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Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : On the subject of profitable companies, can the right hon. Gentleman resolve for me what seems to be one of the central dilemmas of the present system--capitalist or whatever one calls it--that companies have limited liability and therefore have no responsibility in the way in which they are accountable to their shareholders for the future? How can the Government find a way of building in individual responsibility for companies for the future and square that with the companies' accountability to their shareholders and their limited liability?

Mr. Gummer : The issue of environmental liability is important and it is being considered with great care in the

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European Union. I look for the type of limited liability that is based on the duty of companies to do at any given time what any knowledgeable individual should do in pursuing policies that do not harm the environment or the future of our children.

There are arguments about how one draws that line. I would be very leery of saying to a company that it should know more about the environment than anyone else knows about it at a particular moment. The idea of insisting upon hindsight would be very dangerous, but I believe that we should be able to find a sensible answer. That is what the European Union is doing-- trying to find the right answer.

Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough) : In that case, does the Secretary of State agree with and totally support the European directive that made it a requirement for companies undertaking major developments to carry out a properly worked out and costed environmental impact assessment? Alternatively, does he feel that it is sufficient to leave that as a voluntary set-up?

Mr. Gummer : The hon. Lady knows that I have been pressing hard for a whole range of environmental assessments, not least the concept of environmental audits as part and parcel of the normal activity of major and medium-sized businesses. She knows my views on those matters. There are some real problems with the details of the directive which are not to do with the issues that unite us, so I cannot say that I agree with every jot and tittle. I believe that we must deal with the whole question of environmental liability in a sensible way which will meet the proper concerns of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) but will not lay on the shoulders of business impossible demands. We cannot expect business to have knowledge of something that is not discovered until some time afterwards. I look to a European answer which may be more in tune with our two requirements than is the case with answers suggested in other parts of the world.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North) : How does the Secretary of State square his statement with the activities of Fisons, a private company which is mining peat on Thorn and Hatfield moors in my constituency? It is ripping that lowland peat bog to pieces although it is important internationally. There has been a voluntary agreement between English Nature and Fisons since January 1992, yet it has still not been signed. I have pursued the matter since I was elected to the House and I can get no sensible answers. This site and other lowland peat bogs are very important, as most people are aware. Will the Secretary of State tell us what the Government intend to do to get the agreement signed and what they intend to do further to protect lowland peat bogs?

Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman knows that when I was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I spent a great deal of time being particularly interested in the alternatives to peat. That is an issue which, no doubt, unites us. I shall be perfectly happy to look at the details if the hon. Gentleman gives them to me. He may then get sensible answers, if that is what he seeks. I will do my best and see what needs to be done. I am sure that he does not want me to comment on the particular details of the matter here, although I am happy to look at it and to see what we can do.

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Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : Can the Secretary of State square his statement about not cheating our children with his decision on the thermal oxide reprocessing plant, which was based on a planning inquiry held some 15 years ago? The available evidence was not published. Surely that is not just cheating our children, but cheating our grandchildren's grandchildren.

Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman has not spent the time that I and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food spent in going through the details and coming to our conclusion. The case is now before the courts. The decision taken by me and my right hon. Friend was entirely consonant with my belief about not cheating our children. The hon. Gentleman must learn soon that there are choices to be made and that those choices have to be made after the most detailed discovery and discussion of what the facts are. That is what I did and I stand by it.

If we are to have the sustainable development that we want, we need profitable companies which can most afford to invest in new plant and cleaner technology. A thriving private sector will invest in the research and development that is needed to identify and understand the solutions to our environmental problems. Only from a thriving economy can we draw the resources that we need to continue to expand the health services, to invest in education, to conserve and enhance our landscape and to build our heritage--in short, to meet the proper aspirations of our people.

I start with that clear message because I believe that sustainable development must be woven into our life styles. It must not become an excuse for a puritanical belief that life must be miserable for it to be sustainable. The words "sustainable" and "development" must be kept together. It is the phenomenal success of industry over the generations which has contributed to many of the environmental problems today. It is only through business--better business--that any real solutions can be found. That is an essential part of the discovery of solutions to the problems that we face.

The British, who invented the industrial means of production, have long experience of the harm that can be done. That was best expressed in a poem by Hopkins, in which he wrote :

"Generations have trod, have trod, have trod ;

And all is seared with trade ; bleared, smeared with toil And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell : the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod."

Hopkins expressed his anguish at seeing the destruction and loss from industry-- [Interruption.] I am sorry that the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) has not looked at the poem recently. If he looks at it carefully, he will see that it contains a number of the demands for sustainable development that we are addressing this evening. Hopkins also possessed the vision that we need--the vision of all that remains, of all that is fundamental and of all that can be preserved. It is on that preservation and on that seeking to pass on our heritage to the next generation that the sustainable part of sustainable development depends.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North) : We should get something clear at the beginning of our debate. The Secretary of State seems to identify development with sustainable growth. Does he see growth to satisfy all human aspirations as being a continual and

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everlasting process? Does he believe that, if there is a time when all reasonable human aspirations have been satisfied, it will be unreasonable to expect continuing economic growth?

Mr. Gummer : I can only point to a quotation that I used in my introduction to the document on sustainable development, which is the sensible comment made by Newman that growth is the only evidence of life. I find it difficult to conceive of a society in decline in which it is worth living. There is no known example of a period of flowering of culture and science that is also a period of economic decline. Culture and science flower at a time of economic expansion. That is a fact of history and it is one explanation why the socialist societies did not produce the scientific and cultural results that one would have expected over the years. Marxism developed a period of permanent economic decline.

I look to a society that grows. A society in decline cannot meet the reasonable demands of a civilisation in which human beings expect each year to find new ways in which to express themselves and to grow. I have no objection to that. Growth must happen in a sustainable way. It is only those who are so saddened that they cannot imagine sustainable growth whom we should fear. Those people want to use the admirable concept of sustainable development as a means of imposing on the nation their views about the restrictions that should be placed on the spirit of man. I find that another excuse for a sort of puritanism which, I hope, we shall have grown out of.

We can take pride in the United Kingdom's part in the Rio earth summit. Our environment strategy of 1990 meant that we were well placed to call on other nations to plan comprehensive strategies. We, ahead of most, had done so. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was the first world leader to announce his firm intention of attending the summit, which helped to ensure that other prominent Heads of Government took the plunge. On that occasion, my right hon. Friend launched the Darwin initiative and the technology transfer project. He also announced our sponsorship of the "Partnerships for Change" conference.

Those initiatives have made a real contribution and we should emphasise the nature of that contribution. They have made clear our commitment to the need for a global realisation of sustainable development. Britain was committing itself to partnership and to an understanding that we in the developed countries have a special responsibility to help other nations meet their commitments. The solution has to be global, but it will not be achieved unless the partnership is universally accepted.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : May I ask the Secretary of State a question of which I gave his office notice? If there is to be a global solution, why does not the biodiversity action plan extend to the British Indian ocean territories of Chagos Archipelago, Tristan da Cunha and St. Helena, which are fantastically rich in biodiversity? If the Government are setting an example, why does not their biodiversity policy extend to the outposts of empire?

Mr. Gummer : I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of that question. I have to admit that it would have been more difficult to answer if he had not done so.

At the time, there were reasons that made it difficult to put those places in the same category as the other dependent territories, but I am seeing whether we can overcome the problem. I agree with the hon. Gentleman

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that there is particular biodiversity in those places, as there is in many countries mentioned in the biodiversity document. He points to the fact that the demands of sustainable development, in its widest sense, will be met only by a global solution. I shall be happy to write to him about my researches.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) : I agree with my right hon. Friend about the global solution ; the documents deserve everyone's support. Many people, however, believe that world population growth has a fundamental role to play. Indeed, in reply to the debate on the earth summit last year, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said that population growth was causing considerable environmental problems. Will my right hon. Friend note that it is a matter of regret that population and planning takes up only one word in one line of the four documents? Might not it be expanded in the future?

Mr. Gummer : I am sure that we could discuss that subject for a long time. One of the problems is that what has been most damaging in many countries is not population growth but the movement of the population into urban centres from the countryside. Sometimes, people treat the issue too simplistically. In Latin America, for example, the population expressed as persons per square mile is not very high, but the number of people who have crammed into urban areas in the past 25 years, denuding the countryside, is high. The problem is complex and difficult, and it is devastating the environment. I agree that the matter should be thoroughly discussed, but it needs to be discussed on a much wider basis than only population control.

Mr. Ottaway : My right hon. Friend must accept that world population is growing at the rate of 10,000 every 55 minutes, which is not insignificant. What better opportunity is there to discuss the problem than during this debate on the documents?

Mr. Gummer : The documents' specific purpose is to deal with a number of other issues. I am not speaking for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am sure that, if my hon. Friend wishes to do so, it will be in order to discuss population growth as part of sustainable development.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : Is not it true that every new mouth born in the world has to be fed but it comes with a pair of hands and a brain? It is the sum total of human creativity and energy which has made the world a better place in which to live for the majority of people.

Mr. Gummer : I am carefully trying to avoid the type of discussion that would divide hon. Members in a different way from which we are usually divided. I believe that human beings have an individual validity. That leads me to be extremely careful about the promotion of certain methods to deal with sustainable development, but that is better left for another debate. I am pleased that, on such a subject, my hon. Friend and I are on the same side.

Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen) : I liked the right hon. Gentleman's redefinition of cheating children. How does the Government's policy on North sea oil and gas fit with their concept of sustainable development? Does not the dash for gas cheat our children?

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Mr. Gummer : I do not think so. If we did not make the changes, the possibility of meeting targets on carbon and achieving a cleaner environment would be much reduced. It would not be reasonable to say that the Government's policy does not make a real contribution towards sustainable development.

Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh) : Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gummer : I must get a little further into my speech before I give way to my hon. Friend.

Our proposals were designed to underline the commitment of the United Kingdom to a global partnership with the rest of the world. As a former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I am aware of the considerable part that is being played by the trustees of Kew, who are helping nations that would otherwise not have the ability or scientific base to provide the information that they need to begin their sustainable development programmes.

On his return from Rio, it was again the Prime Minister at the Lisbon and Munich summits who persuaded other European Union and G7 Heads of Government to undertake to produce plans for sustainable development. Since then, the United Kingdom has secured election to the newly established United Nations commission on sustainable development. The United Kingdom is one of the first to produce the promised sustainable development strategy and the first to publish a programme under the climate change convention.

That sustained commitment shows the Government's seriousness about building for our long-term future. I know that our aspirations are widely shared.

We need to show in all that we do the recognition that it is only by a world partnership that we can achieve our aims. My predecessor built a good relationship between the United Kingdom and India and, through that, between the north and the south. We have expanded that and there are now many lines of communication between the south and member states of the European Union. I hope that, together, we can carry that policy forward.

One of the remarkable achievements of last year's meeting in New York was that the suspicion between north and south was considerably allayed and many of our previous arguments were resolved. That is a helpful development and we shall seek to extend it in meetings in Geneva and again in New York. I believe that the Indian Minister will seek to do much the same at a meeting in Agra, which could do much to break down the sensitivities of new nations, which feel that it is hard for them to present such documents, because they may be criticised by older nations. We have accepted the principle that we should be prepared to criticise each other, which is a major breakthrough, in order to achieve the best possible answer. It is particularly beneficial to have not only the clear commitment of the Government but the personal commitment of the Prime Minister. I hope that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) will ensure that the Labour party leader will make the same commitment. It would be good to have a statement of clear support from him. I have difficulty recalling the last time that the Leader of the Opposition made a speech on the issue, but perhaps now is the right time for him to do so. The attitudes set out in the documents must have widespread support. It is inevitable that those who are

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already convinced and who are campaigning for one environmental cause or another will say that we have not gone far enough. It is right that they should goad us, but it would be wrong for us to accept their assessment without reserve. Everyone has accepted that this is the right direction and we can demonstrate that the strategy that we have set out measures up to the importance of the issue.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) : Will not the deregulation initiative which is being promoted by the Government seriously weaken the action on environmental improvement? I know that the document says that economic instruments will be used in preference to regulations, but does the Minister agree that what should be used is that which is most effective? Will he also consider not necessarily going for economic instruments in every single case?

Mr. Gummer : I agree absolutely that we must use the most effective measures. Deregulation is not about getting rid of necessary regulations, but unnecessary ones.

The hon. Lady should ask hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench, who have steadfastly refused to support the fiscal measures that are necessary to deliver the carbon dioxide commitments-- [Interruption.] It is all very well for the Opposition. They know perfectly well that they could not deliver what is needed for carbon dioxide emissions without the fiscal measures that we have taken. The Opposition are dishonest and hypocritical if they will not stand up and say which taxes they would increase to ensure that we can reach the carbon dioxide targets.

Mrs. Helen Jackson rose --

Mr. Gummer : I will give way to the hon. Lady if she will tell me which taxes she would raise. If she will not tell me, she should not be talking about this part of the debate.

Mrs. Jackson : Will the Secretary of State tell us the specific targets for the reduction in carbon emissions which the Government are prepared to set by the year 2000?

Mr. Gummer : The hon. Lady is short-sighted if she does not know that. We have signed up to the international targets and we have said exactly how we will achieve them. The Labour party has refused to accept the measures that are needed to reach those targets. What is worse is that the Labour party and, I believe, the hon. Lady herself want to get rid of the electricity which is produced by nuclear power. That would mean that we would have to tax even more heavily and would have to cut even more to meet those targets.

If the hon. Lady looks at the Labour party's policy on nuclear power, she will see the problem that it presents. Nuclear power currently provides about 22 per cent. of the United Kingdom's electricity. If that were to be replaced, the United Kingdom's emissions of carbon dioxide would be between 6 million and 15 million tonnes of carbon higher. How would the hon. Lady deal with that? Where would she get an alternative for that? What taxes would she put up to damp down the use of energy? The hon. Lady and her party would have to spend about double what is proposed.

The trouble with the Labour party is that it is generous in its generalities and it is careful never to make any

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particular promises. The hon. Lady has again betrayed the facts. The Labour party has no policy, except promising the best and promising that we can get it all without a single increase in taxation and without any disadvantage to anybody anywhere in the world ; or, at least, anybody in the world who has a vote.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that some of the hopes that were placed on wind energy are proving not to be as fruitful as was expected? Does not that form of energy have substantial environmental disadvantages?

Mr. Gummer : My constituency contains two nuclear power stations and many of the people who campaigned against the building of Sizewell B asked us to replace it with wind energy. I am interested that many of those same people are busy writing to me today to say that I should oppose any possibility of putting up a wind farm anywhere in Suffolk. I note, therefore, that there are many people who are always against everything, but who are never in favour of anything. Those people then complain if they do not have the electricity that they need to keep the old warm and to keep the hospitals and schools running.

The Opposition would be much more credible if they honourably told us which taxes the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) would allow them to increase in an unforeseeable future in which they might possibly gain power. The public would respect them much more. I wish to hear which taxes the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury would impose to meet the requirements in respect of which we have imposed the taxation which the hon. Gentleman now opposes. What extra taxation would the hon. Gentleman propose to cover the nuclear deficit when he removes the possibility of any nuclear use? Perhaps the Opposition have changed their policy and they have a new policy on nuclear power.

Mr. Alan W. Williams rose--

Mr. Gummer : I have been generous in giving way. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he will tell me which taxes the Opposition would want to increase. Will he tell me that?

Mr. Williams : Yes.

Mr. Gummer : Then I will give way.

Mr. Williams : The Secretary of State has talked at length about the matter. The right hon. Gentleman is trying to justify VAT on fuel--[ Hon. Members :-- "Which taxes?"] I am coming to it. He is trying to justify VAT on fuel on the basis that it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Would not the Secretary of State have more credibility if he told us that the money was to be earmarked for energy efficiency schemes which would reduce carbon dioxide emissions? Is not the money being used to cure the public relations problems of the Government?

Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman will not get away with that. That is the last refuge of--I will not say what, because it would be unparliamentary. He knows in his heart of hearts as a geologist and an expert, as he often remarks, that the policy of his party is incredible. What does he say? He says that our policy would be more

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credible if we not only bring in the taxes to which the Opposition are opposed, but spend the money raised on something that the hon. Gentleman thinks is a good idea.

I remind the hon. Gentleman of what we are spending the money on. There is a considerable increase in the money which is going to every pensioner, so that they can now get assistance towards the major work involved in having an energy-efficient home. We are dealing with 500, 000 homes this year. The hon. Gentleman knows that, but he does not mention it.

I gave way to the hon. Gentleman on a false prospectus. He made it clear to me that he was going to tell me which taxes the Opposition were to raise. The hon. Gentleman was going to tell me how the Opposition would deal with the fact that less carbon is put into the atmosphere by nuclear energy. He did not tell us, because the Labour party does not know. If it does know, it dare not tell us. Labour Members would then find themselves in the same position as the most dishonourable case, which is the Liberal Democrat party. The Liberal Democrats, of course, are always green in words. The Liberal Democrats were in favour of the extension of VAT to fuel and then they changed their minds. Why ? They changed their minds because there was a by-election in which it was inconvenient to stand up for their principles. I note that principles in the Liberal Democrat party are convenient only as long as they are electorally sound. The party has shown the same kind of principles on green issues which it showed on the racial issue in Tower Hamlets. Whenever there is a problem that can be got out of by winning a vote, the Liberals will be there.

The party knows perfectly that it would have to tax to meet carbon dioxide requirements. Liberal Democrats are very good at saying how green they are, but they never say how they would tax. They use generalities, but they never mention facts when it comes to how it will affect somebody who might vote for them.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) rose

Mr. Gummer : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain why his party dropped the proposal for VAT on fuel.

Mr. Hughes : The Secretary of State spoils a debate on important issues with this banter, which all hon. Members could enter into. [ Hon. Members-- : "Answer."] I will answer the right hon. Gentleman's question. He knows perfectly well that he has been entirely selective about recent political history. We did consult before the election on whether VAT was a sensible option for dealing with environmental issues. We rejected it as an option. It was not in our manifesto for the general election and it has not been in any since, because we have been persuaded by the arguments. I am sure that the message of the debate will be that if the Government consulted more widely and listened to the answers more closely, they would have a sounder policy.

Mr. Gummer : It is fascinating that the hon. Gentleman should say that, but he has not mentioned that he would introduce another tax, which would have the same effect, but which was not mentioned to the electorate. That part of the manifesto was kept very quiet. The Liberals published

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all kinds of leaflets which suggested that they would manage the green goods without paying the difficult price for that.

Mr. Hughes : No, no.

Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman cannot say, "No, no". I have raised this issue for a simple reason : if we are to win the battle for sustainable development, we must be honest about the cost. We cannot deliver that development unless we accept that real costs are involved. The Government have committed themselves to insist upon those costs and to help those least able to pay them.

The system that we presented was much more generous than that which the Labour party suggested was the minimum necessary. We do not go for the minimum of help ; perfectly rightly, we have done better than that. Does the Labour party support the necessary taxes that must be imposed? Does the Liberal party come out and say, "Yes. We would tax. This is the amount and this is how it would affect people"? Do the Liberals put that in their manifestos for by-elections? No, they do not.

I have some hope for the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, because we agree about many issues, but I have no hope for the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), because the Liberals would have to turn back the history of 50 years if they started to tell the truth about taxation.

Mr. Hughes rose --

Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman will have plenty of opportunity to talk about this issue.

Mr. Hughes : The right hon. Gentleman does not want to listen to the argument.

Mr. Gummer : I will be very happy to hear the argument and no doubt we will hear in extenso-- [Hon. Members :-- "Ad nauseam."] If we deal with sustainable development, we must make sure that we do not pick out particular aspects and avoid the holistic approach that we need to take. We cannot win the battle on climate change unless we are prepared to charge the cost. That cost must be clear and we must seek to ensure that it does not fall on those who are least able to pay it. We must make the measures effective if we are to deliver the end.

There is more to it than just fiscal measures. We need to insist on the role of individuals. The Government must set a clear example, and so must the House. I am pleased that the House has decided to meet the same targets as have been set for Government offices. The House of Commons and the House of Lords will meet the 15 per cent. reduction in energy use. I met the man responsible and he is satisfied that the programme is well on course.

The Ministers in each Department responsible for green issues are also responsible for delivering the departmental targets. At the end of the period concerned, we should have achieved the 15 per cent. reduction that we need. I hope that, among other things, the temperature at which the House generally works will be lowered. I believe that it is higher than it need be.

The only way in which we can, ultimately, achieve our ends and sustain them is not only by setting an example, which we must, but by harnessing the enthusiasm, the willingness to contribute and the simple common-sense actions of countless individuals nationwide. Those small things, which everyone can do, make a huge difference to

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our achievements. It is true that while every household is responsible for 7.5 tonnes of carbon going into the atmosphere, that emission could be reduced by 1 tonne if people adopted relatively small measures. Many may point the finger at each one of those measures and say that they do not seem much, but if each household, out of 20 million, were to adopt those simple measures, the difference could be enormous.

By using less central heating, by using only that amount of water that needs to be boiled for a particular function, by using energy-saving bulbs and by walking, when possible, instead of driving, a great deal could be achieved. That is why we have set an example not only by what we are doing in Government buildings and offices, but by helping pensioners to provide the insulation necessary for their homes.

Those measures represent just 30 per cent. of our target. We must consider transport, which is an important part of the equation, although it is responsible for less carbon than that produced from domestic sources. The car is perhaps the single most emancipating manufactured product yet devised. We need to retain the freedom which car owning has provided. [Laughter.] It is all right for Opposition Members to laugh, but the car has given to many people opportunities that they never had before. Those opportunites should not be laughed at. The Opposition will find that the electorate does not share their laughter, because people feel that the motor car has been and is a great force for good.

The car must be the servant, not the master. The issue is how we control the car sensibly within our society. That is why the sustainable development plan states frankly :

"If people continue to exercise their choice as they are at present--and there are no other changes--the resulting traffic growth would have unacceptable consequences for both the environment and the economy of certain parts of the country--and could be very difficult to reconcile with overall sustainable development goals." There are several approaches to solving that. One is to increase the cost of travel by road. The Government have not baulked at that responsibility, but I have not noticed enthusiasm from the Labour party to support the extra duty on petrol, over and above the cost of living, to help towards that. I have not noticed that, because it is embarrassing to support tough, necessary measures ; it is much easier to claim the credit for the advantages that those measures achieve and to make generalised anti-road comments.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer : I am happy to give way if the hon. Lady will tell me that she will support that tax.

Ms Walley : In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has just told the House, do I take it that he and the Secretary of State for Transport intend to review the widening proposals for the M25?

Mr. Gummer : What an interesting answer. I have still not heard an answer about the tax. The Opposition do not want to answer that question. They do not want to accept the fact that they want all the easy popularity, but they do not want to meet the bill. Meeting the bill for sustainable

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development points up the difference between hypocrisy and reality. I will not, of course, aim either of those words at anyone because that would be unparliamentary.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) knows perfectly well that a public inquiry is being held about the future of the M25. That is the proper way to conduct business. I am sure that she would want the public to have their say, and no doubt they will, and a decision will be made as a result.

A second solution is within our hands as individuals, because we can choose to use the car less or more sensibly. Many people already make a point of doing that and I believe that many others will do so. Technical measures can also help, such as the manufacture of cleaner motor vehicles and I pay tribute to those who have already done so much in that regard.

We can also, however, employ the land use planning system to influence the siting of new shops and offices. Where we choose to work, where we go to enjoy ourselves and where we go to shop are significant choices for our use of the car. They also make a significant impact on urban quality.

Understanding what is needed to improve the quality of cities and towns requires us to look at issues in a broader way. How people shop relates to how they use their cars. How local authorities respond influences whether businesses will invest in town centres. Good urban design demands vitality in the urban property market. That vitality flows from people's decision to shop in town centres. In turn, that depends on a positive approach to planning and managing town centres. That is a job for local authorities, because they must be imaginative in enabling things to happen. They should not say no to a substantial new development without making clear their reasons. Whenever possible, they should point to an alternative way of making provision for economic development. They must adopt a positive approach. Local authorities must work with local people, landowners and developers to identify the right local strategy. Those strategies in local plans must take account of the national priorities set out by the Government last year in planning policy guidance note 6. That policy is intended to help to deliver town centres that serve the whole community. Those centres should provide a focus for retail development where competing businesses are near enough for shoppers to compare prices and benefits from competition. They should be places in which a series of different uses are encouraged. They would then be attractive to local residents, shoppers and visitors because they would have lively restaurants, cafes, culture and entertainments, as well as shopping facilities and places for people to live. I want us to improve the quality of our towns so that we can reduce the pressures of urban sprawl and the pressures to develop green-field sites. That means encouraging new shopping developments in locations where they can reinforce town centres--in town centres or within walking distance of them. Where they would result in an unacceptable impact on a town centre, it may be necessary to discourage development on green-field sites on the edge of cities. I wish to mention a further development that has resulted from the document on sustainable development. Month by month, we shall have new examples of the steadily developing strategy outlined in the document. Today, the Producer Responsibility Industry Group,

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representing 28 major companies in the packaging world, presented to me some new packaging proposals. I have the document in front of me. It must be considered further by both Government and industry. Businesses must decide whether to follow its recommendations or face the prospect of a much more bureaucratic scheme proposed by legislation in response to the European Union packaging directive. The Government must also reserve their position on the plan until industry is sure that it complies with United Kingdom and European Union competition law and until appropriate authorisations have been received from the relevant competition authorities. But I have no hesitation in endorsing the way in which the industry group has approached the challenge. Recycling is a crucial part of any sensible sustainable development strategy. The plan would nearly double the recycling and recovery of packaging waste from 32 per cent. in 1993 to 58 per cent. by 2000. It would bring convenient access to recycling to 80 per cent. of homes by the end of the century, either through home collection or close-to-home bank schemes. Some 15 per cent. of households--3.5 million homes--will be covered by 1996. The plan includes a clear commitment to expand markets for recycled materials. Having looked hard at potential markets, we believe that recycling of plastics waste is projected to increase from 5 to 16 per cent. by 2000. The plan also safeguards some of the recycling activities most seriously threatened by the impact of foreign schemes, such as United Kingdom paper collection and reprocessing. I shall want to look again at some of the detailed targets, but I believe that the plan is a major step forward.

Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West) : As my right hon. Friend knows, the Select Committee on the Environment is midway through its inquiry into recycling. Will he confirm that the producer responsibility group document will be made available to the Select Committee before it reaches its conclusion?

Mr. Gummer : I am happy to do that. It will also be discussed widely by the industry and I hope that we shall have a concerted agreement at the end.

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