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Mr. Gould : Clearly the hon. Gentleman was not listening to me. It is perfectly clear that on this issue the Labour party is supported by all those involved in nature conservancy and the protection of the environment. That remains the case. Even today I received a copy of a lengthy letter addressed to the Secretary of State for Scotland by the Worldwide Fund for Nature's Scottish conservation office which expressed again, on behalf of that organisation and others which have been involved in conversations with the Secretary of State, fundamental reservations and opposition to the measure.
The Government may look for political allies, and that confirms my view that the Bill is a political measure. However, when we judge the measure according to nature conservancy and protecting the environment, I am content to look to allies with some expertise in that area.
Mr. Chris Patten : While the hon. Gentleman is on this point, will he clear up the issue about where the Leader of the Opposition stands in relation to this matter? Does the Leader of the Opposition agree with the political consensus referred to by hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), or has the Leader of the Opposition changed his mind? As the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) will be aware, on 6 November the Leader of the Opposition's secretary told one of the right hon. Gentleman's constituents :
"Mr. Kinnock was grateful for the information provided and welcomes the proposal to establish a Countryside Council for Wales." Is that still the position of the Leader of the Opposition?
Column 57Mr. Gould : The Secretary of State is being uncharacteristically slapdash. He failed to understand my earlier point, and his advisers have failed to draw his attention to Hansard of 7 December. In an Adjournment debate on that date, my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) referred to the point in the same terms that I have dealt with it.
The Secretary of State continues to confuse the extent of devolution in Wales and Scotland in nature conservancy and protection and the separate point about the destruction of the Nature Conservancy Council. We regard the latter point as being unacceptable and that destruction is condemned in Britain as a whole and in Scotland by such bodies as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Friends of the Earth and vast majority of the community concerned with such issues.
Mr. Malcolm Bruce : How can the Labour party support the devolution of nature conservancy to Scotland without recognising that we must create a separate Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland? It is not convincing to claim that the two issues are separate.
Mr. Gould : I will gladly deal with that point. We are not opposed to some element of devolution and we would welcome that and intend to bring forward our proposals when we return to government. However, any element of devolution must be genuine devolution. It must not be achieved through the creation of a non-accountable quango based on a deal cobbled together between the Scottish Office and a minority of vested interests. It must be based on a genuine devolution affecting all of Scotland's interests, not just those of a powerful minority who want afforestation to proceed.
The devolution must be motivated by a genuine desire to improve the Scottish environment and it must not damage or fragment the increasingly international breadth of the conservation efforts being made throughout Europe and beyond. The Government's proposals fail on all those counts, and that is why we oppose the Bill.
The Secretary of State recognises the force and justice of our arguments. We must be clear that the proposals are not like other proposals that the Secretary of State inherited in other parts of the brief. We can perhaps forgive the Secretary of State for feeling himself to be locked in on such matters as the poll tax and water privatisation. We can understand that he may feel that he cannot do much about those matters. However, the Secretary of State must bear the responsibility for the proposals under consideration today. The Secretary of State is unable to buck the deal which has been made. He has been unwilling to face up to the possibility of a Cabinet battle in order to rid himself of these unpopular and friendless measures. That is why he has come forward with an absolutely typical response. He has recognised the force of the argument and the need to maintain a national body to maintain the scientific base to participate in international arrangements and to advise the Government on national policy.
In recognising that, the right hon. Gentleman pulls the rug from under the proposals. In his attempt to deal with the force of the argument, he comes forward, typically, with a cosmetic arrangement which appears to give back what has been taken away, but really leaves the substance of the proposals unchanged. That is what is wrong with this part of the Bill, even with the changes announced by
Column 58the Secretary of State today. Having destroyed the Nature Conservancy Council, he is trying to undo the damage with a device that will satisfy no one and which falls far short of what is required to make the new co-ordinating body effective.
That is why so many questions have been left unanswered. The RSPB wants to know where is the independent budget for the co-ordinating committee, where are the staff to carry out Great Britainwide functions and where are the powers to direct the agencies as to priorities in conservation matters. It is not too late for the Secretary of State to withdraw this ill-considered measure, and I urge him to do so now.
There is much more to be said. With regard to litter, the Secretary of State and I agree that filthy streets in our cities are one of the major and most viable manifestations of what is going wrong in Britain today. There is no point in willing the ends without willing the means.
With regard to genetically modified organisations-- [Laughter.] I am sorry, I meant genetically modified organisms. However, we are well accustomed to dealing with such organisations when dealing with the Government. Part VI is also very important, and it is badly drafted. We will have to pay particular attention to that issue in Committee.
With regard to dumping at sea, the Bill perpetrates a confidence trick which diverts attention from the fact that Britain remains the only country which continues to dump dangerous chemicals in the North sea, and that should be a cause of shame and regret. However, the Government persist in refusing to accept any timetable in that matter or any commitment to ending that practice.
The Bill is defective, and it will provide an enormous amount of work for the Standing Committee if it is to be made effective and workable. We face that task with good will, and we intend to improve the Bill in Committee. We believe that it can be made more effective and that some of the deficiencies can be made good. If the Secretary of State will listen to reason, we believe that some of the Bill's mistakes and errors of commission can be remedied.
We do not give up hope on the Bill. That is why we are not flatly opposing it by simply voting against the Second Reading. We are opposing it on a reasoned amendment which sets out the basis of our disquiet, concern and disappointment. That is why we ask the House to support our reasoned amendment and to vote against the Bill. Several hon. Members rose--
Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green) : I cannot for one moment accept the hyperbole of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) or the Labour party's ridiculous posture in imposing a three-line Whip on a Bill of this sort. I can only assume that, after a disastrous and dismal record of neglect in government, the Labour party is now trying to prove to the country that it is like the proverbial fig--green on the outside while remaining red on the inside. I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has only recently come to these issues, but he should be far more careful about his sources than he clearly was in the preparation of
Column 59his speech. It is no good relying on sources reporting what the Minister said at a meeting which the Minister does not recognise, or relying on what the Nature Conservancy Council has said internally when all its public statements are quite to the contrary. The hon. Gentleman diminishes his arguments by making such a speech. I must confess that I am a little disappointed with the Bill-- [Interruption.] I should like to know what Bill is not a disappointment to most hon. Members. I am disappointed that the Bill does not contain all that I should like to see in it. Nevertheless, it contains a large number of useful and long-needed measures which it would be totally irresponsible to vote down.
I welcome part I because of the integrated pollution control regime that it introduces. As has been said on previous occasions, it is impossible to separate the interrelationship between land, water and air and the effect that emissions into one has upon all the others. Environmentalists outside the House have generally recognised that part I will introduce the most stringent form of pollution control to be found in Europe. That is something to be proud of, not to be thrown away lightly or for party political reasons.
However, I wish to put some questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the implementation of IPC. The burden of ensuring IPC will lie upon Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. In recent months, many worrying reports and rumours have circulated about the state of morale in HMIP. There have been successive resignations, overshadowed by the recent tragic death of its latest head, Brian Ponsford, to whom the Secretary of State rightly paid tribute. Does that not underline the existing lack of morale in HMIP? Can the prevailing idea that IPC can be achieved by asking one inspector to look after all aspects of pollution control on an industrial site be sound? Instead, would it not be better for separate disciplines, knowledge and training to be involved, quite apart from the distinct traditions of the different inspectorates that have been brought together to form HMIP? Surely IPC should not mean one man trying to tackle all the problems of air, land and water. It means multi-disciplinary teams of experts working together over a common problem.
I should like that idea to be promulgated within HMIP, and I should like my right hon. Friend to take charge of HMIP strategy, structure, formation and resources, to make sure that the present unhappy state can be corrected. My right hon. Friend referred to the number of inspectors in post and the Bill envisages the creation of 15 new inspectors, but the announcement in October 1988 that more inspectors will be recruited has not been implemented. My right hon. Friend has sought more money from the Treasury and has increased salary scales, but even now, because of the overall position of HMIP, he has not been as successful as he would like in the recruitment of a vital force to ensure that the legislation has teeth and is effective. The difficulty of interface between HMIP and the National Rivers Authority must be resolved if difficult demarcation disputes are not to arise and affect the morale of one or other of those bodies. These are serious administrative matters for the Secretary of State. Hon.
Column 60Members cannot deal with them on the Floor of the House--it is not within our competence to do so--but we can ask my right hon. Friend to give them personal attention.
I welcome, too, in part I the reinforcement of the principle that the polluter pays. The most significant provision in part I is the requirement for the payment of, I hope, substantial fees for authorisations. If a polluter finds that he must pay a lot of money to emit pollution, he will look at ways within his processes to reduce emissions so that he can get a cheaper authorisation in future. That is how I hope the system will work.
Like the hon. Member for Dagenham, I am a little troubled by the wording of the condition that processes should use the
"best available techniques not entailing excessive cost to prevent, and minimise releases of, prescribed substances".
On the face of it, the requirement seems admirable and should encourage waste minimisation, which is essential. It is certainly an advance on the old formula of "best practical means". However, I am not clear about the words "excessive cost". Do they mean excessive in proportion to the cost of the processes being carried out or excessive in proportion to the cost of cleaning up the environment or making good damage that is caused by processes?
The difference in definition is crucial and will make a great deal of difference to the way in which industry's attitudes are fashioned and altered by our legislation. I hope that that matter will be clarified in Committee to the satisfaction of hon. Members. Part II deals with the control of waste management, a matter to which the Select Committee's report on toxic waste, which was published more than a year ago, is highly relevant. I warmly welcome those aspects of the Bill which strengthen controls on waste management. They are very much along the lines of my Committee's recommendations. In particular, the concept of duty of care from cradle to grave in respect of all waste is of outstanding importance.
It is important that we do not delay the passage of the Bill for other considerations. My right hon. Friend knows that I should have preferred the principle of strict liability, rather than reasonable care, to be imposed. Reasonable care raises the concept of negligence and all the defences that can arise in negligence cases. Again, the Standing Committee might care to examine that matter further. I should like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or my hon. Friend the Minister of State to tell me when the code of practice, which is at the heart of the duty of care, is to be issued for consultation because people outside the House are waiting anxiously to see the extent of the advice that is to be given about the duty of care.
My right hon. Friend referred to my next point and he knows that I must do so, too. He knows that I am more than disappointed that the Government have not accepted the Committee's recommendations for larger licensing units. We suggested that there should be 10 regulatory authorities for the United Kingdom, structured along the lines of the successful London Waste Regulation Authority, rather than continuing the existing framework of local authorities which, as was clearly shown in the evidence adduced by my Committee, has largely failed in the task given to it. Although some local authorities are obviously better than others, the bad ones are very, very bad.
Column 61We are left with the anxiety of how, when there are 173 authorities dealing with these matters, we can achieve the uniformity of practice and standards throughout the United Kingdom that is essential if we are not to perpetuate the current situation of rubbish and waste being moved from one part of the country to another simply because in that other area the regulations and controls are less strict and the local authority does not care or charge enough. I expect that we shall return to this matter in the future.
There is an attempt in part II to meet our criticism of the poacher- gamekeeper regime that is operated by the current structure of local waste authorities, which are based partly on the county councils and partly on the district councils. However, the provisions seem to leave in place the system under which the variations in standards are so worrying.
My attention has been drawn to clause 41, which it is suggested will cause considerable confusion and difficulty--especially in London--the area with which I am most concerned as I am a London Member of Parliament. In Greater London, the waste disposal duties will be carried out by the four statutory authorities and 12 local authorities ; the duties for waste collection will be carried out by the 33 London boroughs and the duties for waste regulation will rest, as now, with the London Waste Regulation Authority. It is proposed that the duties for preparing waste disposal plans will rest with the waste regulation authorities for the whole of the United Kingdom, except in London. There, the duty will rest with the 33 London boroughs, which are the collection authorities, not even the disposal authorities. I cannot see the logic behind that framework. The duty of the collection authorities to produce waste recycling plans requires consultation with the waste disposal authorities where the duties differ. However, in Greater London there is no requirement for the London boroughs to consult the London Waste Regulation Authority about either waste recycling plans or waste disposal plans.
Sir Hugh Rossi : If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I should rather not give way because I do not want to detain the House for too long. The provisions that deal with the preparation of these most important plans do not lay down a timetable although we have had the experience of the Control of Pollution Act 1974. Today, 15 years later, a disgracefully large number of local authorities have still not submitted their waste disposal plans to the Department. However, a Bill has been presented to us in which local authorities are to be required to produce further plans but which does not lay down a timetable. This matter requires remedy.
I could continue to discuss many other aspects of the Bill, but I am conscious that many hon. Members wish to participate in the debate and I do not want to abuse my opportunity. Generally speaking, the conclusions of the hon. Member for Dagenham about the Nature
Column 62Conservancy Council are unfounded in view of the statements that my right hon. Friend has made today. My right hon. Friend has met all the objections that have been raised hitherto about the proposal for the creation of three regional bodies. I welcome especially the imposition of a duty on local authorities to keep their streets clean, rather than them merely having a power to do so. The residents of Haringey and the constituents of Hornsey and Wood Green will bless my right hon. Friend for that. I commend the Bill to the House. 6.6 pm
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) : I shall endeavour to discuss my party's attitude to this big Bill in the 10 minutes available to me, but I shall obviously be unable to cover some points. First, I must make it clear that we shall support the Bill and that we do not support the Labour party's rather spurious opposition to the Bill as it stands. We should certainly like a more radical Bill, but that is different from whether one should support the Bill as it stands. There are urgent environmental problems in this country and it would be appropriate to ensure that the Bill addresses them. We shall table amendments accordingly.
The Bill does not address the need to change attitudes and habits. Nor does it deal with the problems of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions which it could address. The Bill does not take the action on chlorofluorocarbons which the West German Government already have in hand. It does not set adequate targets for recycling, although that may be achieved in Committee. The Bill does not reduce the pressure on local communities faced with an upsurge of new toxic waste disposal applications, to which I referred when I intervened in the Secretary of State's speech. The Bill does not set standards or codes of practice ; it only enables those standards to be set. Such standards and codes of practice should be published while the Bill is in hand.
The Bill falls short in terms of actions taken by councils that the Liberal -Democrats control or influence. We are doing things that other authorities should be doing, and it is a pity that at this stage the Bill has not adopted the best practice that
Liberal-Democrat councils have established throughout the country, which has been acknowledged not only by our party but by environmental organisations.
The Bill does not deal with public transport policy--legitimately I am sure that the Secretary of State will say--or the need to achieve the dramatic increases in energy efficiency that the Department of Energy says can be achieved but has no plans to set in hand. The Bill does not address the need to change manufacturing technology so that we eliminate many waste disposal problems and ensure that recycling is a characteristic that is built into product manufacture in the future. But although there are many gaps in the Bill, there are also many elements that we support and that we shall seek to strengthen by amendments.
It has already been said that the integrated pollution control section of the Bill is only an enabling section and that its real value will depend on the measures that the Secretary of State introduces and on the codes of practice and standards that are established. It is acknowledged that the present position has been reached by a piecemeal approach that needs sorting out. Unfortunately, now,
Column 63before the Bill is law, we have a proliferation of applications for planning permission and for new licences for existing toxic waste sites.
It looks like a break for cover before the new regulations come into effect. Most local authorities are understandably ducking out. Nobody wants to give planning permission or to issue licences for new toxic waste sites, and most of the applications will land on the Secretary of State's desk, if they have not already done so. Therefore, it is in the right hon. Gentleman's own interest to establish those standards so that he can use them as a means of judging applications.
In the past few weeks, I have visited a number of existing and proposed sites, in places like Doncaster, Walsall and Matlock, and the Rechem facility at Pontypool. I have seen how contentious those sites are, and how much local opposition there is. In Doncaster, Matlock and Walsall, there is concern about toxic waste getting into the water system, about processes that do not fulfil the claims that were made for them and about gases and carcinogenic materials being released into the atmosphere. The public are not sure that the existing set-up gives adequate safeguards.
The Rechem plant at Pontypool uses a system that I understand would be banned in West Germany. I was not happy to see a door through which toxic wastes and polychlorinated biphenyls were being loaded left open without a canopy. There had been a blow back, and I could see smoke seeping out while I was watching. Although the management told me that the draught would pull this through, I was not reassured by what I saw. I should like a system that would give more public assurance and more control.
I am also concerned about the fact that local authorities will be responsible for long-term monitoring of sites tht have been developed by commercial interests. It is not right that commercial interests should secure the profit and leave the public sector to underwrite the long-term protection of the environment and the costs of environmental damage that might be so produced.
Litter is not very exciting, but it causes widespread concern, and there is no doubt that the politicians who can solve the problem of dog excrement will be one of the most popular people in the country, because this problem continually recurs with no adequate resolution. The habits of many of our citizens are less than the best in dealing with their litter and environment. Without singling them out, I have to say that I am concerned when I walk and drive round the streets of Aberdeen to see the citizens throwing litter out of car windows and dropping it on the pavement without regard to the mess that they are causing or the cost of cleaning it up. We must encourage people to be more litter-conscious.
We have to be cautious about genetically modified organisms. There is a temptation to believe that we can play God and fix the environment. These processes should be treated on a case-by-case approach, and carte blanche should not be given to even the most reputable of organisations.
The most contentious issue is, predictably, the reform of the Nature Conservancy Council. My party has long called for the devolution of nature conservancy to Scotland and Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for
Column 64Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) was the first to call for the creation of a Scottish nature conservancy council. Therefore, we welcome the proposal, although we shall table some detailed amendments.
It is extraordinary that the Labour party opposes this move. Because this proposal was introduced by the previous Secretary of State, whom they understandably did not like, many of the environmental groups have not worked out the logic of the argument. I have asked them to explain why it is impossible for a Scottish body, a Welsh body and an English body to establish nature conservancy standards that meet the needs of the local communities and the environmentalists.
The issue is how these are constituted, whether they are genuinely independent and whether they can ensure that the local community and conservation interests are properly represented. We shall press to ensure that that is the case. We want adequate funding, and where there is a United Kingdom-wide case for joint research and advice, that should be produced. The Government have responded to many of the representations, and we look forward to clearing up the details in Committee.
As a Scottish Member of Parliament, I find some of the arguments against this proposal patronising and arrogant, and based on the assumption that people in England have a greater commitment to the environment than those of us who live, work and have our being in Scotland. Many do not realise that, in large parts of Scotland, people are the endangered species. They should be taken into account and their interests should be monitored. Fish farming must be done in an environmentally sensitive way, forestry must be to scale and in a way that takes account of local needs and species must be protected ; a body based in Scotland and staffed by Scottish people would be capable of doing that.
I hope that the Secretary of State will go even further in his devolution and establish the body in the north of Scotland, because many of the most contentious environmental issues are there. Furthermore, the Government should accept that a Scottish body should be based outside the central belt and in the rural areas that it is designed to serve.
I have cantered over this long and detailed Bill as quickly as I can. It is useful, in that it gives us an opportunity to deal with legislation on environmental issues. It is not the radical Bill that is needed to tackle the global and major environmental problems, but it can address some of the other issues. We shall be tabling amendments to strengthen the Bill and to clarify the Government's points. We shall introduce some means to ensure that the Bill is more radical. However, we do not see any justification for opposing the Bill. The opportunity to legislate on environmental matters should be welcomed and the Labour party has made a tactical mistake in deciding to oppose it. It will be labelled a party that is not prepared to legislate on the environment and to use the opportunity presented by the Bill. Instead, it is trying to frustrate it.
Sir Charles Morrison (Devizes) : I am glad of the support of the Social and Liberal Democrats for much of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is proposing, and I agree with what the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) said about nature conservation--a
Column 65subject that will occupy most of my speech. However, I shall start with a few remarks about other aspects of the Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the White Paper on the environment to be published later this year. I hope that, before he draws his conclusions about what should be included in the White Paper, he will take account of the views that may be expressed by the many voluntary environmental organisations, and perhaps even go so far as to consult some of them.
Meanwhile, it can be reasonably claimed that the Bill is state-of-the-art legislation. It is good for environmental protection, for conservation, for the appearance of town and country and for my temper because, for once, I can give a Bill my wholehearted support--somthing that I have not been able to give to a lot of other legislation that we have had recently.
I am glad that the powers of local authorities to deal more easily with local nuisances, particularly noise, are to be strengthened. Noise is one of the most insidious and infuriating interferences in people's private lives, so I hope that local authorities will not hold back in the use of their new strength and power. I welcome the statutory duty on litter to be put on local authorities.
What will be the position with litter on roads and motorways? Will litter on motorways be the responsibility of the local authority through whose area the motorway runs, or will it be the responsibility of the Department of Transport? For the next three months, when grass and undergrowth are at their lowest, it will be evident that motorways are a disgrace. I hope that the duties imposed on local authorities to control litter will also apply to the Department of Transport.
I am glad to note that, since my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced his proposed ban on straw burning, plans for the construction of factories to make use of straw in paper production have been mooted. That shows yet again that necessity is the mother of invention. None the less, the Government must realise that, in some parts of the country, the ban on straw burning will result in difficulties, particularly where soils are thin and the incorporation of straw is difficult.
Farmers will wish to use more nitrogen to increase the breakdown of straw, and that will lead to difficulties with water purity. Additionally, areas such as Salisbury plain and the Cotswolds have thousands of adjacent acres of straw at harvest time. My right hon. Friends will have to give careful consideration to the possibility of a licensing system, if only to create fire breaks for fear that there may be a huge conflagration covering many thousands of acres. In considering the proposed changes for nature conservation, I wish that we did not have to be where we are. In theory, the Nature Conservancy Council meets the need. It provides the Government with advice on conservation, it manages national nature reserves, informs and warns the public, and initiates inquiries and research. Annually it produces an excellent report, albeit not as attractive or as readable as that published by the Game Conservancy, of which I am chairman.
Why, therefore, propose changes in the structure of the NCC, amending the manner in which England, Scotland and Wales are to be dealt with? The answer is that the NCC is not working out in practice as well as it should or as well as it needs to. Based at Peterborough, it is virtually
Column 66impossible for it to take full account of the delicate sensitivities of people in Scotland and Wales, let alone in some parts of England.
Too many of those who work for the NCC--I am sorry to have to say this-- appear to have forgotten that, in advancing the cause of nature conservation, one cannot disregard or even discount the influence, interest and interests of the most important mammal on earth, man. Even when account has been taken of the importance of mankind, too often NCC personnel on the ground have not taken adequate account of mankind's interest and interests.
If we want successful conservation, we must take account of farmers, farm workers, landowners, foresters, forestry workers, gamekeepers and local councillors who are elected to represent local people and their opinions. I do not claim for a moment that all those people are right all the time. Far from it. Often they are wrong. If nature conservation is to proceed effectively, the feathers of all those assorted birds must be smoothed, not ruffled.
Far too often, feathers have been ruffled when some NCC employee, often young, perhaps still wet behind the ears and with limited experience and a limited view of life, lands on an important site for conservation, like Christopher Columbus having just discovered America, and behaves as if no one has ever been there before and certainly as if no one has paid any attention to its conservation. Yet, often, the basic reason why the site has retained the characteristics which give it its significance is that, by his action or purposeful inaction for the past 10, 20, 40 or even 50 years, the farmer or landowner has maintained the site, only to discover that from now on he is to be treated as a threat to its preservation. When that happens, there is bound to be a political reaction. In this case, it has meant that many people do not have the confidence that they should have in the existing NCC structure. The moral to be drawn by all organisations and Government Departments is that they must pay attention to the people on the ground.
The Government are right to propose an alternative structure based on the component parts of the United Kingdom. I have no doubt that in future people in Scotland and Wales will be able to take pride in their council as they cannot do in the NCC at present. I have no doubt also that the Secretaries of State will compete furiously with each other to extract more money from the Treasury for the benefit of conservation.
The establishment of the joint committee is of fundamental importance, but there is a bit of an anomaly in that the chairman of the Countryside Council for Wales has responsibility for nature conservation as well as the countryside, whereas the chairmen of the Nature Conservancy Council for England and for Scotland do not have countryside responsibilities. What consideration has my right hon. Friend given, if not to the amalgamation of the NCC and Countryside Commission, at least to their close involvement, perhaps through the joint committee?
What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to the advancement of nature conservation via the European Commission? It will become increasingly necessary to have the equivalent of a Nature Conservancy Council, perhaps on a mini basis, available to the Commission to advise it as the NCC advises our Government. If that council does not exist, it will be to the disadvantage of nature
Column 67conservancy throughout Europe. It will make the task of producing sensible European legislation more difficult than it needs to be. 6.25 pm
Mr. Gordon Oakes (Halton) : Like many others, I welcome many of the provisions in the Bill but, as they have said, it is extremely limited. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) said, the crucial issues of global warming and acid rain are notmentioned--
Mr. Chris Patten rose --
I am surprised that the Secretary of State said that the Bill was central to the Government's strategy for dealing with environmental pollution. Many people will be surprised at that because, as many Tory Members realise, we are talking about what will probably be the major battleground of the next general election. The British people are extremely worried about the environment. They voted massively, in protest, for the Green party at the European elections. I do not think that they will do that at the general election, but they will compare Conservative and Labour policies. If this Bill is central to the Government's strategy for dealing with environmental pollution, I am afraid that the electorate will find the Conservative party considerably wanting.
Although many of the aims of the Bill are laudable and well intentioned, I fear that the Government will not put money where their mouth is. It is clear from the explanatory and financial memorandum at the beginning of the Bill that the mean way in which resources are planned will not match the considerations that local authorities will be asked to express. These ideas have been around for a decade and some for longer. To use appropriate language, this is legislative uncontrolled tipping. All the matters are swept together in one Bill.
In particular, I welcome the provisions on recycling. I congratulate the Secretary of State on having got the word recycling and any idea of it into the Bill. Fifteen years ago, when I was Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, I had the duty of preparing a Green Paper on recycling. Out of it arose a waste management advisory council, which I, together with my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) chaired. Both of us were keen on recycling. The public were keen on it. Industry was somewhat ambivalent. If my memory serves me correctly, local authorities were not at all keen, and civil servants hated the whole idea. That is why I congratulate the Secretary of State on including recycling in the Bill.
There are many problems. The Bill does not answer all the questions about recycling.
We should tackle recycling by naming the substances to be recycled--paper, plastics, bottles, cardboard and aluminium--in the Bill.
The Government should consider placing receptacles at all supermarkets of a certain size and at off-licences so that those shops' waste materials can be collected. The public are keen on recycling if the facilities are provided for them to do so. I wish that the Government had used the Bill to impose a duty on existing supermarkets, new super-markets and off-licences to make provision for such collection points in the curtilages of their car parks. A deposit system on bottles should also be reintroduced. That may not be within the purview of the Department of the Environment, but that was the system that operated when I was a young chap. One could return beer bottles, pop bottles and all the rest and one received a penny or tuppence on them. I am certain that the public would welcome the reintroduction of that system, but I am not sure about the retailers. The Government, however, should take the initiative. When I was a Minister, various local authorities pointed out to me--the rule still applies--that the market for such things as waste paper is fickle. The Government should consider the possibility of the bottom falling out of that market. That happens from time to time, and the local authorities that recycle paper are left with vast stacks of it. That occurs because, at the time, it so happens that it is cheaper for manufacturers to use virgin trees and forests than recycled paper. The Government should stabilise that market by insisting that certain products are made from recycled paper only. I am glad that there are provisions on litter in the Bill as we have become a filthy nation. Foreigners always remark on the state of our streets, particularly in cities. A British citizen who has lived abroad for a length of time, and who comes back, is appalled at the state of our streets, public places and Underground stations. An initiative undertaken in the city of Westminster has supposedly made great strides, but Westminster is still filthy.
The public are, of course, to blame for dropping litter. The Government, however, bear some blame as they have borne down so heavily on local authorities that those authorities are unable to spend the money that they did on cleaning up the streets, or emptying the bins. Local authorities provide litter bins at capital cost, but they do not have the money to spend on the manpower needed to empty them. When that happens, the worst of all situations arises, with overflowing litter bins causing litter to be blown across the streets. The Government should carry some blame for our little problem.
The explanatory and financial memorandum of the Bill states : "The duty to keep land clear of litter and refuse may entail some additional costs for some authorities."
There is no doubt that that duty will entail additional costs for all authorities. When the Secretary of State attends the next revenue support grant meeting, he should bear that in mind. The Government have omitted to recognise that the
Column 69collection of litter is manpower-intensive. The only capital plant that is needed is a sack and a spike, but many people are needed to pick up the litter.
There is no mention in the Bill of one of the principal causes of pollution --dogs.