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Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries) : I should have thought that everything that the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) said showed support for a Scottish Nature Conservancy Council, because it would be much nearer his constituency, but it is up to the hon. Gentleman how he votes.
I welcome the Bill. It is a major step forward and a continuation of the programme that the Government launched in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Every clause in the Bill is important, but I want to concentrate on the Nature Conservancy Council, of which I am a member. I attend the United Kingdom council meetings and as many as possible of the Scottish committee meetings. Naturally, I see the English and Welsh papers and those of the committee on science and on birds. Tonight I am speaking for myself.
The NCC has evolved from a small conservancy council allied to the Natural Environment Research Council into a major organisation employing 1,100 people. The chairman and staff have done well, particularly in the urgent work of notifying sites of special scientific interest and implementing the Wildlife and Countryside Act, but that does not mean that we could not do much better. Many criticisms made of the Bill were made of the Wildlife and Countryside Act--it would not work ; the Government got it wrong ; the voluntary organisations and the other place were against it ; and so on. A positive and constructive Committee stage meant that it turned out to be a pretty effective Act. Of course there are imperfections but, by and large, it is well regarded, and I am sure that we can do the same with this Bill.
For a number of years, I have been advocating change informally within the NCC and last spring I spoke more emphatically at a conference. I included these words in a press release :
"The NCC was enormously strengthened by the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. It was the first measure of this Government to secure the proper conservation of the habitat of wildlife and marine life. I believe we should work towards developing a separate Scottish NCC with a full scientific staff to back up our Edinburgh headquarters and Regional offices."
I am pleased that we will do just that.
We seem to be becoming a nation that resists every change, almost on principle. I can only believe that some
Column 83of the governing bodies against change this time have acted on first impressions, not on current facts. Perhaps, too, they have been misled by some press releases and statements from Peterborough that gave the impression that the NCC was against the Bill. The majority of those on the council are in favour of the Bill. Many are strongly in favour, especially the Welsh and the Scots, but I emphasise the English committee as well.
The major points of concern were requests for a co-ordinating scientific committee and for an independent chairman. Both requests have been met by the Government and, dramatically, by the announcements today. I cannot imagine a better person as the chairman-designate than Professor Fred Holliday, an academic and previous chairman of the NCC. He would not have given his name as chairman of the new co-ordinating committee unless he was satisfied that he had the powers, authority and resources needed.
The decision to have Magnus Magnusson as chairman of the Scottish committee was a master stroke, which will be warmly welcomed in Scotland because of his knowledge of its heritage and of conservation. Lord Cranbrook, who is to be the chairman of the English committee, has an outstanding reputation in the other place and throughout the country for conservation. The calibre of those names should dispel the Opposition's criticism of the Government's appointments. It is hard to understand how the Labour party can vote against the Bill when there is such strength of opinion in favour of it.
In Scotland, the Bill has been welcomed--of course, not by every organisation but certainly by a majority. This should not be a political issue. It is one of common sense and improved conservation. I have expressed my disappointment at the lack of enthusiasm from Peterborough. Naturally, the position of the staff had to be safeguarded, and that was quickly confirmed by the Government. I accept that there must be some movement away from Peterborough and some disruption of domestic life, but perhaps the high quality of life in Scotland and Wales will be some compensation.
I have felt some resentment at the statements by some governing bodies and others that Scotland and Wales were not capable of running their own nature conservation organisations even with a strong scientific base and adequate resources. Of course we are capable of doing that. We will play a full part nationally and internationally. Each area will provide effective input either to the co-ordinating committee or directly to the Government, who after all are responsible for the legislation and our international conservation arrangements. The Nature Conservancy Council is an adviser to the Government. It must exercise statutory duties in
Column 84relation to sites of special scientific interest and other matters but the Government are ultimately responsible for ensuring that its duties are carried out.
Scotland looks forward to having its own scientific base--perhaps in Edinburgh or at Battleby. I am sure that we shall be able to provide a quicker response to some of our perennial problems, such as the flow country, afforestation, fish farming, recreation in the hills, ski-ing and marine nature reserves. The Scottish committee, under Alex Trotter and its director John Francis, has done an excellent job, and I am sure that it will look forward to commissioning further research from the Scottish universities, as well as providing its own scientific back-up.
Conservation officers in Scotland are thin on the ground. The regional officer for the west and south-west of Scotland, for example, is based at Loch Lomond. That is a long way from the Solway, which has an equally important interest in conservation. Having our own base will enable us to have more offices nearer to the people in Scotland and to keep much more sensitively in touch with local affairs. We shall also be able to keep in touch with FWAG, the farm and wildlife advisory group and the conservation groups. The jewel in our crown, the island of Rhum, is administered from Inverness, which is a very long way away. The nearer that we can get in dealing with local matters such as those of which the hon. Member for Western Isles spoke, the better. We should also seek to establish a much closer link with the Red Deer Commission, which will have an important part to play in Scotland in the immediate future. We must also look to the next Session, when we shall forge a link between the NCC and the Countryside Commission. The Countryside Commission has given a valuable and detailed response to the merger and great credit is due to Roger Carr and his colleagues for their outstanding work at Battleby. We shall be able to remove any existing overlap of responsibilities, and I can see nothing but good from our coming together. With bodies such as the National Trust for Scotland and many enthusiastic governing bodies, the future looks good, and I believe that the developments will be a success. We shall have a heritage and conservation body of remarkable quality. The Countryside Commission has been consulting many people in Scotland about the future of the national parks, and I hope that it will be very cautious in how it proceeds.
I am confident that the Bill is right. Conservation of British wildlife, habitats and landscape will be in good hands, and we may have the best arrangements in the world coupled with the best legislation. The Bill will establish local control but allow for international influence and leadership, and I wish it well. 7.42 pm
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : It is a year ago to the day since I presented the Hedgerows Bill. I presented it on the occasion of the centenary of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and I was on King's Cross station that day to hear the Prime Minister call for the protection of hedgerows as we had lost 120,000 miles of hedgerow in the preceding four decades. I was deeply distressed--as were some Conservative Members--when the Government decided to block the Bill. Occasionally, though, we have had successes. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark)
Column 85managed to steer through the House a Bill to improve the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. He did so in the teeth of hostility from the Department of the Environment, which, in Committee, removed four of the six parts of the Bill and emasculated the fifth. The House of Lords, in its wisdom, improved the Bill by restoring it to the condition in which my hon. Friend had presented it to the House, and I hope that, if we cannot secure the necessary improvements to the present Bill in Committee, they will be secured in the other place. Two days after the Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields was passed, the Government issued a press statement proclaiming that it was a Government Bill. No doubt that has gone down as one of the pieces of evidence that the Government have successfully and consistently promoted the interests of conservation and the environment.
That view was expressed when the NCC headquarters in Peterborough was opened a few years ago. I was greatly honoured to be asked to speak at that opening, along with the Secretary of State, who announced at that gathering that every conservation Bill that had gone through the House in the previous quarter of a century had come from a Conservative Government. Presumably the Government were taking credit for having thought of Bills such as that introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields years before.
I have a high regard for Sir William Wilkinson and the staff of the NCC, and I was therefore horrified by the dismemberment proposals. The present Secretary of State has gone a long way to repair the damage that his predecessor caused when he introduced similar proposals in a rather less well-considered way. The fact remains, however, that in Committee the Minister will have to provide a little more evidence of his commitment. I note, for example, that the last sentence of the statement issued by the NCC on 7 November said that the new committee
"must be capable of driving forward nature conservation ... as a whole".
The committee and all the bodies and individuals concerned will need convincing of that.
I hope that the committee will be able to promote and directly object to private Bills. I know that it has petitioned against private Bills in the past few years. During the past 18 months, we have witnessed the spectacle of private Bills being pushed through with Government majorities. We have watched hon. Members led through the lobbies by a rejoicing Secretary of State--not the present Secretary of State--gleefully dismissing the advice that he had been given by statutory organisations.
I do not want to say much more than that about the nature conservation aspects of the Bill, although I hope that, during the passage of the Bill, something will be done to improve sections 28 and 29 of the 1981 Act and the provisions of that Act relating to species protection.
The Minister will be well aware that my main interest this evening is a matter that is also of grave concern to my constituents. As you will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we have 2,711 drums of toxic waste in my constituency at present. The waste came from the United States. It has been in our area for many months. It had to be placed in secure drums, and I am grateful to the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities who was on duty when I saw him in August, for giving orders that it should immediately be securely drummed. I am also grateful to the Minister for the Environment and Countryside for receiving a
Column 86deputation from my area in September. He will be aware that we have had the waste for a long time now and that there is deep anxiety that it is still here and could be here for many months to come. There is a particular reason for my anger this evening. Last week, the Minister courteously sent me a note and a copy of the summary report of the American Environmental Protection Agency. The agency had led the Department, which should have known better, to believe that the waste was not toxic because an American statute said that it was not toxic because it was to leave the United States. If it had stayed in the United States, it would have become subject to another American law, which would have said that it was toxic. That means that the waste is not toxic while it is in Britain, but would be toxic if it were in the United States.
If a British firm had done to the United States what that American firm has done to Britain, the American response would have been far more vigorous and positive than ours has been. The American warships would already be sailing up the Humber with marine band playing--that should appeal to the Minister--and guns pointed.
The American attitude really is an outrage, not least because the EPA took its samples at the same time as samples were taken by British Rail and the local authorities in south Yorkshire. The Minister is aware of that. We were aware of the contents of that material last July and I wrote to the American ambassador in August and, as I received no reply, I wrote again in November. Both letters were extremely courteous. At the end of November, I was informed that the EPA was analysing the material, samples of which it had had since July.
I then discovered from the American media that it was not the Americans' fault. The American media reported that the poison was added while the waste was in Wath upon Dearne, a mile from my home. The Minister will be aware that the material at Wath was of the same type as that which did not reach Wath, which has not been touched and is in a British Rail depot near Leeds. I have kept in very close touch with my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) about this matter.
The American authorities are aware that it is a canard to suggest that the American company is not responsible. It is also unacceptable for the American authorities to describe the cocktail of poisons as non-toxic. They cannot deny that the analysis carried out by British scientists is perfectly respectable and accurate. The material was said to be free of harmful impurities when it reached Britain. The analysis found that it contained 4.5 per cent. contaminated matter, including xylene, 7 hydrogen, 23 dioxyroxy-2.2 dimethylbenzofuran and other contami-nated material. It is outrageous that the activities of an American company should apparently be endorsed by the American Government.
I have been critical of the British response and of the Department of the Environment. However, the greatest criticism is due to the Foreign Office. I was assured by the Minister of State, Foreign Office, last September that the Foreign Office was pursuing the matter vigorously. A number of checks have been made and no one of any significance or importance in the State Department in Washington has any recollection of representations made on behalf of the British people. If the material had been
Column 87dumped in Surrey, Sussex or in the more salubrious areas favoured by the Conservative party, perhaps a little more concern would have been shown about it.
As I told the Minister last September, this case illustrates the most inadequate regulations. I remember telling the Minister that I hoped that, when the green Bill was before the House, the appalling loopholes demonstrated by the Wath upon Dearne experience would be closed. I said that I hoped that the Bill would be bipartisan and that we could support it. Unfortunately, the Bill states only that the Minister will take powers to effect regulations. There are no guarantees that the loopholes will be closed so that the dumping to which I have referred will not be repeated in my area or elsewhere. Until there are clear assurances that the present pathetically inadequate regulations will be improved, the House has no right to give automatic support to this Bill.
Mr. David Evans (Welwyn, Hatfield) : The Bill has my enthusiastic support. It is a wide-ranging and far-sighted measure. Given the constraints on time, I shall confine my remarks to the part of the Bill which deals with a problem that is more important than many people realise. It constitutes a stain on Britain's reputation. British lager louts abroad besmirch the proud name of Britain and foreigners acquire a poor image of Britain. When they visit our shores, they find a once green and pleasant land cluttered with muck and litter. The centre of London is a particular disgrace. The streets are not so much paved with gold as with the remains of last night's pizzas. My hon. Friend the Prime Minister reflected the importance of this subject last year by collecting litter in Hyde park.
We are right to be committed to the atmosphere, but the British people are very concerned about their streets, highways and fields. The people of Welwyn and Hatfield in particular believe that it is important for local authorities to be more responsible for clean streets. The people of Welwyn and Hatfield have not had their rubbish collected for months because they have an ill-trained, incompetent, Labour-run authority. The same problem does not exist in Wheathampstead, which is only a few miles down the road. That is a clue for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. In Wheathampstead, the local street cleaner and local dustmen know all 7,000 or 8,000 people who live in the town. The people do not want to throw litter into the streets because they respect each other. People who drop litter are physical polluters. They leave discarded waste in our fields and on our streets. But they are also moral polluters. They encourage others by sending out signals that they do not care. They are irresponsible and give no thought to the effect of their actions. They make the landscape unsightly and create dangers for other people. Some people even throw away toxic waste and medicines, which are a threat to adults and children alike. The Bill deals with an important part of the problem, but only part of it. That is all that it can do. The Government could help to combat the problem by giving magistrates and the police powers to deal with litter louts. But legal penalties cannot solve the problem ; only society as a whole can do that.
Column 88People must be taught not to litter. The process is primarily one of education, and that means parents instilling the necessary sense of responsibility in their children. If children litter, the blame lies in part with their parents. Schools, as well as other public bodies, must educate children about the perils of littering and citizens must be vigilant and prepared to tell litter louts to stop. A large part of the problem at the moment is that we turn a blind eye to people who litter our streets. Pressure and public embarrassment are essential to stop them. In short, we all have a part to play. The Government are doing their bit with this Bill. But we must go beyond that. Magistrates must be prepared to use the powers given to them. It is useless increasing penalties if those penalties are not imposed. The Bill increases the maximum penalty for littering from £400 to £1,000. It may interest hon. Members to know that in 1988 only two people received the maximum sentence which represented 0.1 per cent. of the total number of people who were fined. Yet that was a 100 per cent. increase on the year before, when only one person received the maximum penalty. I hope that a Home Office circular will follow the enactment of the Bill to guide magistrates in making use of their new powers.
Local authorities must also comply with their obligations, not just with the minimum requirements laid down by statute, but with the regulations under which they will be more accountable in the Bill. They must educate people and provide the means by which litter can be collected effectively and easily. There are often too few litter bins and they are often inadequate. Bins are invariably too small and open-topped. Litter overflows and is blown about. Local authorities must engage in extensive rethinking with a greater emphasis on education and on extending the availability of the means for collecting litter.
Local retailers and shopkeepers must also assume a greater responsibility for keeping their frontages litter-free. In particular, fast food retail outlets should realise that they are as responsible as their customers for the discarded food trays and wrappings that litter pavements outside their premises. They should also try to educate their customers and ensure that the street is kept clean. Failure to do that should be actionable. If we cannot get them to do those things voluntarily, let us have litter wardens who could fine offenders on the spot.
Recycling can provide a real, practical solution to pollution problems. For that reason, I welcome the Government's decision to give local authorities clear guidance on the priority that they must attach to recycling, as well as a statutory duty to include provisions for recycling in their waste disposal plans.
The serious national problem of litter can be resolved only by everyone doing something about it. We need to restore a sense of personal and civic pride. The Bill is a move in the right direction, and it sends the necessary message. It is up to all of us to make sure that the message is heard and acted upon. Please note, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that before I resume my seat, I am folding my notes and putting them back in my pocket, and not letting them be strewn about the Chamber, as many hon. Members are prone to do. In any event, I hope that I will need to refer to them in Committee.
I support the Bill and recommend it to the House.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Column 89Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. Although it is 8 o'clock, many hon. Members will be disappointed unless other hon. Members can sustain the brevity of their speeches. I appeal to hon. Members to try to keep their speeches brief.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : I shall try to follow your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and keep my speech within 10 minutes. I am somewhat disappointed with the Bill because it does not go as far as one would wish. Opposition Members look forward to the White Paper and hope that the Bill to follow will deal with some omissions. In November last year, before the Bill was published, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that an amendment on straw stubble would be tabled. Today, the Secretary of State said that he would table an amendment to deal with the Nature Conservancy Council and the co-ordinating body. That is an encouraging move in the right direction. The previous Secretary of State was not prepared to listen to sensible proposals. There will be an opportunity in Committee to make important and positive improvements to the Bill.
I sat on the Select Committee that reported on toxic waste. We must remember that the Government have been in office for more than 10 years. It is surprising that more Government action was taken on waste and that more consultation documents went out last year than in the previous nine years. The Minister will not be able to deny that fact. Even before they report, Select Committees at least spur the Government into action.
It is useful to look at the Select Committee's report and the evidence to ascertain why some conclusions were reached. The Select Committee recommended the establishment of 10 national bodies for regulation of waste disposal. County councils gave evidence. It was appalling that three different sets of evidence were given by three political parties and that a fourth version came from council officers. It was not surprising that there was some concern. It is true that some local authorities are extremely good at waste disposal and regulation, but the bad authorities are very bad, and the Committee referred to that point in its report.
The Secretary of State referred to contaminated land. A report on contaminated land will be published within the next month or so. As there are sure to be some useful proposals for the Standing Committee, I hope that the Government will be able to give a speedy response to the report. If they are not able to respond before Report, they will certainly be able to do so before the Bill is considered in another place.
If we are to confer duties on local authorities, we should be sure to give to them the powers and financial resources to enable them to carry out their responsibilities. Hon. Members have said that they doubt whether that will be the case.
I agree with the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) that the public must be educated to stop throwing litter around and that fast-food outlets and others have a responsibility. Many councils have cut cleansing and litter collection services because of the financial restraints that have been imposed on them. The Minister may say that privatisation and competition will enable those services to be carried out more efficiently. I do not wish to go into
Column 90great detail, but the Bill allows councils to enforce required standards. I have been to some local authority areas where such services are carried out by the private sector. The situation is appalling--there has been no difference. The authorities that are spending money and doing the job themselves, are doing a good job. Opposition Members want local authorities to be provided with sufficient resources to tackle the problem.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) referred to dog fouling. Many hon. Members get letters about that problem and want it to be resolved. Unless there is an enforceable registration scheme, it will be extremely difficult to eliminate problems caused by dogs. There is widespread feeling on the matter. I hope that the new Secretary of State will think again about rejecting the existing power to impose such a scheme.
We must remember the problems of the National Rivers Authority. Hon. Members who debated the Water Bill in Committee doubted whether it would have the resources and powers to do the job that it was established to do. On two occasions, the NRA has told the Select Committee on the Environment that it doubts whether it has the resources to do the job. It is no good passing this Bill without ensuring that the necessary resources are available. I brought a pollution problem in my constituency to the attention of the National Rivers Authority. It said that the power to deal with that problem has been excluded from the Water Act 1989 and that it must use the power of persuasion. We all know the power of persuasion when it comes to dealing with certain problems. It does not work. Some aspects of the Bill are limited, and do not go as far as Opposition Members would wish. We want properly enforceable powers and adequate resources.
Despite what the Secretary of State said, there is concern about the Nature Conservancy Council. That point has been mentioned by several hon. Members. It is well known that there is hostility to the NCC by certain vested and landed interests in Scotland. Mr. Ian Prestt, the director general of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said :
"what they want is a body which does not stand up for conservation and cannot press the conservation case."
One of the main battlegrounds between those vested and landed interests and conservationists has been the flow country of Caithness and Sutherland. The Government sold out when they accepted a report of Highland regional council and agreed that at least 100,000 hectares should be afforested. The NCC was opposed to further afforestation. It was overruled and, to add insult to injury, the Secretary of State for Scotland decided to change the rules. In future, the NCC is to be allowed to give its opinion on afforestation only when a site of special scientific interest is directly affected.
That victory for landowners and foresters sowed the seeds of this Bill. Despite what the Secretary of State has said, we are still concerned about protection and conservation because we can already see the dangers. We should like the provisions to be considerably tightened.
In the Government's 1989 document entitled "Environment in Trust", they stated :
"The environment knows no boundaries. Many issues go beyond the borders of individual countries".
That is one reason why we believe that the bodies involved should not be split up. I am not against devolution, but we must look at all the aspects involved with great care to
Column 91ensure that we achieve conservation and protection measures that work in the interests of the nation as a whole. We are reminded on so many occasions in the House when we are debating different issues that we must look at things on the basis of the national interest and ensure that we protect what we have, whether it be in England, Scotland or Wales.
The Bill may be a step in the right direction, but it is an extremely small step. Many issues will be the subject of interesting and long debate in Committee as we try to strengthen the parts of the Bill that deal with pollution, conservation and the other matters that are of great concern both to hon. Members and to the country as a whole.
Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford) : Unlike the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), with his mealy-mouthed comments, I enthusiastically welcome the Bill, which is an important measure to protect the environment in which we live. Just as the Education Act 1944 stood out as a beacon for many years in education, I believe that this second step in the Government's protection of the environment will stand out as a landmark and a benchmark by which we show our commitment to the environment. As a Government, we do not mouth platitudes about problems and what should be done. This Government are seeking to come up with constructive policies and ideas about the way to tackle the problems of the environment, such as pollution- -both industrial and litter--waste disposal and the ruination of our towns and countryside.
I shall concentrate on the anti-litter aspect of the Bill. Serious concern has been expressed throughout the country and within the House this evening about the declining standards of cleanliness in this country. Last year a Department of the Environment poll showed that almost 75 per cent. of the people surveyed were worried about the litter problem, and an FDS Market Research poll has shown that 76 per cent. of the British public think that there is more litter on our streets and in our countryside now than 10 years ago. Britain is in danger of becoming the dustbin of Europe. Our inner cities and towns are riddled with litter that has been abandoned by thoughtless and selfish litter louts. Our countryside suffers from the dumping of litter and our roads and motorways are ruined by people emptying waste from their motor car as they drive along. Fast-food packaging, crisp bags, disposable drinks containers and cigarette stubs mar our environment. We are a nation that wallows in filth.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the strong lead that she provided long before other green campaigners jumped on the bandwagon, by identifying the problems and coming up with the constructive measures that the country demands to try to tackle them. It is obvious that the green crusaders are on the warpath. The Bill gives us the power to wage that war successfully. I particularly welcome clause 72, which extends to all local authorities the powers that Westminster city council took under private legislation to empower its workers to issue fixed penalty tickets to litter louts in its streets. The
Column 92logical conclusion was that the Government should adopt the contents of my Control of Litter (Fines) Bill of last year, so that all local authorities that have desperately wanted those powers do not have to queue up to introduce private legislation, which takes up time and costs a great deal of money to implement. With one fell swoop, clause 72 gives all local authorities genuine powers to wage war against the litter louts.
However, I make a plea to my right hon. and hon. Friends that they think again about one aspect of the provisions. I believe that the money that will be collected in the magistrates courts from fixed penalty tickets should be given to the local authorities rather than the Treasury being allowed to get its grubby paws on it. I accept that we are not talking about millions of pounds, but if we were to give the local authorities any money gained from fines, it would greatly encourage them to enforce even more vigorously the new powers that they are being given. That money would also help them with the cost of fighting the litter problem.
I know that the stock answer from the Treasury is that over the past 30 years or so, since the Justices of the Peace Act 1949, all fines for offences taken by the courts are given to the Treasury. However, just because something has been done for the past 40 years, does not necessarily mean that now, in the 1990s, it is the correct procedure for us still to follow. It should not be forgotten--I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends are aware of this--that before the 1949 Act, certain moneys from fines were directed towards the local authorities. The Government should seriously reconsider that matter so that we can get back to the old and preferable system.
My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) mentioned increasing the maximum fine for litter offences outside the fixed penalty system. I am sure that, like me, all hon. Members warmly welcome the increase, raising the maximum fine from £400 to £1,000. However, as my hon. Friend correctly identified, there is a problem because at present the imposition of the penalties in the magistrates courts is a joke.
In 1987, just over 1,800 people were brought before the magistrates courts and fined for litter offences. As we have a population in England and Wales of about 50 million, that is a negligible number of people, considering the litter in our country. However, what is even worse is that the average fine imposed on those convicted was a mere £35 of the maximum £400 fine. When the figures are broken down, they show that the average has been bumped up to £35 only because there were a few large fines and that without those large fines the average would have been about £19.
There is little point in increasing the fine to £1,000 unless something is done to impose larger fines in the magistrates courts, so that they act as a deterrent to ensure that people do not commit offences with impunity. Under the old system, offenders were only rarely caught, and even if they were caught, they knew that the punishment dished out by the courts would be pitifully small. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to have a gentle word with our noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, to see whether he can tactfully contact the magistrates courts and point out to them that the law will be changed when this legislation is on the statute book and that the maximum fine will be £1,000.
It is time that the courts reflected the wishes of the country and the Government who have set the penalties
Column 93and imposed larger fines on the serious litter louts and on those who throw away their cigarette packets or whatever, so that they know that the Government and the country mean it when we say that we want to stop litter louts. On top of the battery of other powers and the duty that is to be placed on a local authority to keep its area clean, a few hefty fines would soon create a deterrent that would make people think twice about causing pollution.
Education is also important. We can legislate as long and as often as we like, but legislation only creates a deterrent--people do not like to commit offences because they do not like the punishment. People must also be educated. Thirty years ago, children were brought up to respect the police, do what their elders told them, and not to throw litter. There is a lost generation between then and now. The parents of today have never told their children not to drop litter because most of them are dropping litter or emptying their ashtray through their window as they drive along.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the junior Minister at his Department have introduced initiatives in schools--Chelmsford has such initiatives--to make children care about the environment, and to teach them to clean up the playgrounds and the school buildings before they go home and not to throw litter. Soon, children will be teaching their parents not to be litter louts, because those initiatives come too late for one generation of parents--the lost generation--to teach their children. I warmly welcome the Bill. The hon. Member for Dagenham will come to regret his mealy-mouthed speech. It will be shown to be irrelevant to the achievements that the Bill will make when it comes into force. When the Government introduce more steps in the process, he will also appreciate that this step-by-step approach is designed, once and for all, to go to the heart of the problem and to tackle it realistically, although not overnight.
Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) : I shall not follow the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) in his discourse on litter, but I shall follow some of the themes already explored by Scottish colleagues on both sides of the House in debating the future of conservation agencies and the Nature Conservancy Council in the United Kingdom.
We are seeing a strange turnround in the politics of devolution. The official Opposition apparently support the continued centralisation of an agency for the United Kingdom, while the Conservative party--particularly in the person of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), who has knowledge of the internal workings of the NCC--is advocating the devolution of the science base to Scotland and to Wales because this would result in a more effective conservation policy.
I was particularly attracted by the speech of the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) because he touched on the essential link between conservation policy, economic policy and the political structure. It can be summed up on the real meaning of the work ecology. By that, I mean not just the plant, flora and fauna ecology, but social, cultural and political ecology.
The debate on the future of the NCC has been conducted by the environmental lobby on a United Kingdom-wide basis in apparent ignorance of the practical
Column 94work on the ground, particularly in the part of the world that I have had the privilege to represent for 15 years-- Snowdonia national park. The early pioneering work of R. E. Hughes and others in establishing the nature reserves in that geologically valuable and unique area was undertaken entirely on a voluntary basis because the people on the ground--scientists of the National Environment Research Council and subsequently of the NCC--were acceptable to the local farming community.
Similarly, the current director of the NCC in Wales, Professor Tom Pritchard, has continually used voluntary methods to obtain agreements so that the statutory compulsory powers available to the NCC over sites of special scientific interest did not have to be used. On a number of occasions, I and others have been involved in ensuring that agreement was reached between the farming community and the scientific interests so that the people in charge, in the NCC, the national park and other conservation agencies, worked together, alongside the landowners, the tenant farmers and the community. We cannot have effective conservation or environmental policies without the support of the local community. I heard the Prime Minister make this point when she was opening an exhibition for Survival International. She said that one could not talk about ecological survival without talking also about the survival of the humans who were part of the ecology. If that is true of the more extreme conditions with which Survival International deals, it is certainly true in the highly developed environment and economy of Scotland and Wales.
Those in favour of a centralised body have ignored the active co-ordination between the countryside agencies in Scotland and Wales. The devolution of the Countryside Commission from Cheltenham to Wales and the establishment of the Countryside Council for Wales have been the subject of debate for 10 or 12 years. My predecessor, Mr. William Edwards, tabled amendments to what was then the Countryside Bill. The staff of the NCC committee for Wales and the Countryside Commission have discussed the transfer of powers and co- ordination, not to achieve yet another Welsh quango but to ensure an integrated approach towards conservation, and so that the special contribution and the scientific expertise of the NCC can stand alongside the policies pursued by the Countryside Commission within and outside the national parks.
In Wales, there is genuine, near-universal support, with the exception of the Labour party, for the proposal for the Countryside Council for Wales. We see it as the conclusion of the process of co-ordination, working together and integration on the countryside issue. We look forward to the body developing ecology policies within Wales to strengthen the scientific base in a way that will enable us to contribute more effectively to conservation on the European mainland and elsewhere.
I fail to understand the logic of those who say that, by maintaining a centralised scientific base in Peterborough, we are maintaining a higher level of scientific expertise in the United Kingdom. I know that, for example, Peterborough has had to request geologists to deal with the unique geology of north Wales, and that is absurd. As a result of the reorganisation, it will be possible to maintain a more devolved scientific base closer to the community and to co-ordinate the various bodies more effectively.
Column 95Co-ordination does not stop at the Channel. European co-ordination is also important. Representing a mountain area, I am aware that the ecology of large parts of my constituency has much more in common with the alpine ecology of mainland Europe that it has with Peterborough. Therefore, for me it is important that the scientific expertise developed in mountain ecology throughout Europe is available, and that the work in Snowdonia is part of a far more broad-based scientific approach and is not confined to Great Britain or even the United Kingdom. I am pleased that conservation policies in Northern Ireland will be related to what has happened on the Great Britain level through the co-ordinating committee, because there was an anomaly in the relationship between the NCC and Northern Ireland. All those arguments create controversy which should not be there. We are strengthening the scientific base generally and relating it more closely to the needs of the community. Similarly, the Countryside Council for Wales will provide an opportunity to develop countryside policies in which conservation and environmental considerations are an integral part.
The Minister knows that we support the Government's conservation policy. This is one of the rare occasions when we support the Government. My final plea to the Minister is that the Welsh Office must adopt an integrated policy-making approach. The Scottish Office has taken a lead in that by designating a Minister for rural affairs. I can only echo the hon. Member for Western Isles who talked about the need to integrate an approach which concerns the economic well-being of a community and the ecology and habitat of an area. The Welsh Office has failed to become the territorial Department that it should be, and that probably applies to the Scottish Office, too. Although responsibilities for forestry, tourism, recreation, national parks, transportation, social policies, housing, agriculture and the Development Board for Rural Wales reside in the Welsh Office, it does not have an identifiable countryside policy. I do not think that the Department of the Environment has one for England either. I want to see the liberation of England--indeed, I have spent many years arguing for it--from the failure to have a co-ordinated policy. I should like to see the Welsh Office, through the new Countryside Council for Wales, adopting and implementing an integrated countryside policy so that the conflicts between access and conservation are mitigated and, particularly, so that the contribution of hill farming to conservation can be properly recognised and funded. Sheep farmers and others face an incomes crisis. There is an opportunity for the farming community to become more than ever the stewards of the whole countryside and ecology, but they need effective policy and income support to do that. For the reasons that I have outlined, my party supports the objectives of the Bill. We shall certainly not support the official Opposition amendment tonight because yet again they have failed to see the potential for effective devolution of policy to Wales and Scotland.
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Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke) : I hope that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) will forgive me if I do not pursue the lines and angles that he has introduced into the debate. I do not have his specialised knowledge on those points. I should like to widen the debate. I was most interested in what he said and certainly did not substantially disagree with him on any particular issue.
As a member of the Select Committee on the Environment I find immediate common ground with our Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), and with my hon. Friends the Members for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) and for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) who have already spoken. No doubt my hon. Friends the Members for Wyre (Mr. Mans) and for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and they, too, may find common ground with my points.
The Bill is surely to be warmly welcomed and strongly supported at least in two respects. The propositions relating to integrated pollution control and waste management seek to establish standards clearly in advance of anything that prevails in Europe now, and they are greatly to be welcomed for that. The implications are far-reaching. There is scarcely an industrial process and certainly no waste management process which will not be affected by the proposals.
As there are still restrictions on time I shall confine my remarks to integrated pollution control and waste management. In so far as my comments are critical, it is only in the sense that a good Bill can become even better through work in Committee.
I am not entirely convinced from the Bill, ministerial comment or the consultation process that the Government have fully grasped the enormity of what they are undertaking. We gather from consultation and Government statements that the Government believe that about 3, 000 industrial sites may come under integrated pollution control. One can summon two strong witnesses who will challenge that : the Chemical Industries Association and the Confederation of British Industry. Such bodies believe that that is a gross underestimate. The question whether the integrated pollution control mechanism will be suitably qualified and experienced has not yet been answered. Where will the people come from? What will be the numbers? Have the Government fully appreciated the financing and manning required to operate an effective integrated pollution control system? A second question must be asked about integrated pollution control. The system could easily become a bureaucrats' paradise. In its negotiations with the Government the CBI has tried to make this point something of a reductio ad absurdum, but it is a valid debating point. It argues that an industrial process involving HMIP, the National Rivers Authority, the privatised water utilities, waste regulatory authorities, the Health and Safety Executive and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will result in a confusion of authorities concerned with pollution control. To avoid that there must be one enforcement agency and, arguably, the Bill insufficiently gives that role to HMIP.
Column 97The bureaucrats' paradise can be further promoted by the lack of definition within the Bill. One or two hon. Members have already drawn attention to that. One expression which will feature greatly in Committee is
"the best available techniques not involving excessive costs." Who defines "best"? Why "techniques", not "technology"? Who decides what costs are excessive? Answers to those questions are not found in the Bill and I hope that they will be found speedily in Committee. For a long time the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors, the Select Committee on the Environment and the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology have demanded strengthened controls over the generation of waste, it disposal and its continuing control in landfill sites. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green pointed to the fragmented nature of waste management control in the Bill.
Local authorities are to be waste regulatory authorities. There are 173 such authorities in Great Britain and a further 26 in Northern Ireland, making a grand total of 199. In West Germany there are 25 waste regulatory authorities and in Italy 30. There seems to be overkill in the United Kingdom. How can 199 authorities act consistently and coherently? How can 199 authorities each have a full range of scientific, technical and legal skills? The answer is that they cannot, and one does not blame them for that. One day this Government or another Government will have to acknowledge what the Select Committee on the Environment has been saying clearly--that we need to move to regional waste regulatory authorities.
A further point has already featured in the debate and I do not apologise for referring to it again. That is the confusion in relating part I to part II of the Bill. Part I talks about integrated pollution controls controlling pollution caused by the release of substances into air and water and on to land. Part II sets up the WRAs, but most of the substances released into the land will be waste materials. Who will be responsible for those? Will it be the IPC or the WRAs? That confusion could undermine much of the good intention behind the Bill.
With many other hon. Friends I warmly welcome and strongly support the Bill. It is a good one and I believe it could become infinitely better by positive work in Committee.