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Column 353applied is too expensive for many people to buy : they might buy eco-friendly soap powder or tissues, but they cannot afford to make the choice when it comes to washing machines. But, instead of telling us that the Government are trying to breathe new life into the eco-labelling system, the Secretary of State simply argued with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) about whether having no labels or having one label was more important.
Mr. Morley : The Government and the British eco-labelling board have consistently refused to consider animal welfare as one of the criteria for the eco-labelling scheme, although the subject has a direct bearing on cosmetics, shampoos and a range of other unrelated products. Other member states are interested in the matter, and we could set the pace.
I hope that, when the Minister replies to the debate, he will give us a progress report on eco-labelling. Perhaps he will venture to tell us how much Government money has been spent on each eco-labelled product that has been sold so far ; I suspect that setting up the system has cost thousands of pounds for each washing machine costing a few hundred. As I have said, progress over the past five years has been disappointingly slow. The Government need to find a way of ensuring that a large number of products are labelled quickly in the European Community, thus returning some credibility to the scheme. Not only have the Government failed to get the system going, however ; they have failed to deal with the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. As was made clear at the outset, one of the problems is caused by the false claims of many companies that their products are environmentally friendly. Some claim simply that their product is "green", which it is virtually impossible for a trading standards officer to investigate ; others claim that certain ingredients are not included in the product--usually a detergent--when rival products do not contain those ingredients either. It would have been very simple for the Government to table an amendment to the Trade Descriptions Act, making it clear that any attempt to make environmentally friendly claims that could not be justified breached that legislation.
The Government must carry public opinion with them--and this is where testing on animals comes in. Many people who would be prepared to buy environmentally friendly products are concerned that those products should not have been tested on animals. I realise that this is a difficult subject, and I do not entirely accept the "holier than thou" arguments of the Body Shop : many of the products that originally went into shampoos were originally tested on animals. If the Government and the eco-labelling board want to carry public opinion, however, they must come up with some method of assessing whether it is essential for a product to have been recently tested on animals.
The Body Shop also argues that labels should be awarded to only a small proportion of products. That is a mistake : I think that we should try to ensure that virtually 100 per cent. of some products, especially detergents and shampoos, eventually meet the eco-labelling requirements. I understand why one or two shops want environmentally
Column 354friendly products to have a certain exclusiveness, but if we are concerned about the environment that is the wrong attitude.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : One of the problems is the fact that the scientific base on which such judgments are made is constantly moving on. For instance, many people have switched to buying diesel cars, only to be shell-shocked on reading a recent report that diesel cars may well be considerably more damaging to the environment than the cars that they bought previously. How would the hon. Gentleman deal with that problem ?
Mr. Bennett : I am quite prepared to accept that eco-labelling is not easy, but the west Germans have managed it for a number of years ; besides, it is much easier in the case of certain products. I submit that, if it is difficult for people to award the labels and for hon. Members to make judgments now on the Floor of the House, it is equally difficult for other people to make such judgments when they are going around supermarkets and stores.
I believe that in many areas it is possible to make a scientific judgment. Such judgments must be made on the basis of the best information currently available, and alternative views may well be advanced in the future. It is difficult to say that certain products are environmentally friendly throughout Europe, which is one of my reasons for criticising the authorities for starting with washing machines. I have always thought that it must be hard to find a washing machine that would be environmentally friendly in the lake district and southern Italy. In the lake district, water consumption will not be particularly important, whereas energy and heat consumption for drying will be, while in parts of southern Europe where water is much more expensive it will be important for the machine to use the minimum amount ; the drying may not be nearly so much of a problem.
It was the Government who said that, rather than establishing a British system, they would introduce a European system and encourage the rest of Europe to go along with it. As I have said, it is disappointing that, after five years, only one product--an expensive washing machine--has been given a label.
The Secretary of State made great claims about our signing up to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2000. When the Environment Select Committee--of which I am a member--looked into the matter, it found that the Government's main delivery mechanism was to be the Energy Saving Trust. It was to have a programme involving energy conservation, and it was hoped that it would provide at least 30 per cent. of the reduction in emissions.
The problem faced by the Environment Select Committee six months ago was where the money would come from to fund the Energy Saving Trust. It was suggested that it should come from a levy on the gas industry. The Select Committee wanted to know what the electricity and other industries as well as the Government would contribute to the Energy Saving Trust.
The Government have now appointed a new gas regulator and she does not believe that there should be a contribution from the gas industry to the trust. She believes that such a contribution would be pure taxation and would be illegal. It is time that the Government told us from where the trust is to obtain its money if it is not to receive it directly from the gas industry. Unless the Government
Column 355can find some money for it, it will not be able to deliver the 30 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. It is an urgent and serious problem. How can the Energy Saving Trust plan a programme for energy saving if it does not know how it is to be financed ? I think that there is a great deal of scope for encouraging people to move towards energy efficiency. We should also look towards solving the problem facing many low income households where it is difficult for them to find the capital to insulate their homes in order to reduce energy consumption and to make savings in their gas and electricity bills. It is important that the Government or the Energy Saving Trust should talk to the building societies and others to ensure that there is an assessment of how much energy is being lost from each property and then to see whether loans can be made to enable people to carry out the necessary work.
It is urgent that the Government tell us how they intend to finance the Energy Saving Trust. If they cannot come up with a system of finance, we will not be able to deliver our commitment to reduce emissions by the year 2000.
It was unfortunate that the Government did not have the courage in the previous parliamentary Session to introduce a Bill on hedgerows. They put it in their manifesto and I suspect that 90 per cent. of hon. Members would have supported them. They did not have the bottle to do it. They left it to the hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth) to introduce a private Member's Bill. They then allowed a small handful of their Back Benchers to filibuster and thwart the legislation.
I am disappointed that the Government have not introduced legislation in this Session. Several of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), have offered to introduce such a Bill, but the Government have rejected all their suggestions.
We know that the Government are talking about introducing a Bill in the next Session, possibly to merge the Countryside Commission with English Nature and to set up the environment protection agency. I do not know whether the rumours are correct, but it is being suggested that the Government are trying to draw up the Bill in such a narrow way that it will simply be a bureaucratic measure dealing with the procedures of those organisations but that it will not spread over into any other environmental issues. That would be an insult to the House. If the Government are to introduce such a measure in the next Session, they must include hedgerows.
When the Minister replies I hope that he will make it clear that the Government intend to do that. They cannot go on ducking the issue. Hedgerows are disappearing and, worse still, many have not been maintained appropriately over recent years. I strongly believe that, if the Government can provide money for set aside and other things for farmers, they should provide money to regenerate many of the hedgerows that are disappearing.
The Government keep claiming that Britain does better than many of the other EU countries. If that is correct, how often have the Government gone to the Commission demanding enforcement across the rest of the EU ? It is important that they tell us that. It is no good just complaining about a lack of enthusiasm from other parts of
Column 356the Common Market. The real issue is how far and how often the Government use the mechanisms within the EU to ensure that there is enforcement.
Mr. Bennett : If that is the case, I hope that the Minister can give us one or two examples of his success when he replies. I shall listen carefully to what the Minister says about what the Government intend to do to take forward eco-labelling, where they intend to find the money for the Energy Saving Trust, when they intend to do something about hedgerows and what they intend to do about enforcement throughout the EU.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : I was so enraged by the comments by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) that I should like to put on record the fact that the last Labour Government made the largest cut in the sewerage programme that there has ever been in this country. They cut it by about half. Areas such as that covered by Canterbury council, which I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) had growing populations and when I arrived as a new Member I found that many of my constituents suffered from the most appalling sewage problems. Privatisation has enabled the largest ever programme of sewerage investment to take place in this country. In the area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North and myself, we have seen a brand new, ecologically sensitive, sewage works to replace an unbelievably filthy and smelly old one. The product that comes from that sewage works is used as fertiliser by the farmers. There has been a complete reworking of the sewerage system of Herne Bay, and many new pipes, including a major one at Seasalter in my constituency.
I want to deal mainly with metal recycling, particularly the EC directives on waste management and waste shipments. I have a good news story to tell. We were close to a Christopher Booker style horror story when the rapid and effective intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), who was the new Minister responsible, averted what could have been a serious cock-up.
There are essentially two scrap metal industries--ferrous scrap metal and the British Secondary Metals Association. I have links with the BSMA because one of its past chairmen is a constituent of mine--he is our deputy lord mayor.
These are important industries. The BSMA embraces 30,000 jobs and hundreds of millions of pounds worth of exports. Even more relevant to this debate, it is by far the best established and most effective recycling industry in the country. A casual observer with only a mild interest in politics might imagine that, when the Government are committed to recycling and when we have a deregulation initiative in hand, we might be looking at ways to reduce regulations for such a highly successful recycling industry. In fact, as a result of the two EC directives to which I have referred, we were on the brink of having a string of new measures which would have had a devastating effect on the industry.
Column 357The waste management directive is something which I believe that nearly everyone here would support in outline. It is a thoroughly sensible idea that, in the public interest, we should have more regulation of waste disposal facilities such as rubbish tips and so on. The problem is that it appears--we will not know for certain until July--that its definition of waste includes metal recycling. We must bear in mind the fact that, on the average BSMA site well over 90 per cent. of what goes in through the gates comes out again, mostly in the form of high-cost, high- quality metal products, whether it is tungsten, copper, zinc or whatever. It is an extraordinary anomaly that the industry could be categorised with rubbish.
Also, our industry is concerned about what the regulations mean for them and about what is being done in other parts of Europe. Concern focused on two areas. First, there was the proposal for a duty of care which could mean, in principle, a lot of extra metal work and, in a business where there are many small transactions, it could lead to a great deal of paperwork.
Secondly, and even more serious, concern focused on arrangements for surrender. It is not always known what preceded a secondary metal site, which is usually built on 9 in of concrete, with the bulk of the site indoors. If people are made responsible for the sins of previous site owners, the impact on the value of their principal asset--their site--will be tremendous, and the willingness of bankers to lend and insurers to insure may evaporate.
I do not want to bore the House or my hon. Friend the Minister with an account of what other European countries are doing. The good news is that my hon. Friend has secured a five-month delay on the implementation of the regulations. The industry and his Department are investigating practice in other European countries. The BSMA and I are confident that that those countries have made less onerous proposals for implementing the directive and that we can learn from experience abroad.
I am particularly encouraged that my hon. Friend the Minister has said that we will have our own title. Although it is only a matter of the label, that shows a change of mind. The regulations will be called the metal recycling regulations to distinguish them from ordinary waste management--a fundamentally different activity. We have had a lot of hot air from hon. Members about toxic waste, about which everyone is concerned. No one wants toxic waste to be dumped in an unsatisfactory fashion or to be transported in ships along coastlines.
In introducing new regulations, we must be careful that they do not catch perfectly legitimate businesses. Products are classified into green, amber and red categories. Batteries are amber items. It is in the interests of people who want a good environment that batteries should be purchased and sold to customers, whether in this country or abroad, for recycling and reuse.
Mr. Rowe : Does my hon. Friend agree that the highly developed industrialised world could assist countries that are striving to achieve that same level of industrialisation by taking some of their most hazardous waste and dealing with it in ways that we have painfully developed over many years ?
Mr. Brazier : Indeed. My hon. Friend anticipates my comments. He and I share in our county the university of Kent, the world leader in the biodegradation of hazardous waste products. We could make that technology available
Column 358to the world, to the benefit of the whole world. We must be careful that the regulations do not frustrate the objectives that they are designed to achieve. Other Departments might like to take note of the example of the Minister who recognised a potential problem and that serious worries had been exposed, but who was willing to listen and to say, "Let us take this slowly and carefully to see whether we can achieve our objectives in a way that is satisfactory to everyone." For that, I am most grateful.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : As always, this is an important debate. It will be all the more interesting because none of the three parties' manifestos for the European elections has been officially published yet. My colleagues
Mr. Hughes : My colleagues and I will vote for the motion and not for the amendment. We welcome the Labour party's interest in the subject, which has grown over the years, although it is still weak at the top : the Leader of the Opposition is still not overtly interested in the matter and has said less about it than even the Prime Minister.
In my objective opinion, today the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) did not make one of his best speeches, whereas, in terms of performance, the Secretary of State did. The fundamental flaw in the Labour party's justified attack is that it does not have adequate answers to some of the key questions. Until the Labour party sorts out the answer to the difficult question of how to pay for what it wants, it will have no credibility on environmental policy, environmental taxation and eco -taxation.
All the opinion polls show that environmental policy has been one of the most successful and most popular in the history of the European Community. The environment was not part of EC policy when it was created, although it was vaguely referred to in the preamble to the treaties in the early 1950s. It was included formally only when the heads of Government resolved to do so at their 1972 summit. One of the mischievous bits of history is that it was Lady Thatcher who signed up to the environmental commitments of the EC, to which the European Commission then paid attention and submitted proposals. When Prime Minister, it was Lady Thatcher who took the Single European Act 1986 through the House. It was only as a result of that Act and only after 1986 that we have really been committed to environmental policies as part of the European Community.
That Act, by which an article to the treaty of Rome was introduced, states :
"Action by the Community relating to the environment shall have the following objectives : to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment ; to contribute towards protecting
Column 359human health ; to ensure a prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources."
An article in the treaties then allows legislation for environmental activity.
There have been European environmental action programmes--we are up to the fifth, which runs from 1993 to 2000 and is referred to in the motion. The debate on the Maastricht treaty touched on how much the Government would backtrack from their environmental commitments, which is a serious concern. Some of us believe that, were it not for the European Community, environmental attainment standards in Britain would be far lower.
We are naturally sceptical, therefore, if subsidiarity provisions under Maastricht will mean that the power to make decisions on environmental matters will return to the Government, not remain in the European Union. There was much suspicion--not all of it proven, but some of it apparently was justified--that during negotiation on the Maastricht treaty, the Commission did not pursue environmental issues against the Government, for example, in relation to Twyford Down, because it wanted to keep the United Kingdom on board. The environmental impact assessment directive has been one of the best achievements of European legislation. It was passed by the House and it ensures that the effect of many proposals, such as road and power schemes, are assessed for their impact on the environment. Other directives raise our standards and tighten targets on air quality and emissions, including vehicle emissions, which, as the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) will remember, followed an initiative from the European Community. Bathing water is probably the most urgent, controversial and topical matter, even before the publication today of the National Rivers Authority report on the quality of our beaches. Promptings on all those matters came from the European Community.
We may be good at enforcing directives that we have agreed compared with other member states. At least the law binds us, and the Government normally agree to sign up to a directive. For instance, the Conservative party manifesto for the previous European election gave a commitment to honour the bathing water directive.
The Government are aware that they are also being judged on other proposals that are in the pipeline and to some of which other hon. Members have already referred.
The Labour motion criticises the Government for their substantial failures. If the Government are honest they will admit--and anyone observing the environmental agenda will certainly admit--that they have as yet made no commitment to ensuring that the rest of the habitats directive is implemented in domestic law. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) rightly reminded the Government that they have not honoured their manifesto commitment to legislate to protect hedgerows. Such legislation would have been passed had the Government been determined.
The Government appear to have backed off completely, but I hope that they will reconsider a Europewide system of civil liability for environmental damage. It is very important that there should be a legislative remedy for such damage, but the Government have tried to ensure that no such remedy exists.
We have not heard details of the implementation proposals of the fifth action programme; nor have the
Column 360Government been positive about the proposed amendments to extend the environmental impact assessment directive. There is a list of similar items, some of which have been alluded to in today's newspapers, because yesterday the Government produced their checklist of what they had and had not done. Knowing that that list was coming, the Labour party rightly chose today for this debate.
The Government should not really need to be reminded of what still needs to be done, but I hope that they will now honour their commitments. We have not yet had details of the air quality targets which were due in 1993, nor have we received details of the minimum construction standards for chemical and oil stores which were due in 1992. We were also expecting proposals for the removal of lead solder from water pipes which were promised in 1992.
We are still awaiting proposals for the adequate protection of sites of special scientific interest, especially after the National Audit Office today confirmed that one in five--or 20 per cent.--of them have been partly or wholly damaged since the legislation to protect them came into operation. We are also awaiting the draft legislation for the environmental protection agency. There is still no sign of the terms of reference, let alone the timetable and details, of the nuclear review. In addition, contaminated land registers appear to have dropped off the agenda altogether.
Most vividly and most recently, the Government were wholly determined to thwart the energy conservation proposals outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)--the Minister himself ensured that the Energy Conservation Bill was talked out.
There is a further worrying suggestion in today's newspapers. The Government yesterday published their third yearly report after "This Common Inheritance". It was eight months late, but the Government's lame excuse was that they had to wait for their proposals on sustainable development. Any logical person would realise that the report could have been published on time eight months ago ; the sustainable development proposals, which were meant to have been in place by the end of last year, could have been published later ; and the fourth report could then have been published on time later in 1994. However, the third report appeared only yesterday.
It has been reported today, especially in The Daily Telegraph , that the Government may be deciding not to produce another report. I expressly ask the Minister to give an undertaking that, as the Government promised in 1990 when they issued the first report, there will continue to be annual reports, that they will in future be published on time and that they will contain a checklist of what has and has not been achieved. I agree with the Secretary of State that it is a good thing for the Government to produce annual reports. The Government gave an undertaking to do so and, if they are now dropping it, it would severely weaken their accountability.
Mr. Hughes : I am encouraged by the Minister's reply. However, I refer him or his officials to the suggestion in The Daily Telegraph today. I had not heard the suggestion before. The Government clearly made a commitment in 1990 that there should be annual reports. We were frustrated because this year's report was eight months late, which was inexcusable. It would also be far better if there were an opportunity annually for the report to be sent to the appropriate Select Committee, for the Select Committee to issue a report on it to be put before the House and for us then to assess annually the national and global environment, as happens in the United States. I deal now with two issues in which I know that all hon. Members are interested. I accept the Secretary of State's proposition that, if we are to join an environmental club, we have to pay the admission cost. By way of a preface, may I say that there was nothing in the Conservative party's 1992 manifesto or in the Labour party's 1992 manifesto about energy taxes. However, my party's manifesto did mention them and our proposals were costed. In order to make it clear, I shall put our proposals on record.
Our view is set out clearly, and it will save Tory central office sending people for the brief
Mr. Hughes : No. Our view has been set out most recently not in "Costing the Earth" but in another document, properly adorned--it is the European policy document passed by our conference at the beginning of the year, in March.
Mr. Hughes : No, it is not the same as "Costing the Earth". I have never before written a document which has had such a wide readership among all parties as "Costing the Earth". Had I known that it would be so popular, I would have increased the price and insisted on taking royalties. I shall not bore the House with details of our policy process, but it clearly fascinates Tory Members, so I shall relate a quick history of it.
As Conservative Members know now, we considered and rejected the idea of value added tax on domestic fuel and we now have this policy, which I commend to the House. The new policy is contained in one and a half columns of the document--in other words, there is plenty of it. I shall not read it all ; I shall paraphrase.
We propose a shift in the burden of taxation towards taxing resources rather than people. We also propose a carbon energy tax along the lines of the European suggestion, which we could not accept as it stands because it stupidly leaves out some of the biggest polluters, which is clearly nonsense. Such a tax should be phased in and we believe that the rate should vary according to the energy content of the fuel and the amount of carbon dioxide that it releases. That would mean making cleaner sources cheaper and the polluting ones more expensive.
I come now to the party political issue--let us not mess around. Such a tax would be revenue-neutral, because the money raised would be put back into the economy in one of three ways. First, there would be compensation for those who were especially vulnerable to higher energy and transport costs. Secondly, there would be targeted investment in energy efficiency schemes and public
Column 362transport. Thirdly, and interestingly-- especially for a Government who say that we must retain VAT on domestic fuel--there would be a reduction in other taxes such as income tax, national insurance contributions and employers' national insurance contributions and, perhaps, a reduction in VAT on domestic fuel to 5 per cent. We cannot get rid of VAT on fuel now because we are committed to it under European legislation. However, as I have told the Secretary of State to his face, we do not believe that levying VAT on domestic fuel was the right way to tax fuel. In any event, the paradox is that in last year's Budget the Government also proceeded to levy taxes on petrol which were higher than we had proposed.
We voted against them, but not because we did not believe that fuel costs should go up. We did, and do, believe that they should. That view has been shared by all three parties and all three have gone on the record on the subject. But we did not believe that the Government should impose the combination of VAT on domestic fuel, increasing in two stages up to 17.5 per cent., and the increase in petrol duty. Mr. Burns rose
Mr. Nicholls rose
Mr. Burns : As the hon. Gentleman is in such helpful mode, I should be grateful if he would help me a little further. On the revenue-raising side of the equation, will he tell the House how much would be raised by the proposals that he paraphrased ? On the other side of the equation, has his party made an assessment of the impact of the proposals, before any reliefs, on rural parts of the country ?
Mr. Hughes : Yes. At the risk of being tedious, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that we have. I have another document here, which I shall let him see afterwards. It contains costings from our 82 manifesto
Mr. Hughes : No, it was 1982--or rather, 1992. I meant to say 1992. Two whole pages--pages 5 and 6--of our 1992 manifesto set out the yields for proposals linking car tax to fuel efficiency, the cost of a 1 per cent. cut in VAT phased in over five years, increases in benefits for the poorest, and other compensation measures for people with disabilities and people in rural communities. All that is set out year by year.
Mr. Hughes : In the first year nil, in the second year £80 million, in the third year £240 million, in the fourth year--but I need not go on. It is all here. We have all the details for the graduation of vehicle excise duty with fuel efficiency, and for environmental grants and subsidies. Because it is all so detailed, I shall not amplify my explanation any further, but I assure the hon. Members for Chelmsford and for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls)
Mr. Hughes : I shall give the hon. Gentleman a copy, and I shall not charge him for it. As the hon. Member for Teignbridge, too, always quotes Tory central office briefings during such debates, I shall let him have a copy as well.
Mr. Nicholls rose
Mr. Nicholls : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We always enjoy his contributions, even when he turns round and says, "Forget about that previous document ; we've got another document now." From what he has said, we now understand that there has been a terrible misunderstanding and that the Liberal Democrats actually supported an increase in petrol prices, but not quite as large an increase as the Government chose. So will he remind us whether, during the passage of the Finance Bill, he tabled an amendment calling for an increase in petrol prices, but not such a large increase as ours ? I cannot recall such an amendment, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will remind me if there was one.
Mr. Hughes : The hon. Gentleman is hoist with his own petard. He should remember the procedure. In this place we first vote on the money resolutions ; a selection is made of those on which we are to vote. There was a vote on that resolution, and we opposed it.
Mr. Hughes : My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), the Treasury spokesman of the Liberal Democratic party, and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock), who participated in the Committee proceedings on the Finance Bill, made our position clear.
The hon. Member for Teignbridge is unusually badly informed, for him. I can send him chapter and verse, showing that we have argued for increases in petrol prices, but that before the 1993 Budgets we argued that they should be less than the increase that the Government eventually chose. Thereafter we said, "Look, you have gone over the top. Even you need not have done that much."
Mr. Nicholls rose