hon. Friend will be kind enough to let me have the details of the case.
Column 1249The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) has been reading, as I have been, the interview with President Mitterrand and speculating about the long-term implications of the President's observations about the Government's attitude towards economic and monetary union. The hon. Gentleman cited with approval President Mitterrand's proposition that we should play the card of agreement. That is important, because President Mitterrand mentioned the desirability of proceeding with major decisions about the future of the Community in unanimous agreement. The Government share that view.
At the conclusion of the Madrid conference we made it quite clear that we would take part in any intergovernmental conference about economic and monetary union, although we emphasised that a great deal of preparatory work is necessary first. It should not take place along the exclusive lines traced out in the Delors report. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take some encouragement from the fact that by tenacious negotiation we were able to reach agreement on the important stages of development whether at Fontainebleau, at Luxembourg in the Single European Act, at Frankfurt or, indeed, at Madrid. The hon. Gentleman should not be too despondent about the possibility of agreement not being achievable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) spoke comprehensively and effectively about his concern for the future of Manchester airport and the case for increasing the use of such regional airports. My hon. Friend gave a variety of reasons. One was because our other airports in the south-east are already overcrowded and the second was because we need to attract transatlantic traffic to this country rather than allowing it to go to continental airports. The third reason was for the sake of increasing prosperity in the northern airports.
I respond to my hon. Friend's case with some sympathy because my constituency is immediately adjacent to Gatwick and my constituents take great comfort from the fact that there is a prohibition on the construction of a second runway at that airport. I hope that that will enable my hon. Friend to develop his case with which the Government have always had great sympathy. At the same time we have to try to safeguard the interests of the country as a whole by ensuring that increased access for foreign airlines is traded for benefits for United Kingdom airlines. My hon. Friend said that we should use international air traffic agreements effectively to promote the right kind of airport policy. I am sure that that will continue to be the case.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) made a rather robust attack on the policy of the Government in relation to the national dock labour scheme. When I reflect on the condition of the docks in Merseyside today compared with the condition of those docks when I was first elected there in 1954, I share his sense of sadness. One of the books that I had an opportunity to study in the last year or two was a magnificent specially printed book called "A Cruise in Scots Waters" which was printed in 1847. It described a cruise in which the navigators set out from the port of Liverpool in 1847. The description of the teeming prosperity and the Venetian imperial dynamism of Liverpool in those days
Column 1250was a fantastic reminder of what has been lost. Sadly, a great deal of that has been lost in recent years because of the immobility of those leaders of the dock workers who have hung on to the dock work labour scheme long past its useful life. Today it is up to the employers and the employees to establish new employment arrangements that will enable the new opportunities to be seized. The hon. Member for Garston presented a rather curious case, arguing that the Government were undermining the rights of trade union members at a time when commuters and others in this city are oppressed by a proliferation of strikes rather than the reverse.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who is lurking in an unfamiliar place in the Chamber, was kind enough to acknowledge that my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor had made significant improvements--from his point of view--to the Government's proposals on the legal profession between the Green Paper and the White Paper. He also said that the proposals adopted by our profession at the Bar in consequence of the Green Paper were the most far reaching ever set in hand. If I may say so, it was high time for such things. I have long studied the 1846 Special Select Committee report which contained a number of reforms that have long since been neglected. My hon. and learned Friend was right to say that a great deal has been achieved, and it is right for us to approach the debates in the next session on that basis. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), who has told me that he cannot be here for the conclusion of the debate, was one of two hon. Members who spoke about events in China. The hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) spoke about his impression of events in China and compared them in a rather curious fashion with his impression of the development of Hong Kong. I had some sympathy with the hon. Member for Bradford, North, who can describe himself as a faithful Socialist if any Opposition Member can use such a term, when he went on to describe what he called his idea of Socialism. He was obliged to disclaim as an example virtually every case of Socialism that has ever been put in place. He described with the utmost enthusiasm everything that he sees taking place in China. I wonder how Socialists view the world when they cannot find any working examples that they are not about to disclaim.
The hon. Member for Bradford, North went on to bemoan and criticise conditions in Hong Kong. Hong Kong's problems consist of trying to cope with an uncheckable torrent of refugees from Vietnam and daily and overwhelming applications from potential refugees from mainland China. The people of Hong Kong are proclaiming the freedom that they have enjoyed under British rule and seeking to be protected from the contrasts that exist in the Socialist state on the other side of the border.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North was certainly right to draw attention to the great importance as perceived by the people of Hong Kong of plans for the future location of the People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will have that in mind as an important point to canvass in future discussions with the Government of China.
The hon. Member for Bradford, North referred to the case of Xu Hai Ning and paid tribute, which I welcome, to the way in which Home Office officials and others have
Column 1251responded to his complaint. I identified some of the other activities which gave him anxiety, which I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) made a moving, important and characteristic contribution to our debate. I speak of him as my hon. Friend wih a particular recollection of the time when we walked down Fleet street and up Ludgate hill together to sit alongside each other for the memorial service for the death of Sir Winston Churchill. We have been Members of Parliament together. He has served with distinction in many capacities in Northern Ireland. His plea for the political leaders of Ulster to get together, to risk insults to achieve political progress for the people of Northern Ireland was, he will have noticed, heard by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend may not know that we are publishing tomorrow a booklet in recognition of the 20 years presence of our forces in Northern Ireland, to whom he rightly paid tribute. The booklet is entitled, "The Day of the Men and Women of Peace Must Surely Come". As my right hon. Friend the previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said, the booklet tries to
"demonstrate the positive and creative work of the real people of Northern Ireland and the achievements over the past 20 years." My hon. Friend and I have not taken the same view of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, but I hope that he joins me in regarding the setting in which we now find ourselves as one in which people should respond to the moving plea that he made.
I listened to the several points made by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) with interest, partly because he welcomed me as a fellow Welshman to these debates. I was mindful of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) not to be carried away by that emotional coincidence. I am not so carried away as to subscribe to the critical view of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales that was taken by the hon. Member for Ogmore. Conservative Members share the view that the people of Wales have an outstanding Secretary of State who has achieved a great deal. A momentary Welsh debate took place between the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn about the prospects for a debate on the Health Service in Wales. My hon. Friend is right to say that there is a prospect of that coming about in the Welsh Grand Committee before too long.
On Sunday trading, the position of the European Court has not yet been finalised, and in those circumstances, many local authorities are not taking action until the position is clearer. As to the Children Bill, that will be the subject of debate when the House comes back after the recess.
My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) spoke of another part of the country where mining is an important activity, as it is in the Ogmore valley, but he was speaking, understandably, of his constituency and the environmental impact of opencast mining in the Erewash valley. Even so, the Government believe that opencast mining is a valuable source of economic coal and wish to develop that source, but only if that can be done in an environmentally acceptable way. That is why we issued the new mineral planning guidelines in May of last year, and those are intended to give full weight to environmental issues.