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Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North) : On behalf of my constituents, I welcome the Bill in one respect, as it gives us the opportunity to debate environmental protection. That is a matter of great concern nationally, but it is of particular concern to my constituents who, in recent months, have had a cloud of sulphuric acid pass over them and a paint works explode near a residential area. They are also aware of a growing queue of applications to build waste incinerators in Kirby. Concern about environmental issues in my constituency, therefore, has been heightened. My constituents are well informed and they take a great interest in the subject.
Although I welcome the idea of the Bill, a detailed examination of its proposals reveals that there are two fundamental deficiencies in its approach. One of those deficiencies has been highlighted by the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter). Clause 6 in part I and clause 64 in part III respectively refer to integrated pollution control
Column 98and statutory nuisances and clean air. Those parts of the Bill use the phrase which has been repeated today by the Secretary of State and several of his hon. Friends--"not entailing excessive cost". It is a matter of great concern that that phrase is tagged on to some of the protections provided in those parts of the Bill.
If it is left to operators and to manufacturers to decide what is and what is not excessive cost--the Bill is far from clear who will determine that-- one can be sure that almost every item of environmental protection required for incinerators, chemical works and other places will be considered excessively costly. That is what will happen unless the Bill is tightened up in Committee. Another problem at the heart of the Bill relates to clauses 18 and 54, concerning public information. The Bill states that, in cases of commercial confidentiality, the public, local authorities, Members of Parliament and so on will not have access to information. That seems reasonably innocuous, but I suspect that, in the past, many hon. Members, like me, have tried to find out exactly what is going on at a chemical works near or within their constituencies.
If the Secretary of State or any of his Ministers have never tried to find out such information, I recommend the exercise to them. If a firm does not want what it is up to broadcast and if one approaches various responsible authorities, such as the fire authority, the pollution inspectorate, the Health and Safety Executive or the local authority, one is told that the information is commercially sensitive or confidential.
Even now, Members of Parliament and local councillors, never mind local residents, cannot find out what is going on at various factories. When the Government talk about commercial confidentiality, I get extremely worried. After all, this is the Government who decided that we could not know how much it cost to advertise the water privatisation, as it was a matter of commercial
confidentiality. They also decided that we could not find out how much money was spent on promoting housing action trusts for the same reason. They used the same argument to prevent us from knowing how much money was spent on publicising and promoting the docklands developments.
It is apparent that commercial confidentiality is erected, and will continue to be erected, as a great barrier against public access to information. People should be allowed to find out what is going on in their area.
I worked for about five years as an engineer in the chemical industry. I know that, if anyone believes that there is something magically secretive about what goes on at most chemical factories, they are living in a dream world. Often, what is going on at a chemical manufacturing plant has more to do with cookery than chemistry, and if any competitor wants to find out, it is fairly easy to do so. A few telephone calls and a few orders will enable the competitor to piece together what is going on.
Firms often claim that they cannot give information because it is commercially sensitive, or a matter of commercial secrecy, and because of the fear of competition. Firms know that it is easy for competitors to discover what is going on. They use that excuse because they do not want local residents, local authorities and others to know that. Unless the argument for commercial
Column 99confidentiality as outlined in the Bill is clarified, I, and most members of the public, will be deeply suspicious about its use. The Bill sets up a sort of framework against which waste management proposals and incineration proposals can be judged. The report of the Select Committee on the Environment on toxic waste and the Department's response to it have shed some light on the problems, the possible answers and some of the available technologies.
The truth of the matter, however--any reasonably competent practising engineer will confirm it--is that none of the technologies available can guarantee that the burning temperature of municipal and medical incinerators can be guaranteed to remain at 1,300 deg C, which is required to kill off dioxins. If that cannot be guaranteed, any local population are right to be deeply suspicious about proposals to build any type of incinerator to burn waste in their backyard. The Bill does not cover that matter in any detail and I do not have any confidence in the Government's intention to get the matter under control.
One of the most feared pollutants is the toxic waste emission of dioxin. A local community is right to believe that it is in danger if an incinerator is built nearby. Unless and until technology is produced, or some more effective method of monitoring is introduced, I shall not countenance the development of the incinerators currently proposed for my area.
Although I welcome the fact that environmental protection is at last the subject of debate and legislation, many areas do not warrant a mention in the Bill. I am bound to say that our reasoned amendment is a good response to the Bill. I shall vote for it, because the Bill leaves too much unsaid and too much uncovered.
Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow) : The environment can be a large subject--the hole in the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect--or it can be a small subject such as the state of local streets or whether local wildlife in the streets is cared for, and that may mean something as humble as a blackbird or a robin. Often, it is the small things which cause the most annoyance to local people. I shall concentrate on one matter briefly mentioned in the Bill--noise. Noise comes under the heading of a statutory nuisance. Last summer, which was long and hot, I had more complaints from my constituents about noise than anything else. It seems that when the weather is hot, people like to get outside and party, but the trouble is that they like to do so all through the night. In two roads in my consistuency--Pearl road and Morgan avenue--the residents' lives last summer were made miserable for months on end by one family in each street. Those families had music playing all through the night, friends arriving at 3 am and 4 am, and cars arriving with their radios blaring-- [Interruption.] If Opposition Members, who are laughing, wanted to be constructive, they could come to Walthamstow and beat up those people. They would have had the thanks of my constituents if they had done so.
The present statutory provisions for dealing with noise are not strong enough. The burden is placed on local authorities. Some of these have noise controls, but they
Column 100tend to be out only on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, not during the week. Therefore, people suffering from noise caused by others have no remedy other than to ring the police, who have no powers because causing such a noise is not a criminal offence.
When I looked at the Bill I was disappointed to see that, once again, the responsibility for trying to deal with this menace is placed on local authorities, but that there is no duty on local authorities to deal with it. When people come to see me at my surgery and say, "Mr. Summerson, the entire street is being kept awake night after night and week after week ; we cannot sleep in our front bedrooms but have to go to the back bedrooms because these people come and make such a noise ; what are we to do about it?", I say, "Have you rung the police?" They say that they have rung the police, who come and tell those making the noise to keep it quiet and to turn the music down. The police go, and 10 minutes later those people are at it again.
Those who complain would not mind so much if they had to put up with a party on a Saturday night. Nobody minds if the party goes on until 2 am if it happens only once or twice a year, but when it goes on night after night for weeks on end, people feel that there must be a statutory provision to enable them to live their lives in peace and quiet. They cannot do so at the moment, as I have discovered from my own experience.
I have a flat just down the road here in Westminster. A man who lives only a few yards away comes back from the pub drunk. I see him coming back and know what will happen. He will turn up the volume of his music, open his windows and blast the street with it. It can be country and western, Irish national or rock music--I never know what he is going to play, but I know that he will play it until3 am, 4 am or 5 am. I ring up the police, who arrive looking weary and fed up. They go and have a word with him, and 10 minutes later, when they have gone, the music starts again. I ring up Westminster city council, for which I have the greatest admiration, but on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, it does not have a noise patrol. That is the problem.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider giving powers to the police so that they can come along, perhaps with a noise meter, and institute criminal proceedings against whoever causes a nuisance. I shall turn from one nuisance to another. The subject of dog mess has already been mentioned. I see from the memorandum to the Bill that clause 70
"empowers the Secretary of State to include any description of animal droppings in the definition of refuse for this part of the Bill."
The problem is that, until my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says that dog mess will be included in the definition of "refuse" in the Bill, dog mess will not be counted as refuse. That could mean that, when the street cleaner comes along and sees the dog mess, he will say that, according to section 70 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, dog mess is not refuse, so he will carefully sweep around it. If he is at all legally minded and looks at his copy of the Environmental Protection Act, that is what he will see. I hope that my right hon. Friend will see fit to include Mr. Corbyn rose--
Column 101Mr. Summerson : I am sorry : I would give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I am running within the 10-minute time limit. I hope that my right hon. Friend will include dog mess in the definition of refuse.
I hope that the House will not consider me frivolous, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will also include bird mess within the description of refuse. In my constituency, pigeons nest underneath the bridge where the railway line crosses Wood street. They have done so for years. When someone walks underneath, he or she finds it quite revolting-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) asks, "Why?" If he walked under that bridge--
I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear these points in mind and realise that, if he includes bird and animal droppings within the definition of refuse, he will make life a lot happier for those urban dwellers among us.
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen) : As many hon. Members want to speak I shall confine my remarks to one part of the Bill--the first part on integrated pollution control. As has been said, since 1976 the principle of integrated pollution control has been accepted as something for which we should work. I am glad to say that it is now to be implemented.
In practice, it is difficult to find people who are expert in all forms of waste control--water waste, solid waste, air pollution and radioactive substances. They are different disciplines, and to find inspectors expert in all of them is like finding professors of chemistry who can also teach physics, biology and computing. The goal is very ambitious.
It is disappointing that integrated pollution control is to be based on the present HMIP which, as several hon. Members have said, is suffering badly from low morale. It is in a shambles ; two directors have resigned, and the late Brian Ponsford committed suicide under the stress of the job.
HMIP is grossly understaffed ; its 199 members of staff face the enormous task of overseeing air pollution, waste control and radioactive substances. I have studied air pollution carefully over the past three or four months while serving on the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, which has been looking into toxic waste and taking a particular interest in Rechem's incinerator in Pontypool A cowboys' charter seems to regulate air pollution in this country. There have been only nine prosecutions in the past 10 years, so effectively, the law does not operate. The director of the western division on HMIP gave evidence to us in November and I asked him about monitoring Rechem in Pontypool. Its incinerator is the largest in Britain, although there are three other large ones. More than half its trade is in burning imported PCB wastes. As everyone knows, there is serious anxiety in the local community about possible contamination of the neighbourhood by PCBs and dioxins in the flue gases.
Column 102HMIP has been visiting the incinerator for sampling only twice a year and it carries out an analysis of the flue gases which looks only for particulates and carbon monoxide. Analysis of PCBs and dioxins is carried out by Rechem itself, and that is appalling. It is do-it -yourself pollution control.
Because of poor staffing levels, HMIP's inspections of premises across Britain have been cut by 40 per cent. in the past four years. On average, industrial premises are sampled once every two years. That contrasts with the NRA, which takes samples at least monthly, and sometimes even weekly or daily, from large industrial premises. There are only 32 air pollution inspectors in Britain, compared with 1,000 in the Netherlands and 20,000 in the United States. What comes out of chimneys in the form of air pollution is just as important as what pollutes our waterways. The NRA has more than 6,000 members of staff : HMIP a mere 200. It is nonsense to transfer some of the responsibilities of the NRA to HMIP, as this Bill does. HMIP lacks the necessary organisation.
We support and advocate integrated pollution control, but only if it has the necessary resources. I looked through the Bill carefully to discover its financial implications. The budget for the enlarged HMIP will be only £3 million or £4 million a year--peanuts compared with the budgets of the chemical industry which produces the waste. The money will mean an additional 15 members of staff for HMIP. Given those scant resources, how can we expect integrated pollution control to work?
The Government have been in power for 10 years and this, their first Bill on the environment, contains nothing about the greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide emissions, acid rain and other global environmental issues. Too little and too late, the Bill offers very little and very late.
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : I intend to say a few words about the administrative framework of pollution control as outlined in the Bill. I intend also to refer to some of the objectives that should be incorporated in any sensible environmental policy. Before I do so, I should contrast the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment with that of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould). I agree with a number of the points made by Opposition Members, but the speech of the hon. Member for Dagenham was slightly unfortunate. He criticised the measure without suggesting that parts of it might be good. That may be connected with his party's record during the past 30 to 40 years.
It is relevant that about 48 Acts of Parliament since 1945 have had a large environmental content. Of those, 32 were passed under Conservative Administrations. A mere 15 were passed under Labour Administrations. For every year, therefore, under Governments of the two parties, well over one Act went on to the statute book under a Conservative Government, whereas rather less than one Act went on to the statute book under a Labour Government. Since 1974, Labour Governments have passed five Acts of Parliament, whereas Conservative Governments have passed 11.
This is one of a series of measures that go back for many years, if not decades. I welcome the use of the term "integrated pollution control". That must be the way forward. However, my experience as a member of the
Column 103Select Committee leads me to believe that it is one thing to talk about integrated pollution control but quite another to make it a reality. Some of my hon. Friends have already said that it will be difficult to implement all facets of integrated pollution control. Although I am happy about integrated pollution control, I am less happy about the job that local authorities will be asked to do. As the collectors and disposers of waste, their record is good. Wyre borough in Lancashire already operates a forward-looking policy for the collection of waste and the clearing up of litter. Its policy is well ahead of what is provided for in the Bill. Many other boroughs and districts will, I believe, take up such a policy with relish. I am also less happy about the regulatory nature of some of the roles that county councils will have to play. It is not sensible to vest the regulation and disposal of waste in the same authority, however much at arm's length the arrangements between the two may appear to be. There are three main reasons why that is not the right way forward. The first relates to the record of county councils over their waste disposal plans. A waste disposal plan was sent to me recently by a county council. I hasten to add that it was not my own. The covering note provided some fairly specious reasons for taking 15 years to produce the plan. It boiled down to a lack of resources and, most important, the lack of priority that was given to the preparation of the plan. That does not bode well for the regulatory tasks that county councils will have to perform.
Secondly, I have already referred to the fact that the same authority will be both poacher and gamekeeper. Water privatisation means that the Department of the Environment has got rid of those two functions, and it is unfortunate that the poacher-gamekeeper relationship is to continue within the county councils.
Thirdly, I am worried whether the best method to dispose of waste will be used when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) said, up to 199 different authorities will be putting forward their own best methods for waste disposal. That is far too many. The boundaries between county councils are administrative, not natural. However, I agree with my colleagues on the Select Committee on the Environment that we must consider waste disposal in terms of regional authorities based on natural boundaries --river basins. I would like to see a move towards combining the functions of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and the National Rivers Authority to create a proper environment protection agency, rather than give responsibility for waste disposal to county councils.
I hope that the White Paper that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will issue later this year will point us towards such a combined function in the future. Provided that such a body were responsible to the Secretary of State, in precisely the same way as the health and safety inspectorate is responsible to the Secretary of State for Employment, there would be an element of accountability. I understand that lack of accountability was a reason for not following that route.
We can see that there will be problems with duplication of effort in the route that we are following. I was pleased to read in the paper today that the problem of different areas of responsibility between the NRA and HMIP has
Column 104been reconciled. I suspect that there will be problems with the various disposal agencies and the county councils in their regulatory role and their relationship with HMIP.
Several county councils are setting up organisations to deal with the environment, and that is probably laudable. Often, the first thing that they do is communicate with the NRA, which has to explain what the councils should do. Then they often decide to do something slightly different, based on the advice of another set of experts. HMIP is having difficulty recruiting staff, and the scarce numbers of environmental experts should not be used up arguing with each other. One organisation should be responsible for the overall control of pollution, and that would make the best use of the expertise that is available.
A sensible environment policy should include three main objectives-- recycling, minimisation of waste and safe waste disposal. Some mention has been made this evening of the need for manufacturing processes that acknowledge the importance of the environment. We should see more of that in the future.
I am pleased about the role of local authorities in the recycling of waste. However, I am slightly disappointed that the Bill is not printed on recycled paper. I am certain that that will be the case in the future.
Safe methods of waste disposal are important. I am convinced that the costs of disposal will have to be increased to meet safety needs, particularly for refrigerators and other items that contain what are considered to be dangerous chemicals.
The Bill is a good one. It is only a step in the right direction, and a considerable amount will need to be done in the future, but the Bill deserves the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House, as it points the way towards integrated pollution control, and it will put us in the forefront of the protection of the environment. 9.14 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : In many ways, the Bill is a rather sad affair. It is a response to much pressure from ordinary people who want to live in a decent and clean environment. The Bill includes a series of pollution control measures, some of which are likely to be effective, but some of which are likely to be ineffective. It does not attempt to address the wider environmental questions of which the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have been speaking over the past few months. It says nothing about the amount of money that may be given to the United Nations environmental programme, nothing about support for international initiatives on the ozone layer, protection of the rain forests and the savannah grasslands, and little about the future of the world's environment, its ecosystems and what contribution the Government will make. For those reasons, its objectives are limited. A further Bill may be necessary, or a statement from the Secretary of State on the resources that will be devoted to those important issues. If we do not address those major issues, we are heading for a serious climatic and ecological disaster. Indeed, much evidence suggests that it is already occurring. The creation of new deserts where rain forests once stood, the destruction of much of the savannah grassland and the changes in the climatic systems in central and south America and parts of Africa and Asia prove that. The droughts, storms and flooding of the past few years were
Column 105not freaks but were part of a climatic change that has occurred as a result of the activities of the human race. Those issues must be addressed in the Bill.
Together with other hon. Members, I support controls on pollution, the principle that the polluter must pay and the right of the public to know who is causing pollution and damage. Emphasis should be placed on who and what is causing waste. It is all very well to speak of the need for controls on litter and of the need for greater recycling, but should we not be examining the need for the production of paper?
In an intervention to the Secretary of State, I did not call for massive censorship of newspapers, but pointed out that we are an incredibly paper- wasteful society. If one buys a sweet in a shop, why must it be wrapped three, four or five times? Why must packaged food in supermarkets be wrapped at least three times and enveloped in a plastic bag that cannot rot because it is not biodegradable? Our approach must acknowledge that, even if we recycle paper, we are still using energy resources. The question should be : is it necessary to manufacture that paper? The same applies to glass and tinned cans for soft drinks, with all the problems of recycling that they pose. I should like to see a system that does not produce waste, that produces not solely for profit or for consumerism, but for the needs of people.
The largest single polluter in this country is the motor car. It produces more carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other dangerous and noxious gases than almost any industrial process. Cars fitted with catalytic converters produce more carbon dioxide, yet the Department of Transport quite happily accepts that car usage will increase. Indeed, it encourages the use of private cars by underfunding British Rail and regional transport systems and by pursuing an anti-public transport strategy. I ask the Government to adopt a different approach to those matters.
I represent a densely populated inner-city area. The borough of Islington has the least amount of open space of any urban area in the country. What little space we have has been fought for by the people who live in the borough. Many of my constituents live in grossly overcrowded housing. They live in a poor environment, partly because of that overcrowding, partly because of pollution and partly because of the lack of open space. Their worries about the world's environment are the worries of us all. Their worries about access to the countryside and the preservation of the rural and wilder areas and of the planet are our worries, because they rightly demand access to open space.
I hope that when we again discuss environmental protection we shall go much further than the proposals in the Bill and that we shall not miss the great opportunities offered by the Bill to make a serious contribution to the future of the world's environment. The situation becomes more serious day by day. The free enterprise policies that produce solely for waste and for profit and that promote a consumerist mentality rather than one of need are damaging to the environment. I am in no sense defending the centralised economies of eastern Europe. They have polluted the North sea and rivers just as industries in Britain and North America have destroyed rivers, wasted natural resources and ruined people's lives by their form of pollution.
It is not good enough to promote an economic system that produces for waste and to promote environmental
Column 106controls in western Europe and North America to look after our environment if at the same time we transfer that destruction of the environment to poorer Third-world countries, either by exporting toxic waste and letting those countries get rid of it by whatever means they can, because they are desperate for foreign currency, or by promoting the destruction of the rain forests, through raping those countries to collect debt payments, when they can make them only by destroying all their natural resources.
We live in an age when we have an opportunity to improve our environment and save ourselves from mass destruction through climatic change and environmental disasters. The Bill goes some way towards meeting some of the worries about pollution controls, but it misses the great opportunity which we should grasp and to which the House will have to return repeatedly if we are to contribute towards saving the environment rather than destroying it.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : On listening to the contributions to the debate, one might be forgiven for thinking that we have a serious environmental problem in Britain. Nothing could be further from the truth. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) implied that market forces were somehow responsible, that affluence leads to effluence, but that is not so. We need only look at eastern Europe to see that Socialism leads to effluence and that the toxic waste produced by an unregulated but highly subsidised Socialist economy causes pollution problems. There, the air is not fit to breathe, the water is not fit to drink and even carrots grown in allotments are allegedly not fit to be eaten. Those problems are produced not by the capitalist society that we have the good fortune to have, but by Socialism or by the remnants of Socialism even here in our country. Water pollution, in so far as the water industry has been in the hands of the public sector, is largely the issue about which we complain, but the Government are changing that with their new legislation. The more we bring industries into a capitalist system, the fewer pollution problems we shall have to complain about. An enormous divergence of issues is subsumed in the Bill. No one could possibly suggest that litter or dog droppings are in the same category as the disposal of industrial waste, global warming or acid rain--there is clearly a great difference in the scale of the problems. One problem is possibly environmental pollution and the other is simply a matter of training people into better habits. A different regime of regulation should be applied to each. We are well aware of the need to recycle renewable resources such as wood and paper, so we must guard against having another regime of regulation that might make that a less attractive option for the private sector. There are also non-renewable resources, such as oil and coal, and the way in which to protect those resources and to make them last is to price them appropriately. As the resources are used up, they become more expensive and the market finds more economical ways of operating. The way in which to conserve non-renewable resources is through the price mechanism, not through yet more regulation, inspectors and administrative burdens placed on industry.
We must start not where we should like to be, in the utopia of a pre- industrial society, but from where we are now. We must be careful not to construct a regime of regulation that will make it impossible for our industries to
Column 107continue to develop and grow. That could easily happen. It would not be the first time in our recent history that we had identified a problem and so regulated matters that we had made it worse. In that regard, I draw the attention of the House to housing. A few decades ago, housing was identified as a problem that needed control and Government intervention and regulation. What has happened? We have made matters ten times worse. We have regulated housing in which people do not want to live, unattractive council estates and more homelessness than we have experienced for a very long time. All of that came out of good intentions and the problem was exacerbated by the imposition of a vast administrative and regulatory regime. What concerns me about the Bill is the number of new regulatory bodies that it proposes for our industry. I urge the Minister to bear it in mind in Committee that one gains more converts with honey than with vinegar. We must guard against over- regulating our industries and making it difficult for them to produce consumer goods at prices that people can afford, by making it almost impossible for them to conduct their business profitably and sensibly.
We have heard talk during the debate about packaging, but the private sector already has a council that is examining the matter. We do not need more regulation ; we just need better co-operation. Private sector organisations are already producing data banks of information on which the better management of raw materials can be based.
Before we start spending taxpayers' money on environmental agencies--part of the Bill's proposals--I urge the Minister to take a good look at what the private sector is already doing and at how the private sector can be helped to regulate itself. Then the measures that we introduce will go with the grain of industry rather than against it. They should be industry- friendly, as well as environment-friendly, and we should ensure that we do not drive our industries into a corner so that they can no longer meet people's expectations. We must remember that when Parliament gets its teeth into what is alleged to be a new problem, it sometimes ends up making things worse.
I view the Bill with caution. I trust that the Minister has a sensible attitude to the beneficial aspects of industrialisation and the private sector, and I hope that in 10 years' time the House will not look back and wonder why we allowed the strangulation of so much of our industrial framework under the guise of protecting ourselves from something that is not nearly as much of a problem as Opposition Members and many environmental agencies would have us believe. 9.28 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury) : The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) introduced a novel note into the debate. Alone of all the speakers whom we have heard, she believes that environmental pollution is not a problem. She says that if there is a problem, it is all the fault of Socialists and that pollution control is a burden on industry. Perhaps the hon. Lady made an old speech because she had not been made aware that there has been a change of Secretary of State and that the attitude of the
Column 108current Secretary of State is somewhat different from that of his predecessor. I am sure that the new Secretary of State will update her.
The Bill has one of the grandest titles of any Bill to come before the House for a long time. Its title, "Environmental Protection Bill", is a sweeping statement of intention which no one, except perhaps the hon. Member for Billericay, would want to oppose. For many people, few issues loom larger on the horizon than the need for urgent action now to protect our environment. That need is central to the health and well-being of all of us, and it is crucial to the future of our children.
As the problems are so great and people are aware that the dangers have intensified so much, any Bill with this title is to be welcomed. However, the problem and the sadness is that the Bill's content does not match the aspirations of its title. A Bill to tackle the major environmental problems facing us now must, in simple logic, deal first with the most significant and major threats to our environment.
Ministers have identified and pontificated on the problems. The Prime Minister has referred to the problems of global warming. She has complained that we are adding greenhouse gases to the air at an unprecedented rate, and she has spoken about the scale of the damage. However, the Bill is completely silent about that issue.
In his television interview in "On the Record", the Secretary of State came up with many ideas and comments which showed that he had taken on board the magnitude of many of the problems facing us. He won much praise for his comments, and they induced high hopes among those concerned with these issues. We hoped for the best from the Secretary of State.
However, since the Bill's publication, we have had to revise our expectations and realise that anyone who followed the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) as Secretary of State for the Environment would have produced high expectations. It would be hard for anyone to be more anti-environment than the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, although the hon. Member for Billericay is trying.
This Bill, the first product of the efforts of the new Secretary of State, does not answer the expectations which his reputation has created. It reorganises some aspects of pollution control, concentrates on somewhat gimmicky approaches to litter, and opens the door for competitive tendering for waste disposal. It also reconstructs the Nature Conservancy Council because of certain vested interests, but without proper consultation. Such a Bill could probably have been introduced by the Secretary of State's predecessor ; I can think of no worse condemnation than that of the new Secretary of State's green mantle.
The Bill can be described only as an incredible disappointment and wasted opportunity. The Bill has some worthy parts and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) said earlier, we will seek to clarify, strengthen and support those parts in Committee. However, the great and glaring gaps in the legislation are staggering. If I mention some of the areas which should have been covered by the Bill, perhaps the Minister for the Environment and Countryside will take them on board. After all, the Government have promised to table many new clauses and to take up many other issues such as straw burning, Crown immunity and dumping at sea. Perhaps there will be room for more. I fear that the Bill that we are
Column 109discussing tonight will bear little resemblance to the final legislation. In that context, I hope that the Government will respond to our constructive amendments in the way that they hope we will respond to theirs.
The Bill should have contained the basic principles of environmental protection. We must quickly adopt the principle of a presumption against pollution. We cannot assume that the environment can always take the pollution that we create.
Before we seek to control pollution, we must seek to prevent it by changing methods and by examining our use of resources. Coupled with that, we must have clearer timetables and targets, not just good intentions. Therefore, it is not enough for the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State to be worried about global warming. The Government have agreed to peg carbon dioxide levels to those that are reached by the year 2000, but they can increase until then. As was said earlier, they should have stabilised them within five years, but they did not because it goes against the grain of 10 years of Thatcherism. The Secretary of State tells us that we must wait for the White Paper. He forgets that the Government have already had 10 years in which to deal with environmental problems and that a lot more would have been achieved and the problems could have been minimised if there had not been many negative moves by the Government in the past 10 years. I refer to the Government's failure to invest in public transport and their dismal record on energy conservation. In 1986-87, the Energy Efficiency Office budget was £26 million. This year it is £15 million. Next year it will be £12 million. In view of the problems that we face, they are absolutely senseless cuts. If the Government and the Minister were committed to tackling environmental problems we would not have seen such a drop in spending, nor would we have seen the end of the television campaigns on energy saving, for the first time since 1973. The Government were keen enough to spend taxpayers' money to sell the water industry, but they were not keen enough to use taxpayers' money to promote energy saving. Of course, only last year, the Government rejected the energy conservation duties that the Labour party tried to put into the Electricity Bill. It seems that the Government are keener on privatising the Meteorological Office than they are on introducing legislation to tackle global warming. While that remains the case, the Secretary of State will have a long way to go to deliver the action that is required to justify his reputation.
The Secretary of State wants hon. Members to accept that many things should be left to the White Paper, but, when the White Paper is produced, he will want to consult further. He is in danger of becoming one of the few Tories- -if not the only Tory--who hope that the election will not be deferred for too long, or he himself will run out of excuses for not taking action on these problems. We will watch his efforts with interest.
Part I, dealing with integrated pollution control, is accepted in principle by most hon. Members, but there are still some outstanding problems. The Government's proposals concentrate on the control, rather than the prevention, of pollution. I hope that the Secretary of State will accept some of our amendments for strengthening that part of the Bill. The list of processes and substances to be covered by IPC is minimal. Many dangerous chemicals that are listed in other countries are not covered by the legislation. Moreover, existing polluters will not face more stringent controls and will not be considered under IPC
Column 110until their existing consents come up for renewal. That could be five years away. Opposition Members share many of the concerns about that part of the Bill.
Opposition Members also share the concern of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) about BATNEEC, which, for the uninitiated, is the best available techniques at no extra cost. It begs the question of no extra cost, and it also begs the question whether pollution inspectors should be letting firms off the highest standards simply because of judgments of that kind. Is it the inspectors' job to judge cost, or is it their job to lay down standards? Certainly, laying down standards must come first. We have seen examples of the old alkali inspectorate acknowledging that different standards of pollution were allowed in different circumstances depending on the size and profitability of a company. I question whether that is the best way to protect the environment. We must, of course, promote best available techniques, but we must not provide large loopholes, which is what seems to be happening. I remind the Minister of State, who is from the north-west, of what happened in Bolton, where a company manufacturing lead batteries wanted to expand and to build a factory locally. The local authority did not accept the inspectorate's view that the best practicable means had been planned for and entered into an agreement with the company which meant that it provided better standards of pollution protection, even than the inspectorate had accepted. That is an example of what can be done if the principle of pollution prevention comes first. I hope that the Minister will give some credit to that local authority.
Similar arguments can be used about the future of environmental assessments. I hope that we shall come to that matter in Committee. The other great concern about part I relates to resources. The work of HMIP, which is to supervise the integrated pollution control provision, has received a great deal of comment in the recent past. The latest reports show that the standards and frequency of inspections are falling. The target of 1,070 inspections for radioactive substances was not met. Indeed, HMIP itself states that the target should have been 1,900. Fifty waste disposal authorities should have been visited, but only 20 were. In a letter from the Secretary of State to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), the right hon. Gentleman admits that in MINIS 10 it is recognised that the targets for HMIP are generally below those of previous years.
Mr. Trippier indicated assent.
Mrs. Taylor : I note that the Minister of State is agreeing. The Government's neglect of this area for so long, especially in relation to training, has finally caught up with them. The Bill provides for 15 extra staff for HMIP, but HMIP is unable to police its existing operations. Much of what is wrong with the Bill is typified by that example of resources.
There are many sound principles in the Bill, but the opportunity for their proper implementation has been lost time and time again previously because of a lack of the proper resources. This is causing concern to the local authorities that are keen to take on many of the extra duties of the Bill, but whose confidence in the Secretary of State's willingness to resource them has not been
Column 111improved. The Secretary of State's decision not to make a statement to the House this year on the revenue support grant has not increased their confidence.
I turn to another important area of the Bill and to one that the Secretary of State himself mentioned. I refer to freedom of access to environmental information. There now seems to be some agreement in principle that information should be available as much as possible, but that agreement is only stage one. The Bill will have to be amended if it is to provide the raw data throughout that the Secretary of State announced earlier.
There is a problem because the let-out of "commercial confidentiality" will still divide us when we discuss this provision in Committee.
I look forward to the Secretary of State's guidelines, but we want to see where the burden of proof is to lie. Should we really trust the fine words of the Minister when it comes to defining commercial confidentiality in the public interest? After all, it was his Department that refused in a parliamentary question to give the House the cost of the housing action trust study carried out by Coopers and Lybrand. Why? Because of commercial confidentiality. It was his Government who, in answer to a parliamentary question asking about the loss to the Exchequer of the tax concessions on the docklands scheme, refused to tell the taxpayer on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. It was his Government--his very Department--who refused to tell us the cost of advertising for the water nationalisation on grounds of commercial confidentiality. We shall watch the Government's actions on that carefully.
We are short of time, after an interesting debate that has opened up many subjects that we shall want to discuss further in Committee. With the best will in the world, no one could say that the Bill will save us from the dire environmental damage that is being done daily. No one has opposed the intention of the Bill, but no one has spoken about it with much enthusiasm. We all regret the wasted opportunity and the fact that the Secretary of State has missed the chance to show that he will tackle the problems of the environment. We shall try to strengthen the Bill in Committee so as to fill the gap left by the Secretary of State. That is why we have tabled the reasoned amendment.
The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. David Trippier) : Contrary to what the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) alleged, I appreciate the fact that, with relatively few exceptions, there has been general support for the principles and provisions of this important Bill. With the notable exception of the speech of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), I welcome the many positive comments made in the debate, especially from the vast majority of my hon. Friends and from Opposition Members such as the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) and for Burnley (Mr. Pike). I gladly take that as a clear signal that the Bill will be considered constructively and positively in Committee.
It is interesting that hardly any Labour Member referred to the Opposition amendment. Whatever happened to the fourth action programme on the environment or global warming? I admit that the hon.
Column 112Member for Dagenham found a friend in the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn)--if he can be considered one of his hon. Friends. That goes to show that even a friend in need can be a blithering nuisance. For the life of me, I cannot think why anyone can vote for an amendment that nobody has thought it important enough to discuss.
Protection and improvement of our shared and fragile environment is a cause that is attracting enormous public interest and support--more now than at any time in the history of this nation. It is right that the House should reflect that awareness and concern in its deliberations. This is a Bill for a cleaner and greener Britain. Despite the misgivings of the hon. Member for Dagenham, the Bill provides a thorough-going overhaul of our regulatory system for not only protecting but enhancing our environment. It will deliver better accountability, clearer responsibilities and higher standards. Enforcement of environmental controls will become easier and penalties for transgression will be tougher. The power, role and responsibility of individuals and local authorities will be increased. Local authorities will be able to exercise greater powers in the regulation and control of pollution, reflecting the importance of local democracy in the cause of environmental enhancement. I point out to the right hon. Member for Halton that the new system for cost recovery charging should cover the full cost to local authorities of implementing their new powers. Because public access to environmental information will be increased substantially every individual in Britain will become an environmental watchdog in his own right. These are the central tenets that contribute significantly to the overall impact of the Bill and that will enable us to deliver an effective system to take us through the next decade.
Today's debate has reflected the support that we have received from all interested parties for the new system of integrated pollution control and the tighter controls that local authorities will have over air pollution. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), many people have welcomed our proposals to reform waste disposal to separate ownership from regulation. In view of the reasonable requests of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment, about those recalcitrant local authorities which have yet to submit their waste disposal plans, I assure him that I will move an amendment in Committee to meet his concerns. We shall also deal with the code of practice to which he referred in his excellent speech. It will be available for the Committee stage.
Like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I welcome the excellent work discharged by the Royal Commission on environmental protection, genetically modified organisms and integrated pollution control. It grieves me to say that I agreed with the hon. Member for Godon (Mr. Bruce) in his summary of the speech of the hon. Member for Dagenham. I agreed, too, with my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) when he said that the speech of the hon. Member for Dagenham was not worthy of the occasion. I say that it grieves me because I have great regard for the hon. Gentleman, but it is clear to me that on environmental matters he suffers from delusions of adequacy.
The hon. Member for Gordon made the speech that the hon. Member for Dagenham should have made. The hon.