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Mr. Ainger: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her clarification. I am sure that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire now accepts that.

I now move on to another part of the Bill and welcome the fact that we are to have truly integrated pollution prevention controls. The offshore installations around our coast were highlighted in Lord Donaldson's reports. The most recent one, with which I helped, covered major pollution incidents at sea. I welcome the fact that we shall now have proper controls covering pollution from offshore installations.

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I am sure that my hon. Friends representing constituencies on the north Wales coast and the Wirral will join me in welcoming the measure. Over the past 18 months, their constituencies have suffered a series of pollution incidents involving the Broken Hill Petroleum Company, the old Hamilton Brothers Company, at its Liverpool bay installations. None of them were major incidents involving hundreds of tonnes, but they were significant enough to appear regularly in the media. Environmental pollution has a negative impact on the tourist areas along the coastal strip of north Wales, such as Colwyn Bay, Llandudno and Rhyl. It is vital that we have a regulatory framework to address the offshore industry, as offshore installations have not been covered by the 1990 legislation in the same way as onshore installations.

I welcome the fact that energy efficiency will become part of the holistic approach to pollution control. It is to the great credit of the Government that they are willing to take difficult decisions that many constituents do not like in relation to fuel duty and so on. However, that is part of the green agenda that we are implementing.

There is a need to ensure adequate monitoring of atmospheric and marine pollution. The technology is available to industry, which must get involved in research and development as well as marketing and producing. The major polluters of the atmospheric and marine environments need to be able to show the regulators that their permitted emissions are not being exceeded, either overall or on a peak basis.

This is an opportunity for small businesses--to which Tory Members keep referring--to get into the environmental monitoring industry, which is growing and is worth billions of pounds. I hope that the Bill will encourage more British companies to research and develop environmental monitoring equipment, and I welcome the Government's intention in proposing the Bill.

7.22 pm

Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I start by declaring an interest, in that I am a trustee of the Centre for Environmental Initiatives--an organisation in my constituency which does much work on environmental issues, both locally and nationally.

The Liberal Democrats welcome the Bill because we must strengthen pollution prevention and control in this country. However, the Bill is not perfect and further work will be needed on definitions, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). Should the definition of "harm" extend to offending the senses of human beings? That is worth revisiting. There may be legitimate concerns also about releasing the names and addresses of producers--again, something to which we may want to return. In Committee, we will table amendments to strengthen the Bill and to address some of its weaknesses. However, the Bill represents progress, and we shall give broad support to its principles.

We want to flesh out the detail of any proposed pollution inventories. The Labour party promised action in this area before the general election. The Minister for the Environment promised:

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    That promise has been repeated, most recently at the 1998 Labour party conference--still, I believe, the sovereign body of the Labour party--where the Minister said that he wanted

    "a toxic releases inventory of all noxious discharges to land, air and water in their neighbourhood to be readily available for public inspection by local people."

The principle of pollution inventories is supported by the Environment Agency, which recently stated that

    "a truly comprehensive pollution inventory would contain information on all sources of pollution in a local area",

particularly associated with landfill sites and sewage works. The agency believes, as do the Liberal Democrats, that an amendment to the Bill would be the most effective way of achieving that.

There is broad support for the concept of pollution inventories among industrialists. The business and environment director of the UK Chemical Industries Association said that if the Government proposed a comprehensive inventory, the association would give that its wholehearted support. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor) has tabled an early-day motion calling for pollution inventories, which has been supported by no fewer than 194 Members of Parliament. I hope that others will support it in the days and weeks to come.

My hon. Friend's Access to Environmental Information Bill is what is needed. The crucial difference is that people have a right to know about dangerous pollutants emitted from sources in their area. That is where the protection of the environment and freedom of information combine--something to which the Liberal Democrats are committed. My hon. Friend's Bill, supported by Members from both sides of the House, would deliver that.

It is appropriate that we are discussing the Bill today, as we prepare to go to the polls for elections to the European Parliament. The window of opportunity for the Bill came with the integrated pollution prevention and control directive. That is a good thing that has come out of Europe--I hope that all hon. Members can agree on that. That is why my party has taken a positive line on Europe--a firm but fair line. It is not possible for this country to have a pristine environment if a reactor in France fails, if Germany pollutes the air or if everybody else destroys the oceans. As others have pointed out, environmental pollution does not respect national boundaries.

Anybody arguing for a weaker Europe, or for this country to go it alone, must realise that that has knock-on effects on issues such as the environment. Only with a strong Europe--working on environmental issues and taking tough decisions on the world stage--can we hope to see action on the scale that is so desperately needed to ensure that our environment is safe. A weaker Europe equals weaker environmental protection for all. Perhaps the Tories' campaign slogan should be, "Not in Europe, but polluted by Europe". The Liberal Democrats are proud, as environmentalists, to be strong supporters of a more open, more democratic, reformed and more sustainable EU.

The Liberal Democrats often criticise the Secretary of State for taking powers that we believe to be unnecessary. However, in this case, I hope that Ministers will assure the House that it is the Secretary of State's intention to use the powers available to him--selectively, of course,

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as many Members have raised concerns about the far-reaching nature of some of the powers. I would like an indication that the Secretary of State would be willing to use the powers where necessary--a point made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley).

We do not want to spend hours debating a Bill upon which, in the end, the Secretary of State has no intention of acting. I do not believe that that is the intention, but I hope that Ministers will confirm that the Government will use such powers, which powers they intend using and whether there is an outline timetable for when that will be done.

The Access to Environmental Information Bill is a way forward which, eventually, I believe will be agreed in this House. However, the Liberal Democrats are realists and, in the spirit of constructive opposition which characterises my party's positive and sensible approach to politics, I have another proposal.

I wrote recently to the Minister for the Environment to ask him to consider amendments which many hon. Members will have seen, as they were circulated by Friends of the Earth. I have not had a response, and I would be grateful if the Under-Secretary would respond on his behalf when she winds up. The amendments are non-controversial and I hope that the Government will support them--or table them themselves--in Committee.

The amendments would enable better information to be provided to the public on environmental pollution. That would not require the Secretary of State to take action, but it would give him the ability to do so in line with the enabling nature of the Bill. He will be able to collect pollution data from a variety of sources--landfill sites, factories, sewage treatment works and so on. That information could be made readily available to local people. That is what we want, what I believe Ministers want and what many other groups and organisations want.

An effective consensus has been reached in favour of such a measure, and I hope that the Minister will not disappoint us in her reply. In the meantime, we support the Bill as a first step in the right direction.

7.30 pm

Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford): I, too, believe that it is timely that we should debate this matter today, only two days before the European parliamentary elections. As my right hon. Friend the Minister said, the Bill stems from the need to implement next year the European directive on integrated pollution prevention and control. That is another excellent example of the benefits of being in Europe and of being positive about it.

Contrary to the assertions of foreign imposition and domination made by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), the directive is very much influenced by the United Kingdom's system of integrated pollution control, which is site specific and based on permits, in contrast with the more general countrywide and inflexible controls favoured by many other member states. The European Council has listened to our arguments.

I understand that a significant proportion of the staff at the European Union's integrated pollution prevention and control bureau, which is preparing guidance on these matters for all member states, have been seconded from the Environment Agency for England and Wales. That is an example of positive international co-operation and

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shows how we can be constructive and helpful about Europe, and thus exert significant influence on measures that will benefit not only us, but all of Europe. In an election week, it must be said that that is in sharp contrast to the essentially anti-European position of too many Conservative Members.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) that, although the constitutional and procedural matters raised in great detail in another place are important, by concentrating only on those, the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) gave the impression of a somewhat negative approach to the Bill. He could have said a little more about the positive aspects of pollution control, raising standards for people in this country and throughout the European Union.

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