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Sir Hugh Rossi : That is the preference of the British people. Perhaps the hon. Member for Bootle will pledge this in a moment, but it would be a rash Government that limited the size of motor cars to say, 1,000 cc or insisted that people use their motor cars only once a week or for essential purposes. I do not know whether the Labour party has any such regulations in mind, but I doubt that it would dare to contest a general election advocating them.
Mr. Allan Roberts : We would contest a general election pointing out that what the hon. Gentleman says is not the case. The motor car is not a convenient mode of transport into which one can jump and arrive quickly at one's destination. Anyone who thinks that it is possible to travel quickly across London has not tried to do so recently. The M1 and the M6 have become the longest car parks in Britain. One cannot drive along them ; one simply parks on them. We are destroying the advantages of the motor car by allowing too many on our roads. By failing to support public transport, the Government have failed to encourage people to use it.
Sir Hugh Rossi : The hon. Member is introducing a personal note. If he is interested, let me tell him that I use my motor car to get to my constituency at inconvenient hours--inconvenient in terms of my programme, that is--and to depart from the House at unsociable hours. My preferred way of getting round London is by underground. Most Londoners who are worldly wise go by underground at every opportunity. That is the way to get around London, for all the reasons that the hon. Gentleman gave. Before long, those responsible for transport policy will have to turn their attention to the whole question of inner-city traffic, but for the moment I am concerned only with environmental issues and the effects of CO .
I did not intend to detain the House for so long, but I have had to deal with interruptions or appear unreasonably discourteous. I hope that I have explained some of the problems that exist and the matters that we need to examine.
The Environment Select Committee has also been considering the disposal of waste, landfill and the generation of methane gas. Methane gas is a significant contributor to the greenhouse effect. We must find ways of trapping it and using it to generate electricity. There are
Column 1336about 20 schemes in operation at the moment. We should like a process to be adopted universally whereby we can eliminate the gas and turn it to good use. We shall then have made a double gain. It is for local authorities, which are responsible for the regulation of landfill sites, to ensure that that comes about.
We must also consider much more seriously than hitherto combined heat and energy systems and the disposal of refuse and sewage sludge by incineration. We should ensure that such waste is not dumped at sea or in landfill sites and allowed to create further hazards. It should be incinerated under controlled conditions and used to produce energy, as an alternative to the burning of fossil fuels. The debate raises a whole range of issues. These are early days yet, and our knowledge of these matters is still limited. Despite what Opposition Members say, however, it is quite clear that the Government are apprised of the problem, and that they are anxious to act in the light of advice that they receive concerning the best way forward. I am sure that the Opposition are equally concerned about the problems. In the Select Committee that I chair, I have been able to achieve co-operation between the parties in finding solutions to the problems rather than continually carping and selling the country short--the role to which Opposition Members frequently reduce themselves.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Several hon. Members wish to speak, in addition to the Minister and the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen. I therefore appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House for short speeches.
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) : We should perhaps take the advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the secretary of the Budapest chamber of commerce, who told members of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry a year or so ago that in Hungary they believe in short speeches and long sausages. Unfortunately, it seems to be the other way round in this place. I shall try to make my remarks as compact and systematic as possible.
The Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy, the hon. Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd), and the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) both seemed to be saying that we needed more information and better knowledge. They claim that it is very difficult to take decisions without that knowledge and the Government should put their resources into securing more information.
No one would disagree with the need for research to get more information on which we can base decisions. Most people accept, however, that the potential seriousness of the crisis that we face is such that we must take positive and specific action now in the light of the knowledge that is currently available. Both the hon. Member for Havant and the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green drew considerably on the Prime Minister's speech to the United Nations. It is obvious that the Prime Minister has an excellent speech writer on the subject of the greenhouse effect, and she delivered the speech extremely well--it even came across as a visionary speech. It was a little unfortunate, however, that at the very moment when the Prime Minister was making her speech to the United
Column 1337Nations the Minister for the Environment and Countryside was blocking specific agreements on real reductions. The record appears to be disputed on that, but that is the information from all the first-hand reports that I have from people who were present and from the press.
Mr. Trippier : The hon. Gentleman has just misled the House yet again. This is probably the fourth time that he has misled the House so far. He said that it was at the precise moment, when in fact it happened the day before. As vicars say in the Church of England, could he also share with us the names of the people who gave him his information at first hand?
Mr. Bruce : I could do that, but I do not see why I should do so without their authority. There is no secret about it and I would give the Minister that information, but I will not put it on the record as that would be invidious and a discourtesy to people who give me information.
The Minister is disputing press information. Is he saying that The Observer and The Sunday Correspondent are wrong? The Sunday Correspondent has a headline, "Britain shuns gases freeze." The article states :
"The Government argues that there is no scientific consensus on the size of a cut needed to avoid climatic change."
The article in The Observer to which reference has already been made states that the objective was to :
" stabilise' emissions of carbon dioxide in industrialised countries at present levels by the year 2000 and investigate the feasibility' of reducing them by 20 per cent. by the year 2005." Did the Government agree to that? My information is that they would not agree.
Mr. Trippier : This is the fifth time that the hon. Gentleman has misled the House. He is referring to an article in The Observer which was written by Mr. Geoffrey Lean. The hon. Gentleman does not seem to be very well briefed on the subject. The ministerial conference did not start until first thing on Monday morning. Any supposition that Mr. Lean reported in The Observer was thus conjecture at best.
Mr. Bruce : I am grateful to the Minister. It is his word against others. My advice from someone who attended the conference is that 11 of the 12 members of the Community [Interruption.] The Minister has not told me whether the Government agree with specific targets for the year 2000. If so, what are they?
Mr. Trippier : Honestly, the hon. Gentleman must listen more carefully to me. It was my responsibility , and I am proud to accept that responsibility, of putting the year 2000 into the declaration. The hon. Gentleman obviously has not read the declaration. The levels would be agreed at the climate conference put forward by the IPCC. If I say it at least 13 times, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be on to it in a flash.
Mr. Bruce : Eleven out of 12 Community countries wanted to do that. The only reservations came from Greece and Portugal which were given caveats because of their circumstances. One day soon, I trust, the facts of the meeting will be reported and the Government's position will be clear. The Government's position remains unclear at the moment. It appears to me that, as in virtually every case when such international agreements are sought, the British Government tried to avoid specific commitments. When the Government are finally boxed into a corner, they have the audacity to claim that they have triumphantly secured an agreement that has advanced the frontiers of environmental protection. That is the standard ministerial speech. Since the Prime Minister made her Royal Society speech I have taken the view that she is genuinely concerned about the greenhouse effect, but she has failed to grasp that it is incompatible with her political philosophy to take appropriate action. It is incompatible with Thatcherism. That is a problem for the architects of that philosophy. Thatcherism does not appear to control the Cabinet any longer. That being so, we saw the first step in a positive direction yesterday, when the Secretary of State for Energy announced the abandonment of the nuclear power programme, which should have been abandoned years ago.
Mr. Bruce : No, I am afraid not. I have made it quite clear that fine words do not alter a situation unless real, specific action is taken. All the fine speeches in the world will not alter things. So far, the Prime Minister has acquired a good speech writer, but she has taken very little action to back her commitment.
As has been acknowledged by hon. Members, greenhouse gases from various sources are causing concern and they could get out of control and cause an irreversible disaster at any time. It is worth remembering that dinosaurs are regarded as one of the evolutionary failures of this planet. They managed to survive for 70 million years but were apparently wiped out virtually immediately after a major climatic change. The human race has been in existence for only a tiny fraction of that time, but it could face exactly the same annihilation. It could take place at any time within the next few years, and within a short space of time, unless we take action now. The main greenhouse gases include, chiefly, carbon dioxide, which comes from fossil fuel burning, deforestation, and the burning of biomass ; methane, which comes from animals, the burning of biomass, and landfill sites, rubbish sites, gas leaks, paddy fields and swamps ; CFCs, which come from aerosols, refrigerators, air-conditioning and solvents ; nitrous oxide, which comes from fertilisers, the burning of biomass, and fossil fuel combustion ; and ozone, which is caused by the reaction of sunlight and car emissions. All those matters must be addressed if we are to
Column 1339deal with the problem. Carbon dioxide may be the biggest problem, but the others are on the increase and cannot be left without action.
It has been acknowledged that carbon dioxide emissions in the United Kingdom are the second highest in Europe, after West Germany. We have no reason to be complacent about that. Whereas emissions in West Germany and France are decreasing, they are continuing to increase in the United Kindom. Although we are getting a reduction in emissions from power stations, vehicle emissions are increasing. I do not wish to dwell for too long on catalytic converters, but there is no doubt that introducing mechanisms to clean up car exhausts is utterly useless if we do not have a transport policy to ensure that we switch from private transport to a proper public transport system. That is borne out by the fact that the investment of subsidy in our railways, for example, is the lowest in Europe. Britain invests £1.95 per kilometre, France invests £5.83, and West Germany invests £5.37. Luxembourg, which may not be directly comparable with the United Kingdom, invests £16.06 per kilometre. That is illustrative of how out of touch we are. Of course there is also the Channel tunnel mess. The Government refuse to accept their responsibility to ensure an environmentally sound and efficient link--if we are to have the tunnel at all.
However, the Government continue to promote a massive road-building programme which, apart from not solving the traffic problems, will add greatly to the problems of vehicle emissions. Whereas in the United Kingdom 4 per cent. of freight travels by rail, the comparative figure for West Germany is 20 per cent. The Government should have a policy of closing that gap.
Mr. Corbyn : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the problems is that although the major motor manufacturers in the world may be forced into accepting improved environmental standards in western Europe and the United States, that is not happening in poorer countries? Indeed, many of the economic models that poorer countries are persuaded to accept encourage road development and internal combustion engine transport, whereas they should be encouraging the very opposite, railways and other forms of public transport.
Mr. Bruce : The hon. Gentleman's intervention deals with a different but relevant argument about the appropriate method of ensuring that poorer countries can aspire to improved living standards in ways that are environmentally sound. That is an important point.
Unless this view is picked up by his successor, one regret at the departure of the former Chancellor will be that at least he recognised that company cars are a major source of the growth in traffic in the United Kingdom. That issue should be addressed because a company car is a heavily subsidised perk. In the circumstances that we are discussing today, it is time that we reconsidered whether that policy should continue, given the resulting costs to the environment and traffic congestion.
Methane comes from various sources, which include gas leaks, about which more should be done. I understand that it is slightly less than 1 per cent. of the total, but that still amounts to a substantial tonnage. According to written answers that I have received, only 26 landfill sites in Britain exploit the methane from such sites although 438
Column 1340sites are suitable for commercial exploitation. Again, what are the Government doing to ensure that that wide discrepancy is sorted out? I turn now to the problems caused by CFCs. It is worth mentioning that when The Sunday Times had a questionnaire to try to discover how green Members of Parliament are, it maintained that the main concern caused by CFCs was the increasing incidence of skin cancer. I dispute that. The main concern about CFCs is their impact as a greenhouse gas, especially when one discovers that the ozone layer over the Antarctic can disappear in a matter of days when the sun rises at the end of winter and that that phenomenon could race through the whole of the ozone layer at any time if circumstances got out of control. That makes dealing with CFCs an urgent priority, especially since they do not disappear but have a long life in the atmosphere.
The Government have tried to claim some credit for the Montreal protocol, but that protocol is now wholly out of date in relation to what can be achieved. I am increasingly of the view that my Chlorofluorocarbons (Control) Bill, which I introduced earlier this year and which I was told is impractical, is exactly the legislation that the Government should have picked up. Indeed, it is almost identical to the legislation now being adopted by the West Germans. The fact that the Government were not prepared to take that action shows a lack of urgency in their thinking.
The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) intervened on the question of ICI's willingness to recycle fridges. I want to put on the record the fact that the first two local authorities in the United Kingdom to offer recycling of CFCs from fridges were the London borough of Sutton and my own district of Gordon. They did it because they are controlled by Liberal Democrats and because our party takes action on such matters, while others only talk about it. If we as local councillors can do it, the Government should be able to do a great deal more if they have the will, but I fear that they have not.
The problems of nitrous oxides--NOX--come back to vehicle emissions. No doubt that argument will run and run with more European orders late at night as the European Community forces us, kicking and screaming, into a more environmentally sound transport policy. As the Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy said, it was interesting that the Prime Minister chose to pick out the environmental virtues of nuclear power. I totally dispute the claims made for nuclear power and make no secret of my belief--I may be castigated by the Chairman of that Select Committee for this--that the expansion of the nuclear power industry over the past 10 years cannot be justified on either economic or environmental grounds. I have opposed nuclear power every inch of the way. I note that the South of Scotland electricity board has now admitted that Torness, which I demonstrated against, is an expensive white elephant and should never have been built in the first place. That is true of other power stations that should not have been built.
I accept, however, that if we get through this crisis, the next generation or subsequent generations may see a role for nuclear power--generated by fission, fusion or from hydrogen. I accept that we may come back to that option, but I do not believe that we should advance with that programme now. Resources should not be diverted to that end. They would be better invested in more immediate
Column 1341means of reducing the greenhouse gases. We should promote energy conservation and promote more benign energy alternatives. If nuclear power was seen as the sole solution to the greenhouse problem we would have to build one new nuclear power station every day and a half for 40 years at a cost of $787 billion per annum. That would ensure that we had sufficient nuclear power capacity to replace the energy capacity generated by other sources of power. At the very best, nuclear power can make only a small contribution. It is a red herring to try to pretend that nuclear power is anything other than a small component of energy generation. It was ironic for the Prime Minister to try to make that claim the day before the Secretary of State for Energy announced the effective abandonment of the expanded nuclear power programme.
I do not accept the argument that nuclear power is environmentally sound. That argument is not borne out when one considers the costs of the programme, the unknown problems of decommissioning and the increasing problem of reprocessing nuclear waste materials. Because of that, the case for any further development in the future cannot be made. The resources would be much better spent elsewhere. For many years my party has taken the environment issue seriously. In the local councils that we control we have ensured that environmental issues are put at the top of the agenda. We can stand up and defend our record far better than any other party. We have put forward to the Secretary of State for the Environment a raft of proposals in our environment Bill. They represent specific measures to deal with the problems that face us. Let us consider what the Government have done. They have cut the budget of the Energy Efficiency Office. They have maintained limited support of research and development into renewable sources of energy and that support does not compare with the investment they have made in nuclear power. In many cases they have pulled the research from under those projects just when they were becoming viable. That is particularly true of wave and geothermal research. They introduced a programme to clean up our coal-burning power stations only as a result of intensive pressure from our European Community neighbours. They resisted that pressure as hard as they could.
I hope, however, that there is a glimpse of light and wisdom appearing in the Cabinet. I was extremely encouraged when the new Secretary of State for Energy made a speech in Canada--interestingly enough he did not make it here--when he said :
"Energy efficiency is the single most cost-effective response to the effort to limit carbon dioxide."
The right hon. Gentleman made a good start yesterday, in embarrassing circumstances, when he scrapped the nuclear power programme. Perhaps he will come back to the House soon to tell us exactly what he will do to ensure that his belief that energy efficiency is the single most important way in which to reduce the greenhouse effect will be put into practice by Government policies. Those policies should ensure that we achieve the targets set. We have been told time and again by the Department of Energy that energy savings of 30 per cent. on current use are perfectly attainable within existing technology. We do not achieve those targets, however, because the Government refuse to invest the necessary money to do so.
Column 1342At the bottom end of the fuel poverty and energy efficient scale no one in this country is eligible for any grant towards loft insulation. All the available sources of grant aid for energy efficiency have been effectively phased out. That shows that the Government do not have the slightest idea about how to grasp the problem. Energy efficiency is the most important policy that they could follow. They could take a lead. The Prime Minister cannot get away much longer with making fine speeches while allowing Ministers to obstruct the development of practical policies to achieve the desired objectives.
In the Select Committee on Energy, Edmund Burke was quoted--for the benefit of the Committee--as saying :
"Nobody made a greater mistake than who did nothing because he could only do a little."
I regret to say that the Government are all talk and very little action.
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) : This debate could not be more timely. This week we have seen, first, the meeting of the world's leading industrialised countries at Noordwijk in the Netherlands and, secondly, the Prime Minister's address to the United Nations in New York.
Earlier this year the Government demonstrated their commitment to the environment at the international conference on saving the ozone layer held in London, which was widely acclaimed throughout the world. In 1987, the Government accepted the Brundtland report on sustainable development and the Government's response, "A perspective by the United Kingdom on the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development" was published in July 1988. Therefore, when Opposition Members say that we have been doing nothing, they need only look at the record of the Conservative Government this year and in the preceding two or three years to see that a great deal has been done.
When I looked at the report last weekend, my fingers found chapter 10, headed "Managing the Commons". I wondered whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, had had a chance to look at that chapter to glean some insight into controlling the House in difficult times.
The report's central message relates to the concept of sustainable development or development without destruction. It is sometimes claimed that this is a new concept, but it is not. For centuries that approach has been adopted by rural societies. We are taught at school that in working the land, farmers rotate the crops. But it is a concept which the industrial society is having to relearn. Brundtland suggests that by successfully applying the tried and tested method to modern conditions we shall achieve a major breakthrough in managing and reconciling economic growth and the conservation of natural resources.
Later, I shall contrast Brundtland's stance, which is supported by the Government, with some of the views held by other parties in this country. Only a decade ago these two vital elements, the breakthrough in managing and reconciling economic growth and the conservation of natural resources, were regarded as fundamentally incompatible. However, this great and important report demonstrates that with wise management not only can they be made compatible but that they are essential to each other.
The report states :
Column 1343"Poverty forces many of the people of the world to overdraw on the earth's ecological capital creating this vicious spiral of environmental degradation and further poverty."
However, the technology and the advanced social and commercial systems of our industrialised world can be harnessed to provide opportunities for all mankind and, at the same time, protect the natural systems that support life on earth. That is a key point at a time when there are tremendous pressures on our eco systems. I said that growth was essential, and that view is supported by the Brundtland report. The policies advocated particularly by the Green party and some other Opposition groups are detrimental to the process of protecting the environment in a major industrialised society. The Green party's commitment to reducing the country's economic growth as part of a strategy for protecting the environment, although well meaning, is profoundly misguided.
We must face the fact that we are an industrialised society. In the past 10 years we have seen sustained economic growth under this Government and a massive investment in measures to protect the environment--in particular, the £1 billion programme to combat acid emissions from power stations. We can argue that more should be done, but the fact is that we are spending£1 billion that was not previously being spent. The Green party's doctrine of negative economic growth would do more than lead to a decline in the resources available to protect the environment and to improve our life ; it would create mass unemployment and stop the production of the financial resources necessary to combat the environmental problems that we face. I find its policies profoundly wanting.
We all know that global warming caused by the greenhouse effect is the greatest threat to the prospect of sustainable development. The best estimates suggest--my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) touched on that--a global warming of 1.5 deg C to 4.5 deg C by the year 2050. The United Kingdom can be proud that it supports research in that area to the level of £7.5 million. The Department of the Environment has almost quadrupled research on climate change, from about £600,000 to £7.5 million.
The Opposition have attacked the Government for not doing enough, yet the Government have been involved in measures to protect the ozone layer from at least 1985, when we signed the Vienna convention for the protection of the ozone layer, and in 1987 the United Kingdom and the EEC signed the Montreal protocol to that convention. As hon. Members will recall, the protocol requires that CFCs should be reduced by 50 per cent. by 1999 and that the production and consumption of halons should be frozen from 1992. That is hardly a laggardly approach.
I have already referred to the March conference on saving the ozone layer held across the road in the Queen Elizabeth centre. I was fortunate to attend that conference. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister opened it and I noted the strong conviction with which she delivered her address. It is absurd to claim that nothing was achieved because, as a direct result, another 20 countries agreed to join the Montreal agreement and 14 others, including China--that is very signifiant--are seriously considering doing so.
Following the United Kingdom initiative, on 2 March EEC Ministers agreed to reduce the production and consumption of CFCs by at least 85 per cent. as soon as
Column 1344possible, and to eliminate them by the year 2000. It is important that these points are highlighted because it appears that Opposition Members have skirted the positive steps that my right hon. and hon. Friends have taken this year and in recent history.
Just as Britain played a leading role in pressing for an agreement on CFC reduction earlier this year, so we played a leading role at Noordwijk on Tuesday in securing agreement on how global warming should be tackled. The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) took my hon. Friend the Minister to task about the substance of that meeting. I have read the reports in the newspapers and I understand that at that meeting there were very real disagreements. However, my hon. Friend was the key person in bringing about a compromise. The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) may laugh, but it was my hon. Friend's work that brought Ministers together so that they could come up with the statement and an undertaking to stabilise CO emissions by the year 2000 at the latest. Surely it is better to have such a firm agreement than no agreement at all.
Mr. Allan Roberts : The hon. Gentleman is right when he says that the Government were instrumental in watering down the proposals, in refusing to accept the setting of targets and in coming up with a statement that means nothing.
Mr. Tredinnick : The hon. Gentleman has not listened to what I said. The Minister managed to persuade his colleagues to come up with a statement that shows firm agreement. The hon. Gentleman may be jealous of the fact that the Minister was able to pull that off. It is another illustration of the Government's determination to tackle environmental issues and to lead the world. We should be proud of that.
As I said in an intervention, on Wednesday the Prime Minister took the opportunity at the United Nations to devote her speech to environmental matters. It might have suited her domestically to talk about many other issues, but she chose to speak on the environment. The Opposition rather uncharitably suggested that the Prime Minister's contribution was the work of a speech writer. I watched the Prime Minister on television and to me she came across as the scientist that she is, as someone with a real understanding of the problems. There are not many scientists in the Opposition and the nation is fortunate to have a scientist as its Prime Minister. At the next general election the electorate will look to the leaders of the political parties to comment on environmental issues. Of course the Conservative party will win hands down because our leader has a proper understanding of science.
At the meeting in New York the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, gave specific undertakings that will benefit the environment. The first was the decision to establish a new research centre because of the climatic change expected from an increase in the level of CO . That is welcome and will be set up next year. I am sure that the £5.5 million per annum to be spent on that will turn out to be cheap in the long term.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister quoted a scientist from the British Antarctic survey who said that recent recordings have shown that the ozone layer is much reduced. It was a British scientist who discovered the hole in the ozone layer and it is important that we move forward yet again with measures that will reduce the
Column 1345problem of thinning. The Prime Minister called for three international conventions to commit the world to action on climatic change, ozone depletion and the preservation of plant species. Such preservation is crucial. It is a tragedy to lose species, because most of our medicines are derived from plants or animals or from other forms of life. I see that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is nodding. Most developments in food production also derive from plants. To see species wiped out through negligence and ignorance is the greatest possible tragedy. Plants are the raw material of nature, and we forget that at our peril.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also gave an undertaking to provide an extra £100 million over three years to aid the tropical forestry action plan sponsored by United Nations, which aims to stop the destruction of the Amazon rain forests. Many years ago I hitchhiked through the Zaire jungle. Opposition Members might ask why I did not stay there.
Mr. Tredinnick : I was fishing for that sort of retort. I gained an enormous respect for the jungle and for the different species of animals and plants that exist there. Although the jungles of the world serve as home for different species, they are similar in other respects. A tremendous amount of animal life is crammed into all of them. Right hon. and hon. Members who have not had an opportunity to visit such places should be aware of that. My hon. Friend the Member for Havant described the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as outstanding, and I certainly agree.
Having covered the international measures that we have taken and the events of last week, I turn to specific parts of the world, starting with east Europe. I have spent some time also in east Europe, where I experienced at first hand its pollution problems. If one drives from Detmold to Dresden, one quickly discovers that the level of pollution there is phenomenal by western standards. One has to contend with huge clouds of polluted atmosphere. People who move from East Germany to West Germany often coment that the first change they notice is that the air smells so different.
The pollution in East Germany is principally due to brown coal emissions.
About a month ago I was in Poland, where the same pollution problems are to be found. Pollution there is way above anything that is acceptable in the West. In the light of Egon Krenz's historic announcement that the Berlin wall is almost redundant, and in view of other dramatic developments recently in Poland, Hungary and even in Russia itself, as well as in other east European nations, now is the time to spread our environmental ideas into those countries. When we talk about aid packages, we must ensure that environmental matters are not forgotten. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will be given a positive reception by his east European counterparts. When I was in Poland, I spoke to Ministers of the Solidarity Government, and they are keen to take up ideas on improving the environment. The representatives of at least
Column 1346one other east European country have approached friends of mine who work within the Tory green initiative group, also looking for ways of inroducing pollution controls.
My hon. Friend the Member for Havant remarked that China is increasing its coal burn by a greater amount than the total reduction of coal burn in the West. Smog levels in Shanghai are so high that one cannot spend more than a couple of hours in the open. My hon. Friend referred to energy consumption. The Chinese also hope that soon every household will have a fridge, which will phenomenally increase CFC gas emissons.
The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) mentioned ICI's contribution in respect of CFC substitutes. Both ICI and Du Pont are both developing such substitutes. The Government will have to find a way of making those substitutes freely available to Third world countries which want to use them. We shall have to buy them in, effectively, regardless of the cost. There will be a disaster of the most enormous proportions if what is almost a subcontinent that is populated by millions produces damaging CFCs.
I shall move on to more local issues. The positive lead that the Government have taken has encouraged environmental work at local level. I congratulate Leicestershire county council on its efforts. Last month, it held a lead- free campaign for 10 days, which was extremely successful. Secondly, it has adopted a programme for the next four years that is aimed at promoting attitudes to improve the environment, including the recycling of materials. There is a problem because although the public will save, there is a shortage of processing companies. For example, it may be said that the bottom has fallen out of the wastepaper market. Too much is being reclaimed. In Leicestershire, voluntary organisations cannot get rid of the waste paper that they are collecting. I understand that there has been a drop from £20 to £5 a tonne for waste paper over the past two months. The Minister should consider those problems and those which are being experienced with the recycling of bottles and aluminium.
At district level, Hinckley and Boswell borough council, which comes into my constituency, ran a community project from 1981 to 1988 that enabled the unemployed to gain new skills and to implement schemes to improve towns and villages and derelict land. That is another illustration of the knock-on effects of the Government's policies. The council is discussing establishing a special fund for environmental schemes in 1990-91, not just for the main town of Hinckley but for every village. I am sure that the fund will be welcomed throughout the constituency. Another scheme involves canal and park renovation, and is proceeding apace.
Finally, I make a plea for improved labelling. Discussions are taking place on introducing various schemes. I speak as a Member who is closely involved with the Tory green initiative, which is a Conservative green group. The group believes that the product label for Europe should indicate whether a product is environmentally friendly and whether it is recyclable. I suggest that a heart symbol would be appropriate, perhaps with a line down the middle with a green sign for environmentally friendly and a yellow sign for recyclable. The two colours should be present only if the product meets the two criteria.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. I understand that a plea was made earlier that hon. Members should not make overlong speeches. I hope that it will continue to be borne in mind. 12.59 pm
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen) : I think that there is a consensus that we are dealing with possibly the most difficult environmental challenge that is facing the globe. There are great uncertainties when it comes to quantifying how dramatic is the threat that confronts us. I have been impressed by several of the contributions which have been made to the debate, but especially by that of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. My hon. Friend highlighted the need for much more scientific research and the uncertainty that there is in estimating the seriousness of the greenhouse effect. It is clear that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing. That is something that has been measured for centuries. The amount has increased from 270 parts per million 200 years ago to 350 parts per million, and it is still increasing. The more we use our fossil fuels--coal, oil and gas--and the more we cut and burn our trees, the more carbon dioxide is put into the atmosphere. Projections based on the historic growth in energy demand show that, by the middle of the next century, we will have doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
It is clear that carbon dioxide emissions raise the planet's temperature. Venus provides an example of the greenhouse effect. It has a dense atmosphere of carbon dioxide and, while it is closer to the sun than the earth, its temperature is still much higher than would normally be expected. Heat is trapped by the carbon dioxide, resulting in a temperature of about 800 deg C.
It is difficult to work out the mean global temperature. Measurements show that there has been an increase of about 0.5 deg C this century. The projection for the middle of the next century is between 2 deg C and 5 deg C, increasing the sea level and causing flooding. Despite the urgent need for much more research, we are facing a catastrophic threat not only of flooding but of climatic change, which will affect our food supplies. I support the call for more research. It is time to take action.
The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) referred to the increase in the budget for private research into climate changes in Britain--£7.5 million this financial year. The energy budget--the value of the coal, oil and gas that we burn--is about £15 billion a year. One 2,000th of the amount spent on burning our fossil fuels is spent on evaluating its effect on the climate. I am reminded of the campaign by ASH--Action on Smoking and Health--to prevent cigarette smoking ; the resources spent on preventive care are feeble compared to the economic impact of the problem.
I regularly attend Energy Question Time. Over the past two years, I have heard all sorts of accusations about coal-fired stations and the greenhouse effect. Such stations contribute only about 10 per cent. of the greenhouse gases worldwide. Even if it were possible to replace coal power with nuclear power in the short term, that would solve only 10 per cent. of the problem. Oil and gas are a part of it. Emissions from cars and central heating--whether gas, oil or solid fuel--are contributing to the greenhouse problem.
Column 1348The difficulty is almost intractable, because in tackling it we are attacking living standards. The increase in living standards has caused a growth in energy demand. Difficult political choices must be made. The hon. Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) questioned whether there would ever be the necessary political will in any advanced country to confront this problem. It is all the more difficult in Third world countries. We talk about limiting carbon dioxide production in Third world countries such as China, India, Africa and the countries of south America. We talk about limiting carbon dioxide production here, but are we to deny them the energy they need for development and so block that development?
Other hon. Members have mentioned CFCs and the case for their almost immediate disuse is overwhelming, especially as substitutes are available. Nitrogen oxides are a problem, but lean-burn technology and catalytic converters can stop their production in motor fuel. Methane is also a problem and it is not recognised sufficiently that in the production, distribution and combustion of natural gas, there are considerable leakages of methane. Methane molecules which get into the atmosphere are 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide molecules. As a result of those leakages, natural gas contributes just as much to the greenhouse effect as coal does, despite the fact that it holds two or three times as much energy per tonne.
Energy efficiency must play the largest role in cutting carbon dioxide production. Energy conservation cannot solve the problem, but we could use energy far more efficiently than at present. The Government's own advisers estimate that we could improve energy efficiency by about 40 per cent. in 25 years by insulating our houses, factories and offices, and by introducing district heating and combined heat and power.
I was a member of the Committee on the Electricity Bill earlier this year and Labour Members and the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), who is not in his place at present, tried to introduce dozens of amendments on energy conservation. I regret to say that the Government accepted none of them. The Bill's commitment to energy conservation is limited. We wanted the Government to accept especially the concept of least-cost planning, so that when the private companies built new power stations, they would have to demonstrate that the money would not be better spent on energy conservation. In the United States, power utilities themselves are taking responsibility for home insulation to improve energy efficiency for consumers. Many studies show that £1 billion invested in energy conservation is five to 10 times as effective as £1 billion invested in a power station.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the role of nuclear power. Nuclear power is nonsense in terms of the least-cost planning concept. It would be far better to spend £2 billion on energy conservation than to spend it on Sizewell. The results of such investment would be almost immediate. It would create many more jobs and would be 10 times as effective in terms of helping with the greenhouse effect. I was delighted by the Government's decision yesterday, but I wish that they had gone further, decided to scrap Sizewell B and spent the money on energy conservation.
We shall have to move away from fossil fuels to alternative sources of energy. For a host of environmental reasons, nuclear power is quite unacceptable. We should be moving far more to renewable sources of energy and we