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Mr. Oakes : That may be so, but there is nothing about what should happen to dog owners. It is no use putting up notices about prosecutions should a dog foul a pavement--there are many loose dogs and they are notably illiterate. Unless something is done to provide a dog registration scheme, the problem will get worse. That would be the suitable answer to deal with people who turn their dogs loose on school playing fields for the purpose of fouling that area. There is much in the Bill that I like, but there is much more that should be included.
Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch) : I give a broad, genuine welcome for a substantial measure that covers a number of important areas. The major items in the Bill have been out for discussion for two or three years, so it is right and proper to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). Sometimes he is not the obvious model for every conservationist, but, as originator of the Bill in draft form, he deserves full tribute.
I also pay tribute to the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), who has temporarily left the Chamber. In a good speech, he set out precisely why many hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber who speak after him will no doubt sound like Little Sir Echo, such is his command of the subject. The leadership that he gives to the Committee is extremely good.
Integrated pollution control represents the central part of the Bill, and associated with that is waste minimisation. When the Select Committee visited the United States during its inquiry, it was brought home to us that waste minimisation is the starting point for tackling waste disposal. It is no use looking at what one has at the end : one must find ways in which to reduce the waste in the first place. I welcome the emphasis on waste minimisation in part I. When we move on to the best available techniques for such waste minimisation, we shall need detailed definitions within the regulations so that industry and commerce have some reasonable idea about the route that they should follow. Arguably, waste minimisation could also crop up with advantage elsewhere in the Bill. In Committee, we may discover other ways in which to extend that process. Hon. Members have already spoken about the need for adequate resources at the centre of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. The Bill speaks of the financial impact of an increase of 30 members to that inspectorate, but I believe that that increase will be the bare minimum in terms of the work that will be needed from that body in the future.
There is also a particular need to clarify the relationship between parts I and II of the Bill. In that regard, I am picking up points not only made by the Confederation of
Column 70British Industry, but by the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors, whose members are the major operators in this sphere. I have received a letter which states :
"Part I introduces integrated pollution control for prescribed processes and prescribed substances, to be applied by authorisations granted by HMIP or, in cases to be designated in respect of air emissions only, by a local authority. IPC is intended to control pollution caused by the release of substances into air, water or land. But, most substances released into land are likely to be waste materials--which are to be dealt with under part II of the Bill." There is some uncertainty about how parts I and II link together, particularly as part I will be the responsibility of HMIP, whereas part II will be the resposibility of the waste regulatory authorities. The House would not want unfairly and unneccessarily to burden businesses with two totally separate lots of controls if that can be avoided.
On waste disposal, my right hon. Friend's earlier comments show that he has taken on board that fact that parts of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 were simply inoperable. That was, and is, the central criticism of the Act. It is welcome to see in clause 31 that he is tackling the nonsense whereby the operator of a site taking waste disposal material may simply surrender the licence and walk away as if he had no other responsibilities. It is extraordinary that we passed such legislation all those years ago, and its rectification is overdue.
I give an unqualified welcome to clause 40, which deals with recycling and the necessity for local authority plans. As many hon. Members know, this country produces 18 million tonnes per annum of domestic waste, of which we currently recycle 2.7 million tonnes--about 15 per cent. That compares with 50 per cent. in West Germany and 60 per cent. in Denmark. My right hon. Friend has taken on board the necessity to improve those low figures, which are partly the consequence of the highly variable skills of local
authorities--which were referred to by previous speakers. Some local authorities are very good indeed, while others have hardly started to tackle the issue.
My right hon. Friend must ensure that the plans which the local authorities are required to produce, are produced. We would not want to be coming back here 15 or 16 years after this Bill is enacted, as we are having to do because a number of plans under the 1974 Act are still not being produced by local authorities.
I shall introduce what may be a minority view when I comment on clauses 109 and 110, which deal with the control which the Secretary of State is to have over the shipment of waste. I am concerned that it is easy, in an emotional response, to say yes, the Government and my right hon. Friend or his successors must have such powers. I pause and suggest that proper, good and safe waste disposal does and will require substantial capital investment, some certainty of market and all the proper skills expected in a developed market and science. It requires some certainty.
If there are materials such as chemicals that we do not wish to import or tranship, we should spell that out in legislation. Logically, that is the way to do it. We should say that we want no truck with such materials. My fear is that under clauses 109 and 110--I see from one or two nods that I may not be in the minority--whoever is in my right hon. Friend's position will find that he or she has created a rod for his or her own back. At the first hint of something different coming in--it may be less dangerous than many things that we currently import for a wide
Column 71variety of uses--my right hon. Friend will be pressurised into banning it. It may be right to do so, but a better approach is to spell out in advance what we want and do not want.
As the originator of the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985, I can only welcome as overdue the inclusion in the Bill of clauses 18 and 54 which deal with public information registers. They face up squarely to the need for the public to be better informed about such matters and provide an opportunity for discussion, when it takes place, to be rational rather than emotional. The exchanges between my right hon. Friend and Opposition spokesmen marginally improved my knowledge of this matter. I recognise that there will be grounds for commercial confidentiality. However, I urge my right hon. Friend to resist stoutly any suggestions that he faces bloodcurdling fears and tremors from industry. In my experience, most of the forebodings about public information and availability turn out to be groundless once the system is in operation.
My last detailed point relates to noise pollution. Clause 64 could be taken to refer to noise pollution, among various other forms of pollution. It simplifies the procedures for abating nuisances. I welcome that, but I fear that it will not be enough on its own. Noise, particularly in city areas, is all-pervasive, and arguably one of the biggest pollutants of all after poverty. There is an enforcement problem, which may be partly due to the absence of a simple and agreed measurement of what constitutes unacceptable noise. I note that a committee is to report to my right hon. Friend in due course. Its findings may not be included in this measure, but I hope that they will be included in a future measure.
My right hon. Friend wrote a good book, "The Tory Case" which I read over Christmas. In it, he said :
"We may stand a better chance of encouraging man to have more respect for nature than of inducing man to have more respect for man".
The Bill encourages that respect. I give it my full endorsement and look forward to serving on the Committee.
Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower) : As Chairman of the Welsh Select Committee currently undertaking an inquiry into toxic waste disposal in Wales, I was grateful for this opportunity to make, first, some introductory remarks. The activities of the Department of the Environment must be watched carefully. Its ducking and diving on the 1976 directive on bathing water of the EC is a classic example of its activities. To avoid implementing the directive, the Department defined a bathing beach in such a way that not a single bathing beach existed in Wales. The directive was therefore rendered inapplicable in Wales because it applied only to beaches used for bathing. The Association of County Councils says that it is over- optimistic for the Government to assume that the Bill will have no significant cost implications for waste disposal authorities. There will be a need for extra skilled staff, which will involve increased costs. The revenue support grant arrangements are so tightly set that the spending incurred under the Bill will mean that those additional costs will cause councils to incur penalties which have to be paid for by poll tax payments.
Column 72The Government's response to environmental matters during the past 10 years was summed up in one word in last year's report on toxic waste produced by the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology. The word was "dilatory". Massive gaps in the legislation have remained for 10 years, causing major environmental damage. Many varied tests on many aspects may be applied to the Bill. I shall confine myself to asking the Secretary of State whether he is satisfied that the following three issues will be resolved following the passage of this measure.
First, on 8 December 1989, a technical report, due to have been published in 1988, appeared from Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. It established the background levels of PCBs, furans and dioxins in British soils. For PCBs, the range was between 1.7 and 32 parts per billion. Six of the 78 random sample points in Britain suggested local contamination because the samples were significantly higher than the background level. The highest of those was at ordnance survey grid reference number SN 51350100, which is near Bryntirion hospital, Llanelli. The PCB level is 1,199 parts per billion, rather higher than the maximum background range of 32 parts per billion. Twelve of the 78 sample points were significantly above background levels of dioxins and furans. SN 51350100 has the highest readings of all the sample points in Britain for four dioxins and two furans. Will the Bill contain provisions for establishing the source of local contamination at each of these sites, to assess the environmental or health effects of such contamination and to make the resources available for any necessary remedial action?
In June 1988, the hazardous wastes inspectorate produced its third report. On page 14, it mentions visits that the inspectors made to 15 hospital incinerators in four counties examining the compliance of hospital incinerators with waste management paper No. 25 on clinical waste. It concluded :
"if the hospitals visited are typical of the national picture then the situation is deplorable. Those seen operate to standards which would not be permitted by a similar operation in the private sector unprotected by Crown immunity."
As small hospital incinerators are still protected by that immunity, will the Bill remove Crown immunity from all hospital incinerators so that the public can have full confidence that all the micro-organisms in clinical waste are safely destroyed by this method of disposal?
HMIP has frequently emphasised the problems associated with landfill waste disposal sites, and I have a number of questions to ask the Minister about them. Will the Bill make it a legal requirement for the waste regulation authorities to conform to the frequency of site visits laid down in the waste management papers issued by the Department? Secondly, will the Bill make it a condition for the issuing of a site licence that the applicant has to demonstrate a certain defined minimum standard of waste management education, training and experience? Thirdly, will the Bill provide for ensuring that waste regulatory officers hold a specified minimum standard of education, training and experience in waste management? Fourthly, will the Bill make it impossible for any public footpath to cross a landfill site? Fifthly, will it enable a waste disposal authority to refuse to issue a licence when a landfill is proposed on a site of special scientific interest? Sixthly, will the Bill provide funds for research into co- disposal, so that, within the European Community,
Column 73Britain will have, for the first time, substantive scientific evidence to show the suitability of this method for the disposal of industrial waste?
Seventhly, will the Bill provide funds for research into safe alternatives to CFCs, so that harmful materials can be banned at the earliest opportunity? Eighthly, will the Bill provide funds for research into cheaper methods of removing all CFCs from refrigerators and freezers, including those present in the insulating material, before these consumer durables are landfilled? Ninthly, will the Bill make funds available for research into new methods of microbiological degradation of PCBs in old closed landfills? Lastly, will the Bill give statutory backing to voluntary groupings of waste regulation authorities to pool their skills and powers so that they can operate consistent and coherent policies?
The Bill is of great public interest, yet there must be serious doubts about the degree to which it meets the needs that have been clearly spelt out in the various reports from the Department of the Environment inspectors--
Mr. Wardell : The Minister has asked me a question that I have not dealt with at all and taken up some of my valuable time in so doing. As I briefly mentioned, I hope very much that a site licence will be able to be refused by a local authority if a site of special scientific interest is on a proposed landfill site.
It is crucial that the number, quality and morale of members of HMIP are kept up to standard ; that is vital to enable its responsibilities to be fulfilled. The proposed increase of 30 in the complement of HMIP, mainly to deal with a newly integrated pollution control regime under part I, is wholly inadequate.
As for access to information, I hope that the Government will alter their view. Under the Bill as drafted it will not be possible for a member of the public to appeal against a decision when reasons have been given in terms of commercial confidentiality for denying him access to the public register.
The Bill has the potential to become a great Act, but before it can, the Secretary of State must be ready to improve it. I sincerely hope that he will.
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) : Before I start my speech, I hope that it is not out of order to say that the person whom we miss on the Conservative Benches is our former colleague, John Heddle, whom I know would have been here today. Perhaps I may be allowed to pay a passing tribute to him and to offer our sympthy to his family. I thought that the speech by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) was dreadful ; he did himself and the House no good. I have been looking at the speech by Edith Summerskill, who led for the Labour party on Second Reading of the Clean Air Act 1956, and I commend it to the hon. Member for Dagenham as the way in which a serious and sensible Opposition might present a more constructive approach when we are trying to grapple with environmental problems.
Column 74The Clean Air Act was a Government Act, but its godfather was Gerald Nabarro. The Conservative party, Government members and Back Benchers, has a good record on environmental matters. It was the Government led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) who established the Department of the Environment through their White Paper on 15 October 1970, and the Secretary of State was my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker).
The establishment of the Department of the Environment encompassed transport matters. The White Paper said :
"It is increasingly accepted that maintaining a decent environment, improving people's living conditions and providing for adequate transport facilities all come together in the planning of development."
Although I find it slightly regrettable that there is little mention of transport in this Bill, I certainly hope that we shall find ways of including transport industries in the definitions in some of the clauses.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's speech to the Town and Country Planning Association on 27 November last year was important, and it set out the essential guidelines for incorporating transport matters in the ambit of the environment. I share his view that we must wholly reassess the criteria for choosing whether to invest in roads or rail if we are to reach the correct environmental decisions while grappling with our transport policy. Environmental considerations must be a priority in transport policy --something that we have never yet achieved in legislation in this country. The principle in the Bill that the polluter pays is one with which I am sure all hon. Members agree, but will my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside accept the proposition that, if private pleasure and convenience conflict with public health and welfare in environmental matters, the Government must uphold the latter?
The oil companies and manufacturers of motor cars, trucks and buses will resist any suggestion that the transport industries should come within the purview of the Bill. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will stand up to whatever powerful interests may try to oppose what he is attempting to do.
Little attention is paid in the Bill to oil pollution at sea. The rubric to clause 111 refers to
"Deposits of substances and articles in the sea, etc."
The hon. Member for Dagenham, who unfortunately left the Chamber as soon as he had finished his speech, joined me in voting for a new clause that I tabled in Committee when the Merchant Shipping Bill was being considered in 1979. Its purpose was to make the owner rather than the carrier of the substance--oil at sea--liable for any pollution. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider introducing a provision in clause 111 to cover oil pollution.
As I read the clause, dumping at sea presupposes a deliberate act. We must also try to ensure that accidents do not occur because of inadequate vehicles--the rusty buckets that are still used by certain people as they carry their oil cargoes across the oceans of the world.
I am also interested in clause 63, about which I intervened when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was speaking. The clause refers to smoke, smell and noise from premises. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) that noise is an
Column 75extremely serious form of pollution. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) was sitting beside me when I intervened in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He told me that under the Theft Act "vehicles" are considered as "premises". Is it the Minister's view that the activities which are outlined in clause 63 encompasses vehicles? Other colleagues have referred to legislation for which they can claim parentage. I mention in passing the Motor Cycle Noise Act 1987, which I understand is now a candidate for European legislation. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell me something about that, though not necessarily this evening. Air pollution affects us all. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that we could not legislate for the whole of Europe, let alone the whole of the world. I hope, however, that Ministers will draw the European Commission's attention to the fact that, although this country has its air pollution problems, those in other EEC countries are far worse than ours. I have had the opportunity recently to see and smell the atmosphere in Bilbao and Barcelona. If the Government and the Conservative party sincerely adhere to the European cause, we must try to persuade the European Community, and Mr. Delors, to spend more time on environmental matters, particularly air pollution. No one is taking much interest in that at the moment. As for clause 71, I mention it entirely on my wife's behalf. She has a bee in her bonnet about plastic sacks of fertiliser littering the countryside, particularly those ghastly midnight blue sacks. Will the "Offence of leaving litter", the rubric to clause 71, apply to those ghastly eyesores, plastic sacks of fertiliser? Will proximity to footpaths and other public places be a sufficient means of catching people who insist on littering the countryside with such eyesores? Presumably the Government believe that it is necessary to exclude private property from the Bill. However, a good deal of public property is visible from private property, and vice versa. I hope that consideration will be given to making sure that those who litter the countryside with those wretched sacks are caught under clause 71, either as it stands or as it might be amended. This is a very important Bill. I hope that the hon. Member for Dagenham will come to recognise that his speech was not worthy of the occasion. Every hon. Member ought to recognise that half a loaf is better than none. The hon. Gentleman's proposition that no loaf is better than half a loaf is not one on which he will carry the rest of the House with him.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : I do not agree with the criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), but I agree with his wife about blue plastic sacks. There was a lot to be said for the old jute ones. They were almost always returnable and they made for profitable recycling.
I judge the Bill against my background. I was born in Manchester. I was a wartime evacuee to the Ceriog valley in north Wales where I spent my early years on a hill farm. I returned there regularly on holiday until I was about 18. I was struck by that hill farmer's ambition. It was not to make vast profits, but to make a living for himself and his
Column 76wife and in particular to pass on the farm in good heart to the next generation. His farm was run on that basis. A small number of farmers still apply that principle. What that farmer did on his farm coloured my political thinking.
The present capitalist system fails completely to meet that ideal. That is why I am a democratic Socialist. Every time I returned from north Wales to Manchester, I saw the effects of 200 years of capitalism and the pollution- -the sulphurous fumes from coal tips and the rubbish--that it had created. All the rivers around Manchester had been polluted. When bleach works were set up in the 19th century, they leapfrogged each other up the rivers in their search for clean water. All of them were only too happy to pollute the rivers. Smoke and dirt from factory chimneys has polluted Manchester for more than 100 years.
Capitalism is based on the idea that profits must be made. There has to be an alternative to that system. We need something better than a capitalist system based only on profits. It is not only capitalism in the western world that is causing pollution. State capitalism in eastern Europe is just as defective. As soon as the democratic element is taken away and people no longer have the right to know about and debate these matters, major problems are created. We have faced similar problems. Secrecy surrounded the nuclear power industry because of its links with defence, with the result that all sorts of things went on which would never have happened if there had been proper democratic debate.
We have to ask whether the Bill will tame capitalism and we must ensure that it does not replace private capitalism with state capitalism. People need free access to information, the skill to evaluate it and the self- confidence to argue their case. They need to be on an equal footing, so that their decisions cannot be bought or sold. Democratic Socialism offers that alternative. I measure the Bill against that background.
Does the Bill offer us the prospect of handing over this country, and our planet, in good heart to future generations? Does it control the greed of companies? Companies have to make profits to survive, but do they make profits at the expense of somebody else? Does the Bill ensure that people have the necessary knowledge to evaluate what is good for them, the country and the planet? The Bill falls far short of those requirements.
My first criticism is the way that the Government abolished the Greater Manchester council, which had responsibility for waste disposal. Councillor Dennis Fogg, the chairman, and the other members of the new Manchester waste disposal authority and their officials have done their best, but when one reduces the democratic element, one makes it harder for them to be affected.
If we are to tackle the problems of waste disposal in Britain, we have to involve people. Greater Manchester waste disposal authority can get rid of rubbish, but the real question is how to stop creating so much of it. The authority is considering turning rubbish into oil. It has a system for reclaiming tin cans and paper, and there are plenty of bottle banks in Greater Manchester. There are many voluntary schemes to collect paper and aluminium cans. Engine oil is being reclaimed, and refrigerators are being collected. However, unless we go further and convince people that they must stop creating so much waste, we shall not solve the problem.
People must be asked to examine what they buy, and how it is packaged, used and disposed of. We have become
Column 77a throwaway society. Only by getting people democratically to debate the issues will we create a society in which we demand that goods are made to last and we will start to cherish them. The leisure and pleasure industry is, in many ways, as big a polluter as industry. We all have more leisure time, and we must ensure that we do not create the problems that industry used to create.
Many people enjoy keeping pets. As other hon. Members have said, one person's dog is another person's problem with dog excreta. One person's chance to admire the Lake District--as hundreds of thousands of people do each year--becomes somebody else's traffic jam. One person's opportunity to enjoy a run along the Pennine way will cause erosion problems and someone else, perhaps an elderly or disabled person, will have to struggle up a different path.
One may enjoy a drink of Coca Cola on a mountainside, but find that someone else does not take the trouble to take his can back with him. Someone goes rock climbing, puts a hand into a crevice, finds a rusty tin can, and gets a nasty cut. Leisure causes many problems. I am disappointed by the proposals in the Bill to reorganise the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council. The Bill does not seem to tackle the problems. There should have been a more radical consideration of how to link national parks and conservation and leisure interests in the countryside. The measures in the Bill owe something to Scottish Ministers' desire to make profits out of the countryside.
I have to watch the time, so I shall move on to one issue about which I am particularly concerned--the destruction of peat lands in Britain. It is nice to go to the garden centre, pick up a bag of peat and put it around the flowers. One feels that one is doing one's little bit for greenery, but one is destroying a natural habitat. We must use more compost.
Huge amounts of limestone pavement are being torn up for people's gardens. That is appalling. Right hon. and hon. Members fought hard on wildlife and countryside legislation, and we got assurances from the Government, but nothing has happened.
Let us consider areas in Greater Manchester that have been polluted. For example, there are the problems of methane gas seepage from tips, to which I referred. We must find the resources to clean them up.
There is also the problem of having enough sufficiently qualified staff to enforce the process, because if one does not have the staff, one will not get a solution.
I am disappointed that the Government did not include provisions for proper access to the countryside in the Bill. Time and again we had promises from the Government that they would do that, but they ran away from them. The Government ought to introduce a clear measure to enable people to have access to the countryside.
The Bill merely tinkers at the edges of green issues. It is not a truly green Bill and it will not leave Britain in good heart for the future. Nor will it give the people in Britain the democratic opportunity to understand green issues and to influence them by their decisions. The Bill is a great missed opportunity.
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Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West) : I disagree with the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), who said that his experiences in Manchester had led him to believe that environmental problems were a failure of capitalism. One need only visit eastern Europe to see the failures of Socialism, and to learn the real lesson--not the one given by the hon. Gentleman--that democracy and open government are necessary to prevent environmental deterioration and that there is a link between wealth, economic growth and the ability to do something about the environment. The lack of those factors has caused the failures in eastern Europe. They will be a challenge for the European Community and for Britain, as a member of the Community, although it will be difficult to tackle the problem in the next few years. How do we help eastern Europe to tackle its environmental problems, without subsidising it to pollute further? I welcome the Bill. As the speeches of other members of the Select Committee on the Environment have made clear and, no doubt, will make clear later in the debate, the Bill has our fingerprints all over it. The Bill must be seen against the background of the Water Act 1989 and the promised White Paper on environmental pollution which is due in the autumn. Step by step, we are moving towards an integrated environmental policy, and I think that that is right. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) that the policy must include energy and transport.
As an environmentalist who has served on the Select Committee for six years, I view today's debate, and other debates on the environment, wrily. That is partly because there has been much attention from the media and politicians on the subject, and I fear that they will move to other issues when the next bandwagon begins to roll. But one must not be too cynical. Any politician who is interested in an issue is pleased when it reaches the top of the political agenda and some attention is focused on problems that might otherwise be neglected.
The attitude of people giving evidence to the Select Committee has changed, and that has been pleasing to see. We have moved on from the complacency of the Central Electricity Generating Board when we first considered acid rain in 1974 to the ready acceptance by nearly all witnesses today that there are serious problems in the environment which need to be tackled nationally and internationally.
What criteria should be used to judge the proposals? The Bill is a hotch- potch, although all the measures should be welcomed. One should judge it against some guiding principles which I hope will influence the White Paper later this year. It is important that there should be an arm's- length relationship between the Government and those who cause pollution. That was the trouble with the water industry. Until recently the Government both owned the polluters and tried to regulate them, and that is never satisfactory.
The National Rivers Authority is a tremendous step in the right direction. The Bill maintains that principle through integrated pollution control, which I welcome. Britain is the first country to set that example and I hope that others will follow.
There is widespread recognition that land, water and air cannot be separated in the way that they are treated, because pollution spills from one to the other. I welcome
Column 79what was said earlier about the staffing of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. The unhappy background to the matter has worried the Select Committee more than once. I hope that what I read in newpapers at the weekend about additional funding, partly through the "polluter pays" principle, was a correct interpretation of the Government's intentions. No doubt we shall explore that in Committee.
I am not happy about the reliance on county councils operating as waste disposal authorities, even through companies set up for that purpose. I should prefer, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) said earlier, a system involving large regional authorities, which would be freer from the NIMBY syndrome and could consider more strategically the issues of waste disposal. The logic of the arm's-length relationship should eventually lead the Government to embrace the case for an environmental protection agency, not necessarily in the form of the United States body but in a form that leads steadily to a more important role for HMIP. No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will say something about that general principle when he replies to the debate.
The "polluter pays" principle is right because its market approach will lead to companies examining their pollution sure in the knowledge that they will have to pay if they do not minimise emissions into the atmosphere, on to land or into water.
Environmental legislation should be performance, not design, based. One difficulty with European legislation is that it is obsessed with one means of securing an end rather than trying to set a target that can be steadily lowered to try to tighten the screws on polluters. The catalytic converter may improve some environmental problems, but it worsens others. It would be far better if EC and national legislation set emission control standards but left industry to develop the technology necessary to achieve them. The reliance in the Bill on best available techniques may eventually become an infectious concept that will get into the European bloodstream, and we may see improved legislation from Europe in due course.
Internationalism should be one principle by which we judge the Bill and other environmental legislation. There is no doubt that one country's pollution causes problems for another country. It is difficult to foresee how we shall legislate at national and international level on the great problems of acid rain, the greenhouse effect and chlorofluorocarbons. That was one of the weaknesses of the inadequate case advanced by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) It is also the reason why many measures do not appear in the Bill but must instead await a more co-ordinated international approach.
Most of the Bill's provisions are welcome. If I had been asked a few months ago what I thought about reorganisation of the Nature Conservancy Council, I should have been inclined to say that I opposed it, but I am happy with the arrangements announced by my right hon. Friend because they will achieve the two most important objectives of those who were worried--to maintain the scientific base and to ensure that what may not be an important environmental issue for each of the constituent countries but is important to Britain as a whole and to
Column 80European countries is considered. That body is chaired by a very fine man, who is supported by other highly qualified appointments at national level. I very much welcome that.
I am delighted that at long last a ban on straw and stubble burning has been included in legislation. Over the years, I have listened to the National Farmers Union provide excuse after excuse, but most responsible farmers do not burn stubble. In my constituency, despite farmers being told that they needed to burn stubble, we have reached the stage where it is very rare, and in the summer there was practically none. It is not only an environmental problem but a safety problem. It causes accidents on the roads and difficulties and unpleasantness for pedestrians and cyclists. I welcome that provision, although it is long overdue.
This is an excellent Bill. It is only a step towards an environmental policy and environmental legislation of which Britain can be proud, but it will become a model for other countries to follow in years to come. I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles) : I speak not only as a member of a political party but perhaps more as a west highlander, whose region has frequently been the cockpit of controversy on environmental issues in recent years. There is no doubt that those controversies influenced the Government in bringing forward the proposals in part VII. I wish to devote my remarks to the proposals to reorganise the Nature Conservancy Council.
Let me make it quite clear from the outset that I believe in a decentralised--indeed, federal--structure for the NCC, because I believe in the widest possible discussion on and involvement in the matters covered by the Bill.
Although the Government have justified their proposals on the ground of better involvement of local interests, the sad irony is that they did not consult, discuss with or involve anyone before introducing their proposals on the NCC. Their methods have been at odds with their declarations. Consequently, they have managed to arouse a quite spectacular degree of opposition, suspicion and confusion about their plans.
Even those who support decentralisation in principle, as I do, must be leery of the Government's motives. They certainly have not been conspicuous enthusiasts of Scottish devolution in other sectors, so why in this one? Do they want to create a conservation body that more genuinely involves community opinion in Scotland, or are they creating yet another quango stuffed with political placemen that will be subservient to landowning interests, who already carry too much weight within the Scottish Office?
Those are real and disturbing questions, and the Secretary of State's announcement today, although welcome, does not answer them fully. My right hon. and hon. Friends are quite right to withhold their support for Second Reading on that ground, among others. Having said that, it may be possible, through hard work in Committee, to achieve the generally independent, locally rooted, properly resourced and properly co-ordinated conservation bodies that we should wish to see. I keep an open mind about that, and genuinely hope that some consensus will emerge in Committee on that important issue.
Column 81In the time remaining to me, I should like to address myself more directly to bodies outside the House such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Friends of the Earth and others, which have been so outspoken not only on this issue but on general environmental and conservation issues affecting the Highlands and Islands. If the Government have gone about the reorganisation of the NCC in a clumsy manner liable to arouse justifiable suspicion about their motives, it must also be said that the initial reaction of much of the conservation lobby has been at fault, particularly in the patronising assumption that is too often displayed, and which has already been referred to by the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), that forces outside the Highlands and Islands know better than highlanders what is good for them.
Highlanders are all too familiar with that attitude. Two hundred years ago, we were forbidden to speak our own language--we were told that it was for our own good to learn English. One hundred years ago, highlanders were cleared from their homes and packed into emigration vessels to America. Again, we were told that that was for our own good.
Today, high-minded and well-intentioned bodies are again trying to tell us what is good for us. Although we undoubtedly have much to learn from them, I hope that they will appreciate that it is a two-way process and that it is simply not acceptable to dictate solutions to the ordinary people of the Highlands and Islands. We acknowledge the superior political power and resources of these lobby and interest groups--the RSPB, for example, has more members than the Highlands and Islands have people--but I hope that in turn they will acknowledge the importance of the principle of local democracy and will be prepared to work with the grain of local feeling. Too often, I am sorry to say, the southern-based environmental lobby, including the NCC, has been seen by ordinary highlanders as alien, aloof, insensitive, remote and sadly devoid of any appreciation of the special history and culture of the Highlands and Islands. Too often, it has failed to acknowledge what Frank Fraser Darling so clearly recognised as long ago as the 1940s--that one cannot understand the natural history of the Highlands without comprehending its social and political history, which is exactly why he subtitled his magisterial "West Highland Survey", "A Study in Human Ecology". In protecting the ecology, we must not forget the human.
I feel that sometimes "conservation" can be a misleading term. As Fraser Darling also pointed out, the Highlands and Islands are in many ways a "man -made desert"--the product not of natural processes but of the ill- treatment of nature by man, particularly in the past three centuries and particularly by the great landowners who held unchecked sway and who, unfortunately, are still too influential in the Conservative party. We should be concerned not with the simple preservation of the existing environment but with the enhancement and regeneration not only of its natural resources but, equally important, of its social and cultural communities.
That is why I deplore the almost complete lack of reference in any of the submissions that I have received on this issue and in articles that I have read to the feelings and opinions of the local communities. This appalling blindness among too many of the environmental opinion-formers explains why the stock of so many environmental pressure groups is so low in the Highlands.
Column 82This lack of mutual understanding is profoundly damaging. It cannot form the pattern for the future if the true interests of areas such as the Highlands are to be safeguarded.
I want to state two principles that should inform thinking and debate on these issues. First, we should take a much broader view of conservation ; we should see it as enhancing and regenerating the environment and not simply preserving it, and we should accept that social, economic and cultural issues must all have a part to play in this broader conception, including, apparently, political issues such as the structure of land ownership.
Secondly, we should work to create a genuine green alliance, not between one environmental pressure group and another but between such groups and the local communities whose lives they hope to influence. If these two sides can start to talk to each other, learn from each other and work together, we can at last begin to restore the depleted resources that we have inherited from the malpractice of the past. 7.32 pm