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Column 526the long term, to explore alternatives to the internal combustion engine. There is a range of policy options, which are covered in detail in Labour's new environmental policy. Those options point to a positive and hopeful way forward to a new approach to tackle the acute pollution problems that we face.
People all over London are rightly concerned about the problem, which calls out for an urgent and imaginative response. We in the Labour party have put forward that response. I hope that the Government will listen and will reverse their policy in response to London's needs.
The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. Robert Atkins) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) oninitiating this debate. I must correct him on one small point--I am not new to my job, I have been doing it since January. Neither am I a Transport Minister, although clearly the subject impacts on that Department, too.
As the parent of a daughter who is a quite severe asthmatic, I am only too well aware of the pressures on, and the problems caused for, youngsters--a matter which Labour Members raised. Therefore, I hope that they will accept that we have just as much, if not more, interest in such matters as anyone else. When the Government published the United Kingdom sustainable development strategy earlier this year, we identified improving air quality in our cities and towns as one of the most significant challenges for sustainable development. We are determined to meet that challenge.
That is why we followed the strategy almost immediately with our discussion document "Improving Air Quality", in which we put forward radical options for making the air that we breathe cleaner and healthier. We asked for full discussion, for constructive comment, for alternative views and for practical experiments to test ways of improving air quality. Some 130 organisations replied, from local government, business and the voluntary sector. They support our strategy. They have made positive suggestions and they have also expressed a willingness to work with us. We are now considering all the responses in depth and we will announce our proposals, including our plans for the first air quality experiments, later this year. I urge those hon. Members who have not read "Improving Air Quality"-- especially those who suggest that nothing is happening--to read it now and, perhaps, to think again.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : The Minister spoke of the urgency of the Government's approach to the issue. Why has not the Department of Health published the report on an incident in December 1991 in which, it is claimed, 200 extra deaths occurred in London ? Is not it a matter of shame for the Government that there have been two similar incidents in the past month, which may well have killed large numbers of people, yet no report has yet been published on the incident some three years ago ?
Mr. Atkins : I cannot comment on that matter, as I am not a Health Minister. However, I undertake to ensure that the hon. Gentleman's concern is registered with Health Ministers, who will doubtless pursue the matter with him in due course. I regret that I cannot give him a direct answer.
While none of us for a second underestimates the concern that people have for the quality of air that we have
Column 527experienced during the last couple of weekends, I would not want hon. Members to run away with idea that the matter is nearly as serious as we are sometimes led to believe. It is not killer smog ; we are talking about incidences of poor air quality on certain occasions. They should not be overestimated in the tabloid terms that some people use. I am not suggesting that Opposition Members are guilty of that, but the media sometimes are.
When we publish our proposals this autumn, we will be building on the strong base of what we have already done. I remind the House that it was the Conservative party in government that brought in the Clean Air Act 1952, which was one of the most revolutionary Acts of its type. We know only too well the importance of that and what should be done to improve on it.
As the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) said, we do not want to go back to the 1950s. We all know that acrid, choking, sulphur smog is no longer part of London life. Important as they still are, I shall not dwell on the measures that have halved sulphur emissions since 1970 and cut peak levels in London tenfold. We know that, as our life styles have changed, pollution has changed, especially in towns and cities where traffic is now the major source of many important pollutants. We have risen to those challenges and acted to deal with them.
Recent claims, which have been added to in the debate, that the public were given no information about ozone levels until the EC ozone directive came into force early this year are simply patently wrong. We launched our information service--which is second to none in the world--in October 1990, to provide reports and forecasts on a number of pollutants to the media and the public. We do that every day, not just when EC information levels or limits are approached. We do it through a free telephone line and also on Ceefax and Teletext, where the information is updated every hour, on the hour. We spend some £4 million per year on air quality monitoring and we plan to expand those networks, doubling the number of sites in our enhanced urban network by 1997. We have consulted on integrating local monitoring with our own so that we all work to common standards. All the data from my Department's networks are published and are freely available. The national emissions inventory is updated annually and we are sponsoring the development of more detailed emissions inventories that will enable us to assess the best detailed improvement strategies for particular areas. London was the first city to be tackled.
Taken overall, the air in even our most congested towns and cities is cleaner than it was. Levels of lead in central London have fallen by more than six times since 1980 and emissions are set to reduce during the next few years because of the action that the Government have already taken. Already, 3 million vehicles--15 per cent., not 5 per cent., of the vehicle fleet--have catalysts. Nitrogen dioxide emissions are already falling and even greater gains will follow when new EC standards for petrol and diesel vehicles come into effect in 1996.
We have already begun pressing our European partners on improvements that we wish to see for the year 2000, such as on-board diagnostics that will tell drivers and testers whether emissions equipment is working properly. We are considering alternatives to the internal combustion
Column 528engine. The Departments of the Environment, of Transport and of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will spend substantial sums during the next two years on research into cleaner alternative technologies.
Mr. Raynsford : The Minister has referred to the extent to which, in his view, emissions are falling. Can the Minister tell the House how the Government are doing as against their own targets in respect of NOx and CO missions ?
I chair the greener motoring forum which brings together central and local government, business and environmental groups in order to help our vital transport systems in a way that will reduce their impact on the environment. Naturally, we do not concentrate solely on technology. For example, we are looking at economic instruments, increases in fuel taxes and potential for congestion charging. Together with the Department of Transport, we have issued guidance to local authorities on how the land use planning system can help to manage the impact of transport on the environment. Local authorities have been asked to put forward complete packages for transport funding and to give higher priority to facilities for walking, cycling and public transport, in which we are investing substantial sums.
Finally, we have certainly not forgotten other sources of pollution. London and all areas where domestic emissions are still important are covered by smoke control orders. In 1990, we introduced innovative new systems for Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution and local authorities to deal with industrial air pollution. The rest of the EC is only now looking to catch up with our integrated pollution control system, which is unique and a world beater. The integrated pollution prevention and control directive, which is still being discussed in Council, takes our IPC system as its model. However, as hon. Gentlemen said--I do not disagree--more remains to be done. When I launched the document entitled "Improving Air Quality" I pointed clearly to three areas where the Government see a need for further work--air quality standards, short-term measures to reduce pollution from vehicles already on the road and local air quality management strategies for problem areas.
We set up the expert panel on air quality standards in 1991 to make recommendations based on the best currently available scientific evidence of likely risks and benefits. This year, EPAQS--we have an affection for acronyms in the Department of the Environment--has published its first report on benzene and ozone and it will publish further reports later this year, which doubtless will cover the particular points that the hon. Member for Greenwich raised. I will check.
The Departments of the Environment and of Health will do all that they can to support the work of EPAQS and to
Column 529provide further assessment on pollution levels, trends and costs that will enable the Government to reach early decisions. To be fair, the jury is still out on what causes asthma in the first place. We know that air pollution can affect many people with asthma and other breathing difficulties. Much work is going on not only in Government health departments but outside in the medical profession, the motoring journals and other sectors, in an attempt to discover whether asthma is caused by, for example, motoring activity or dust mites. As I discovered much to my interest the other day, the biggest cause of asthma in California is barbecues. That problem may not have hit us yet, but if our weather goes on being as warm as it has been, it may yet do so.
Mr. Austin-Walker : Is the Minister satisfied that the Government are spending sufficient money on asthma research ? I understand that it totals £1 million a year. In my own health authority area, which covers the boroughs of Bexley and Greenwich, the cost to the NHS of treating reversible bronchia-constriction is in the region of £2 million a year, excluding the costs of prophylaxis, prevention, peak-flow meters and antibiotics for secondary infections. Should not more money be spent on asthma research to reduce the excessive bill for treating asthma with drugs ?
Mr. Atkins : The hon. Gentleman must forgive me, but I cannot possibly answer that question, which is for my colleagues in the Department of Health. However, I will ensure that they read the debate. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will take the matter up with them, or I will get them to write to him. I cannot comment on costs, but we are doing a lot of work, rightly so, on asthma research. I have a particular personal interest in one form or another. My daughter believes that when she goes to the garage for petrol, the volatile organic compounds that surround petrol delivery sometimes aggravate her asthma. It is probably fair to expect car emissions to have an effect.
When I was roads Minister, I was instrumental in introducing emissions measurement into the MOT test. Although, like all aspects of that test, that applies only at the moment of testing, we should give thought to whether more regular checks ought to be made. Some London local authorities, such as Westminster and Southwark, are doing a lot. "Improving Air Quality" identified poorly maintained vehicles and black smoke from diesels as issues to be addressed. In 1992-93, the Vehicle Inspectorate carried out 16,000 spot checks and issued 200 prohibition notices as part of its regular enforcement activity. I am sure that all hon. Members would like fewer vehicles on our streets emitting black smoke and other obvious pollution. The other day, I noticed when following London taxis and open- topped tourist buses--which tend to be older vehicles--that they contribute significantly in that respect.
I recently attended a demonstration of the Royal Automobile Club's technology testing of passing cars. It is not yet proven, but it is a step in the right direction.
Mr. Flynn : The Minister is complacent in many of the things that he says. Some countries already impose limits on PM10s--tiny, invisible soot particles of less than 10 microns that pass through our air passages and lodge in the lung. Those particles are coated with as many as 60 carcinogenic chemicals. One estimate is that they cause
Column 53010,000 deaths a year. The lowest estimate is 3,000 extra deaths. The number is increasing because PM10s come from diesels, which we have encouraged. The worst thing that we ever did was to take lead out of petrol, because it has increased benzene in the atmosphere, which has created more carcinogens. It is unlikely that I will be called to speak in the debate, but the Minister must be told that those problems need urgent examination.
Mr. Atkins : The hon. Gentleman must have been asleep--like most people this time of the morning. I spoke all along about the work being done in those areas. I am fascinated to learn that the hon. Gentleman is now opposed to taking the lead out of petrol, which had the favour of many people across the parliamentary divide. Much work is being done on what is good and what is bad. The hon. Gentleman will know if he is a fair man--I am sure that he is, even if he is a Welshman--[ Hon Members-- : "Oh!"] I apologise, and I withdraw that remark. I am just trying to keep myself awake. In all seriousness, a lot of work is going on, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but it is not yet proven that diesel causes the problems.
Mr. Atkins : I am sorry, but it is not. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that diesel is not as good as everyone thought that it was. That is fair. Much effort has been put in by the motoring manufacturers in developing the cleaner car, although they would say that the public consider the environmental aspects of their vehicles as being at the bottom of their buying agendas. None the less, the points that the hon. Gentleman makes have some validity in that there is still much work to be done, and, is being done, not only by Government but by industry and the medical profession, in trying to determine what is a contributory cause to the sort of pollution that we are talking about today.
Mr. Flynn rose
As I was about to say, before I was so rudely interrupted, it should be clear from "Improving Air Quality" that we do not rule out new measures, but I think that there is scope for harnessing public willingness to do better. After all, badly maintained vehicles, as well as affecting the air that we all breathe, probably use more fuel and therefore waste drivers' money.
Lastly and most radically, in improving air quality, we set out the case for integrated local air quality management. The Government's national policies will reduce pollution generally throughout the country, but where there is traffic congestion or industry, or where there are other special factors, there may be a danger that standards will not be met. What we have in mind, therefore, is a menu of supplementary measures for problem areas. Each would choose the mix that would address its particular combination of problems most cost effectively. We have not yet finally determined the contents of the menu. We decided on a full and open debate. Therefore, in improving air quality, we listed the sorts of measures that might be considered and asked for comment and further suggestions.
Among the points that we put up for discussion were suggestions that local planning and highway authorities
Column 531might be required to have specific regard to the impact of proposals on air quality ; that traffic regulation orders could restrict vehicle access ; and that there might be specially targeted measures to enforce controls on smoky vehicles in problem areas, more local information services and more detailed emission inventories, such as the one developed for London. Most of all, we need better integration of all the individual measures that can affect local air quality. Many of those are already in the hands of local authorities, and the hon. Member for Greenwich touched on that point in his concluding remarks. He believed that they should be, and will be, important players. It is obvious that, in an area such as London, one authority acting alone cannot solve all the problems. Local authorities will have to co-operate with each other, and they do so in London through the London air quality network. I hope that their co-operation will pay dividends.
Central Government, the new agency, business and the local community must also be drawn in, and we must leave room for innovation and adaptation. Testing how best to achieve proper co-ordination is therefore the key area for testing alternative approaches. As I said earlier, we will be announcing later this year the first experiments with local authorities that have said that they want to work with us. I hope that their positive response in London, together with that of other organisations, will be mirrored elsewhere.
I have looked with some interest at the Opposition's document : "Six Steps to Banish Smog" and have listened to what hon. Members have said tonight. I am only sorry that, four months after we initiated the debate, I saw nothing in that document, nor heard anything today, to suggest that what the Government have done requires any improvement from the Opposition.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : It has been very disappointing to hear the Minister read his prepared speech, because his attitude and demeanour do not match the crisis that London faces. We all have an interest in the matter because we have to breathe the air in London. I mentioned lead earlier for a very good reason, because the campaign to remove lead from petrol won the support of all the environmental bodies. The result has been to increase the amount of aromatics--principally benzene--that get into the atmosphere. We know that benzene is powerfully carcinogenic. It causes cancer. It is in the air. One part per billion is already a problem, but it is in the atmosphere in much greater quantities. What do we do about that ? We can improve the burn of the petrol to take out the benzene by adding extra oxygen, but if we do that we produce formaldehydes, which are also carcinogenic. We therefore have a very serious problem : none of the technical fixes appears to work.
The Minister suggested that 15 per cent. of cars had catalytic converters, and I believe that that is roughly correct. Tragically, however, 55 per cent. of the petrol that is bought is unleaded, and many people are buying super-unleaded petrol when they have no catalytic converters--with the result that their cars are not just more
Column 532polluting, but 40 times more polluting than they would be if they were using the traditional leaded petrols. Catalytic converters do not work efficiently until the car has been driven for 10 km because they have to warm up, and 75 per cent. of all journeys in this city are shorter than that. Cars with catalytic converters are therefore doing more harm in those first 10 km than they would with no catalytic converters, using the old petrol.
Having heard a great deal of evidence, many of us are in despair about London's problem. That problem cannot be underestimated. I appeal to the Minister to bear in mind an incident that occurred in December 1991 in this city. Technicians reading the meters did not believe them. That happens with all disasters : as someone who has worked all his life in laboratories, I know that when a technician sees something very strange he does not believe it. In this instance, the instruments suddenly went off the scale, showing the highest levels of pollutants ever recorded. A report made for the Department of Health has still not been published, but we know from a summary that has been made available that there were at least 150 excess deaths.
The Minister has said that air pollution does not cause asthma. I believe that that has been established : there is no scientific link. Causal links are not established in many such cases. The Minister mentioned, however, that his daughter finds garages an irritant. That is because of the presence of benzene, which causes the pleasant smell when we put petrol into the car. Is benzene a powerful carcinogenic ? We know that it comes out of exhausts as well. There are many things that we cannot prove, but we know for certain that asthmatics--whose numbers have grown in my county by 118 per cent. in the past 15 years--are greatly troubled by fumes from cars, and in atmospheres with high concentrations of particulates and poisons. The position is getting worse, for the reasons that I have given. We do not know what we are doing. It is easy to say that we need research ; we could continue to do research for the next 100 years, but we still might not find those causal links. It took us 30 years to find the link between cancer and smoking. We cannot wait that long in this case. Every day in this city an enormous, uncontrolled experiment is taking place. We are pumping a huge cocktail of chemicals into the atmosphere ; we do not know what those chemicals do when they come together, but we know that mixing two toxic chemicals produces a mixture not just twice as toxic but possibly a hundred times as toxic. Given the great soup of chemicals in the air, a still day like that day in 1991, with barometric pressure placing a lid on the city and stopping the air from moving and sunshine baking the chemicals, will lead to a mass of complex chemical reactions producing a lethal mixture that we have to breathe.
It is certain that the ozone and particulates involved in London's pollution are a deadly mixture. We must not be complacent and congratulate ourselves on producing a number of reports or on being better than country A or country B ; we must give urgent consideration to restricting the source of the pollution--cars. When the pollution reaches a certain level, we must say that cars cannot enter the city. Others countries are already taking such action. If we do not do so as well, hundreds--possibly thousands--of people will die unnecessarily in our capital city.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : My debate moves us towards the north, but it deals with problems similar to those that we have been discussing for London. The Minister may be interested to know that I introduced this topic in 1989 and that the Minister who replied for the Government on that occasion is now the Secretary of State for Health. I shall wait five years to see what position the current Minister has moved to.
Pollution knows no boundaries, as was obvious internationally when the Chernobyl incident occurred. Nationally, the figures from the Department of the Environment for ozone pollution during hot weather show that often the higher levels are not necessarily in counties with the largest towns but are sometimes in neighbouring areas. Oxfordshire is in the top list and Derbyshire is fourth in that set of figures. It may be that some of the problems resulting in the high ozone level in Derbyshire derive from neighbouring areas such as Sheffield, with the pollution drifting to Derbyshire.Locally, the crossing of boundaries is illustrated by the fact that the River Doe Lea, which starts in Bolsover district and constituency and is the worst polluted river in Europe, forms part of the border between the districts and constituencies of Derbyshire, North-East and Bolsover. Individualism may help to create certain pollution problems, but it offers no solution to handling those problems. Action to tackle pollution has to be planned, co-ordinated and shared and, therefore, must be social in content. In tackling pollution, there is no such thing as isolated individualism.
Pollution controls do not need to destroy production and jobs. In fact, if pollution controls are operated correctly they should work in the opposite direction. Job opportunities and production should go along with improved pollution control techniques. An example of that developed in north-east Derbyshire. Biwaters of Clay Cross in north-east Derbyshire produces pipes which are often sold internationally. The company was a polluter, producing old-fashioned muck and dirt, and was under considerable pressure to clean up its act. Pressures were being applied by Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution.
The firm obtained new markets in a peculiar way. When Lady Thatcher was Prime Minister, she went to Malaysia and became involved in trade and aid discussions. That opened up new markets and led to a development of rural piping throughout Malaysia. The great bulk of that production came from the Bywaters plant in Clay Cross. In order to increase production, the company agreed to instigate investment which would control the pollution problems in the area as well as helping with the expansion. So we have more jobs, greater production and less pollution as a result of that investment.
We have sometimes missed out on those opportunities. For instance, Avenue coke works at Wingerworth is now closed. More than 300 people were made redundant ; yet the product was desirable for pollution control. The plant, however, was aging and produced pollutants itself. Investment and improvements were needed to maintain jobs and to make a product that would sell ; the product being produced became inferior because of the conditions
Column 534prevailing at the plant. We need policies that would allow an organisation such as Avenue coke works to continue its production without creating pollution.
Much has already been said about the need for an integrated social transport system at the national and international level. Although perhaps not yet in a very developed form, such systems are offered through the European Community. Plans to develop a common transport policy throughout the EC were discussed recently in Standing Committee A.
To highlight the extent of the pollution problem, I shall use north-east Derbyshire, and the Staveley area in particular, as an example. The northern part of Staveley falls within the constituency of Derbyshire, North-East while the southern part falls within the constituency of Chesterfield. That shows that boundaries are meaningless when we are debating pollution.
Mr. Wareing, a farmer of Barrow Hill, keeps elaborate records of the pollution that he encounters. He has recorded high levels of sulphur, molybdenum and fluoride in herbage and silage. Since 1971, 25 per cent. of calves born there have had eye defects, and some have been blind. He once showed me a photosensitive cow that had to be kept in the dark. He is pursuing cases in the courts against local firms. The value of what he is doing lies in the fact that the details will be placed in the public domain. There were also problems recently when travellers arrived in a nearby area that suffers similar problems. The travellers were therefore in considerable danger.
Asthma was mentioned in our previous debate. It is a considerable problem in the Staveley area. Many instances have been recorded at schools there ; at Barrow Hill primary school, the figure is 23 per cent., which is at least twice the national average. That says something about the nature of the problems in the area. Pollution caused by transport may drift : Barrow Hill is not an area with high car use, so many other factors could come into play--some may be related to the problems recorded by the farmer to whom I referred. Great attention was paid to Staveley's problems because of a scare about high levels of dioxins. There had been an incident at Coalite, and an examination was undertaken. Three farms in the Bolsover area were taken out of production--two produced milk and the one that sold meat supplies reared suckling cows. What happened there has been stressed a great deal by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).
Because of the problems at Coalite, investigations were started over a somewhat wider area in Staveley and it was discovered that there was another strain of dioxin, different from the Coalite pollution. That was traced to Stanton plc. In 1993, eight farms in the area were taken out of milk production and had their milk tested. According to current standards, the levels were found acceptable, so the farms went back into milk production.
Although the dioxin problems were discovered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and by the Department of the Environment, the work of cleaning them up had to be pursued by Chesterfield borough council and North-East Derbyshire district council, mainly through their environmental health officers. That produced a problem in terms of the availability of resources to tackle such tasks, but at least when we found out what the levels were we could begin to take action.
Other problems in the area include river pollution and the difficulty of containing consent levels in what goes into
Column 535the River Rother, into which the Doe Lea eventually flows. We also have problems involving sewage treatment and the death of the river. The National Rivers Authority has tried to turn the river back into a waterway that can support fish.
Another problem connected with sewage is the overflow from drains, caused by the inadequacy of the provision, which is in the hands of Yorkshire Water Services. There is a great need to encourage the company to extend its improvements in the area to help districts in Hollingwood where there is serious flooding, involving overflows of sewage in residential areas and in an area where there is a working men's club.
The traffic problems that were discussed in the previous debate also exist in my area.
There was a particular problem at Rho ne-Poulenc--generally known as Staveley Chemicals--which has an elaborate warning system for local residents. A siren sounds when there is held to be danger in the area. Unfortunately, it sounded accidentally recently and there was no system for telling people that the danger was over. Luckily, because of the lesson that it learned, the company has now moved to establish a new system. The action card, which is quite elaborate, has to be distributed in the Staveley area. It tells people in great detail about going indoors and staying there, about tuning to local radio and so on, about what they have to do to assist the police and fire services, and about waiting for the all -clear. Unfortunately, within that area there are several other firms--such as Coalite, which is not too far away--and they all operate similar systems. What is required is an understanding that the signalling system is different in different areas. When the accident took place, people rang up Coalite instead of Staveley Chemicals to ask what was wrong in the area.
Staveley's problems must be tackled in a co-ordinated way. I do not think that we have the provisions to do that. We have a junior Minister for the Environment and Countryside within the Department of the Environment who has some overall responsibilities for these matters, but who does not have the status or the wherewithal to be able to operate fully. We have environmental protection legislation which throws tasks on to local government, as I mentioned, but local government is fantastically underfunded in the areas with which I am dealing. In terms of standard spending assessment and the grants related to it, North-East Derbyshire district council is 275th out of 296 English councils. Chesterfield borough council is only a little ahead of that.
Then there is the problem of co-ordinating the areas to which I have referred. It was interesting that in the previous debate the Minister frequently said, "That is not a matter for me ; it is a matter for the Department of Transport or for the Department of Health." A great difficulty in pollution control is drawing the threads together and getting hold of all the information required. In terms of handling a problem such as the one in Staveley, there are Department of Health investigations and the Department of the Environment is involved. The Department of Trade and Industry is also involved because we are talking about industries in the area, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is involved because we are talking about farms in the area. The Department of Employment, too, is involved because jobs are at stake. A whole set of
Column 536agencies are involved, including Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, the National Rivers Authority and the Health and Safety Executive. Local government bodies then come into it because Chesterfield borough and North-East Derbyshire district council have environmental health responsibilities. Planning arrangements, which are sometimes overridden by the Department of the Environment on appeal, are in the hands of the district and county councils. Then there are the private bodies. There is Rho ne-Poulenc--traditionally known as Staveley Chemicals--and Yorkshire Water.
The start of a solution to tackle the problems in an area such as Staveley is a full environmental survey in the area drawing the many threads together. Once we know the facts, as we eventually discovered the facts about dioxin, we can take the appropriate action to deal with the problem. But we need an agency that is able to do that. We need a new Department of Environmental Protection which will be able to co-ordinate investigations and to offer the facilities required. Such a Department could also facilitate solutions for the area. Staveley is by no means unique in its problems. When it was discovered that Stanton plc was responsible for the dioxin in the area, the Stanton works at Stanton, in Erewash, were investigated and it was found that a similar problem existed there. I imagine that the problem exists wherever there are large industrial complexes. However, there are hopes in the Staveley area that there will be improvements. There is even a faint hope in the Department of the Environment.
In a letter to me dated 29 April, the Secretary of State for the Environment, when calls had beem made to him for the type of environmental survey about which I am talking, stated :
"You will appreciate that, until the current work being undertaken by HMIP and the NRA has been completed and the results published, and the question of the prosecutions has been decided, it would not be appropriate for me to take up your invitation to visit your constituency. As soon as the additional work that HMIP is taking forward has been completed and assessed, I will write to you again about whether anything further needs to be done in response to your request for a full investigation of environmental problems in the area concerned."
There are things which we await, unless a message arrives this morning about those possibilities.
There is the possibility of action being taken in the Staveley area. For instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) is due to visit us and the areas that I am describing on 15 September. That closely follows the publication of Labour's document "In Trust for Tomorrow", which was mentioned in a debate earlier today. I was keen to seek the position of chair of the Labour Back-Bench environment committee because of my experiences especially in north-east Derbyshire, often on a wider basis than the ones that I have stressed so far in terms of the Staveley area.
There are more problems than the ones relating to Staveley. We have been involved in a pit closure programme and privatisation. No mines are left in Derbyshire. We have one National Union of Mineworkers branch at Highmoor which is associated with the Kiveton combine, but it is due to close in September. We have the problem of mine water discharges which has been stressed by the National Rivers Authority. We also have opencast problems in the area. Despite strong objection, the most recent development was that at Spinkhill, which is not too far from some of the pits that have been closed. We have
Column 537areas of considerable opencast potential in rural areas which have not had anything to do with mining since possibly the 17th and 18th centuries. We also have the areas where there have been recent closures. Moves should be made to come in and opencast an area where a pit has closed. We also have the residual problem of mining subsidence, and inadequate means to deal with that in various areas.
The river pollution associated with the River Rother moves into other areas, apart from Staveley, to the north of the constituency through Killamarsh, where it goes close to a Leigh Environmental plant, a subject on which I had a previous Adjournment debate. We had a lengthy discussion on the matter because it was an extended Adjournment debate. Across the border in Rother Valley country park, which is in a neighbouring constituency, the water for the lake had to be imported : the water in the River Rother could not be used as it was too polluted. We also have other sewerage problems. The town in Dronfield has developed considerably and the River Drone, which passes close to a school in neighbouring Unstone, is sometimes something of an open sewer.
Obviously, such problems are not confined within the boundaries of north- east Derbyshire. The wider north-eastern corner of Derbyshire has the same problems as those at Coalite--the massive opencast development taking place at Arkwright, and the general lack of investment throughout the whole area which would enable the type of environmental improvement that I have described in relation to Biwater to take place more generally.
The Government's failures need stressing, as does Labour's policy. For instance, the Minister and I and others have already clashed over the Energy Conservation Bill, which in many ways was a mild measure involving audit and conservation plans. From what was said at an earlier meeting of the European Standing Committee, I expected that before the end of this week we would have a statement in the House on transport and safety policies. Unfortunately, that has not taken place. We have discovered from a Court of Auditors report on environmental matters that many of the projects in which the European Community is involved are counterproductive environmentally. A large jump must be made to produce the right policy for the environment. To that end, I will summarise briefly some of the Labour party's proposals. We have advocated a green industrial strategy, in which new jobs and reductions in pollution go hand in hand, as I have suggested. Our sustainable transport policy shifts the emphasis to public transport, which offers many of the benefits that I described in the previous debate on this issue. Under our energy efficiency programme, no new nuclear power stations would be commissioned and the presumption is against opencast mining. That is of particular importance to north-east Derbyshire. Our proposals to democratise planning systems would also benefit my area. We have also advocated global institutional provisions and provisions about individual rights.
Those policies represent the way forward. The problem is that we cannot wait for some of those initiatives to be introduced ; the Government need to pick them up and run with them now. That is the way to tackle the problems I have outlined.
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Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) on his good fortune to have a debate at this cheerful hour of the morning and on the manner in which he introduced it.
It is interesting to note that, five years ago, my hon. Friend had the good fortune, yet again, to debate the problems of pollution in north-east Derbyshire. The then Under-Secretary of State for the Environment who replied to the debate is now the Secretary of State for Health. Is she still Secretary of State ?
The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. Robert Atkins) indicated assent .
On that occasion, the then hon. Lady said :
"The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East has outlined a number of environmental concerns in his constituency. They are all subjects to which the Government are giving detailed consideration."--[ Official Report , 13 March 1989 ; Vol.149, c. 245.]
It is interesting that, five years on, my hon. Friend has raised exactly the same concerns, which the Government are still subjecting to detailed consideration. Insufficient progress has been made and my hon. Friend is right to outline those concerns, once again, in some detail.
My hon. Friend is also right to say that just as pollution knows no international boundaries, equally it knows no regional boundaries. The problems of the Rivers Doe Lea and Rother, which my hon. Friend has outlined, have a regional significance and should be considered further by the Government. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), who is a keen angler, would like to be able to fish in that river, but, at the moment, it has no fish worth catching. The problems caused by pollution extend beyond regions and even counties.
My hon. Friend also drew attention to the scale of pollution confronted in his constituency, for example, at Staveley. I know that, over the years, my hon. Friend for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has campaigned against dioxin contamination in the area. The Minister will appreciate that great concern has been expressed about the impact of the incineration of various materials on public health. The burning temperatures in that process must be monitored constantly and kept up to right level, so that dioxins are not created. It is important that the problem is kept under constant review and that action is taken where necessary to try to reduce it.
We must, as my hon. Friend said, have a properly co-ordinated strategy not only in his constituency but throughout the country. The House will be aware that there was a proposal in the Queen's Speech to introduce paving legislation for an environment agency. Sadly, that idea has sunk without trace. It seems that no such Bill exists. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Labour party--he is well aware of this--has a clear blueprint of what an environment agency should do. Indeed, the agency was our idea. I think that the Minister will concede that.
Column 539an environment agency when he was worrying about the problems of Northern Ireland. I am sure that he still worries about those problems at length.
An environment agency would provide the co-ordination that my hon. Friend rightly thinks is lacking. It would focus also on bringing together the responsible statutory bodies and other agencies so that all resources and concerns could be handled in a proper manner. Local authorities would be involved as well.
Some time ago, my hon. Friend issued an invitation to the Secretary of State for the Environment to visit his constituency. He received what might be described as a holding letter. It told my hon. Friend that certain developments were under way and, as a result, the Secretary of State might later consider visiting Derbyshire, North-East. I understand that it might be important that investigations should be made and completed before a visit takes place.
I have undertaken to visit my hon. Friend's constituency on 15 September. If the Minister is free on that day, I am sure that he would like to join me. I realise that he will not have his diary with him now. I am sure that my hon. Friend would make it an interesting and constructive day. Perhaps between us we could start to resolve some of the problems that my hon. Friend has been talking about for the past five years and beyond.
I think that it is generally accepted that reform of the planning system is long overdue. That forms part of the Labour party document which was published the other day, "In Trust for Tomorrow". That reform would be helpful to our efforts to resolve some of the problems that my hon. Friend has outlined. My hon. Friend talked about the presumption against opencast mining. That, too, forms part of "In Trust for Tomorrow" and would be a helpful policy. It has taken five years for my hon. Friend to move from one debate to another. The problems that he referred to five years ago still face us. It is time that pollution generally, and especially in my hon. Friend's constituency, received a proper and co-ordinated response from the Government. If the Minister is not willing so to respond, the quicker we get a Government who are--that is a Labour Government--the better.