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The Government have been telling us that they are in favour of this European environment agency, and would even like its headquarters to be in some green glade somewhere in the United Kingdom. All that sounds very good, but it is not as good as it sounds because we are not at all happy about the Government's attitude to the scope and powers of the proposed agency.
The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) will not be surprised to learn that the position that I am about to adopt is different from his. The Prime Minister's much-advertised concern about the environment was symbolised by that zonker--if that is the proper word--of a headline which appeared in the Evening Standard last
Column 142week, "Thatcher's plan to save the world". If the Prime Minister is as determined about these matters as she says she is--I am not questioning that--we would have expected a much more positive reaction to the proposal than we have seen.
This proposal is for a network to deal with atmospheric emissions and quality, water resources and their quality, the marine environment. soil erosion and pollution and nature conservancy, which includes land use.
I have no doubt--it seems to be agreed across the House--that there is a good case for a common statistical unit on pollution. As the Minister said, monitoring procedures vary across the Community, so it is difficult to obtain proper comparisons. Therefore, it would be good to do so. For example, diesel emissions from vehicles are measured differently ; some countries measure it by smoke density and others by what are called suspended particulates. In case any hon. Member wishes to interrupt to ask me what a suspended particulate is, I do not know.
Sir Russell Johnston : I thought that it was like a ministerial statement. The basic point is that there are different systems of measurement and since we are all affected by the pollution, we need common systems. A European monitoring and information network is a good idea.
As the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) said, such a system can be effective only if there is a compulsion element. If not, there is simply a patchwork of information and anything, in any country, which is embarrassing will be concealed, held back and will not be voluntarily and happily provided. I do not see the sense of that. The supplementary explanatory memorandum that the Government have kindly made available says :
"Arrangements for establishing and running the Network should be based on the principle of free co-operation".
Polluters do not want free co-operation, but to get on with polluting, or they would not be doing it in the first place. It is absurd to suggest that an agency of this sort can be established on that basis.
As the hon. Member for Bootle pointed out two or three times--rightly so-- we are talking about a body that has not been established but is about to be discussed and decided on, and about what the Government's attitude to it should be. The Government should adopt the attitude that the agency has some future role in directing environmental matters in a supranational way. It is only sensible that an agency should be able not only to collect statistics but to interpret them and recommend courses of action. It would seem reasonable to leave room for the agency to grow into a regulatory body, if circumstances require. I do not dissent from the view of the hon. Member for Bootle, who wanted a British agency, independent of Government, to regulate pollution. So what is the argument against a European agency? There is no logical argument.
Mr. Skinner indicated dissent.
Sir Russell Johnston : The hon. Gentleman should realise that such regulation need not and should not be bureaucratic--it should be controlled by the European Parliament in a proper democratic way. The Government have approached this too narrowly ; worse, they are not taking advantage of a tremendous opportunity for European co-operation to control pollution supranationally. That is what this country should argue for.
Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South) : I very much welcome this concept. There is certainly a need to pull together data from across Europe. Those of us who have been appointed to the Council of Europe know that one of the missing elements at present is a common databank and the sharing of experience of environmental matters.
The Minister was right to say that there is a wealth of experience in this country. We have heard about the British Antarctic Survey. This country was also in the vanguard of the campaign to save the whale. It is therefore rather churlish of Opposition Members to denigrate the stance adopted by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has consistently suggested ways forward to help to protect the environment, not just in Europe but across the world. I will certainly support my hon. Friend the Minister's stance. The Commission should be the starting point. Broadcasting was dealt with first by the Commission, but the Council of Europe ended up as the body which provided the transfrontier broadcasting initiative. The 12 member countries of the EEC constitute too narrow a forum to deal with environmental matters--the 23 members of the Council of Europe should all be brought in and play a key role.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister. This is a worthwhile start and I wish him a fair wind.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : The issue that I wish to raise is to be found on page 57 of the fourth action plan and concerns remote sensing from space. This important activity would be best done by the agency, and it is inadequately organised now.
A month ago, M. and M. Norman and Company organised in Glasgow a conference on the tropical rain forest. At the conference there was a powerful contribution from Professor Malcolm Wilkins, editor of "Plant Biology" and a distinguished plant biologist. After a great deal of consideration and the application of much knowledge, he took the view that one of the most useful things that Europe could do was to provide remote sensing facilities to countries with rain forest problems. Such facilities could also be used for all sorts of problems on our own continent.
Column 144After Professor Wilkins raised the matter, I took it up with the Government and received a reply from the Minister for Overseas Development that I wish briefly to challenge. The Minister's letter says :
"The suggestion that satellite remote sensing could be used for these purposes has come from a number of quarters. We have investigated what can be achieved by using satellites in this area, including through discussions with the World Bank.
Our conclusion is that satellites are a useful tool in monitoring changes in forest area, but that the results obtained are subject to a significant margin of error. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations is using satellite technology as part of their ongoing inventory of global forest resources, which is expected to be completed in the early 1990s. However, it is difficult to identify selective felling or shrubbery regrowth in forests with satellite technology."
No one has suggested that that should be done. Satellite technology is one of the tools, not an overall answer. The letter continues : "Likewise, satellites cannot tell us much about the health of the forest--for example they may show apparently healthy tree tops in a forest which might, when seen on the ground, have no underbrush and no young trees. In addition, currently available civilian satellites do not provide sufficiently accurate images to detect clearance from some areas of shifting cultivation, which is widely practised in many developing countries."
There are other ways of looking at the important question of the canopy and there is an argument for having at least one or two airships to glide over it. The Government say in the letter : "We will certainly be keeping abreast of developments in this field, not least through our scientific arm, the Overseas Development Natural Resources Institute (ODNRI), which makes extensive use of satellite information in their land use work. We shall also be active in continuing to consider how satellite techniques and information can help in our collaborative forestry projects in developing countries "
If that is the situation, it is this type of agency which could get the strings together to provide the important finance and techniques, which are expensive, and it should be done on a European rather than a national basis. I am not unreasonable and I do not expect the Minister to answer off the top of his head in his winding-up speech. However, I should like his Department to look carefully at the work of the overseas development department and to find out from the considerable technical advice that is available, and especially from Professor Malcolm Wilkins and his colleagues in the department of botany in Glasgow university, whether something should be done by the agency that is to be set up.
Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton) : The knowledge of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) on scientific matters is greatly respected and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will reply to him appropriately. Perhaps we may come back from space to land and specifically to water, and to the issue that I raised in an intervention during the Minister's speech : the environmental disaster that took place in Rutland Water in my constituency when about 20 dogs--no one knows exactly how many- -and 15 sheep died from chewing or eating blue-green algae at the beginning of September or the end of August. I am in favour of an environmental agency and glad to see that the Government support it because I hope that it will enable a database to be established which will bring together the scientific evidence of how such a thing can happen and prevent it from happening in the future.
Column 145The explanation given is that this resulted entirely from the interaction of the sun and nutrients in the water, but my constituents are not satisfied. They have not been given an explanation of why it happened in this year, and why only the water in that reservoir caused animal deaths. I have not had any satisfactory explanation, either from Anglian Water or from the National Rivers Authority, although I know that the authority is continuing its investigation.
I have to say with regret to my hon. Friend the Minister that I have been disappointed in the replies that I have received from Ministers to parliamentary questions about this matter. The other day, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning used the expression "normal seasonal phenomenon". However, the explanation from Anglian Water is that this was an exceptional situation resulting from the exceptional conditions this year. If that is so, it cannot be a normal seasonal phenomenom. They cannot both be right. Such points need clarifying.
I have pressed Anglian Water to pay compensation to the people who have lost animals, and also to the companies that have lost business because of the closure of the reservoir. I regret that that has been rejected. I want the agency to be able to look into, and to draw together, the necessary statistical information about whether this should have been foreseen. The stuff did not build up overnight. It built up over two or three weeks. I have not yet had any satisfactory explanation as to whether this could or should have been foreseen. If sufficient scientific evidence had been available, it should have been available not only on a British but a European basis, to prevent such a thing from ever happening again.
I wish my hon. Friend the Minister a fair wind with setting up this agency, but I want to see it taking the opportunity, as quickly as possible, to draw together the necessary scientific information and to publish it. When I asked my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning to place in the Library the information produced by Dundee university and the National Rivers Authority, I am sorry to say that he ignored that part of my question. As the constituency Member of Parliament, I expect to be supplied with that information by Ministers as quickly as possible. If I do not get it from Ministers, I expect it from the new environmental agency.
Mr. Roberts : The hon. Gentleman has illustrated clearly how damaging information about the environment is not even given to Members of Parliament by a Government who are reluctant to provide it. Now, an agency will be set up in Europe that will not have powers to require that such information to be given to it.
Under-Secretary of State with that thought.
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Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : I welcome this EC initiative towards the creation of a European environmental agency. What is being offered is a Europewide information system, and the creation of a European standard for information collection and analysis. That is the first and necessary step towards the knowledge on which proper environmental protection action can be based. The proposal builds on, rather than replaces, existing environmental agencies, and will therefore be a co- ordination and co-operation body.
I welcome the comments that show that the international aspect of these matters may be extended beyond the boundaries of the European Community, and the fact that the Government have stated their wish to see EFTA countries included. However, I hope that this desire will not be used merely as an excuse to delay action within the EEC. European Community agencies, once set up, should be the basis from which wider co-operation extends, rather than international agreement being sought before European Community action takes place. I also welcome the scope of the agency's work, on atmosphere, water and marine environment, biotopes and nature conservation. This is adequate, and allows for future comprehensive action. Article 4(4) says :
"There will be no restrictions to publication of data or its dissemination to the public."
That is an important safeguard, if the agency is to have a watchdog role, but it is a great pity that lack of powers to gather information detracts from this article.
The agency must not be allowed to be a bureaucracy. It must be a functional body working because of the importance and the nature of the environmental tasks which confront the whole of Europe. We are making a small start when we compare the proposed agency with the powers of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. As the agency develops, I ask the Government not to think it down. We must build on these beginnings and construct a proper Europewide organisation that is capable of tackling the immense environmental problems of the continent.
I wish to see the creation of a Scottish environment protection agency working nationally within a European context and ensuring that Scotland's environmental needs are properly met. The proposed merger of the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission should present an opportunity to create such a Scottish environment protection body, but it must be properly financed and imaginatively organised.
I note that seven EC states are bidding to house the new European agency, with its annual budget of £3.5 billion. I ask the Government to ensure that it is based in Scotland. With our unique combination of a special environment and universities, as well as existing research institutions, a compelling case can and should be made for the siting of the agency in Scotland. Existing Scottish-based expertise can be of service to the whole of Europe.
I am sure that the Minister will understand that his wish to see it sited somewhere in the United Kingdom is not good enough from my point of view. I wish to hear him say that the agency will go to Scotland. I commend to the Minister's attention the proposals of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) on this subject and urge him to support the Scottish case. I hope that the
Column 147Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who is sitting beside him, will be urging such a course on the Government.
If we are properly to tackle environmental protection, we require a European body that is involved fully in research, action that is based on that research and conservation that is based on a dynamic interaction with the environment. That requires a comprehensive approach that links urban and rural needs and utilises
interdisciplinary scientific skills. If properly instituted environmental protection measures can create employment, it is not necessarily a negative activity. Indeed, it should not be that. The real task is to safeguard the rights of future generations. That is basically what the debate is about. That is what the agency, and other agencies that are connected with it, should do. "Protect and survive" is a slogan with real meaning in this context.
I wish the new agency well. I hope that it will be allowed to grow equal to the environmental task that it faces. I hope also to hear from the Government that they are committed to allowing the agency to meet that challenge and carry out the task.
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : The excellent speech of the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) perhaps summarised what the debate is about. As a Scottish Member, he wisely urged us to ensure that the European agency is located in Scotland. He argued that there should be a Scottish agency as well, which would similarly be located in Scotland. There would be lots of jobs, and everyone would be happy.
We have had a debate in which every participant has welcomed the agency. It would be rather sad to send the report of it to Brussels, or wherever it goes, without at least one Member saying that the proposal is a load of rubbish.
It is proposed that we set up yet another useless quango. That is strange when we have a Government who have prided themselves on the abolition of quangos. When we are dealing with the EEC, we seem to delight in the creation of more and more semi-quangos. They have no real powers and they duplicate the work that is already done by half a dozen agencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) raised an important constituency issue, and one which I would have been extremely worried about. He must know, however, that the agency will not have any powers to do anything about it. The Opposition say that the Government's environment policies are rubbish, and some of my hon. Friends say that they are not. We all know, however, that the agency will not have any powers to do anything to overcome the problems. It is being suggested that we should have a great new body, which will have conferences, seminars and newspapers. I am sure that there are many of them, in Scotland and in Southend. They will spend a great deal of money and create lots of jobs and the whole thing will be a total waste of time and money.
At a time when the average family in Britain is paying £3 a week as a net contribution to the EEC and more than £13 extra for food simply because of the EEC, we should
Column 148have a Conservative Government who question whether there is any point in these foolish quangos being established as they are established in Europe.
As the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) will be aware, we have made constitutional progress too. So far as I am aware, for the first time the European Parliament will be nominating two members to the new body, and the Government are required to appoint a representative who will be in a co-operative frame of mind as regards co- operation between the agency and member states. Apart from the fact that I am unlikely to be considered for that, I think that it is quite outrageous for Euro-legislation to require states to appoint people with particular points of view and particular attitudes. Yet it is here, in article 6.
Mr. Taylor : The Government are entitled to do what they want within the law because they are a democratically elected Government. That is what democracy is all about. But we do not have a law requiring them to appoint people of a particular character. That seems to be a rather strange new initiative, but we shall probably see a lot more of it.
We are all delighted to see my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on the Front Bench, because his honesty and integrity would be a credit to any Government of any party. First, will he tell us what the cost will be? The CORINE programme was set up in 1985. We were told it was to be a closely safeguarded organisation which would spend only a limited amount of money. That money was £3 million. We know that it has already spent £4 million and now it appears that it is trying to spend £8 million.
Secondly, can my hon. Friend the Minister tell me how duplication will be stopped. The Select Committee did a splendid job saying that it is a shame to have lots of organisations doing the same thing, but the Minister must know that no organisation will stop what it is doing. The OECD will not stop doing what it is doing so splendidly ; the United Nations environmental centre will not stop its excellent work, nor will the joint research centre. There will be yet another body holding more conferences and collecting more information. Thirdly, what on earth is the point of establishing a harmless body to do work which is already being done by several organisations? It is a body without any powers. As the Minister said, it will have no right to tell Britain, Greece, Portugal, Sweden or France or any country within or outwith the EEC what to do. That seems quite crazy.
Finally, the agency is meant to advise us on European environmental policy. That is the height of hypocrisy. We know that European environmental policy consists of being very tough on any individual or organisation that creates pollution except farmers. Although we know that agriculture is one of the greatest polluters in Europe, farmers seem to be totally exempt from restrictions and penalties. In regard to nitrates, for example, although the
Column 149Single European Act states clearly that the polluter should pay, the Government are about to produce legislation to offer compensation to the agricultural bodies for not creating so much pollution. Although everyone will be happy to see the Common Market creating another body that will not cause too much trouble but will cost much money, we should occasionally think about ratepayers in places such as Southend, whose water rates are being increased substantially-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members should not laugh, because poor and simple people, some rich and wise people and ordinary people will have to pay much more this year to sort out the serious problem of pollution, which is created solely by the activities of agriculture and the EEC.
We should tear up this document and scrap this proposal, because the Government must be well aware that no good will come from the EEC, except for the organisers of conferences, hotel owners and the publishers of newspapers. We all know that it is a silly, worthless proposal, which is why it is daft for hon. Members to say that the best solution is for the agency to be located in Scotland, or anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
I listened in vain to the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) to hear anything of relevance to the three items under consideration. It was interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman say that he wants an interventionist agency that could compel witnesses and demand information from British organisations, presumably under threat of penalty. I know that the labour party has done a U-turn on Europe and that it wants enthusiastically to display its European credentials, but until this evening I did not know that that entailed a major extension of Commission powers. I hope that the hon. Gentleman cleared his speech with his shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, who I regret is not present this evening.
Mr. Allan Roberts : I did not suggest massive extension of Commission powers. There is no point in having a European agency--we believe that the Scandinavian countries and others should be involved--if it does not have the power to require evidence or to obtain the information necessary for it to do its job. If it is a voluntary agency, it will not work. Either it should not be set up or it should be given the powers necessary for it to be effective.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : We heard the hon. Gentleman say that the new agency should be able to compel the Government and British organisations to supply data. If it is to be able to compel the supply of information, it must be able to apply sanctions and penalties if that information is not forthcoming. I should like to hear what penalties the hon. Gentleman has in mind, because that would represent a major extension of Commission competence into the workings of British Government and organisations. I hope that that fits in with the new environmentally friendly policy review recently published by the Labour party. I further hope that the shadow Secretary of State for the Environment will not be surprised when he reads the hon. Gentleman's remarks in the Official Report tomorrow.
Column 150I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) for introducing into the debate the report of the Select Committee on the Environment. I was pleased to have the general support of the Committee, in particular for resisting an enforcement role for the proposed agency. I listened carefully to his other remarks on the role of non-governmental organisations, which will be taken into account in the negotiations and discussions in Brussels that must be undertaken before the regulation is put into its final form.
I listened, too, to what my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West said about non-member states. Recent developments in eastern Europe might be relevant. We could be moving towards an eventual wider association of nation states in Europe. It is therefore particularly important that we welcome observer status for these countries. That is specifically included in the draft regulation. The proposal has the general support of not only the Government but other Community members.
We have already received bids for the agency's location from centres of excellence in various parts of the United Kingdom. It is far too early to distinguish between them or to put forward the claims of one above another. The bids show the range and depth of excellence in scientific research on environmental matters that already exist in the United Kingdom. This should strengthen Britain's bid to have the agency located here.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) rightly welcomed the need for comparable data. I reject his illiberal suggestion that the agency should have coercive or enforcement powers. In this, the hon. Gentleman appeared to agree with the Labour party. We do not see the need for compulsion either in theory or in practice. The new agency will draw on existing data, and to the extent that data do not exist, it is up to the agency to negotiate contracts to assemble and assess information.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : The British Government have a record of making publicly available a huge range of data about the environment. We have nothing to hide. We have recently proposed a further extension of data that will be available under statute for public inspection. All this will be available to the proposed agency. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) again spoke about rain forests. We had an interesting debate on that subject on Friday and I respect the hon. Gentleman's continuing interest. He particularly asked about satellite monitoring. I shall ask my officials to ascertain the extent to which the agency will be able to draw on existing satellite monitoring techniques. Rain forests are a little wide of the agency's remit as presently envisaged, but everyone who is interested in the environment--the agency, Community organisations, national Governments and the public--has everything to gain by drawing together existing scientific knowledge.
We have a particularly good record in assisting tropical rain forest countries to manage their forests responsibly. We know that it is usually a matter of replanting rather than burning. The harvesting of hardwoods is not in itself environmentally destructive. It all comes down to the point, as underlined by my right hon. Friend the Prime
Column 151Minister in her speech to the United Nations, that many of these countries require technology and financial help. We are actively pursuing that course.
Much remains to be done to understand the algal infestation this summer in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham). I cannot give him a definitive answer, but I shall ask my officials to look into the points that he made. It concerns the agency in that it would obviously help if we could draw together the existing scientific knowledge on the subject, and I hope that that will help to prevent a recurrence of the unfortunate events of last summer.
The hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) mentioned bids from Scotland for the location of the agency. I know that Edinburgh university is interested. I can say no more at present on that subject, except that it underscores the strength that Britain can bring to bear in our bid to have the agency located somewhere in the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) referred to the agency as a quango. It is not a quango and we are not setting it up. It is being established under treaty powers granted to the Commission by this House. The Commission has powers and responsibilities for the environment, given to it under the Single European Act. My hon. Friend voted against that measure, but it was passed by Parliament and he will agree that as such powers exist, it is better that they should be deployed on the firmest possible scientific base. As he said, it will not be an enforcement agency, but it will draw together what we already know about the environment so that actions taken, not only by the European Commission but by national Governments, are underpinned by the most up-to-date range of scientific information.
Column 152I stress that the setting up of the agency will help to ensure that the quality of environmental information generally available to member countries and the Commission is raised. The United Kingdom has much to offer in this respect from its long-established and experienced institutions.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 8030/89 on a European Environment Agency and a European Environment Monitoring and Information Network and the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Department of the Environment on 19th October 1989 and 9785/86 on the Fourth Environmental Action Programme (1987-1992) ; supports the Government's view that the proposal for a European Environment Agency and a European Environment Monitoring and Information Network provides the most appropriate means of enhancing a sound data base to inform and support Community environmental policy ; and approves in general the guidelines for the Community's Fourth Environmental Action Programme.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Statutory Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Intruments, &c.).
That the draft Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 17th October, be approved.-- [Mr. Sackville.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).
That the draft Companies (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 17th October, be approved.-- [Mr. Sackville.]
Question agreed to.