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Mr. Dalyell : It would be churlish not to acknowledge that the Secretary of State has made a genuine effort to meet the concerns of hon. Members who have been anxious for many months about the scientific integrity of the Nature Conservancy Council.
However, will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, when he said that he had met all the wishes of the NCC, he was inadvertently a trifle misleading? He answered that question on the basis of its current requests, but its prime request was for no alteration in the first place. He answered its letter on the basis that he was going to split the NCC between Wales, Scotland and England, anyway. So, do not let us think that he has given us the best of all possible worlds. The money resolution affords the opportunity for specific questions. First, I ask the Secretary of State to look at clause 101 of the Bill, and I am indebted to Sir John Burnett, the former principal of Edinburgh university and the vice-chairman of the NCC, for pointing this out to me. Subsection (4) of clause 101 says : "The Secretary of State may give the Councils, or any of them, directions of a general or specific character with regard to the discharge of any of their nature conservation functions other than those conferred on them by section 102(1)(a) below."
I understand that it is the first time that the words "specific character" have been included in such legislation. Could either the Secretary of State or the Minister short-circuit our proceedings by explaining why this should be so? Why have those words suddenly been introduced into legislation, when they have never appeared before in that form?
Secondly, how will the existing ongoing national programmes be maintained? I am thinking of the
Column 120geological conservation review, and the marine conservation review. Will they be managed as a whole, and if not who will manage them? Hon. Members who are veterans of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, such as the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), know what blood and sweat went into the establishment of the principle of the marine nature reserves. Skomer is on its way and the Scilly Isles and Lundy have made progress, but one could hope for faster progress. Under the present proposals, who will manage them? I ask the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for Scotland : will the Scottish section be responsible? That is an important and practical question.
Thirdly, will the Minister say a little more about the role of the technical unit? Hon. Members should know that that is not a straightforward question. Ministers brought over an eminent scientist from Australia to be the NCC's chief scientist, but he returned to Australia. I have drawn the conclusion that he found that his job specification was not quite that for which he had been lured from down under.
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Chris Patten) : I have the doctor's permission to make available to the hon. Gentleman, or to anyone else who would like to see it, the letter that he wrote explaining why he was returning to Australia, in which he makes it clear that he was not prompted by decisions taken on the reorganisation. I can make that available to the hon. Gentleman, or my hon. Friend the Minister can read it out in extenso when he replies to the debate.
Fourthly, how can it be decided what is a Scottish or a United Kingdom issue? I was corrected by the Minister for referring to it as a "GB" issue. Amid the noise, I understood that that would be decided by an independent committee, but there may be two differences of opinion. I suspect that St. Andrew's house would tell the rest of the United Kingdom to keep out of the flow country of Caithness issue. The authorities, having received more letters on the flow country from "south of Bolton", as they put it, may think that it is a United Kingdom issue. I should like to know a little more about who will decide what is what on the flow issue.
Fifthly, there will be three scientific assessors to the joint committee. Will they simply advise, and why should they not be given full membership, which would give them more authority? If they are to be effective, they should be given full membership rather than simply remain as advisors.
Other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall refer briefly to a briefing paper that has been sent to several hon. Members by Angus Stirling, who is director-general of the National Trust. Under the heading, "The need for a scientific base of the highest calibre", he says :
"It is the Trust's strong view that national research programmes and monitoring, together with matters like impact assessment and control of pollution, marine nature conservation and the meeting of our international obligations can only be conducted on a fully integrated Great Britain basis."
Do the Government claim that they have met fully all the requests that they have received from several bodies for a fully integrated Great Britain basis? I do not know the
Column 121answer to that question. I concede to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that hitherto the National Trust for Scotland has taken a different view. He knows that Lester Borley and his colleagues have taken a different view. I told them of my criticisms. which were kindly answered by the Secretary of State during the debate on the Loyal Address.
What is the response to the NCC's own evidence? On clause 103(2), the NCC stated :
"It is vital that the discharge of nature conservation functions relating to Great Britain as a whole, and international matters, should be undertaken competently and also that common standards should be established and maintained by the Councils. However, the provisions which clause 103(2) makes in relation to the discharge of certain such functions by a Joint Committee appear to be deficient. In particular :
--there is no specific obligation on the Councils to establish a Joint Committee".
Under the Bill, apparently there is no specific obligation. According to the comment by the Secretary of State, a joint committee will be set up. Presumably there are consequential changes in the legislation.
The NCC went on to state :
"the Committee is given no express power to carry out the functions set out in 103(2), although there is an implied power".
Do the parliamentary draftsmen agree with that view? The NCC continued :
"there is no specific obligation on the Councils to refer work to the Committee or any duty on the Committee to carry out work which is referred to it".
Do the Government's lawyers accept that view? I hope that Ministers will get some advice from their advisers on those questions, preferably before Committee. The NCC stated :
"there is no provision for the Joint Committee to appoint a Chairman".
Presumably that point is now covered.
As for the choice of Lord Cranbrook as chairman, some of us have been admirers of a succession of House of Lords reports. We think that, given his Borneo experience and our personal knowledge of Lord Cranbrook, he is an excellent choice. A relative of mine who worked on a committee chaired by Magnus Magnusson and was a member of one of his previous committees, thinks that Magnus Magnusson is a good chairman. I make no complaint about the appointments, but we are curious about the chairmen's powers.
The NCC stated :
"there is no provision for the Committee to appoint officers, or to have officers appointed to it ; so,
consequently, there is no provision for the Committee to appoint (or have appointed to it) a Chief Officer or Accounting Officer. It is unclear who is responsible for sums expended by the Committee". We are considering the money resolution, so I wonder whether that point can be clarified. The NCC continued :
"there is no duty on the Committee or the Councils to report on the discharge of duties by the Committtee.
It is far from clear how the Joint Committee could undertake any of its functions under the proposed legal provisions."
Do Ministers think that they have overcome those objections? 10.27 pm
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : I am pleased that the Secretary of State for the Environment has remained in the Chamber for the debate on the money resolution. I raised the issue of opencasting on another occasion. I should
Column 122have thought that when the Government introduce a so-called green, environmentally friendly Bill, that theme would run through the whole of the Government's legislation. Tomorrow the House will debate the Report and Third Reading stages of the Coal Industry Bill, which contains something that is unfriendly to the environment. The Government, supported by the Secretary of State for the Environment, have introduced a Bill that increases the opencast mining that can take place under certain licences from 25,000 tonnes to --
Mr. Skinner : I think that you will understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that allowing the Coal Industry Bill to pass will mean that certain moneys will be expended. I am drawing a parallel. We are debating the money resolution. It is a complete contradiction to allow that increase from 25,000 tonnes to 250,000 tonnes when the Secretary of State claimed today that this so-called environmentally friendly Bill would protect the environment.
It is all very well the House making noises about protecting the green belt in Tory-held constituencies in the south. Hon. Members must remember that there are green belts in the north, the midlands, Scotland and Wales, and we want them protected, too. In increasing the licensed tonnages for opencast mining, I hope that the Government will bear it in mind that their policies should be consistent. I remind the Secretary of State--I do this deliberately--that one of his first acts as a so-called green Minister when he took office a few months ago was to allow an opencast operation at Clowne and Barlborough in my constituency, which the previous Secretary of State, "old fag ash", who was not well known for defending the environment, had prevented. Let us put it this way : an inquiry held that the opencast operation could only take place for 11 seconds a day. The present Secretary of State had had the job for about 48 hours when he overturned that decision, which his predecessor had allowed to remain in force for nearly two years.
I am not happy about certain aspects of the Bill because I do not think that it gives a fair crack of the whip to constituencies where opencasting can take place on a massive scale. Opencasting will leave large areas despoiled for many many years. We all know the story. They start with opencasting. They get a mining licence, then another one, and then another. They say, "It will only be for three or four years," but it turns out to be for five or 10 years and more. Those people make a large amount of money extracting opencast coal and leave a great big hole in the ground. They they say, "Hello. We've got a big hole here ; we'll fill it and make some more money." And there are ships hanging round outside every estuary in Britain waiting to dump their toxic waste.
I want the Minister or one of his Ministerial allies to tell us that we shall not have toxic waste dumped in holes in areas where opencasting takes place just so that those who make money from getting out the coal can make even more money. I suspect that that is what will happen. The Government will make general abstract noises about the environment. The Prime Minister and all the rest will be making environmentally friendly noises to Terry Wogan
Column 123and the media while at the same time these acts of violence will be committed against our countryside. I want some assurances. In our constituencies not so many years ago--
Mr. Skinner : In the Bolsover constituency. It is not mine. I am not like some hon. Members who come here and say, "In my constituency" and refer to "my Asians" and "my" this and "my" that. Constituencies do not belong to Members of Parliament. We are ships that pass in the night.
We had an experience in my constituency that we do not want to be repeated. Some opencasting took place in the Morton area. Then there was an explosion at Bolsover Coalite and they wanted to get rid of some dioxin, one of the most toxic poisons that has ever been invented. They dumped it in the hole, and the people of Morton have been complaining ever since. We do not want that repeated. If the Bill is to mean anything at all, it should make sure that private enterprise cannot perpetrate acts of that nature.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) has an opencast operation in his constituency, which borders on mine. It is called Smotherfly, and it started more than 10 years ago. The local community was told by environmentally friendly British Coal and the Opencast Executive, "It will not take long--a couple of years," but it is still going on. The owners want to expand and dump.
If the Government mean business, they should stop the incursion into the green belt in British coalfield areas. If it is all right for the green belts to be protected in the south, it is right and proper that the same should apply to the north, the midlands and elsewhere. I hope that the Minister can reassure us about that during our debates. If he can do that, he will help communities that have suffered blight, in some cases for centuries, and prevent such incursions in future.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). However, I suspect that it will be nuclear waste that will be dumped in those opencast holes, not toxic. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover will recall that after a statement about the dumping of nuclear waste, one Conservative Member after another rose to claim that such dumping was safe and wonderful. However, when it was announced that such dumping might occur in their constituencies, they said, "No, not here ; anywhere but here." Some of us suspect that mines were closed deliberately so that nuclear waste could be placed in them. It is right that we should scrutinise the Bill's money implications quite closely. The Bill states that the costs will, in many areas, be minimal. However, the environmental problems that the Bill seeks to address are by no means minimal.
In his opening remarks the Secretary of State said that the Bill would not be the last word on green issues. I hope that it is not the last word. It is certainly the first word on environmental protection in the past ten and a half years of this Government. The Government have just about got
Column 124beyond aardvark, one of the first words in the dictionary, and are moving on to aasvogel. By the way, an aasvogel is a vulture. The Government owe allegiance to capitalists and polluting big businesses. They are paying allegiance to the vultures which prey on the public purse through the pollution that they cause. The big businesses can pay, but they will not pay for pollution prevention measures or for compensation to people who suffer from their pollution. They will not pay to clean up their pollution. They will not pay because, quite simply, profits come first. The effects of the Bill on the public purse will be more than minimal. There must be public regulation and tough enforcement of the law and the Bill is lacking in that respect.
The Secretary of State referred to litter and the Bill refers to the costs to local authorities of litter control as minimal. I suspect that that will not be the case. We are all concerned about litter. However, we have only had gimmicks from the Government. Reference has been made to the Prime Minister picking up litter in Hyde park. Yet it was her entourage--and Denis in particular--who were screwing up the paper and throwing it on to the ground in the first place for her to pick up. Then there was the wonderful gimmick of Richard Branson and his Virgin litter soldiers. Mr. Branson and his mates did not do much of a job in that respect. I hope that the Bill will not be another litter gimmick.
Although this is the first Environmental Protection Bill, nearly 50 Acts of Parliament in the past decade have restricted money to local authorities. Millions of pounds have been cut from local authorities' budgets for street cleaning and refuse collection. The Government's gimmicks are a cover-up for that. I suspect that the Government are about to perpetrate yet another gimmick. We shall see about that. Part IX refers to waste disposal regulations and states that there will be an additional 15 staff in Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and that
"There will be a minimal increase in costs falling on local authorities arising from increased controls over the trade in wastes."
Again, the word "minimal" appears in the Bill.
The regulations for safe waste disposal are inadequate. Although there is a duty of care, making producers of waste responsible for the safe disposal of waste at all stages, the same cannot apply to foreign producers--foreign cowboys--who send toxic waste across the high seas.
We should adopt the clear principle that countries should deal with their own toxic waste. If they cannot do that, we should provide the technology to enable them to do so instead of bringing it to this country. The United Kingdom should not take other countries' dangerous and toxic waste, but we shall continue to do so under the provisions of the Bill. There will not be a minimal cost if an accident arises from the importation of toxic waste. Even policing costs will not be minimal.
There is an important implication, and I should like the Minister to deal with it, if he would care to listen to the point that I am raising about waste regulations. He is still not listening. I shall make the point in the hope that somebody else is listening, because I want to know the Government's position on waste regulation. I refer to the single market in 1992. Many people are saying that boundaries will not matter in the single market and that, therefore, waste can come to Britain from France, Italy
Column 125and Germany. Will waste be imported without restriction in 1992? The Government owe hon. Members a duty to make their position clear. Each country must deal with its own toxic waste.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Does my hon. Friend accept that this is a serious matter and that as an indication of the Government's lacklustre indifference to these issues, they have not made a statement on the rabies case at Rouen? That case was discovered on Friday and is a possible precursor to the spread of rabies to this country, which is only one of two rabies-free countries in the Common Market. If the Government were not prepared to take any action on that dreadful disease, they will clearly not take any action on toxic waste or other toxic waste and other environmental polluters.
Mr. Cohen rose--
Mr. Cohen : The importation of toxic waste is relevant because the explanatory and financial memorandum states that the cost to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution will be minimal. I will not deal with the point about rabies, as it was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). However, if there is an accident or if toxic waste becomes a trade across the borders of the United Kingdom, the cost will not be minimal.
Last summer, there was the Karin B scandal. The Bill has not tackled that properly. We need a clear statement that the Royal Navy will escort all such ships away. They should not be allowed anywhere near this country, and if they dump in or pollute the seas even outside the borders of the territorial waters of our coastline, the Royal Navy should arrest the skippers. Although the companies responsible for those ships should be penalised under British law, the Bill does not state that that will happen. The Government should take a stronger line on that.
Mr. Trippier : I know the hon. Gentleman well enough to know that he would not in any way wish to mislead the House, but that precise point is adequately covered in the Bill. As I made clear in my reply on Second Reading, the Secretary of State has unilateral powers that go further than those that have been proposed by the European Community on the importation of hazardous wastes. That is enshrined in the legislation. We have met that precise point. The Karin B example that the hon. Gentleman has given is entirely met by the provisions.
Mr. Cohen : I take the Minister's point. I know that those unilateral powers are available, but I want the Government to give a clear and categorical message to any group or company that in such a situation they will be dealt with in the way that I have suggested--the skipper will be arrested, the Navy will go in and see them off and the companies will be penalised. When the Minister replies, I should like him to give some assurances on that point. As I have said, I take the Minister's point about the Bill's unilateral powers, which I should like to see implemented.
The Minister also referred to businesses pleading commercial confidentiality to avoid providing information
Column 126to the public. Again, the money resolution states that the inspectorate of pollution will have a "minimal" increase in costs. If big polluting businesses thwart the inspectorate of pollution and the public will, the costs will not be minimal as the inspectorate tries to get the information that it should. That huge loophole can be related to the now privatised water companies. If any scandal of water pollution caused by the water companies were to be made public, it could affect that company's share price. Is that supposed to be the commercial confidentiality that would enable a water company not to tell the public the truth--that it has poisoned its local people, for example? That would be appalling. The public interest should come before that sort of thing. The public have the right to know in those circumstances.
I hope that the Minister will address that point because the notions of "commercially sensitive" and "commercial confidentiality" are much too wide. I hope that in Committee "commercial confidentiality" will be strictly defined and limited to avoid it being used as an excuse to thwart the public interest.
My remaining point relates to water pollution and to drinking water in London. Again, the financial effects of the Bill state that the costs of the inspectorate of pollution will be "minimal". According to some of the articles that I shall mention, the costs of cleaning up our supply of drinking water will not be "minimal" by any stretch of the imagination. If the EEC directive on drinking water and bathing beaches were implemented, the costs would certainly not be "minimal".
I refer the Minister to the secret tests that have been carried out at the River Lea, which were reported in The Guardian on Saturday. The article stated that tests for over 100 different chemicals were carried out in the water at Deephams sewage treatment works. No safe level has been set for those chemicals in the first place. The Bill does not set safe levels for different types of dangerous and toxic chemicals that can be found in the water supply. The article stated that the chemicals come from factories and businesses that have been encouraged to discharge their waste into the sewage system. Some of the chemicals that have been tested are listed as dangerous by the European Community and the World Health Organisation, but many have not even been tested.
All this has serious implications that should be taken into account in our consideration of the Bill and the money resolution. There should be a legal obligation for wider and more regular testing. There is no legal obligation to test for these dangerous chemicals in London's drinking water. If there were, it would result in more than a minimal cost. All the results of such tests should be made public, as should the results of the tests going on now, because the public have a right to know. I am afraid that privatisation has made the water industry even more tight-lipped about giving the public information.
In the autumn issue of Earth Matters, there was an excellent article by Andrew Lees, entitled "The Troubled Thames", in which he says that, despite the low-quality standards of what can be discharged into the Thames,
"60 of the 400 sewage treatment works operated by Thames Water broke the law in 1988-89 because they discharged substandard effluents."
He referred to a point that has not yet been mentioned when he said that on 5 July 1986, large volumes of untreated sewage were discharged into the River Thames. This resulted in the deoxygenation of miles of the river and
Column 127the deaths of millions of fish and much organic life. There has been a cover-up of that terrible incident. It will cost money to put that right, so the Bill should address the problem.
Thames Water put a bubbler barge into the Thames--something that cost £3 million. That did not prevent pollution. It was only intensive care for the river, once the damage had been done. Andrew Lees argues that to stop such an incident occurring again, interceptor sewers are needed. The ones on the Thames were built in 1874, and are not adequate, so more are needed. Even Thames Water acknowledges that, but it would cost hundreds of millions of pounds to protect the water standards.
That is not the minimal cost suggested by the money resolution and the Bill. That is a lot of money, but it can be put against the multi-million- pound property boom in docklands and elsewhere, which is overloading the system. Money from that should be put into protecting the quality of London water and improving the treatment of sewage, but the Government got nothing for that from the developers. That is another aspect of the Bill that will cost more than a minimal amount in years to come, and with which the Government should be dealing.
The National Rivers Authority has no legal powers to require factory owners, developers or farmers to invest in pollution prevention measures, or ways to avoid spillage. All this is serious, because the Thames provides drinking water for 6 million Londoners, and pollution must be prevented. Nothing in the Bill will improve the standard of drinking water and the state of the Thames, or prevent pollution of it, or provide a new sewerage system.
The Minister said that this is not the last word in green issues. I think that it is more like the first word. It has got past aardvark, which is the first word in the dictionary. I just hope that we get more effective environmental protection measures before we reach abaddon, because that means hell, and we do not want environmental hell.
I have a problem in Ashfield. The Secretary of State does not have it in Bath, the Minister has not got it in Rossendale and the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) has not got it in Macclesfield. I have a pollution problem and I want to know whether there is enough money around to deal with it. I raised the problem in the Committee considering the Coal Industry Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) knows. He mentioned Smotherfly opencast working. A massive chemical works has been there since the late 1800s. The opencast executive is planning to transfer toxic waste through a beautiful little village called Jacksdale. I have just recently moved there in preparation for retirement. Now it wants to dump all this toxic waste in that beautiful little village. Millionaires come up from the south to build properties there because it is so beautiful. It looks over the beautiful county of Derbyshire.
Column 128Millionaires come up to have a look and spend thousands of pounds on their properties. Beautiful mansions, they are.
We have many ex-miners living out their retirement there, yet the waste will be dumped right in the village. I have had a word with the new Minister for the Environment and Countryside. He did not want to know when he was the coal Minister, but now he is the environment Minister and he has some responsibility for Jacksdale.
I suggest that the Secretary of State brings his Minister to have a look at our problem. The local authority is trying to deal with it, but does not have enough money, equipment or bodies to solve the problem that that organisation is creating for the local people. I hope that the Secretary of State, the Minister and the
Under-Secretary of State have taken that on board. All three can come if they like. They do not have the problem themselves, but we have it. The people are playing hell at my surgeries on Saturday mornings. They want to see some action.
It is the Secretary of State's responsibility. He is covered in green, he says. He is worried about the ozone layer and pollution. We have pollution in my constituency and I want him to come and deal with it and, at the same time, find the necessary finance for the local authority to deal with the problem. He cannot solve it. He can only issue instructions and provide the cash. The local authority has to do the work and for that it needs the bodies and the equipment. I hope that the Secretary of State and his Ministers have taken that point on board.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory) : It has been a wide-ranging debate. If at times I have had difficulty linking the points raised to the money resolution, I shall nevertheless endeavour to answer them, and I shall certainly write to hon. Gentlemen if I cannot cover their points.
I am sorry to hear of the pollution problem of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes). I would not want in any way to blight his retirement plans, and I shall look into the problem when I return to the Department.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked about the joint statutory committee for the future Nature Conservancy Councils. I am aware that the chairman of the NCC has expressed general reservations about our plans. Other NCC members have expressed other opinions. For instance, the chairman of the English advisory committee has written to support generally our plans, and the same is true of the Welsh Committee.
I assure the hon. Member for Linlithgow that the joint statutory committee will have a strong science base. It will