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We should establish consensus in this area, but, sadly, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury has seen fit only to trot out a few inaccurate, party political statements.
Mr. Brazier : I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. In supporting his broad vision of the total absence of Opposition policies, I suggest to my right hon. Friend that even at the lowlier, purely factual, level there are further great holes in the argument of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. He referred to sewage and bathing water directives and so on, but it was his party which cut spending on sewerage by half and left many of my constituents in areas of population growth with sewage problems in their gardens. However, we have had the largest capital programme ever in this area.
Mr. Gummer : I promise my hon. Friend that I will return to that and I will do so accurately, unlike the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, who tried to push off a direct question from my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) about the cost of his proposal on water. The hon. Gentleman revealed that he had no idea what that cost was. I will tell the House that it would cost £10,000 million. It would take a large number of directors' salary reductions to make up £10,000 million pounds.
The hon. Gentleman does not have a policy. When he was pressed on a carbon tax, he had no answer. When he was pressed on the figures relating to the way in which we are meeting the requirements of the urban waste water directive with the extra speed that he demands, he did not know them. The answer that he gave was clearly trumpery and rubbish because he did not want to give the real answer, which is that if we speed up the application of the directives, the cost falls upon the consumer. It can fall nowhere else.
The hon. Gentleman also had the gall to mention Hull's infrastructure. Who does he think was responsible, until
Column 343relatively recently, for the investment in that ? The people responsible were his friends in the Labour party, and we have difficulties today because of the constant failure of the public sector to invest. When the Conservative party says that private sector investment provides the answer, it is right, and the answer is £3,000 million a year in investment.
That investment makes up in large measure for what happened particularly at the time of Denis Healey, when the Labour Government cut investment because they would not stop paying inflationary wage increases to their friends in the Labour-supporting trade unions, such as the Transport and General Workers Union and General and Municipal Workers Union.
I want to get back to the issue of the environment. The Labour party is in no position to criticise the failings of others on the environment. It has never done anything memorable for the environment, either in or out of government, and today shows that it has no hope of doing so in the future.
All the key environmental legislation in the past 25 years has been introduced by Conservative Governments. A Conservative Government created the Department of the Environment. All Labour has ever done is what it is doing today--carp, criticise and whinge from the sidelines. It has not even done that effectively.
Mr. Chris Smith : Will the Secretary of State tell the House which Governments introduced the Town and Country Planning Acts, the national parks and the country parks ? Would he like to tell the House that those were Labour Governments and that the Labour party in government has a proud record on the environment ?
Mr. Gummer : It is sad that the hon. Gentleman has to go back to the 1945-1950 Government to produce two of his three very miserable suggestions. That was an amazing statement. "We have not had a policy since 1950, and we do not have a policy," says the Labour party ; that is what we hear from the so-called environmentalists on the Opposition Benches.
I have some sympathy for the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey : it looks as if he will be the only representative of the Opposition parties who will need some direct criticism. That is a sad situation and I think a question of ignorance.
Let me cite a few examples. On climate change, we were the first country in the Union to ratify the climate convention. We were the first in the Union to produce the detailed programme for fulfilling our commitments to
Column 344return carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. We were the first to suggest how to it could be done : we did not just vaguely sign up.
On sulphur dioxide, we have already reduced our emissions by 30 per cent. since 1980 and 40 per cent since 1970. In doing so, unlike some of our most vociferous critics and despite the fact that we were attacked by Opposition Members, we achieved the targets set by the so-called 30 per cent. club under the first United Nations Economic Commission for Europe S0 agreement.
We did not sign up when we did not know whether we could meet those requirements. We sought to meet them, and we have done so. Where we sign up, we deliver and where we do not sign up, we seek to deliver. That is the difference between the Government and the Opposition, who have only generalities without a policy to back them.
We are on course to meet our target of reducing nitrous oxide emissions to 1987 levels by the end of the year. We have one of most sophisticated networks for monitoring air quality anywhere in Europe, and an equally sophisticated network--the radioactive incident monitoring network--for monitoring radiation.
About 95 per cent. of our rivers are of good or fair quality, compared with an average of only 75 per cent. in the rest of the Union. Why did not the hon. Gentleman say that the Union is good with 75 per cent., but we are better with 95 per cent. ? Can he never praise Britain ? Must he only praise other people ? Is there not a place in the House for supporting the United Kingdom, or is the Labour party committed to pulling the nation down whenever possible ?
"applauding the work of the European Union and especially of the European Parliament in helping to safeguard the environment here in Britain."
Coming much closer to home, has my right hon. Friend noted the difference in certain London boroughs where local councils deal with the environment ? The hon. Gentleman represents a part of Islington. If one moves from Islington to Hackney to Lambeth and then to Wandsworth, one will notice a considerable difference in the environment. The point is that Wandsworth is controlled by the Conservative party.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury goes wrong in other areas. Some 98.7 per cent. of nearly 3 million drinking water tests in this country met the standards last year. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could say the same about Spain, Portugal, France, Greece or even Germany. I do not believe that many countries even test their water on that kind of scale, let alone meet those figures.
Mr. Smith : The right hon. Gentleman has criticised Labour's environmental policy, part of which is to end the commercial trade in toxic waste between countries. Do the Government support that policy ? If so, would they use their powers to ban toxic waste from being dumped from other countries in parts of the United Kingdom ?
Mr. Gummer : I have not criticised Labour's environmental policy. I have complained that there is not a policy to criticise. I am sorry that the rules of the House--which I entirely accept--did not give an opportunity for those on the Back Benches to achieve something which those on the Front Bench did not manage, which is to explain what the Labour party's policy is. It certainly would not take long to describe Labour's policy in full.
There is no dumping of toxic waste in this country, so the question does not arise. My aim is to ensure that toxic waste is dealt with in the most environmentally friendly way possible, so as to protect the people of this country and the rest of the European Union. The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) will find me steadfast in that. I will not allow dumping, wherever it may be done.
Moving on to our bathing waters, 80 per cent. of them meet EU standards already. I always like to look at what is happening elsewhere. I do not know how recently the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury has been abroad, but if he was to travel the length and breadth of the Union he would probably learn that not every country even approached that percentage --I put it no more definitely than that. Why does the hon. Gentleman not point to the fact that we have already achieved 80 per cent. of the target, despite the virulent public spending cuts under the Labour Government ? The hon. Gentleman should urge us on to achieving the other 20 per cent. instead of claiming that Britain is wicked because that 20 per cent. has not been achieved.
We are committed to spending £30 billion over 10 years to improve the quality of our water. If that is not good enough, how much more is the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury asking for ? Who will pay for it ? How much will the money buy ? Will it be cost-effective ? What will the hon. Gentleman do about the things that he will not be able to pay for because he is spending the money on water ? [Hon. Members :-- "Answer."] These are questions that the hon. Gentleman cannot and will not answer. That is why it is not reasonable to accept his credentials as a spokesman for the green sector.
Mr. Simon Hughes : I guessed that the Minister had reached the end of the section--hence my intervention now. In the Tory party manifesto for the European elections of five years ago, the Government stated, under the title "Cleaning up the sea and the rivers" :
"We want to do still better. We will ensure that all our bathing waters meet relevant European community standards."
By what date was the promise of five years ago intended to be achieved ? Surely it was implied that all the standards would be imposed 100 per cent. of the time.
Mr. Gummer : I am happy to say that in five years we have achieved 80 per cent.--not a bad start. I do not intend to derogate in any way from European standards of bathing water cleanliness. My arguments, in so far as I have any, are simple : for instance, how much longer should we attempt to implement methods of delivery that have been superseded by better methods ? Should we not be less prescriptive, and examine the time limits that have been set in certain areas to see whether they are cost-effective ? Should we not hold the sort of discussions that sensible people would hold if they were doing anything besides hurling comments at each other across the Chamber ? Would it not be better to compare the £30 billion being spent over 10 years with the pathetic sums achieved when water was in the public sector ?
Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and the National Rivers Authority are two of the toughest, most respected and most admired environmental regulatory agencies anywhere in the Union. Can the Opposition spokesman name me any two agencies in the whole Union with such a good worldwide reputation for efficacy ? In English Nature and the Countryside Commission, and in their Scottish and Welsh equivalents, we have some of the most effective bodies in Europe for protecting our national heritage--bodies which other countries copy when they come to set up similar agencies.
Our planning system is more effective at balancing economic and environmental considerations than are systems found in many other countries in the EU. We can use it to deliver sustainable development, and it is widely envied elsewhere.
Today, Labour has clearly shown that it has no policy on the environment. Moreover, Labour is wrong to claim that the Government have not taken the lead in Europe in delivering policies that are the envy of other countries. It is we who are forcing the pace, not a few members of the Labour party in the European Parliament who appear not to have caught up with the fact that, here in Westminster, there is no policy for them to support or nurture.
The fact is that there is no greater obstacle to sustainable development than the common agricultural policy--and who has done most to reform it and to bring the environment to its centre ? The answer is : the United Kingdom. In four years, we have changed the whole EU attitude to the CAP ; the environment has become not an add-on extra but a central issue.
The mechanisms used in the common agricultural policy were pioneered by this country--environmentally sensitive areas, protected landscapes and the like. These were British inventions, now accepted throughout the European Union.
Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : Would the right hon. Gentleman care to tell the House how much of the extra £6 billion--the Commission's figure--that the CAP will cost between 1991-92 and 1995-96 will be devoted to environmental improvement ?
Mr. Gummer : Far too little ; we have sought all the time to make that a much larger part of the policy. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury tried to attack me, saying that we had not played a leading role in this campaign of bringing the environment to the centre. I should add that we have had precious little support in our effort from socialist Governments in the rest of Europe. The hon. Gentleman, if he wants to attack anyone, should
Column 347attack socialist Spain, from which I received no support on environmentally friendly farming. He should attack the then socialist France. The French prevented my every effort to improve environmentally friendly farming while I was fighting for Britain's cause and the environment at Agriculture Councils.
The hon. Gentleman might have a word or two with socialists throughout Europe, who put fine words in documents and nice pictures of roses from "The Plantsman's Catalogue" but who say not a word when it comes to voting in meetings of the Council of Ministers [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) seems to have a lot to say, but I advise him to say it elsewhere to his friends in the Labour party.
It is Britain which pushed and prodded--I had written down "a sometimes reluctant", but "an almost entirely unhelpful" is more to the point-- Commission into getting its eco-labelling scheme up and running. From socialist France there came not a word. The French spent their whole time trying to stop it. Now, thank goodness, the Conservative Government in France are supporting us.
Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman should not shout out the first thing that comes into his head. We have fought hard and have only just got the first lot through--not because we failed but because the socialists in Europe did not support us. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to laugh, but he was infinitely out : he said none, whereas the answer was one. The hon. Gentleman would have received a better answer if his friends in Europe had supported the British Government.
Our system of integrated pollution control is the most advanced in the world. Britain promoted the idea within the European Union, and it provided the foundation for the draft directive on integrated pollution prevention and control. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have not been here for the whole debate ; had you been here, you would not have heard a word from the Opposition about integrated pollution control--the most important pollution control system in the world. Perhaps the Opposition spokesman's advisers did not tell him that the rest of the world is now copying it. As usual, we have led the way. It is Britain that pushed for the European Environment Agency when its establishment was being obstructed by the pettiness of others. We led the charge to put in place the eco-audit regulations. I shall remind the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury of what happened with the Basle convention on hazardous waste. The developing countries said that they were not happy with a framework in which we told even those countries with a method of dealing with hazardous waste that they could not have it. Some of them said that that would be an imperialistic way of dealing with the matter. We therefore said that we would not export hazardous waste to any country that either could not deal with it properly or did not want to have it. We thought that a perfectly reasonable argument.
Column 348Then, the group representing the developing countries changed its mind and said that it wanted there to be no export of hazardous waste, so the United Kingdom wrote the necessary keynote document and persuaded every other EU member to support that. We led the way and brought on board a number of countries that did not want to come on board. Why not praise the UK ? Do not praise me or the Conservative Government, but for goodness' sake praise our nation rather than always trying to undermine it from Islington.
Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough) : In view of the Minister's comments on hazardous waste, will he here and now reject the document on hazardous waste published by his business-led deregulation task force, which asks the Department of the Environment to
"examine the EC directive on hazardous waste . . . with a view to pressing for appropriate deregulatory change" ?
Mr. Gummer : I find the hon. Lady's attitude rather odd. In her professional life, would she honourably say that she would never discuss or investigate any matter with a view to taking appropriate decisions ? I certainly would not say such a thing. On first reading, I think that the appropriate decision is to keep matters as they are or to do a number of things of which she might well approve. I am sure that no academic or anyone with a rational approach would say that he would not even consider any matters. I will consider anything that the hon. Lady proposes, and so far she has no reason to complain about my response.
Time and again, we have argued that the EU's trade and environment policies should support each other. I am sad that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury cannot find it in his heart to acknowledge that Britain led the campaign to ensure that the World Trade Organisation would have an environmental input. We brought together the French, Spanish and Germans so that we could have a common view and we led the argument in the European Council to ensure that we achieved that. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that that is something that Britain has done that we could both support. Why cannot we both say that ? We should argue about the matters on which we disagree rather than the hon. Gentleman's inventing criticism and throwing it not at the Government but at this nation, working within the EU.
Unlike some, we have nothing to fear from more rigorous enforcement of EU legislation. The hon. Gentleman managed to go through the whole of his speech not only not revealing Labour party policy, but not even mentioning enforcement. It does not matter what the EU decides if it does not enforce those decisions. Enforcement is the only thing that makes decision anything more than the outcome of a debating society meeting. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman's attitude to politics is that of a debating society, he does not mind if decisions are not enforced provided that he can attack Britain and the way that we deal with these matters.
Subsidiarity means nothing more than allowing the Commission to concentrate its legislative and enforcement resources on those areas where Europe-wide legislation is essential. It must ensure that that legislation is complied with. We are able to take the leading role in Europe because we do what we say we will do--unlike those who agree to ambitious, headline-grabbing targets one day only to revise them when the spotlight of publicity has moved
Column 349on. Few other EU Governments set out specific policy objectives year onyear and then report on both the successes and the failures. The hon. Gentleman lauded certain countries in the EU--countries of which Britain can be proud to be a partner in the European Union that I so enthusiastically support. However, I also have some criticisms of them. How many of them have an annual update report on what they are doing on environmental issues and tell the public what they have failed to do as well as what they have done ? None, as far as I know, but I hope that in the end all of them will do so because they tend to follow Britain.
We have delivered on the commitments that we made in Rio. Our national strategies on climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development were published in January, which is when we said they would be published. What other countries have done that with such directness and completeness ?
Mr. Gummer : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the House turned down the Hedgerows Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth), with Government support. The hon. Gentleman knows that now we must find some form of protection that the House will support.
We have put in place the machinery of government, the networks of green- oriented Ministers, a permanent Cabinet Committee, annual reports, a high- level advisory panel appointed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and a round table of all the interests to maintain progress on delivering sustainable development.
I have listed all the things that the Government have done to meet our commitments in Rio, in the conferences on sustainable development and in our documents--yet not one of them was mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. Why is he afraid of saying how well we have done ? Is it because he does not know or because it would again show us how little the Labour party has to offer to those who care about the environment ?
Mr. Chris Smith : In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's last comment, it is because I know that those things do not add up to very much. For the completeness of record about hedgerow protection, the right hon. Gentleman might like to inform the House that it was Conservative Back Benchers who ditched the Hedgerows Bill. The Labour party offered the Government full co-operation and support in bringing forward a Government Bill to protect our hedgerows, but the Government have failed to introduce such a Bill.
Mr. Gummer : No one could accuse me of being anything other than very supportive both of the Hedgerows Bill and of the principle of protecting hedgerows. I hope that it will not be misunderstood when I say that I find it difficult to understand how the hon. Gentleman can come to this House without policies on energy, on water or on
Column 350any other subject on which he has been tackled. Yet his final fling is to complain that some individual Conservatives happened to hold a different view from him on hedgerows.
That the official Opposition descend to that level of argument seems to me to be extremely worrying. I can promise that we will continue to look at the whole of the environment and not be led astray, as the hon. Gentleman would like us to be. I would have been much more receptive to criticism about any failure to support the Commission's fifth action programme on the environment, which was one of things that the hon. Gentleman flung at me, were it to come from those, including the Commission, who had done as much as we have to put powerful institutional momentum behind their promises. We have done more than those who are criticising us.
It is because we do what we say that we have such a good record on implementation within the Union. Because we have such a large number of environmental organisations with a strong commitment to Europe, some 22 per cent. of all the complaints about infractions come from Britain. Yet they result in only 2 per cent. of the European Court of Justice environmental judgments being held against Britain. We have a better record than Germany, Holland, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece. Why did the hon. Gentleman not mention that ? We have heard much today about the difficulties and dangers of misleading the House, and I am very conscious of the need never to mislead the House. But is it not possible that one can mislead the House by failing to say something ? Is it not misleading the House to say that Britain has a worse record than its neighbours when one fails to mention that it has a better record than Germany, Holland, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece ? Is not that in a sense not giving the whole story as it is ?
It is because we have such a good track record, because we are forcing the pace on the environment within the Union, because we do what we say and because we are prepared to make the difficult choices that we are in such a good position to protect all our interests. I shall now deal with the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey. The House will hear a large number of wonderfully flowery phrases about the Liberal party's commitment to the environment. The fact that they will fall on no other Liberal ears, for he is the only one here to tell us about it
Mr. Gummer : Perhaps they will come back in to hear what they are supposed to say. The hon. Gentleman is incredible, because he has failed to support any measure that helps the environment and is tough. He will support any wet measure, any woolly measure, any proposal that his constituents do not have to pay for, anything that he can claim is rather nice on his manifesto. But when it comes to having to take the measures to reduce the waste of energy, when it comes to having to increase the cost of motoring because of the very issues that he raises, does he vote for them ? Oh, no ; he has a different way of doing it. It is not quite the same, and, of course, it would not pain anybody. It does not cost anything
Mr. Gummer : Ah. If they do not say it, perhaps he will own up to the fact that the Liberal party policy on the carbon tax plus their statements on VAT would mean that the effect on the price of fuel would, if anything, be greater than the VAT that we have introduced. I have not heard that said in any of the by-elections. I notice that he suggests that, if we cut out VAT on fuel, there would somehow or other be no other tax. The carbon bit and the basic VAT bit is kept for another day. I expect today to hear about it.
I expect also to hear whether the hon. Gentleman has joined the environmental club, because the price of joining it is to agree to pay the admission charge, not expect other people to pay it--the other countries of Europe, the countries of the European Union, which he claims to support-- but not pay it himself. But, of course, he will not pay it. He will do what he always does. He will say to the people outside, "If you vote for me, you will not pay the bill. Someone else will." If it is in the south-west, it will be the water consumers in Northumbria. Then his right hon. Friend the Member for
Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) says, "Hang on a moment." If it is not Northumbria, it will be the water consumers of Severn Trent. The hon. Gentleman is the ideal Liberal. Not only does he have a policy for every election, constituency, ward and street, but a policy for every house. And if there are two people in the house there are two policies. We know why, because his canvassing booklet has been leaked. It says you bang on
Mr. Gummer : I refer specifically to the section on the environment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On the environment and everything else, it says very simply, "You ask the person on the doorstep what they are worried about and what they think, then tell them that that is what you are worried about and that that is what you think." Carrying the environmental message next door, they then ask what those next door think and, although they have always hated the people living on the other side because they think the opposite, that same candidate discovers--surprise, surprise--that he is absolutely in harmony with what those people think and want. House by house, and not very silently, the Liberal vote increases. But once they are in power in Tower Hamlets, what happens ? They are rumbled. If one looks at the elections in Richmond, and I must say that I was pleased-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Gummer : I am hoping to defend our policies on the environment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because no doubt that will be a central part. We see the single market as an increasingly green market in which we have every intention of competing vigorously and successfully. This is an issue that should rise above partisanship. We will not solve the problems of the environment in this Parliament or the next, or for many thereafter. The issues are complex and difficult and affect all of us. They require difficult trade-offs to be made. If one spends non-cost-effectively in this area, one does not have the money to spend properly in another area needing environmental help. If one does something that one has not thought out properly in one area, it very often has a non-environmental effect somewhere else. Above all, if
Column 352one promises to deliver the goods without spelling out the cost, one misleads the people of Britain and does not deserve to enter in the debate. We serve no one's interest by allowing them to become mixed up in another bit of the daily round of debate.
We cannot solve the issues in isolation. Britain has a great deal to contribute to the common effort, as we clearly demonstrated when John Major became the first world leader to go to Rio and lead the campaign to make it a world summit. We have carried that on through. We cannot do it on our own. We must do it as part of the European Union. It is in the European Union that we have been leading the way. It is with the European Union that we have forged the relationships with India and many other southern nations. It is with the European Union that we are able honourably to say not only that Britain one of the best environmental records in the world but that this Government have put Britain at the top of the environmental tree. It is the Labour party that has consistently failed to present any kind of policy or any good reason why anyone should take them seriously.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : It was disappointing that the Secretary of State devoted almost all his allotted time to yah-boo politics ; he would have done better to use some of it to discuss some of the problems with which the Government must deal. Three examples are eco- labelling, the Energy Saving Trust and legislation on hedgerows. It is extremely disappointing that the Government are making so little progress on all three.
Let me deal first with eco-labelling, or green labelling. For at least five years a substantial number of people in this country--at least 30 per cent. of the population--have clearly been prepared to buy environmentally friendly products in preference to others, but most have found it difficult to identify the more environmentally friendly. They need a labelling system --the kind that the Germans had nearly 10 years ago and other European countries have subsequently adopted.
The Government have said that it would be illogical to develop an eco- labelling system for this country alone, and that such a system should be EEC-wide, or rather European Union-wide. I accept that, if we are to have environmentally friendly products, it is far better to have them throughout Europe. It is sad, however, that because of bureaucracy in Europe, a lack of drive and the Government's inability to persuade other European Union countries, five years on only one product has been awarded an eco-label.
That product is a relatively expensive washing machine produced by Hoover. The eco-labelling board is clearly reluctant to advertise it, not wishing to be associated with Hoover because of its problems. A cynic might say that Hoover had produced not only an environmentally friendly washing machine but environmentally friendly free trips, given that those trips do not actually happen.
Because of all the difficulties, eco-labelling has been given no publicity. The one product to which it has been