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What hope can the Secretary of State offer to British companies? Will he support them in the way that Germany, Japan, France and other countries support their companies? Britain is already the takeover capital of Europe, with British companies more vulnerable to takeover than companies in many other countries. Takeovers in the first half of this year were worth twice or three times the takeovers in France and Germany. Even the chairman of Britain's most successful company, ICI, expressed doubt about whether the Government would come to his aid if an asset-stripping operation started against his company.
Column 132The chairman of the latest takeover victim, DRG, said that only in Britain
"could a company be taken over by an offshore raider from a tax haven"--
and the Government would do absolutely nothing. The American Government are proposing to take action ; the Governor of the Bank of England is worried and says that action should be taken to prevent the takeover of British banks ; yet the Secretary of State's answer, in a speech only a few days ago, was to widen the possibilities for takeover by narrowing the grounds on which he would permit referral--even to the extent of permitting junk bonds in this country, and doing nothing about it.
A few days ago the Secretary of State said :
"A few said that I should be concerned about the spread of junk bonds The judgment on the risks associated with junk bonds is for the shareholders of the target company to determine."
The Secretary of State will do absolutely nothing to prevent a takeover with the use of junk bonds, yet every other country in Europe and the United States of America is sufficiently concerned to propose action to deal with the problem.
Nowhere is the Government's abandonment of responsibility clearer than in their attitude to golden shares. The Secretary of State accepted a special responsibility by adopting and introducing golden shares in a number of companies. When he was at the Department of the Environment, he introduced many golden shares--he even defended them in the debate on water privatisation and said that they were a help in organising action against the threat of a takeover.
Tell that to Jaguar. Just at the very point that the Government's golden share in that company could have been used to secure assurances of future investment, location and product development in the national interest, the Secretary of State gives Jaguar two hours' notice, tears up the golden share, and throws it away. The best that he can do for British industry is to give only two hours' notice to a company that it is to be thrown to the wolves.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) rose --
What is the future for the British Airports Authority, even after yesterday's so-called assurances? What is the future for Sealink, which was protected against takeover from abroad in the past by a golden share? Will it be protected in future? What protection will be given in future to our water companies after they are privatised? What is the future for the royal dockyards and for Rolls-Royce? Can you, Mr. Speaker, imagine the German Government giving Siemens or Daimler Benz two hours' notice that they are to be taken over? Can you imagine the French Government giving Renault or Thomson a few minutes' warning of such a takeover? Can you imagine the Japanese ever allowing such a situation to develop if Hitachi or Sony were ever faced by the danger of a takeover? If the Government refuse to accept their responsibilities towards the industries of this country even when they have the powers and have given promises to do so, one must conclude that there is not an industry in the country, not a company in this country and not an industrial sector in this country that can rely on the Government for support for as long as they are in power.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett rose --
Column 133Mr. Brown : Finally, I turn to regional aid.
Mr. Tredinnick : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) referred to his hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) as "the wolf of Dagenham." Is that parliamentary language, and should it be allowed?
Another of the Secretary of State's responsibilities is regional policy. Regional aid for Scotland is being cut from £200 million in the mid- 1980s to £120 million next year, and to £100 million by 1992. Regional aid for Wales is being cut from £145 million to £110 million, and then to £90 million. Regional aid for the midlands and for the north of England is being cut-- [Interruption.] I thought that certain Conservative Members would be interested to hear what is happening in the north, the midlands and in Yorkshire.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett rose --
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) rose --
Mr. Holt rose--
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) rose --
Mr. Brown : I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. Conservative Members are not really attempting to question an Opposition Front Bench spokesman ; they are making a deliberate attempt to cause disruption.
Regional aid for the north and the midlands is being cut from £350 million in the mid-1980s to £190 million by 1992--which is really a halving in real terms of the value of that aid. What is the Government's response? What did the Secretary of State have to say in the autumn statement that he made today? He said that regional aid will be cut further ; that money for English Estates will be cut further ; that the business development initiative will also be cut further. When the businesses of this country face high interest rates, what sense does it make to cut back even further the support that is available to them for further investment-- especially when it is known that regional policy is in not only the country's regional interest but its national interests?
It makes absolutely no sense to have overheating, congestion, pressure on the green belt and skill shortages in one part of the country and forced depopulation, emigration and the underuse of resources in another. Do the French, with their policy of technology centres and growth poles, say that regional policy is a thing of the past, as this Government do? Do the Germans with their regional business innovation centres, say that there is no need for a regional policy? Do the Italians say that they should not bridge the regional gap? All other countries in Europe, all other countries that are building a successful industrial policy for the future, want their regions to play a full part in national economic development. Mr. Nicholas Bennett rose--
Mr. Devlin rose--
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) persistently to refuse to give way on any point that any Conservative Member may wish to make and then after never having given way to accuse Conservative Members of being organised groups of hooligans?
Mr. Speaker : The whole House knows, as the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) knows, that if the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) does not intend to give way, the hon. Gentleman should not persist with his intervention.
Mr. Devlin : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) to say that organised barracking is taking place on this side of the House, when he has just referred to Wales, Scotland and the north of England and made a number of misrepresentations about Government policy, about which Conservative Members with constituencies in the north, Wales and Scotland wish to ask him?
Mr. Speaker : I have not detected any organised barracking, and I hope that I shall not. We ought to get on with the debate because a number of hon. Members who are now raising points of order are anxious to participate in it.
The Government still say that they are the right team for Britain 's future. Let us take all those on the Treasury Bench at face value, as united in their enthusiasm for the poll tax, for privatising electricity and water, for commercialising the National Health Service, for their high interest rate policy and the abandonment of industry, for the destruction of regional policy and for making Britain the takeover capital of Europe. They are united in destroying the trade and industry policy of a once great trading and industrial nation.
As we look forward to a new decade, Britain faces new and exciting challenges, yet when we have to meet the challenges of new technology, of an evolving Europe, of co-operation and co-ordination of economic policies across national frontiers, we find that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are so busy trying to recreate the present in the image of the past that they have missed out entirely on the opportunities for the future. The Opposition believe in facing the challenges of the future. We believe that everyone--workers, industry, business and Government--should play their part. If the Government insist on abandoning rather than discharging their responsibilities
Column 135for the future, they should make way for a Labour Government who will fulfil their responsibilities for the future.
Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green) : The Front Bench spokesmen will forgive me if I do not continue with the subject that they have introduced. It has been agreed through the usual channels that this debate should be concerned both with industry and with the environment, because of references to legislation in the Queen's Speech. I shall address my remarks principally to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
In the United Kingdom we have a long history of concern about the environment, dating back to the appointment of the first alkali inspector in 1864, continuing through to the smoke control legislation and public health Acts at the turn of the century and the Clean Air Act of the 1950s to the Control of Pollution Act 1974. The Queen's Speech tells us that there is to be a further development in the form of the green Bill that the Government are shortly to present.
In its day the Control of Pollution Act 1974 was a worthy piece of legislation, which broke new ground, but it is high time that it was re- examined. The new Bill will help close loopholes that have become apparent in that Act. It will provide for the control of new technologies that were not envisaged when the Act was passed. Most important, it will place a series of duties of environmental responsibility on polluters, encapsulating the new concept of "a duty of care" as well as the "polluter pays" principle.
All that is very much to be welcomed but it is a matter for concern that, in the desire to improve current systems of pollution control, the organisation and administration of environmental protection appear to have been overlooked. We have never had a fundamental review of the organisation of pollution regulation. Responsibility for pollution is divided between central and local government and, within central Government, between different agencies and Departments. The overall result is a hotchpotch because the system has grown up in an ad hoc way.
The responsible agencies today include local government. Environmental health officers have the chief responsibility but their responsibility is nevertheless reactive rather than protective. If land is contaminated, they have to wait for harm to happen before they can intervene to ensure that measures are taken to cure the contamination. Part of the responsibility lies with planning officers but they, too, can react only when planning applications come before them and they have to decide for which purposes land may safely be used. None of their powers covers cases where historic contamination of land has remained for several decades, with risks to ground water and the risk of migration of methane gas. Those officials hold no pre-emptive powers.
Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South) : My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) is making a most important speech and it would be as well if Opposition Members who profess to be interested in environmental pollution control, would listen. Does my hon. Friend realise just how strict planning officers and pollution control officers are these days? Shortly a massive
Column 136factory is to be brought by Toyota to my constituency in the midlands, without any public aid or assistance. I have been most impressed--as have my colleagues in the neighbourhood--at the effort that has been made to ensure that there is no pollution from the factory and that,right from the start, every aspect of construction should be designed to ensure that we shall have no problems.
Sir Hugh Rossi : My hon. Friend is quite right. There has been an awakening in the public and in the political mind to the dangers that our environment faces unless we deal with our new technologies correctly. However, there remains an enormous problem with historical sites which continue to present a danger to the environment. My remarks relate to the limited powers of environmental health and planning officers to deal with what is already there.
Other agencies have been created. For example, the National Rivers Authority has been in existence for a matter of weeks. The NRA is now the guardian of the water environment. However, one wonders why it has been given responsibility for leisure, land drainage and flood protection. What a distraction those other functions must be for an authority created primarily to protect the water environment. The NRA is not alone in having responsibility for the water environment. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has a responsibility for the water environment in relation to the use of fertilisers and the nitrates that drain into our water courses and estuaries. The Ministry is responsible for the marine environment--for the sea which is the ultimate dust bin for everything that we do on land whether that involves industrial effluent or the produce from our sewerage systems.
Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution has responsibility for air pollution and for a small group of scheduled processes. Historically, it also has some responsibility for water pollution and that may well in practice overlap with the new responsibilities of the NRA. It also has an audit control, which we welcome, over the activities of the waste disposal authorities. Those authorities are yet another agency for dealing with potential pollution.
The Health and Safety Executive also has some responsibility for the environment, paticularly with regard to the carriage of hazardous substances and their handling in our factories and workplaces. The procedures to be followed in reclaiming contaminated land are part of the HSE's responsibilities while the waste disposal authorities and many other authorities are also concerned with those problems. The HSE has responsibility for the workers carrying out reclamation work.
The general approach in establishing those various bodies with their different responsibilities has been to react to a problem as it occurred. The remit of each agency and of the Government are correspondingly narrow and specific. No one seems to have stood back and looked at the system as it has grown and tried to rationalise it.
The piecemeal approach has coloured the whole nature of environmental regulation in Britain. The consequences have included inequalities in resource allocation. The size and importance of an organisation depend on historical factors rather than on any attempt to assess the environmental threat. Therefore, the NRA, with a staff of 6,500, has taken over various functions from the water authorities. However, HMIP has a staff of only 200. It
Column 137must monitor the atmosphere and it must even monitor 5,000 waste disposal sites, many of which are highly contaminated. When my Committee was conducting its inquiry into toxic waste, only five inspectors were responsible for all that. Since the inquiry--I like to think it is as a result of the inquiry--the establishment number has doubled and trebled, but only one new one has been appointed. [ Hon. Members :-- Why?] The answer is known to the House. I do not want to take up too much time on obvious points.
Mr. Chris Patten : I make it absolutely plain to my hon. Friend that I wholly accept the case for strengthening the inspectorate and for ensuring that it is adequately resourced. That is important to the credibility of the new control regime that we are proposing to introduce. With that objective in mind, we are examining and increasing the inspectorate's salary scales.
Sir Hugh Rossi : I am glad to have my right hon. Friend's assurance. Salary scales have been the greatest impediment to the recruitment of people with the required scientific knowledge and expertise. I am addressing not only the inspectorate but the result of the historical, traditional, hotchpotch, reactive approach to each environmental problem as it has impinged on our political consciousness.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : One issue which has not been touched upon and which creates a blight on the environment is opencast coal development. Whether they occur in a green belt or in any other belt, the Government tend to allow open cast developments to take place. They not only create a blight but all sorts of things can be dumped in the holes that are left. Lots of people make a lot of money out of that, including some who have tankers waiting outside the estuaries up and down Britain. The hon. Gentleman should tell his right hon. Friend the Minister that, if he wants a co-ordinated approach to the environment to clean up contaminated areas, he should stop opencast operations in the green belt in my constituency and elsewhere.
Sir Hugh Rossi : The hon. Gentleman should not tempt me to question the environmental impact of the activities of the Coal Board. The hon. Gentleman should look at what the Coal Board has dumped on beaches at Durham for decades. It has had a most disastrous effect upon the environment, and successive Governments have allowed it. The real problem is who pays for clearing it up. Is it the coal industry, which created the waste? The hon. Gentleman will find that the unions which he represents will not thank him if we opt to do that. The on-cost of a tonne of coal will rise considerably to the point of being non-competitive if the coal industry must clean up what it has caused throughout this land.
Other hon. Members want to speak, so I do not wish to detain the House for too long, but I shall pursue the theme of the consequences of the hotchpotch approach. I have mentioned the lack of resources. Equally important and worrying is the lack of authoritative knowledge of environmental issues. Available expertise is naturally dispersed through all the different agencies, organisations and strata of government, both central and local.
Local authorities and developers find it impossible to find an alternative source of advice to a particular problem. Indeed, my Committee experienced some hiatus
Column 138while HMIP was preparing its new waste management paper on landfill gas because local authorities did not know what to do. Even today, when we ask local authorities in Committee, "What are you going to do about contaminated land?" they say, "We do not have the expertise in-house, so we will contract out. All kinds of commercial concerns come to us and say that they have the ideal technology to cure our problems." The solution may be to incinerate the contamination or to pump out the leaches and to treat it with a particular chemical. It may even mean spraying the contamination with bugs that will then eat the organic components causing the contamination.
Local authorities ask, "How are we to assess whether we are being sold something that is really what we need and best for our problem? There is no central place to which we can go where all the different technologies on offer have been tested and where we can obtain advice as to the ones we should follow." Does that situation not call out for some reassessment of the way in which we have organised ourselves in dealing with environmental problems?
Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower) rose--
Mr. Wardell : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I know of his tremendous work as Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment. Following the point that he is making, how far does he agree with the evidence given to his Committee by the managing director of Aspinwalls, which is one of this country's leading environmental consultants on landfill, when he said that the options open to industrialists in Britain had virtually disappeared as far as co-disposal in landfill is concerned because the Government cut research in the early 1980s, making it virtually impossible for industrialists to have such an option?
Sir Hugh Rossi : The hon. Gentleman has anticipated the last point that I wish to make regarding the effect of our hotch-potch approach. Because of the lack of a clear focus, for which I am arguing, our approach has not been well understood in Europe, where directives are now being made about how waste should be best disposed. In a sense, we have a long clinical record of dealing with wastes by co-disposal, mixing domestic waste with certain types of industrial waste in conditions which mean that they are sealed in so that natural chemical and biological activities will have the effect of neutralising and rendering them harmless.
However, because that has been done as a result of trial and error and experience, and because we are satisfied that it works, we do not have the scientific base whereby our consultants, such as Aspinwalls, can go to Europe to give evidence and say, "Here is the scientific data that proves this is safe and can be used."
That is another weakness from which we are all suffering and that weakness exists because we as a nation--not as a political party, one or the other-- have neglected this issue. The Labour Government neglected this point just as much as the present Government have only suddenly become awake and alive to these problems. I advise the House that we are all in this together and that we must find a solution together. We should not be
Column 139constantly bickering and arguing about it. I think that I can say that because, as Chairman of an all-party Committee, I am possibly a little more detached than most hon. Members from the everyday political infighting.
When we are dealing with environmental matters we are dealing with questions that affect the way in which our children and grandchildren will live. How we deal with those questions will affect the kind of earth that we leave them and unless we address our minds seriously to those questions and recognise them as one of the major problems facing the human race, we will be reviled by future generations. I am delighted that the Queen's Speech contains a positive statement from the Government that they are looking to environmental protection on an international as well as a national basis. Many, if not all, the problems must be solved by international co-operation and agreement. If our present structures are wrong, what are the alternatives? Some countries have established environmental protection agencies that regulate and initiate policies. In the United States the consequence of that has been the establishment of an EPA that our Committee considered excessively bureaucratic. We certainly do not want such an agency in the United Kingdom. There are alternatives, however, and we tried to highlight those in our report on toxic waste. We floated the idea of an environmental protection commission for the United Kingdom with overall responsibility for safeguarding environmental quality in the United Kingdom. It would have responsibility for initiating and enforcing policy on the environment. The commission could take a variety of forms.
Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is a problem about the disposal of toxic waste in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy). That constituency has encountered difficulty in returning the toxic waste to America from where it came. Would the proposed commission take care of that problem?
Sir Hugh Rossi : I recommend to the hon. Gentleman the Basle convention that covers the transportation, import and export of toxic waste. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is keen for us to sign that convention. I hope that he ensures that the Government ratify that convention--perhaps we shall have a statement to that effect. The Basle convention, and all the controls that it would put upon the export and import of toxic waste, represents a major move forward by the international community. It is something that this country should ratify as soon as possible. The environmental protection commission could take a number of forms and it need not be a large centralised body. It could closely follow the form of the present Health and Safety Commission, which has the Health and Safety Executive as its arm. The environmental protection commission could possibly incorporate the National Rivers Authority and include other functions for the protection of the environment --involving air, water and land. In that way we would have an integrated policy for environmental protection. One of the things we have learned in Committee is that there is a constant and
Column 140persistent interaction between air, land and water that affects the totality of our environment. We cannot deal with those elements in separate, watertight compartments and we must take a broad view. We need to create the proper organisation capable of doing that. It was with great disappointment that my Committee noted the way in which the Government brushed aside our tentative proposals for an environmental protection commission. I believe that, with the changes that have taken place, the greater awareness of the problems and the natural sympathy of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for such matters, a fresh look will be given to the question of establishing a new organisation. I recommend such a commission to him. He will have to decide this quickly because the Environment Council's president, the noble Earl of Cranbrook, has today in another place presented a proposal for an environmental protection agency, very much along the lines of the Health and Safety Commission.
I have not yet had an opportunity to study the Bill which has only just reached me. If it follows the general principles which I have been seeking to outline, I hope that it will recommend itself to my right hon. Friend and the Cabinet.
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : To someone from Northern Ireland, after the weekend that we have had, there is an air of unreality about today's debate. Industry and the environment, in the Northern Ireland context, which is hung about with so much violence, is almost unreal. When I listened to the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) on the importance of the environment I was deeply struck by the gap between the priorities as he sees them in this country and those in the North of Ireland. In Northern Ireland it is difficult not to measure such issues against the background of an ordinary weekend, such as last weekend, when five humans were killed. It is not simply just another weekend. There is a close relationship between the violence in Northern Ireland and what is happening to society there, and the lack of industrial and environmental concern. I am glad that the Secretary of State for the Environment is here because he knows from experience the problems, especially in the concrete jungles and urban centres, where lack of employment, industry and jobs--allied to the terrible social environment-- create an atmosphere in which the sharks and godfathers of violence thrive. Those problems create such a context and if we are to deal with them we must look at them in totality. We cannot do that without considering the environment and employment. This becomes even more important when we consider some problems that are not related to those issues.
I hope to identify three such problems today in the hope, however vain, that at some time the Government will take them on board. The Queen's Speech referred to improving the economy through the framework of the Anglo -Irish Agreement. Does it make sense in a small country like Ireland to have, because of partition, two agricultural policies, two different sets of industrial programming and planning, two tourist boards, two transport authorities and an absolute economic mess in the development of the island?
Column 141The time has come when the Government, in conjunction with the Irish Government, should plan in terms of developing the island. I am not making an ideological political point. That can wait for other times, other decades, perhaps even another century. It makes economic sense--especially as we approach 1992--to start to develop the North of Ireland in conjunction with the rest of the island and develop its potential rather than allow it to stagnate as at present. I make a specific request to the Government that such economic planning and economic harmonisation should be carried out so that we approach 1992 with at least a fighting chance of maximising our membership of the EC.
My second point, which I keep making in the House and to which I receive little response, is that life is difficult in an area of high unemployment. Male unemployment in parts of west Belfast is approaching more than 60 per cent. In parts of my constituency unemployment is near to 40 per cent. Those unemployed people live almost exclusively on social security benefit. They start off being deprived because they pay about 30 per cent. more for coal, energy and heating than do people in England, Scotland and Wales. They pay about 20 per cent. more for food and about 33 per cent. more for electricity. They do not have a mains gas supply. Those things mean that we are not getting parity in social security benefits. It is parity minus. The differentials relate to essential costs, not to luxuries, and I ask again for the special circumstances of Northern Ireland to be taken into account. The further we go down the line with the new social security arrangements the more those differentials become the difference between being able to cope and being caught in the poverty trap.
Mr Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : The hon. Gentleman is right when he says that social security benefits do not take account of the real cost of living in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Is it not a bitter irony that the Government's economic policy has given us a 15 per cent. base rate even though many areas, such as Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the north of England, do not suffer from the overheating problems of the south of England?
Mr. Mallon : I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As I said before, there is an air of unreality about the debate. In one half of my constituency there is not a single industry ; in those terms, the debate becomes even more academic. We must look at Northern Ireland not just in terms of how we can trim the sails peripherally. We must try to set out a five-year, six-year or 10-year programme of rejuvenation of industrial development, the environment, job creation and the quality of life. That would be better than the present ad hoc approach.
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that part of the cause of the unreality and the unawareness of hon. Members about the severity of unemployment in Northern Ireland is that records are not available in the Library for Northern Ireland constituencies as they are for other constituencies? The hon. Gentleman's party and mine are together committed to improving the position and to creating job opportunities for all our people.
Column 142because we do not have the opportunity, except in a debate such as this, to make such points. Opportunities are restricted in other debates. We are all at fault and could do more.
I commend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for his statement yesterday. He made it clear that it was not enough to try to end the violence through security but that the effort would have to be reinforced by economic development, by giving people a better quality of life and by creating social structures in the North of Ireland. The Secretary of State is a man of courage and vision. He has taken a tremendous hammering in the House and outside over the past couple of weeks because of that courage and vision, but he should be commended for what he said yesterday.
It is a tragedy that when someone tries to think his way into the future and towards a solution a knee-jerk hammering is immediately doled out to him here and in other places. I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said yesterday because it is true. An improvement in the economic position and in the environment, and the provision of jobs, will not end violence, but it will substantially weaken those who manipulate young people and who thrive in murky waters. It will also help enormously in psyching the people in the North of Ireland to get on with finding a solution to our problems.
I make my third point directly to my colleagues from Northern Ireland. We have heard much talk about devolution. We should start debating devolution in the House and clear up many of the misunderstandings. My view is probably different from that of other hon. Members. At present we have a system where others decide whether more or less power should be given to the North of Ireland. Others determine what economic policies will be pursued in the Province and under what type of economic restraints it will operate. Others decide who will close schools and factories and cut social security benefits. That is not an enticing scenario, as many will testify. Others decide what is expedient and just and, in many ways, what is life and what is death. Others decide what we shall or shall not get and what we shall or shall not give, especially in terms of the EEC. The political parties from the North of Ireland should enter into proper, substantial negotiations and face with courage the reality that our economic and environmental problems and the violence in the North of Ireland will not be solved in this House. We are and we shall remain optional extras here. We have it within our power to get to grips with that problem. As a first step, we must do one simple thing. It could be done in the Tea Room, if we must go to tea rooms. If not, it could be done in the bar, which is more congenial. We should start to negotiate. I understand the frustration, resentment and anger of people who have made similar speeches here year after year, if not decade after decade. We shall continue to be optional extras here until we take matters into our own hands and decide that we no longer want to be optional extras.
The elected representatives of the people of the North of Ireland must be asked what powers we should like to operate on behalf of the people of the North of Ireland. We must ask for a fiscal relationship between the North of Ireland and Great Britain which will allow us to implement the type of rejuvenation programmes that are needed by a society which has been through the trauma of, in effect, 20 years of war. We must be allowed to decide what structure
Column 143is suitable for a unique political situation, rather than ape other unsuitable structures. Above all, we must be allowed to take on board the whole problem of security, policing, violence and justice. The people of the North of Ireland will need the courage and will power to take on and examine those four areas closely and talk them through. The people of the North of Ireland must stand on their own feet and show that we can be sturdy, independent Ulstermen, rather than whinge to Ministers for a little more when we are getting a little less. We should start to take action to resolve the problems instead of whingeing that nobody will do it for us. Such an approach would allow us to take on the problems of industrial and social deprivation and unemployment and to create a quality of life to which everyone in the North of Ireland is entitled. After 20 years it is time that the realisation dawned.
We all have ingrained historical, electoral and other reasons why we should not adopt that approach. We all have our little bit of pride which will not let us move down roads that we have not gone down before. Are our ancient quarrels more important than the welfare of people who never had and never will have jobs, of young people living in concrete jungles who are prey to the men of violence and of elderly people entering their twilight years who are unable to make ends meet?
We can start looking at the problems from those four areas. I hope that by this time next year we shall at least have started to solve them.
Mr. David Porter (Waveney) : I am glad to have heard the speech by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). I take his reprimand that many of us consider these matters with an air of unreality, but each of us must speak for our area. I have the honour and privilege to be the first East Anglian Member to speak with the cameras on, and by that I mean the historic East Anglia of Suffolk and Norfolk. In the spirit of this week with the cameras on I prepared my speech to contain a certain number of sound bites, and that was the first.
This is the third Queen's Speech that I have heard since becoming a Member. I assumed that it would be the most difficult because all the commentators told us so. The programme outlined yesterday struck a positive balance. Clearly, the Government will not be too bothered by the ritualistic huffing and puffing of the Opposition as they try to blow down the reforms and advances built on a decade of firm foundations. The acid test is how people see the programme and, more important, how tomorrow's voters will see it.
Yesterday it was frequently said that with this speech we were leaving behind the 1980s. That is true. Now begins what undoubtedly will be the environmental decade. Perhaps that is sound bite two. In the environmental decade we shall take hold of all the hard-fought gains of the 1980s and hit the challenges of the earth ready for the 1990s and beyond to the next century. Today's primary schoolchildren will benefit most from a Health Service which is no longer in the 1940s at worst, or the 1970s at best. They will benefit from further industrial and trade
Column 144union reforms, the focus on developing training and enterprise, the control of public expenditure and the still further improvement of priority services.
Last week's Autumn Statement set an agenda which confirms that we are entering a decade of social spending and growth. Environment and growth, social spending and industry are all inextricably bound together. It is the environmental aspect which will benefit today's young people most and capture their imaginations most. We have only to look at what is happening in many schools, certainly in my constituency, to realise that today's pupils are tomorrow's environmentalists.
Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition said that the Opposition would fight hard to toughen the proposed environment protection Bill--sound bite No. 3. He means that he will play a kind of leapfrog on every issue to claim the green mantle. But every step on the environmental protection and management road must be workable, enforceable and based on fact, not fiction. To take just one example, everybody knows that global warming will melt the ice caps and raise sea levels--but will it? Or will it, as some scientists think, cause a wind flow to the poles which will increase the ice caps and lower sea levels? We need to know. That may be an extreme example, but it illustrates the point. I raise it because my constituency will resemble Atlantis if some of the pundits are right about rising sea levels.
We can take some steps on environmental matters. Protection of food chains, the seas and the skies should recognise no national boundaries. If we stopped all our nuclear energy production tomorrow, the French would remain 80 per cent. dependent on nuclear power. An accident in France could wipe out many Britons as surely as if it happened in the United Kingdom. Global problems need global action. Naturally, some aspects are parochial national matters. Most people will welcome the proposed increase in the litter fine to £1,000. Perhaps that necessitates a review of the relative severity of fines. We do not want more expensive fines in magistrates courts for an inconsiderate litter lout who drops a McDonald's carton than for a drunken yobbo who hits a police officer. I welcome the new responsibility for litter that is to be placed on local authorities. Perhaps my right hon. Friends had the opportunity to read the ten-minute Bill that I moved in May this year--the Public Service Contract Bill--which would, among other provisions, have created a contract between community charge payers and councils so that there was redress when an agreed level of service was not delivered. We could be getting towards that with the Government's proposals. I come now to sound bite number four. What East Anglia is looking for in the Queen's Speech is a co-ordinated North sea management policy, which recognises that it is not a European dust bin, but a busy and vital artery--as busy as Liverpool Street station in the rush hour--round the clock, every day of the year. We need a management policy to take account of fishing interests, gas and oil harnessing interests, aggregate dredging interests, tourist and leisure interests and even Ministry of Defence and NATO interests under, on and over the North sea.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment, spoke about sea defences as being a distraction to the National Rivers Authority. I