Previous Section Home Page

Column 1349

should be scaling up dramatically our investment in wind power, solar power, geothermal power, tidal power and hydro-electric power. As we now know, the Severn estuary barrage project is perfectly feasible. It could produce more power than all our nuclear power stations and would not produce carbon dioxide. It would generate electricity without contributing to the greenhouse effect. It would not add to the problem of nuclear waste. Its environmental impact would be very different and would not threaten the future of our planet.

I am delighted with the Prime Minister's announcement earlier this week of an extra £100 million to tackle the problems in tropical rain forests. The rain forests are critical on a planetary scale to the solution of the greenhouse problem because of their terrific photosyn-thetic potential. Every acre of tropical rain forest is 10 times more fertile and productive in absorbing carbon dioxide as an acre in temperate zones. In Brazil, vast acreages of forest which would absorb carbon dioxide have been destroyed. Such pillage of our inheritance of the planet threatens our survival.

The Government have not said what they will do about private transport. The contribution of motor vehicles to the greenhouse effect is greater than that of coal-fired power stations. Motor vehicles produce nitrogen oxides as well as carbon dioxide and ozone at ground level. That contributes about 12 per cent. to the greenhouse effect. Curbs on motor cars may be politically difficult, but they must be put on the agenda. The Department of Transport's White Paper published in July proposed a £6.6 billion road-building programme, but did not mention energy efficiency once. It proposes a 40 per cent. growth in road building over 15 years and a doubling of road traffic over 35 years. There are politically difficult decisions to be made and all advanced countries must bear in mind the greenhouse effect.

No one has mentioned a carbon tax, but I have an open mind about it. It could play a critical role internationally. A tax on the use of all coal, oil, gas and motor transport could raise money to subsidise public transport. We need to move from private to public transport. The revenue raised from fossil fuel power stations could be used for energy efficiency measures, such as home insulation. A carbon tax could help to improve the efficiency of our transport system and reduce energy demand.

Many hon. Members mentioned the Prime Minister's speech at the United Nations. We are proud that Britain has taken a part in the international forum and, lately, taken the lead on the ozone layer. However, the Government's rhetoric at the United Nations is completely at variance with their record on so many environmental issues.

The Prime Minister said that by the turn of the century 50 per cent. of our domestic waste would be recycled. What is the Government's record after 10 years in power? Less recycling is carried out in Britain than in any other European country. We have had a £2 billion programme to deal with acid rain, but by the time that the Government leave office, not a single power station will have been desulphurised. In comparison with Germany, Sweden and other European countries we are way behind. The Government will have cut the budget of the energy efficiency office by half between 1986 and 1990.

Column 1350

While the Prime Minister was speaking those fine words in the United Nations, the Government were recalcitrant and were dragging their feet in the Hague. They were there with the United States and the Soviet Union working against the European Community. They, alone among Governments in the European Community, do not have explicit targets written into agreements.

We need specific targets to deal with the greenhouse effect. Whatever the uncertainties, it is time to act, politically difficult though that may be. We must freeze CO production at present levels by the year 2000 and aim to cut and cut during the next century, because the planet simply cannot absorb the CO that we are producing.

1.15 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : I strongly agree with the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) that people who have spent time in the rain forest come to have very strong feelings about its biological diversity. That is why he was justified in making remarks about his own experience in Zaire and that is why some of us with experience of staying in rain forest will go on and on raising the issue. I have been here since 9.30 am and whatever the effect of greenhouse gases on the global environment may be, the greenhouse effect in the House of Commons is pretty unacceptable. The Leader of the House will have to consider the question of climatic change brought about by the television lights because the glare and heat simply will not do.

Let me cut down my speech by putting some questions. In what respects were the reports of the Noordwijk conference in The Guardian and The Observer inaccurate? A good deal has been said about that but it is not at all clear which aspects of the reports the Government find inaccurate.

Does the Minister accept the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) about the importance of the work of ICI at Runcorn, and what will the Government do to encourage other firms to follow ICI's example? On nuclear power, I record my great admiration for the technical achievements of the South of Scotland electricity board and leave it at that.

I shall concentrate on the rain forest. I believe that global climate is a momentous issue. In one sense, it is as important a topic as any that the House has discussed in my 27 years here. Let me ask for the Government's view on a basic problem. Defence spending was outlined in a table referred to on page 28 of New Scientist of 4 November. Will the Government tell me in writing whether they in any way challenge the figures given by the statistical office of the European Community?

Many of us have had pressing representations from our constituents about Ferranti and its orders. Is it fanciful to suggest that the time may come when we have seriously to consider exchanging spending on European fighter aircraft and ever more sophisticated equipment for spending on forest equipment that is urgently needed throughout the world? I am not naive about it--of course, there must be defence spending--but do we really need to spend so much on defence and has any real thought been given to turning swords into the ploughshares that are so desperately needed if we are to tackle the problems to which hon. Members have referred?

Column 1351

I am not the most uncritical fan of the Prime Minister. However, as I can express only a personal opinion, I thought that she was right to go to the United Nations. She made a very important speech which repays study. On page 6 of the text of her speech, she said : "We also have new scientific evidence from an entirely different area, the tropical forests. Through their capacity to evaporate vast volumes of water vapour, and of gases and particles which assist the formation of clouds, the forests serve to keep their regions cool and moist by weaving a sunshade of white reflecting clouds and by bringing the rain that sustains them.

A recent study by our British Meteorological Office on the Amazon rainforest shows that large-scale deforestation may reduce rainfall and thus affect the climate directly. Past experience shows us that without trees there is no rain and without rain there are no trees." Is that a reference to a matter that I have raised before in the House, on 14 March this year? If there is any more felling in the state of Para or in the eastern Amazon the rains that have come in from the Atlantic for tens of thousands of years through the classic process of evapotranspiration will not give way to that hopscotch effect of vapour--I am using the loosest of physical terms here--which across the Amazon gives life to the rain forest. In particular, is the problem perceived to be that if there is a cut-off on the Atlantic seaboard by any more destruction, the dry period may get longer, many of the plants may wither for want of the waters that have come to them automatically and the cattle ranchers may have to press even harder for new land on which to feed their miserable cattle? Might forest fires be even more frequent?

In February I went to Altimera to attend the rally of the Amerindians. Never in my life have I seen such destruction. Mile after mile of rain forest had been destroyed. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) knows exactly what I am talking about. Has the Prime Minister accepted this problem? We must also consider the Brazilian view. The Brazilians state : "It must be pointed out, moreover, that Brazil's hard- won trade surplus is largely being consumed by interest repayments on its foreign debt, rather than in overcoming the country's pressing developmental problems."

The Brazilian view is crucial to the whole issue especially when they refer to

"the depletion of the ozone layer, arising from the use of chlorofluorocarbons and halons in refrigeration and aerosol propellants. According to figures from the United Nations Environmental Programme, developed countries are responsible for 95 per cent. of their production-- USA 28 per cent., EEC 44 per cent., USSR 10 per cent., Japan 13 per cent.-- while Brazil contributes less than 1 per cent."

Is not the £100 million no more than a drop in the bucket in relation to overcoming the very real problems?

I want to set a marker about British support for the Tapajos project about which I have questioned the Minister for Overseas Development. I approve of the four projects--the Caxiuana national forest management project, the Ducke reserve project, the tropical forest research project and the Varzea management study. All those are estimable as far as they go. It was also estimable for M. and N. Norman and Company, a timber merchants, to organise a conference in Glasgow on labelling at which the Department of Trade and Industry was represented by Terry Veness. We could possibly hear more about origin labelling of tropical timber.

Column 1352

From Sarawak there are pleas from the Penan people, and, in particular, the letter of 14 October to the Prime Minister from David Gee of Friends of the Earth. I beg the Government to take the matter seriously.

In view of what was said about biological diversity, it is fair to ask the Government about their reaction to the four proposals of Tony Juniper and his colleagues of the International Council for Bird Preservation. They are, first, an EEC import ban on all parrots at risk of extinction ; secondly, strict new EEC welfare standards for all parrots in transit ; thirdly, a "buy captive-bred" campaign in the United Kingdom promoting the purchase of only captive-bred birds as pets ; and, fourthly, a habitat tax payable on parrots sold in United Kingdom pet shops.

This is a truncated speech. Perhaps I will have the courtesy, as I always have had in the past, of a full governmental answer in writing.

1.25 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : I am delighted to take part in this debate. Conservation issues and an interest in the environment first propelled me into politics when I was at university about 20 years ago. It is significant that that was a time of growth and productivity, and there was much interest in environmental concerns. My political career developed as the country became much more concerned about the problems of lack of growth, lack of investment, high unemployment and so on. Once again, we have a period of high growth and productivity and environmental issues are at the forefront of the political stage.

This issue has always been important to me. For many members of my generation, the first images of the planet Earth, seen from outer space, brought home more forcefully to us than any words ever could the nature of the earth as a finite spaceship flying through space. It reminded us of the necessity of preserving our environment. As Conservatives, we should not be apologetic about these issues. In recent years, the green lobby, which is often motivated by the Left, has taken over the debate. That is why I welcome the Prime Minister's initiative last autumn, her speech in the United Nations this week, and all the other initiatives that she has taken. There is something deeply important in Conservative philosophy about preserving the best of the past and preserving our environment. That happened in the 19th century when we were not a laissez-faire party. People such as Lord Shaftesbury and Lord Salisbury stood up not for preserving the environment but for protecting workers' rights and ensuring that they were not exploited. In many ways, that tradition continues throughout Conservative party thinking and philosophy. However, we must apply our own emphasis. We cannot fight the battle on the ground of our opponents' choice. We must make our own response and develop our own philosophy to meet what is undoubtedly a major global threat. We should consider doing that through the pricing mechanism--not necessarily bureaucratic trade mechanisms--for example, when dealing with fossil fuel emissions.

The Prime Minister's step-by-step approach is right. We must start with evidence. I am told that there has been global warming to the extent of 5 deg over the past 100 years. The highest recorded temperatures were in the

Column 1353

1980s, but it will be at least 10 years before we can gather enough scientific evidence to be sure of our facts. From evidence, we must proceed to research. That is why I welcome the Prime Minister's initiative to set up a world research body to examine the world climate.

Thirdly, and most importantly, we must work with industry. We cannot hold up multinational industry as the villain of the piece. Indeed, we can do nothing without multinational industry. I have been impressed by the work that I have seen in oil companies such as Conoco and British Petroleum and by the efforts that they are making to plough their initiatives back into the environment.

Therefore, we start with evidence and progress to research and to working with industry. However, we can do nothing on our own. It may surprise Opposition Members to know that I am a believer in the necessity for overseas aid and in accepting that we are one planet. That is why I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this week about putting more British resources into curbing deforestation, especially in the south American continent. We should work from a sound Conservative philosophy, be true to our past and consider concepts such as the pricing mechanism, rather than bureaucratic solutions. We should rely on carefully researched evidence and be determined to promote international evidence, such as we saw in Noordwijk this week, because that is the best way to proceed.

1.30 pm

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Of necessity I shall be brief, because the debate has been dominated by several excessively long speeches which do no credit to the subject or to the way in which the House treats it.

Many hon. Members have a serious interest in and concern about this issue and I very much welcome the fact that at last the House is debating world climatic change.

The debate has emphasised and underlined the inefficiency and incompetence of House of Commons and Government procedures for dealing with major environmental issues. We should have a Select Committee on the Environment which is not dominated by local government considerations. We need a Select Committee to consider environmental considerations and to bring together all the issues affecting environmental change. Likewise, we should have a Ministry to deal with environmental matters, not a Department of the Environment which, again, is largely dominated by local government considerations. However, I suspect that we shall have to await the election of a Labour Government before we have a serious environmental Ministry.

The magnitude of the issue of climatic change brought about by industrial pollution and development is well understood by millions of people. Indeed, it is probably better understood by many outside the House than by hon. Members inside. Environmental considerations are not the sole preserve of the industrialised North, which is taking part in the impoverishment of the southern part of the globe. Environmental considerations are widely understood. They are understood by those people in this country who live in polluted towns or cities. They are also understood by people who live in other parts of northern Europe and who suffer the acid rain emitted by Britain.

Column 1354

Environmental considerations are also understood by people in poor countries. One of the most illuminating discussions that I have ever had about the environmental damage done by the northern part of the world was at a small village in the delta south of Calcutta in India. I had a long discussion with the people there one evening. They told me that they too were suffering environmental damage because of the imbalance of the world's wealth. Their rice fields were being flooded so that they could take part in fish farming, but none of the fish was ever available to them. It was all immediately exported to Japan. Those people were losing their crop-growing facilities simply to promote greater wealth in Japan and there was very little that they could do about it.

Similarly, the forest peoples in Malaysia and in Brazil, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has just referred, are losing their livelihoods and their opportunity to preserve their environments simply because of the activities of the international logging companies which are pillaging and destroying those forests and promoting cattle ranching and the like, leading eventually to desertification and to local climatic change, which then becomes a major climatic change.

We are at a time in the history of our planet when the power of human kind to dominate and to change the climate has come to full fruition. The hole in the ozone layer is but an example of that. Many climatic disasters are already happening. I refer, for example, to the loss of the rains in north Africa, to the droughts and floods in north America and to the changes in the currents off the coast of Peru, which have led to the loss of Peru's fishing industry. There are already many obvious signs about what is happening.

We must decide our response to what is happening and, in the four minutes left to me, I want to develop two approaches briefly. The first relates to the question of what the United Kingdom Government's policies should be and the second deals with how we can relate that to the rest of the world. The British Government have an obsession with the free enterprise economy and the market approach. The Prime Minister cannot propose any solution to any problem without putting it in the confines of the price mechanism. Frankly, it is the free enterprise system that promotes consumerism, pollution and environmental damage. It is about time that people began to understand that.

Of the energy consumed in this country, 20 per cent. is immediately wasted. For years, the nuclear power industry has lied, but, at last, it has been revealed that nuclear power is twice as expensive as any other form of conventional power. Similarly, the investment and research into alternative energy sources and the promotion of wind, wave, water or solar power is tiny compared to the investment and research into nuclear power potential-- all because there is no immediate capitalist benefit attached to such alternative energy. We believe that there should be much more research into renewables and alternative sources of energy that are non-pollutants, and which therefore do not produce greenhouse gases.

We have presided over a mammoth growth in the use of internal combustion engines and we have promoted multinational capital, which has encouraged the use of those engines all over the world. Those engines are the biggest single polluters.

We have promoted consumerism, which is inevitably wasteful. Why are electrical goods made to last for only

Column 1355

five years? Why do cars have a life of only 10 years? Why is our manufacturing industry based entirely on consumerism and waste? A different attitude towards the economy and towards society is required.

The problems are summed up by the Government's attitude towards the environment. When the Prime Minister made her speech to the United Nations, no one would have believed that her Government, only two weeks before, had vociferously argued at the Paris conference on the future of the Antarctic for the development of the continent for mining purposes. The hypocrisy of the Prime Minister and her Government is breathtaking.

Many people live a poor existence. Life expectancy in two thirds of the world is half that in Britain. Living conditions in many parts of the world are absolutely appalling. That is partly a result of the economic relationship between the North and the South. It is also the result of the arms race, on which $3 billion a day is spent. I welcome any increase in the powers of the United Nations Environmental Programme. I wish that all Governments would give more resources to it. I welcome the fact that the British Government intend to give more money to it, but it is not enough ; it needs far more.

We should exert political pressure on the International Monetary Fund and on the World bank to change their attitude towards environmental schemes and towards the poorer countries. It is no good when they tell poor countries to get themselves out of debt and to reduce their balance of payments deficits by increasing their export-led industries. That does nothing to improve the living standards of the people and the policy has led directly to the destruction of the rain forests, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow.

A great deal can be done to improve our environment and to promote the improvement of the world environment. It requires a change of attitude and an end to the philosophy that advocates that price is everything and that the free market economy can solve all. It cannot do that because, of itself, it is the basic cause of the belief that the natural world is there to be exploited for ever more. That is not its function.

We require a real commitment to sustainability in the management of our economy and that of the world. It is not a question of the northern, rich Governments lecturing the poorer Governments ; it is a question of working with them to improve living standards and to protect the environment at the same time. Those two objectives can go together, but not if our attitude towards the world economy is based on the idea of an endless supply of natural resources on the never-never.

Waste and climatic damage cannot continue for ever more. Unless we pay serious attention to those problems, we shall reap the whirlwind.

1.38 pm

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle) : In some respects this has been a comprehensive and thorough debate. Some rather long speeches have been made --

Mr. Corbyn : Not by me.

Mr. Roberts : No, indeed. Those speeches made it difficult for Back- Bench Members who wanted to speak.

Column 1356

This is an important issue and we must put on record not only what the Government claim they have done, but what the Opposition will do when we become the Government after the next election.

Scientific opinion is divided about our knowledge of the greenhouse effect, but no one doubts that the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is increasing. One school of scientific thought says that we cannot yet disentangle natural oscillations in the climate from man-made intrusions, let alone the route by which increased CO and methane levels in the atmosphere impact on global warming. The Government seem to use that as a justification for not taking action on targets. The other school of thought, supported by the major international conferences on the greenhouse effect at Toronto and Hamburg in 1988, have urged an early commitment to major cuts in CO emissions, especially in OECD countries.

Both schools of thought are agreed on two matters : first, that there is an urgent need for a huge international collaborative scientific effort to follow the Brundtland comission on the global environment and deepen our understanding of the causative changes of global warming and, secondly, that there should be no obstacles to an early decision on large cuts in greenhouse gas production, especially in those sectors where it kills two birds with one stone. Since CFCs produce about 18 per cent. of the greenhouse effect and also deplete the ozone layer, they should be eliminated as rapidly as possible.

Mr. Dalyell : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend is speaking to Benches that are unoccupied by those Conservative Members who have taken up 128 minutes of parliamentary time. That is quite unacceptable.

Mr. Roberts : Since CFCs produce 18 per cent., of the greenhouse effect and also deplete the ozone layer, they should be eliminated as rapidly as possible. Likewise, energy conservation initiatives should be introduced without delay because they are at one and the same time the least-cost solution for the consumer for balancing energy supply and demand, and the largest single insurance policy available against the onset of further global warming.

The Prime Minister is trying to postpone any decision on greenhouse gases until well after the next general election--at least 1992. At the Commonwealth conference in Kuala Lumpur recommendations were made by the scientists who were there as expert advisers, led by Martin Holgate--who came from Britain, and used to be the Department of the Environment's scientific adviser. They recommended that the developing world must carry the overwhelming burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, 73 per cent. of the world's carbon dioxide comes from industrialised countries and 80 per cent. of the world's greenhouse gases come from the developed countries. Barber Conable, president of the World Bank, has spoken about north America and Europe together being responsible for three quarters of CO emissions. Only 8 per cent. of the world population live there, whereas the developing world, in which 80 per cent. of the world's population live, is responsible for only 7 per cent. of CO emissions.

Column 1357

Although it is important that we do something about the tropical forests, and the contribution that is being made by the developing world to save the tropical forests is environmentally desirable, it is not the way to deal with the major problem. The way to do that is to deal with the emissions from the developed world, not the developing world. We are the culprits.

The United Kingdom, Canada and Australia removed the first draft clause from the Langkawi declaration--the Commonwealth environment statement. The clause said that Governments should reduce pollutant emissions through planned and regulated policies. The other countries, which are not developed, supported its continued inclusion. In the conference in the Netherlands at Noordwijk, the club of big polluters--the USSR, the USA, Japan and Britain, which produce 50 per cent. of the world's carbon dioxide --were represented. The initiative to reduce pollutant emissions came from the British Government who, at the Netherlands conference this week, removed any proposals for targeted CO reductions. The Government also killed an initiative to freeze CO emissions at 1987 levels by the year 2000. The Minister seems proud of the vacuous comment that he inspired, that the Government would agree to do something non-specific about it as soon as possible or some time in the future.

The USSR, the USA and the United Kingdom are free to increase their CO emissions under the agreement reached in the Netherlands. For example, they could double them now and then freeze them in the year 2000. Is that the central role for Britain on climatic change? The Minister says that we must wait for science, that we must wait for a report at the end of 1990, within the IPCC framework, before taking any action. That is what we said about acid rain, about CFCs and about the relationship between smoking and lung cancer.

The Prime Minister has said that we must wait for a global convention in 1992 before setting targets or implementing any action to reduce CO emissions. The Government are delaying action until after the general election. In the Netherlands, the right hon. Lady admitted that Britain had no targeted reduction programme for carbon emissions. Why are the Government so reluctant to act, even though the Prime Minister, in her speech, accepted the nature of the problem? It is because of the Government's energy and transport policies. The CEGB energy projections given to the Energy Committee show that CO production for the electricity supply industry in England and Wales in the year 2005 will be up to 26 per cent. greater than in 1987. That will be a direct result of the Government's refusal to change their policies. Energy production is the major source of CO emission.

Another major source is transport, as many hon. Members have already mentioned. Vehicle traffic miles will increase by between 83 per cent. and 142 per cent. by the year 2025. The Government policies mean major increases in CO emissions. The Open university calculates that, on top of the 98 million tonnes already being created, road traffic will create between another 6 million and 130 million tonnes. The Government are refusing to take any significant action to switch resources to public transport. Some 6,000 new cars a day come on to our roads, 50 per cent. of which are company cars that arrive on our roads

Column 1358

as a direct result of Government subsidies. Two Budgets ago, the Chancellor said that the Government would take action about subsidies for company cars, but we are still waiting.

Carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrocarbons and lead all come from motor vehicles. The catalytic converter will solve a significant number of pollution problems, but not carbon dioxide. Without a switch in emphasis towards encouraging and developing public transport, the problem will not be solved. Emissions from cars have increased by 33 per cent. during the past 10 years. The Prime Minister may understand the problem, she may make fine speeches about it and she may urge others to act, but she shies away from action herself. She makes a lot of noise and obtains a lot of publicity but, like Eddie Edwards--Eddie the eagle--she and the Government always end up coming last. She is the Eddie Edwards of the environmental world--a lot of noise and a little bit of action. The fact that she shies away from action because of the consequences on the already published plans of her Departments was no more clearly illustrated than by the statement in the House yesterday. That has altered the whole perspective of Government policies on nuclear power.

The United Kingdom is the sixth largest producer of carbon dioxide. If we do not take action, no one will. Total emissions of CO in Britain have remained stable for the last 10 years. There have been no reductions, but there will be increases. There would have been reductions if the Government had not closed many industries, because it is only in the industrial and not in energy or transport sectors that there have been any reductions in CO emissions. As I have said, there will be a continuing increase in car and energy production emissions.

The Prime Minister promised £33 million a year for three years to protect the tropical rain forests. We do not object to that, but it is not enough. Much more needs to be done by Britain and internationally. As I said earlier, the developing countries are not the main cause of the problems. It is a technique and trick of the Government to highlight the problems and then to blame the developing countries and try to assist them, even though it is the developed countries that are the culprits. That was done in the case of CFCs. It was said that it was all the fault of India and China, but they are responsible for only 5 per cent. of the world's CFCs. Now it is said that these foreigners in the developing world are causing global warming, even though the developed world creates 95 per cent. of the problem.

Global warming will flood Ireland and destroy whole forests. It will cause the slow death by starvation of millions of people and millions more will wander the world looking for a home. In the face of that, the Government and the Prime Minister are playing politics. They are claiming to save the world and exploiting concern by their speeches, while refusing to take the action that is necessary, such as the decision by the West German Government to phase out all CFCs by 1992.

The Government highlight the Montreal convention agreement as a great breakthrough for Britain and quote the 50 per cent. cut in CFC consumption that is planned for this country. Such a cut would be totally inadequate, but it is only a 35 per cent. cut. The balance will be sold to the developing world, as if the developing world has a different ozone level from that of Britain.

Column 1359

We need more effective action. Carbon dioxide emissions from power stations, industry, motor vehicles and home- heating systems are responsible for 50 per cent. of global warming. Only one third of the United Kingdom's carbon dioxide emissions comes from fossil fuel power stations, so that source makes a contribution of 15 per cent. to the problem. Therefore, we cannot say that the problem will be solved simply by switching to nuclear power.

Other pollutants such as CFCs, tropospheric ozone--much of which is produced by motor vehicles--methane and nitrous oxide--much of which comes from the over-use of nitrogen fertilisers, a problem that the Government will not address because of the lobby from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food--all contribute to the greenhouse effect. A high priority must be given to developing more efficient and cleaner methods of using coal. The projects on fluidised bed combustion should be given a high priority. That type of technology, together with combined cycle gas turbines, should be ideally placed in small electricity generators and combined heat and power schemes. The more efficiently we burn fossil fuels, the fewer greenhouse gases are produced.

We should target the major fossil fuel burning power stations for retrofitting and flue gas desulphurisation. The Government still refuse to join the 30 per cent. club and will not commit themselves to the 60 per cent. reduction in the time scale that is required by the European Community. They have plans and proposals for retrofitting only one fossil fuel power station. Fiddler's Ferry has been cancelled and Drax B is the only one in the programme. They say that they will eventually see to six power stations, but that will be done well after the next general election. That is not a commitment and the Government's inaction is a scandal. We must also take into account the type and content of fuel. For example, heavy fuel oil has a ratio or more than 2 : 1 of sulphur compared with coal. Britain must have a major programme of energy efficiency and conservation, and it will get one from the next Labour Government. The efficient use of energy and the efficient management of its demand will benefit Britain. We are committed to energy saving. That will save money and create jobs. Our comprehensive energy efficiency programme will insulate and help to heat the homes of the elderly and those in need. It will boost home markets for Britain's energy efficiency industry, slow down the loss of finite fuel resources and create jobs in home insulation and heating.

We shall launch a major programme of domestic insulation in co-operation with local authorities, and we will involve industry in a partnership with central and local government to develop major initiatives for energy saving within industry. Research and other activities relating to alternative energy resources will also be increased. In 1984-85, Britain spent between £15 million and £17 million on research and development into alternative energy sources such as wind, tidal, wave and solar power, and geothermal energy, but in the same period, we spent £154 million on nuclear power. That illustrates the Government's priorities.

As to CFCs, in an interesting speech at a major conference, the Prime Minister acknowledged the problem but only urged the market to deal with it, refusing to ban the use of CFCs in aerosols. She declined requests for Government intervention or expenditure in phasing out

Column 1360

totally the use of CFCs. The United Kingdom contributes 10 per cent. of the world's total CFC production, which is a massive amount. By simply imposing an effective ban on aerosols, the Government would meet their obligations under the Montreal convention. Even if British consumption of CFCs were reduced by 90 per cent., it would still account for more CFC usage than India. Greenpeace is calling for a 100 per cent. phase-out immediately. West Germany is taking that action, so such a demand could be implemented in the United Kingdom. ICI is the world's second largest producer of CFCs, and Europe's largest producer and exporter. I welcome the company's initiatives in finding alternatives, but commercially it would have been in great difficulty if it had not done so. Britain produces three times more CFCs than India and China together. Last year, the United Kingdom exported CFCs to 117 countries--80 of which have not signed the Montreal agreement.

The Department of the Environment has also agreed to allow methyl chloroform to be used until 2030. That substance, an industrial solvent, is responsible for one twentieth of ozone depletion, yet the Government refuse to take any action on it.

Both the lean-burn engine and the catalytic converter should be speedily adopted in this country. The Government's recent campaign against the catalytic converter, in opposition to other Community countries, was scandalous. They now accept the inevitable, but use the lean-burn engine as an excuse for doing nothing about insisting on the fitting of catalytic converters. We want to see both technologies implemented. They are not alternatives.

The lean-burn engine burns more air than petrol. The more air that is burnt, the less petrol--and the emissions are leaner. Everyone wants a car that does not use so much petrol, but the technology can be developed and implemented only within limits. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) remarked, the faster a lean-burn engine car is driven, the more pollutant it emits--so we also want the catalytic converter adopted. We want public resources switched to public transport, action on nitrogen fertilisers, and the cuts made in research to be restored. The Natural Environment Research Council recently lost 60 staff, and 700 environmental scientists have been shed over the past five years. If the Government are really placing more emphasis on research, why are they cutting the number of staff involved?

We support also the action being taken in respect of rain forests. However, the Government recognise that environmental concerns--the green issues--are of growing importance to the British electorate. It will be considered the height of cynicism if the Prime Minister and other members of the Government, in an attempt to appear concerned about the environment, make fine speeches but by their actions prevent genuine international concern being translated into action. It will be seen as the height of cynicism also if the Prime Minister's most recent speech on the environment is not translated into action, with the setting and achievement by the developing world of specific targets.

The Minister must take back to the Prime Minister a message of concern from right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, and stress to her and to other members of the Cabinet that the House wants specific targets to be set and action to be taken--and that fine words are not good enough.

Column 1361

Mr. Dalyell : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Conservative Members who spoke respectively for 27 minutes, 32 minutes, 41 minutes and 23 minutes were not present throughout the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts). 2 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory) : I am pleased to have listened to a good debate, and I shall try to respond to as many points as possible. I welcome the fact that we have been able to cover two important reports produced by the Select Committee on Energy and the Select Committee on the Environment. We were helped by two notable contributions from the Chairmen of those Committees, my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi).

My two hon. Friends and many Opposition Members have stressed that climate change is surrounded by great uncertainty. Britain is playing a leading part in the huge international effort being made to understand better the complex factors at work. The hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), who opened the debate for the Opposition, was right to point to the uncertainty. We have all been following the debates in the technical press and we know that an enormous amount needs to be done. The hon. Gentleman was rather grudging in his welcome for the initiative that has been taken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her speech this week to the United Nations announcing the setting up of a new climate change prediction centre.

The centre will do much of what the hon. Member for Motherwell, South apparently wants. It will, for example, have a new computer. I accept that we need new and powerful computers to do the necessary climatic modelling. The centre will be annexed to the Meteorological Office. There will be the closest possible co-operation with the Meteorological Office and other centres throughout the country and abroad. It will be open in its links and open to scientists from other countries to visit.

I have mentioned the uncertainties that surround the hugely complex phenomenon that we call climate change, but at least the main facts are clear. There has been a build-up in the atmosphere of so-called greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide. This may have led to a small but progressive warming in average global temperatures. If that continues unchecked, the consequences, although difficult to predict, are likely to be serious and even catastrophic. I agree with hon. Members on both sides of the House who said that our action must not await final proof. I recognise that final proof of the changes and factors at work is likely to be highly elusive.

We have taken action already to reduce some of the greenhouse gases. CFCs are known chiefly for their damage to the ozone layer. The phenomenon was first detected by British scientists in the Antarctic. It is true also that CFCs are among the most potent of greenhouse gases. That is why we enthusiastically signed the Montreal protocol. We are 10 years ahead of our obligations under that protocol to reduce our use of CFCs. We are in the forefront of the countries pressing for even steeper reductions. I agree with the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) in his praise for the way in which ICI has

Column 1362

developed substitutes for CFCs at its plant at Runcorn. I congratulate ICI on that. It shows that commercial interests can be harnessed to meet some of the environmental challenges that we face. Methane is another greenhouse gas. It is produced by animals, rice paddy fields, mining and the escape of natural gas. It is a difficult gas with which to deal because it is linked so obviously to the relentless increase in the global population, but Governments can do their bit. This Government are already doing so. We have taken action to promote the use of landfill methane, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). Not only does this cut methane emissions from the ground but, by burning methane, we can use it to produce energy. My Department, in association with the Department of Energy, is working on schemes to promote and extend these initiatives.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce : I specifically asked why less than 10 per cent. of the suitable sites are developed. Does the hon. Gentleman know what will be done to increase take-up? Less than 10 per cent. is a long way short of potential, as I am sure the Minister will agree.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : Not all sites are suitable. It is difficult to get the necessary equipment in place to use all the methane available at all sites, but we are working with local authorities to find out whether the number of sites can be extended. Considerable success has been achieved.

Far and away the largest greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide because of the huge quantities released each year into the atmosphere. Of course, there are huge natural flows of carbon dioxide from the land and the oceans into the atmosphere and back again, but man's activities are putting more carbon dioxide into the air than can be absorbed. The burning of fossil fuels-- mostly coal and oil--is the main cause. Simply put, we are taking carbon which has been built up over millions of years out of the earth and putting it into the atmosphere through combustion. We must try to control our emissions of carbon dioxide and also, separately, find ways of absorbing it back again. Both sides of this coin are receiving attention.

I agree that international action is essential. We have been over the Noordwijk conference. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside has made clear the leading role that he played. For the avoidance of doubt--I sometimes wonder whether hon. Members have had the chance to read the Noordwijk declaration--I stress that the final declaration recognises the need to stabilise carbon dioxide emissions and states :

"Such stabilization of CO emissions should be achieved as a first step at the latest by the year 2000."

It is true that some of the large industrialised countries, including Russia, the United States and Japan, had difficulties getting this far. That is why Britain played an important role in getting those countries to achieve a consensus and to sign this declaration.

Mr. Allan Roberts : That declaration does not mean a thing. Those three countries and Britain refused to accept the original draft which included targets and which would have meant a much earlier freeze on CO emissions. Britain was instrumental in supporting the USSR, the United States, Japan and other countries in reducing the commitment. The compromise is a fudge that means nothing.

Column 1363

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : The hon. Gentleman will agree that it was right that all countries at the conference should sign a final declaration. Britain played a leading part in getting those other countries to achieve that mainstream international consensus. We know that the next stage is to assess the scientific evidence at next year's meeting of the IPCC, followed by the second world climate conference at which specific carbon dioxide targets will be negotiated and agreed.

I want to pass on from Noordwijk to the more general question of what we are doing to reduce carbon dioxide. The task will not be easy. When I hear criticism from the Opposition about the lack of specific tagets, I cannot help turning to the new Labour party document, "Meet the Challenge : Make the Change". I have looked through all its 88 pages of closely written type to try to find a commitment to a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. It is not there. The document is consumer-friendly and full of generalised aspirations, but there is nothing about the difficult decisions which are necessary if we are to move forward on the issue. I shall not take lectures from the Opposition about the lack of specific targets when they fail to give specific targets in their own policy document.

We have our own programmes to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. I have explained how the adoption of specific targets must await international agreement, but we already have programmes that offer long-term benefits in carbon dioxide reduction. Conservatives believe in diversity of supply : nuclear, gas and the alternatives. But the Labour party is the party of coal and, therefore, the party of carbon dioxide.

We know that nuclear energy is going through a period when the economics may rule out an expansion, but we are promoting--and expect--an increased use of natural gas because gas-fired power stations are not only more energy efficient, but produce less carbon dioxide for each unit of fuel.

Next Section

  Home Page