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My last point is about the bathing water directive. The issue is not only topical but extremely important. There is a programme under way to ensure that we comply with European standards. Many of our beaches do not comply. When people go to resorts such as Blackpool and Brighton, they often have to swim in sewage. That is a disgrace. It is unacceptable. At a time of high environmental awareness, we cannot expect to persuade people to spend their holidays here if that is what happens when they go to many of the beaches round our country.
Column 364We believe that we must honour the commitments ; we must not water them down. Of course, a politically acceptable formula must be found, and that means a variety of things. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) suggested, it means changing the basis on which people pay their water rates. It means changing the way in which the cost is shared over the whole country. It should not be borne disproportionately by the region with the most beaches, such as the south-west. I have supported proposals by hon. Members to alter that, whichever party they come from. Finally, there must be more public investment by the Government. The problem is not insuperable. The Government can deal with it, but standards must not be reduced. I hope that our clarity on this and other issues will be rewarded when in many places we are returned as the party with the best environmental commitments--[ Laughter. ]--at the European elections next month. I assure the Government that their inadequacy in honouring their commitments means that they will find it difficult to defend their record.
Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North) : I shall not take up too much of the time of the House, but I want to make a couple of general points and one specific point on a subject that, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, has not been touched on so far. I congratulate the Opposition on choosing a debate on this subject, although it is a bit of a shame that the speech by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) did not match the magnificence of his theme.
None the less, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, because the environment is a sphere in which Europe has an important role to play. Clearly, many environmental problems cannot have a purely national solution. Pollution does not respect international frontiers ; it works its way through the air, the sea and the rivers of Europe, oblivious to any notion of national sovereignty. So it is right that we should seek solutions to those common international problems at a European level.
The question is how Europe can best address those problems. What institutions and organisations are best equipped to provide solutions, and how far should their competence extend ? That is a developing area of European policy, where targets, strategies and institutions are being fashioned to meet the challenge of protecting our common environment. The environment is an area of great public concern, in which the legitimacy of Europe's competence is widely accepted, and where European solutions are expected. It is also an area in which Europe has already demonstrated its determination to bring about significant improvements in the quality of our environment. As the Secretary of State has already outlined, the United Kingdom has played a leading role in shaping European policy, institutions and legislation.
However, several issues concern me, and they will present Europe with real dangers, difficulties and challenges in the years ahead. Those issues must remain at the forefront of the Government's approach to the European environment.
The first problem is the damage that the European Union could do to itself and to its long-term ability to provide solutions to environmental problems if it fails to get the balance right between issues best tackled at a
Column 365European level and those that are best left to national Governments. A failure to make that distinction would undermine all the good work being done. It would create disillusionment and, ultimately, destroy European institutions. That is why subsidiarity is so important, and why the Government are absolutely right to pursue it as doggedly in the environmental sphere as in any other. My constituency was recently threatened by the over-zealous encroachments of a Greek Commissioner, Mr. Paleokrassas, who decided to try to ban bathing on Blackpool's beaches. It would not surprise me if the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) agreed with that idea, because he talked about people swimming in raw sewage off Blackpool. Of course, that was absolute nonsense. The very thought of banning bathing off Blackpool's beaches is absurd, and was rightly recognised to be a monstrous piece of Greek cheek. In the event, Mr. Paleokrassas's attitude proved completely unnecessary. After a campaign by Michael Welsh, the Member of the European Parliament for Lancashire Central, the Commissioner agreed that his proposed bathing directive would have been unnecessarily intrusive and that decisions on whether to close beaches were best left to national Governments and local authorities. If he had not had the good sense to accept Michael Welsh's argument, he would have done untold harm--harm which the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey still seems prepared to do--to Blackpool's lifeblood, its tourist industry.
He would also have failed to put in place any more effective solution to the problem than was already being provided by North West Water, because the north-west now has a £5 billion programme to modernise the water and sewerage infrastructure of the region. That will include a brand-new, high-technology waste water treatment plant at Fleetwood, along the coast from Blackpool, which will mean that Blackpool and the Fylde coast will be able to meet the, quite rightly, high standards of the bathing waters directive by 1996. It could not be done any quicker than it is being done at the moment and the European Commissioner's attitude was as irresponsible, before he reconsidered, as that of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey currently appears to be.
My second anxiety is about the problem of implementation and enforcement. A common criticism of European legislation is that it never appears to be universally applicable. In this country, we ensure that it is enforced rigorously. We have an excellent record of implementing Community environmental legislation in full and on time. The same cannot be said for many of our European partners. Between 1988 and 1992, of all the cases in which the European Court of Justice identified infractions of environmental legislation, only 2 per cent. were against the United Kingdom, compared with 10 per cent. against France, 16 per cent. against Germany and 24 per cent. against Italy.
To return to my example of the bathing waters directive, it is very irritating to find that while the European Commission was turning its attention to Britain's beaches, where a multi-billion pound programme was under way to meet the new standards, other European countries appeared able to get away with staggering levels of pollution. The Secretary of State mentioned some of the appalling horror stories from the rest of the European Community. A
Column 366recent report in the Daily Express revealed the pollution in some other European resorts. It said, for instance, that in France, untreated sewage is discharged in Nice, and
"at Cannes, special filter boats battle to clean up the water. In Italy, the Bay of Naples is muddy brown, churning raw sewage and oil from tankers . . .
In Spain, a high water stain of pollution and sewage rings the resorts of the Costa Brava and Costa Blanca. . .
In Portugal, raw waste from shanty towns flows directly into the sea along parts of the Algarve."
For all the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey speaking about people who visit Blackpool swimming in sewage, which is nonsense, he should consider, as should Labour Members, what is happening in other parts of the European Community, not spend his time talking down British resorts, and British tourism, which is Britain's second-largest industry.
The Government are absolutely right to make implementation of environmental legislation a major priority. We should hold all member states to account and insist that the Commission monitors implementation and publishes its findings.
The third problem that I wanted to mention, which has not been mentioned but which none the less strikes me as very important, is the scale of the environmental catastrophe confronting Europe and our efforts to tackle it.
Little has been said about what I would refer to as "the forgotten half of Europe". Communism in eastern Europe has left a tragic legacy of environmental devastation and pollution. The countries of eastern Europe and of the former Soviet Union have inherited massive air and water pollution, degradation of the soil, deforestation and loss of biological diversity. Lakes, forests and seas are dying or disappearing. Marshes are turning into sandy wastes. Noxious emissions have polluted scores of cities. The number of cases of terminal cancer and respiratory diseases has increased in industrial areas. The nuclear industry in certain areas continues to be a serious problem.
That is happening throughout eastern Europe, but the problem is especially bad in the former Soviet Union and in Russia. Water pollution, contaminating drinking water, has led to outbreaks of disease in the former Soviet Union. Water pollution has reached crisis proportions in parts of Kazakhstan and the rest of central Asia after decades of improper agricultural practices, such as the over-use of pesticides. In Siberia, Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world, is polluted by a pulp and paper mill, which every year disgorges into the lake 100 megatonnes of cellulose waste, only partially treated by an inadequate purification system. The condition of Lake Ladoga, outside St. Petersburg, in which levels of phosphorous have increased by 300 per cent., and those of nitrogen by 30 per cent., in the past 30 years, is alarming.
All that is happening on our doorstep. That is only one example of water pollution, but one can go through every sphere of environmental concern-- soil degradation, industrial and radioactive waste--and find the most horrific examples of massive environmental catastrophe on our doorstep. It is extraordinary that that has not been mentioned in the debate. It is perhaps a measure of how seriously we treat the problem. However, I think that the Government are starting to take it seriously. Some measures are now in place which begin to tackle the problem.
Column 367Friend may remember that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) deplored the role of the private sector in this country in environmental policy. Does my hon. Friend agree that the appalling human and environmental tragedies in eastern Europe occurred under state control, and that many British companies, including privatised water and power companies, are now active in eastern Europe, helping to sort out the problems that state control created ?
Mr. Elletson : My hon. Friend is right. That was one of the more ludicrous arguments of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury in what was pretty well an entirely ludicrous speech. Of course state control, state communism and state planning have created the problem in eastern Europe, and the British private sector and European private companies are helping to clean it up.
My plea to the Minister is that we should consider further ways of helping British and European companies to tackle that problem. We have begun to do that through initiatives such as the know-how fund, and through organisations such as the London Initiative on the Russian Environment, but I hope that we shall find further ways of helping to solve a major environmental catastrophe on our doorstep. 6.27 pm
Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough) : I shall speak briefly and offer one cautionary example of what I believe is the threat posed to all of us by the implications for the environment of the Government's policy on the environment within their policies on Europe.
We heard much from the Secretary of State about how a good environmental policy must be operated internationally within the European and the international frameworks. We totally agree with that. Indeed, the members of the European Community who have gained most from being members of the Community are those whose national Governments work closely towards commonly held goals with the European Commission and with their regional governments.
Britain at the present time, with the current Government, is hopping along in a three-legged race on one leg, because we have no regional structure at all and the Government will not participate wholly in European goals because they believe that the most important policy on Europe is to opt out of everything to do with the social chapter.
I suspect that at least half of Conservative Members would, if they were honest, quite like a second opt-out, on the environmental issues of Europe, despite the protestations of the Secretary of State for the Environment earlier. In the deregulation task force's proposals for reform, which we have pored over long in the Committee considering the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, there are no fewer than 12 pages of recommendations from big business, the masters and controllers of the Conservative party, of ways in which they want to deregulate ; to remove what they consider to be burdens on business, including some imposed by European directives and some imposed in this country. In contrast, there is only a page and a quarter about the employment element. Twelve whole pages are devoted to regulations that are
Column 368considered to be burdens on business. My guess is that there is a desire to deregulate the environment out of existence.
One of the most welcome environmental initiatives of the European Commission's grant regime is the requirement that applicants for help under grant-aided projects should spell out an environmental impact assessment. That has put pressure on both private companies and big public authorities to look to the long-term effects of their proposals, rather than consider just short-term gains. When we read, under the heading "Environmental Assessment", that one of the recommendations of the task force is that
"Existing requirements should be reconsidered and any further European Community proposals vigorously resisted",
we should be extremely concerned. This is one of the major benefits from Europe that business interests have wanted to see removed. The same thing applies to utilities such as water, about which we have heard a good deal today. The task force says that there are often
"unnecessarily high standards in new drainage and sewerage requirements."
The public do not believe that high standards in this field are unnecessary. Whatever business says, they want to see high standards retained, as has been pointed out by other hon. Members.
It is in this context that I relate my cautionary tale. As chairman of the recently formed all-party parliamentary group on water, I was approached last week by a delegation of business men involved in the manufacture of clay and plastic pipes. They came to say how concerned they were--so concerned that they offered me a briefing paper pointing out that Britain's sewers are under threat because of what has happened since the privatisation of water, following which the major water companies set up their own water industry certification scheme, commonly known as WICS. The problem here is that the industry itself is both giving certification and setting standards--not necessarily European standards--for this crucial aspect of sewer pipe work and drainage. This is clearly important for public health.
The most recent event of great concern to the Clay Pipe Manufacturing Association is the granting of a certificate outwith any European certification, for fairly thin plastic pipework--I was shown an example-- currently used to take surface water away from motorways but proposed for use in sewerage. According to the association's tests, there is no doubt that such plastic pipes would not last the 100 years that we have heard Conservative Members say sewer pipes have to last. What concerns the association is that approval has been granted for the first time through an unprecedented private agreement with a single manufacturer.
My point is that, if we lose to bodies financed by private companies the control of the standard of products in industries as crucial as water and sewerage, the public will be deprived of the guarantee that the European Union offers through its certification schemes--the guarantee that we shall have healthy systems. As the Secretary of State said, we must not talk this country down. Over the centuries, the United Kingdom has led the way in the provision of water of a high standard and sewerage and plumbing systems second to none. That is the result of the pre-war drive of public authorities to ensure good water and sewerage systems.
Column 369Our concern is that the damage resulting from the weakening of controls that has occurred over the past 15 years and the drive towards the privatisation of these crucial public utilities will become apparent not next week or next month but in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years' time. That would be the effect of 15 years' non-compliance with the very high standards that are necessary in this area. I do not want to be accused of scaremongering, but I must draw attention to the fact that, according to one of today's newspapers, South West Water has had to agree to pay £400,000 in settlement of claims from people whose health was affected by contaminated drinking water six years ago. There are long-term dangers. In the case of the River Severn, recently there was major pollution. We are extremely concerned at the way in which individuals with particular interests in chemical companies are being appointed to water companies up and down the country, and to the Ofwat customer services committees. We do not believe that the thrust of the Government's policy on the environment will have other than extremely dangerous consequences for the public in the long term.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : This whole debate is misconceived. It is based on highly dubious premises. It is a terrible mistake to think that it is good for Britain to work with other countries on a matter of this kind. How much easier it would be if the United Kingdom were not part of the European Union. What possible national advantage do we derive, for example, from efforts to clean up the Mediterranean ? The only possible way of enhancing the attractions of the newly gilded Blackpool tower would be to ensure that Mediterranean beaches were filthy enough to make the one at Blackpool attractive despite the weather.
If only we were to withdraw within British territorial waters and ignore the European Union, we could spend the money that is currently being spent to clean up our drinking water on adjusting our methods of dealing with sewage. If, for example, we could build stores for it until the wind was in the right direction, we could use our new long sea outfalls to ensure that it ended up on some foreigners' beaches rather than on our own. At the moment, companies such as Southern Water are buying a channel tunnel drill to bore a huge and expensive tunnel under Brighton beach to deal with a bit of flood water. What about the birds, which seem to preoccupy so many of our environmentalists ? If, instead of trying to reverse the progress of this century, we were to accept that birds are messy creatures that spend an unacceptably large part of their time dirtying our lovely shiny motor cars, we could stop worrying about trying to protect them. What is more, so many of the birds about which people like the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) are worried are foreign. They come here only to mess up our eaves or eat our cereal crops or generally make a nuisance of themselves. In addition, they are probably unqualified birds that have not taken an exam in their lives.
Then there is all the fuss about trees. How can the rapidly expanding United Kingdom forests possibly compete with Scandinavian or Russian forests unless we are allowed to kill off large tracts of foreign forests with our industrial emissions ? Hon. Members who want to confine European action to market activities are quite right. Take the common agricultural policy. Why go on arguing about set-aside when there are thousands of hectares of
Column 370land in the European Union so poisoned that it beats set-aside hands down ? Let us not waste valuable cash trying to clean up the poisoned hectares. Instead, let us refer to them as set-aside land. Another advantage of cutting loose from the European Union would be that many large United Kingdom companies that have plants in Europe and elsewhere could stop trying to equalise standards across their plants and return to the United Kingdom, where we could set our own standards well below those of other countries and thus repatriate many British jobs.
It could be argued that I am advocating a risky strategy. For example, what if European Union countries resent our acid rain or sewage outfalls ? What if they retaliate against our trade ? We need not worry about that. After all, if we were outside the European Union we would trade with countries so far away from us that they would not be directly affected.
Some suggest that we have a duty to our grandchildren to protect the environment. That is a dangerous argument. Generations of nannies are reputed to have said that a speck of dirt harmed no one. Natural selection will ensure--if we do not waste time and money on reducing fumes, for example--that we shall breed grandchildren who are immune to asthma, lead and many other current bogeys.
As I have said, the debate is ill-founded. We need to return to little England outside the European Union, setting our own robust standards of protection and giving not a fig for all those ridiculous foreigners across the channel. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister secretly shares my view that true Brits can swim anywhere and that all the talk about European Union or Rio standards is just a fiendish foreign conspiracy to take away our sovereignty, and should be resisted.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North) : I think that the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) directed his remarks more to the Government Front Bench than the Opposition Front Bench. I am sure that he was not speaking seriously. It seemed that the Minister did not take his remarks seriously and, that being so, I shall not take them up. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
It has been a useful and interesting debate. I compliment my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) and for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). They demonstrated their usual grasp of the subject and their concerns in extremely useful speeches.
The Secretary of State made some very ambitious claims. Sadly, they seem not to be matched by specific actions on the Government's part. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was a catalogue of extravagant claims which, unfortunately, had little substance. It was outrageous when he claimed that the Government have a better record overall than any other European Union state. I shall not go through all the criteria-- [Interruption.] I note that Conservative Members shake their heads. I shall take only one example--the Government's compliance with the bathing water directive.
I have the figures for 1993, which are the most recent to be published. The Secretary of State said that Britain was at the top of the list and that Greece, Germany, Italy and all the other member states were at the bottom. When it comes to complying with the directive and meeting guidelines, Britain is not at the top of the list, as the Secretary of State
Column 371extravagantly claimed. In fact, it is the second dirtiest man in Europe. Greece meets 95 per cent. of the criteria and values. Ireland and Denmark respectively meet 86 per cent., Italy comes in with 85 per cent. and Portugal 75 per cent. Next to bottom of the list is Britain, with 36 per cent. The facts hardly meet the Secretary of State's rhetoric.
Problems are building up throughout Britain as a result of toxins. There are problems in Derbyshire, as there are with bathing water at Blackpool. It is a sorry state of affairs, and the Government should be ashamed of their record rather than trumpeting it.
No amount of hot air from the Minister, or from any other Ministers--we get plenty of it--can lead us away from the fact that airborne pollution in Britain, for want of a sensible strategy, has increased at the same rate as the incidence of asthma since 1979. Regional levels have increased by between 100 and 200 per cent. These are inescapable facts that reflect on the Government's record. The Secretary of State tries to disguise those facts, but he is unable to do so.
The Secretary of State claims that the imposition of value added tax on fuel is a green policy that proves the Government's green credentials to the British people and to Europe. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. He has never been able to refute the assertion that the imposition of VAT on fuel will reduce by only 1 per cent. the amount of fuel that is consumed. That is the reality. That is what should be set against the Government's exaggerated claims.
If the Government are serious about protecting the environment and reducing emissions, where is their energy conservation strategy ? There is no such strategy. The Government do not have one. Where will the money come from for the Energy Saving Trust ? The Minister will not be able to answer my question. The Government's policy is in tatters. I pay credit to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who attempted to introduce energy-saving legislation, but his Bill was wrecked by the Government's tactics.
A sensible energy-saving strategy would go far beyond anything that could be achieved by the imposition of VAT. If it were introduced sensibly--it would be quite cheap--emissions could be reduced by 4 per cent. That would indeed be a green measure. Instead, the Government have been panicked into imposing VAT on fuel because of the economic mess for which they are responsible.
Time does not permit me to tell the House of the difficulties that I have encountered in obtaining information from the Government or their agencies on sites of special scientific interest. Today, however inadequate it is, we have a report published by the National Audit Office on the protection and management of SSSIs. What is the truth about the Government's attempts, and those of their agencies, to protect wildlife and natural habitats in Britain ? Since 1987, the instances of reported damage to SSSIs have increased from 94 in 1987 to 218 in 1991-92, the last year for which figures are available. Such instances have more than doubled. That is another failure on the Government's part.
The list continues. There are numerous examples of failure, but time does not permit me to refer to them.
Last week, in local government elections throughout the country, the people demonstrated that the Government's
Column 372overall performance is woeful and inadequate. They will do so again in next month's Euro-elections. The environment will be one of the key issues against which they will judge the Government. We need positive action, but all we get from the Secretary of State is froth and bubble. It is not good enough.
The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. Robert Atkins) : I can say only that the speeches of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) and for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith)--my view is shared by my hon. Friends--were ineffective and not appropriate to the debate. In one of the best speeches that I have ever heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State make--I have heard a good few in my time, believe you me, in one way or another--he touched on every important topic that relates to the environment and to Europe generally. He dealt with each one in great detail. We are proud of our record and, as I say, my right hon. Friend spelt it out in some detail.
I shall comment on the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson). My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, in his inimitable fashion, talked with some knowledge about scrap metal and the recycling of metals, which he knows about through his connection with a prominent industrialist in his constituency. The British Secondary Metals Association and the British Scrap Metal Federation have spoken to me at great length about what they believe, with some justification, to be probably the oldest recycling industry in the world.
The point they make about their concerns and the effects of the European directive is one that we take to heart. I was pleased to be able to go on a visit to see what was involved in relation to the various sorts of recycling of waste and scrap metal and I have given them, as my hon. Friend said, a few months to consider the proposals which we have come up with. Incidentally, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the point that he made about sewerage in Canterbury. He spelt out clearly the obvious difference between the Government and the Opposition, in that the money spent by a private water company on improving sewerage facilities in his constituency compares favourably with what happened before.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North, who spoke with great authority on matters relating to the eastern bloc, raised a very interesting point. Only the other day, the Minister for the Environment for the Ukraine came see me to talk about the special problems in his country. Incidentally, keen as he was to hear of our success stories on the water front, he also came to tell me and the Government about the problems of the former Soviet countries of one form or another.
It is interesting that the debate has been brought to the Floor of the House by the Opposition. They performed abysmally from start to finish and they are not interested--it has to be said--in the summary of the debate. Indeed, not many Opposition Members were here, but some have arrived belatedly, presumably to vote for a motion which did not really address the subject at all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North talked about the beaches. He knows better than anyone how important Blackpool is to the tourist industry, not only of this country, but, arguably, of Europe as one of its
Column 373biggest tourist resorts. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend talk about our friend Michael Welsh, the MEP for that area, who has done so much to safeguard the beaches of Blackpool and its tourist industry. I know that the electors of Lancashire, Central will do their best to ensure that he is re-elected.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North also made a point about the fairness of enforcement. I am delighted to agree that enforcement of the directives brought to this country is crucial. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and those of us who are involved in negotiating in Europe on those directives, fight so hard to protect our corner, from the British point of view, and to ensure that when a European directive becomes effective in this country it meets our interests and fits well with what we require.
Other hon. Members have raised points with which I would like to deal. Much has been made of the Energy Conservation Bill. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has dealt in considerable detail, and rightly so, with that Bill.
The hon. Member for Knowsley, North suggested that we had no policy in that respect. The Government spend £100 million a year on energy conservation--something like a doubling of the amount previously allocated to that area. Investment in the home energy efficiency scheme, which is directed at the more vulnerable members of society, the low-paid and those who need assistance, has been increased to some £75 million, yet the hon. Gentleman has the nerve to say that we do not have an energy efficiency policy. It is simply not true. The hon. Gentleman would do well to read the speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in some detail and learn precisely what has been and will be done.
One aspect of the Opposition motion that I find wholly unacceptable is the expression that we are somehow "lagging behind". They say that Britain should be at the forefront of environmental progress, rather than lagging constantly behind our European partners. It simply is not true and my right hon. Friend demonstrated cogently and articulately why that is the case. As he pointed out--it is worth reiterating--of the 22.5 per cent. of complaints laid against Britain, in terms of the European Commission, only 2 per cent. result in anything like infraction proceedings. The Labour party allies itself to any campaign to knock the United Kingdom and most of those campaigns are based on inaccuracies and false information. Of course, we all recognise that we do not all meet the objectives that we set ourselves or which are set for us. However, the point worth reiterating to the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and to Opposition Members is that we are better than Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece. We argue our corner. We fight our corner from a position of support for the European Union, but for what we believe are sensible directives in Britain's best interest.
For example, how would the Labour party's support for the Euro-socialist manifesto, which removes the veto and advocates majority voting on everything, help ? My right hon. Friend made particular reference to the carbon tax. How would the Labour party cope with something which it could not prevent from happening when it says that it supports that manifesto ?
As everyone knows, there is a balance to be struck.
Mr. Chris Smith : The Minister clearly cannot have heard what I specifically told him earlier in the debate. The Labour party wishes to retain the national veto on matters relating to taxation. That is precisely the point that he is now ignoring.
Mr. Atkins : If the hon. Gentleman is in a minority of one and he believes in majority voting on everything, how will he prevent the carbon tax, to which he said earlier he was opposed, from happening ? He cannot. His policy does not make sense, like most of the rest of the stuff that he used this afternoon.
Therefore, there is a balance to be struck.
Mr. Nicholls : My hon. Friend talks about the balance. Does he share my concern at the effect of European judgment 57-89, which means that, once an area has been designated as a protected area, member states are unable to alter that designation for industrial or economic reasons ? That means that rampant environmentalism could yet achieve for the expansion of our ports what the dock labour scheme failed to do. Is there not a balance that must be achieved between industry and the economy and the environment, and is it not highly suspicious that, this evening, we have heard not a single word about that threat from Opposition Members ?
Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend is a lawyer and he doubtless reads such matters with a great deal of interest and expertise. I can only say that, since he has raised the matter in such a way, I shall look at it closely and doubtless I shall have his help in so doing. However, he is right to say that a balance needs to be struck between environmental requirements and the costs of them.
We did not hear much from the Labour party about whether those costs had been examined and whether the commitments that it was making had been approved. Sustainable development must be sustainable if it is to be successful. That means carrying with us all sections of society. On every count, the Labour party shouts loudly and knocks our country's achievements. It offers not policies but
panaceas--uncosted, unco-ordinated, uncontrolled and mostly illogical and ill thought out. It does not understand the effects on industry and commerce, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) referred, and it does not understand the effects on ordinary people.
Tagging along behind the Labour party, we have the Liberal Democrats, nodding and winking to every populist issue, never mind what was said the day before. Whatever doorstep they arrive on, they say what they think is appropriate for that doorstep and nothing else. What is more, both the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats have been rumbled by the many environmental organisations that are interested in those matters in the country.
Many of those organisations criticise Government, and rightly so. That is what they exist to do. However, often, they are privately complimentary for what we have achieved and, notably, what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has achieved. But they have little or no time at all for the Opposition, whether Labour or Liberal. If we could harness the wind and hot air that emanates from Opposition Members, the country's energy requirements would be met from now to the end of the century.
By contrast, the Government, under the leadership of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, have faced,
Column 375are facing and will continue to face up to the difficult, sometimes costly and controversial decisions required to protect our environment for the future. The balancing that we need to do of the needs of the environment, with those of industry and commerce, which have to pay, are paramount in our considerations. That is why we have got it right and the Opposition have got it wrong, and that is why I urge my hon. Friends to support the Government amendment.
Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question :
The House divided : Ayes 244, Noes 298.
Division No. 237] [6.59 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Corston, Ms Jean
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Donohoe, Brian H.
Eagle, Ms Angela
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Home Robertson, John
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)