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6.50 pm

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): It is a great pleasure and privilege to speak in this debate, and to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley). However, I did not quite understand the thrust of one of her points. If the Stoke-on-Trent local authority is so happy with the way in which it is handling pollution control--the report that she mentioned described its happiness--why is she so enthusiastic about implementing the European directive, essentially to force her local authority to do what it is already doing quite adequately?

Ms Walley: As the hon. Gentleman well knows, my point was that all local authorities need the support and framework that the Government are introducing, to ensure that the work they are doing is done with the greatest resources and best support.

Mr. Gray: I shall return to that point later in my speech. I am not sure that the Bill promises more resources to help in reducing pollution--as we all seek to do--but suspect that it implies a significant increase in the resources that will have to be supplied by private industry, farms and other parties.

I should like first to say that this is a particularly flimsy little Bill. It is also the first Bill that the Government have introduced on any aspect of the environment. The Water

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Charges (Amendment) Bill may be cited as an example of environmental legislation, but it was more to do with charging than with anything else. The Government have introduced absolutely no environmental legislation--nothing on air quality, or on water quality.

Ministers had a water summit, but that did not amount to a hill of beans. They have done nothing on the countryside, other than talk briefly about the possibility of a right to roam Bill. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) on the Government Back Benches--he is promoting a private Member's Bill on the right to roam--but, so far, we have heard nothing official from the Government on that Bill.

Although we have heard talk from the Government about a series of aspirations, and warm words about press releases, launches and consultations, no less an organisation than Friends of the Earth has described the Government's entire environmental policy as "Carry on Consulting". So far, that is all that we have had from this so-called green Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made great play of his green Budget, but it contained hardly anything that is the slightest bit green--with the exception of increasing petrol prices, and we know precisely where that has led the Government. The Budget was not green at all.

Petrol price increases and the Government's threatened minerals tax have nothing to do with environmental taxation, but are to do with raising extra revenue for the Treasury.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gray: I should be happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman, as long as he does not talk about the right to roam.

Mr. Prentice: The hon. Gentleman is talking complete tosh, and he knows it. The Budget provided for a 25 per cent. duty reduction on alternative fuels, specifically to encourage people to change to using cleaner, environmentally friendly fuels. He should now apologise.

Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman has a nice line in humour, as he demonstrated the other day in his speech on the right to roam--but I shall not be led down that track.

The Government's record on green issues is pretty thin. However, they have another two or three years of this Parliament, and we look forward to seeing some very interesting legislation to address environmental issues--such as the legislation introduced by the previous Government in our 18 years in office. We should think back to Baroness Thatcher and her great speech on the environment. She invented the word "environmentalism". So far, however, this brave, environmental and green Government have produced only this flimsy piece of paper, amounting to so disappointingly little.

The Bill is particularly disappointing because, originally, it amounted to a licence for the Secretary of State to decide, in the privacy of his own room, the regulations that he wished to introduce and the industries that he wished to regulate. Originally, it was a huge Henry VIII Bill--as was noted in Committee in the other place, when it forced the Government to change the Bill's title and much of its detail.

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Some of my noble Friends in the other place--such as Baroness Byford, Lord Dixon-Smith, Lord Jenkin of Roding and Lord Pearson of Rannoch--subjected the original Bill to a terrible attack, forcing the Government to change substantial parts of it. Nevertheless, in many respects, the Bill that we are now debating is still a bad one. I shall explain later, and in detail, why the Bill is a bad one. Essentially, however, it is bad in principle.

The previous Government passed the Environmental Protection Act 1990, after which the European directive on the subject was issued. This Bill's only real purpose is to implement that directive. As I asked in an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North, why should this sovereign Parliament need a European directive to demonstrate what we have to do with our own industries, farmers and small businesses? The Minister for the Environment did not listen to small businesses at all in consultations on the Bill.

Why do we need a European directive to tell our small business people what they should do about pollution? Surely this place is sufficiently worthy, intelligent and hard working to tell our small business people and others what they must do to deal with pollution. It is bad in principle to introduce fairly damaging legislation merely to satisfy a European directive.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I am intrigued by the hon. Gentleman's comments. In a previous life, he was an adviser to a previous Secretary of State for the Environment. Is he now seriously saying that, in that capacity, he had nothing to do with the European directive?

Mr. Gray: I happily give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I came into the then Department of the Environment some time after the directive was agreed, and some time after my boss--my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer)--became Secretary of State for the Environment. The directive was before his time. Nevertheless, he used to describe me as the grit in his oyster, as his views and mine on matters such as European directives were never in accord. Therefore, even if it had been agreed in his time, I am confident that I should have advised against its promulgation. However, that is delving into ancient history.

The general principle that I have described is a good one: we do not need a European directive to control how we deal with United Kingdom environmental pollution. We should also consider how the United Kingdom handles European directives. True Europeans--continental Europeans--do not deal with European directives as we do. When the French receive a directive, they shrug their shoulders, in a Gallic type of way, and put it on a shelf. The Germans know a great deal more about the matter than is described in the directive, and they have already implemented its contents. Therefore, there is no need for the Germans to worry about it. In the United Kingdom, however, my erstwhile colleagues--civil servants at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions--receive a European directive in the post, look at it, and create a gigantic library of regulations to attempt to implement it. They gold plate European directives most extraordinarily.

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We have already heard in the debate details of how annexe 1 of the directive specifies the industries that should be regulated, and of how the Bill would quite significantly increase the number of industries that should be regulated.

I think of the water industry, with which I was very much involved when I worked in the Department of the Environment. Very properly, the urban waste water treatment directive provided that sewage outfalls should be controlled, and the previous Government went to great lengths to reduce sewage pollution in sea. Now, however, certain people--such as no less a body than Surfers Against Sewage--are making representations to the Government that ultraviolet screening of long sea sewage outfalls should be operated the whole year round. Doing so might seem sensible enough, until one realises that people surf only between about April and about October, and that ultraviolet screening is extraordinarily expensive. Operating year-round screening would be equivalent to gold plating the directive. I suspect that some of the proposals on implementing that directive are no more than gold plating.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test): Has the hon. Gentleman ever heard of wetsuits?

Mr. Gray: I have indeed heard of wetsuits, and, when I go surfing in Cornwall, I wear one. However, wetsuits are not a factor in the comments of Surfers Against Sewage on ultraviolet treatment. Its members are saying that, despite wetsuits or any other personal protection, they want ultraviolet protection the whole year round, so that when they go surfing on Christmas day they will be protected. I think that the hon. Gentleman rather missed the point.

There are three ways of treating European directives. First, we could do what many of my colleagues in Government often did, who said, "We must be in the forefront in implementing the directives and show Europe how to do it. We're not going to gold plate them. We're going to deal with every issue and sort them all out. Look at us--aren't we great?"

The second way to treat European directives is how the French and Italians do it, by saying, "Who cares anyway? We'll just ignore them, and hope that no one will notice." Surely the sensible way is to be in the middle of the pack, conforming to most of the directive in good time and avoiding being taken to the European Court for failing to implement it, but not rushing forward. The Minister might like to think about clause 1, which takes the Bill significantly further than annexe 1 of the directive. I am concerned about the gold plating tendency of my worthy and distinguished former colleagues at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

My second concern is the effect that the Bill would have on businesses. We have already heard a great deal about the difference between BATNEEC and BAT. The Government have gone to some lengths here and in another place to say that there is not much difference. If that is the case, why have all the industries gone to such gigantic lengths to say that they are very concerned about the difference? They say that the measure is gold plating and will cost them a lot of money. They say that despite their best efforts the Government have not listened to a word that they have said.

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In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), I quoted from a letter from the Federation of Small Businesses, which is very concerned that the Bill will put people out of business in my constituency. Its letter to the Government setting that out was not even acknowledged. The federation was out of the loop. The Minister said earlier that it was happy and that there was nothing in the Bill to cause small businesses difficulties. That is demonstrably not the case. I have extensive quotations from the Federation of Small Businesses saying the opposite. Small businesses are rightly worried.

The key to environmental legislation must be cost-benefit analysis. Many measures could be beneficial. We have heard from one hon. Member who wants ultraviolet screening on Christmas day on long sea sewage outfalls. We have to balance the benefits against the cost of implementing environmental legislation. The Bill fails to strike a sensible balance between cost and benefit.

Leaving that general concern about business to one side, I am particularly concerned about some specific industries. The Minister boldly says that he believes that the Bill will affect 6,000 installations rather than the 2,000 that are currently affected. That means that 4,000 installations will be brought under the regime. That rings large alarm bells. Many of those 4,000 businesses, farms and other installations across the country are no doubt in my constituency, although I do not know about them. They will suddenly be subject to regulation. We do not know what kind of regulation, because the Bill leaves it to the Secretary of State to decide that in the privacy of his office.

I am worried because I do not know the effects on some of the installations. We are told that 1,000 landfill sites and 1,000 pig and poultry farms will be covered. The Minister talked about very large pig and poultry farms, but a farm of 40,000 hens is a small to medium-sized farm. The Bill will cover all poultry farms except the very smallest. Any worthwhile poultry farm will be covered by the regulations. The Bill will also cover 500 food and drink factories that are not currently regulated. The other businesses affected are small businesses that are currently regulated by local authorities.

The Minister must tell us the environmental benefits of bringing those 4,000 businesses into regulation and the cost to them. He must not waft the issue away, telling us not to worry because this is a fearfully good environmental Bill and small businesses and farmers will be all right. We want to know the detailed benefits of the Bill and the costs to the industries that I have mentioned.

The landfill tax is increasing thanks to recent Budgets to discourage the use of landfill sites. That is fine, but if the Bill brings extra costs to bear on landfill sites there could be an increase in fly tipping. There have been 6,000 to 8,000 reported incidents of fly tipping across the nation.

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