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Mr. Burns: The responsibility of the official Opposition is to oppose those parts of legislation that we feel are not particularly good or need improving. I made it plain that, in principle, I support the aims of the Bill, because it is based on a directive to which the Conservative Government signed up, but our role is to find and draw attention to areas where we believe it is not ideal.

Mr. Hall: I look forward to positive and constructive interventions from Conservative Members in Committee.

It is widely understood that pollution does not respect international boundaries. It is a global issue and we clearly have to co-operate. The directive is an example of working together for common goals and the common good. It is also an example, in this election week, of the effective stewardship of the British people's interests delivered by the Government's leadership and competence in Europe. We are being listened to in Europe because we are positive about our engagement in Europe.

The directive, usefully, goes further than the UK system of integrated pollution control by requiring energy efficiency and noise to be considered as well as emissions. That is a welcome and important step forward. That good practice is already followed by many organisations and firms in this country, but it is important to set higher minimum standards. The Bill is extremely positive in that respect.

Mr. Gray: I was not being in the slightest bit anti-European. I was merely asking why we need a directive to implement such measures. What are the trans-boundary implications of noise pollution?

Mr. Hall: It depends on how loud the noise is. I hope that, if he serves on the Bill in Committee, the hon. Gentleman will make quiet but constructive noises that will be welcomed by our friends in Europe.

The directive and the Bill lay emphasis on installations, as opposed to the British system, which emphasises processes. That will be helpful. The scope of integrated pollution prevention will be widened to include landfill sites, which will be very welcome to my constituents in Bedford and Kempston, given their proximity to the brick clay pits, which are some of the biggest holes in the ground in this country. Some are still active, but the

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exhausted pits present a potential resource, including that used by the existing huge landfill operation, which deals with domestic and industrial waste, including some extremely toxic materials.

Large food and drink factories and intensive pig and poultry farms will be regulated, as will sewage works, which are frequently a source of local environmental concern. The Bill presents a common system, unifying the European IPPC directive, the UK system and the local air pollution system operated by local council environmental health departments. Many will welcome the idea of a unified, integrated system.

Will my hon. Friend the Minister expand a little further--in Committee, if not tonight--on those three strands? How can a common system work effectively and seamlessly, given that it will be operated nationally by the Environment Agency and locally by hundreds of authorities covering thousands of installations? There are resourcing and communication issues, and we need to ensure consistency between what is done in accordance with the same legislation by different organisations at different levels. That is a crucial question.

The Bill provides an excellent opportunity to deliver something that is crucial to an environmentally sustainable future: the empowerment of all citizens by making it possible easily to obtain clear information about pollution affecting them where they live. That should include information on health outcomes and hazards.

Just as democracy cannot be left only to politicians, so must care for the environment and respect for the planet not be left only to the experts. Of course we need experts' advice and the public must be kept informed, but to achieve really high environmental standards and to reduce or even eliminate pollution wherever possible, the concern and participation of the public are essential. Children are very keen on these matters and by being able to get information adults, too, will be able to contribute more effectively.

I warmly welcome the Government's commitment to comprehensive pollution inventories. Two welcome initiatives have already been introduced this year: the factory watch initiative from Friends of the Earth and the pollution inventory launched by the Environment Agency last month. Both those initiatives will enable the public to get information through the internet about their local environment, but they have only just got under way and there are some limitations. For example, the health threat data that Friends of the Earth have been using is questioned by some. It is based on US definitions, but the principle of having information about health outcomes and hazards is very important, and that work should be continued and strengthened.

The pollution inventory from the Environment Agency is currently restricted to the processes that the agency is able to cover under the regulations, although the scope will be widened. The biggest local source of pollution is usually road traffic, which is not included, but should be; nor are landfill and sewage works, but they will be if the Bill becomes law, as we hope. Indeed, the agency's press release of 12 May says that its wish to expand the pollution inventory to create a truly comprehensive service could be achieved by an amendment to the Bill. I am sure that that issue will be carefully considered in Committee; the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) promised to raise it. He

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mentioned the fact that local councils will have an important role also, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will make some encouraging and instructive remarks about how that area can be developed.

It is important that we make progress in trying to reduce pollution at source. It is also important that we hold the polluter to account. We should recognise that pollution from industrial processes has been reduced in recent years, but we should not take that for granted. There is still a long way to go, and a recent article in The Observer revealed that some parts of the country suffer from releases of high levels of cancer-causing chemicals, dioxins and other toxic waste.

The Bill could help to drive standards up and to push pollution down. To do that, it must embrace the measurement of road traffic pollution. It should require a national pollution inventory to empower the public which is not diluted by unreasonable considerations of commercial confidentiality. It must also include the means to set serious targets, which are important if we are to make progress. We must not stay where we are or take what has happened for granted.

The Bill can help to create the conditions to build a body of good practice and high technological competence so that Britain becomes a centre of excellence. It is appropriate that the birthplace of the industrial revolution should become the place where some of the unacceptable consequences of industrialisation are effectively tackled. We should build up a body of research and information for the benefit of the planet. That will benefit this country and the European Union, and will have tremendous international implications. The Bill has great potential and I welcome it.

7.44 pm

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): The environment is one of the most fashionable causes of the past few decades. It has spawned masses of sacred cows which are trotted out whenever the Government look for a cause that might rouse public concern and interest. It has created many scares, which are good for publicity for the pressure groups, such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, and for businesses such as Ecologika--I shall talk later about how it operates in my constituency--which get fees from other organisations and the Government to tackle problems that often turn out not to be problems after all.

The Bill is designed to appeal to those people who have been, to some extent, taken in by the green lobby. In many cases, people's concerns have been raised needlessly. The Labour party promised those people a clean earth at the election to obtain their votes, but the Government have failed to deliver. They went overboard to secure the green lobby's votes. The tobacco lobby is another good example. The Labour party promised to ban tobacco advertising, only to modify the legislation and to excuse one of the major tobacco advertisers when it came into office.

The concept behind the Bill is riddled with contradictions and anomalies. The Government wish to call a halt to the dash for gas, which will mean more coal pollution, but the gases produced by coal pollution are much more dangerous to the environment than those caused by more efficient fuels, such as gas. If we are serious about reducing pollution, we should realise that atomic energy produces fuel in a much cleaner and

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greener way, although the Labour party would never dream of that solution. The Government's idea of alternative fuel is wind farms, which pollute the visual environment with ghastly concrete fins. The energy produced is accompanied by a horrible screeching, which is a noise pollutant for those who live nearby. Furthermore, the production of wind energy is so uneconomic that the whole wretched business has to be heavily subsidised by Government grants. That is the sort of ridiculous situation that the Government are in as a result of the anomalies and contradictions in their approach.

Landfill sites will get some more attention. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Hall) claimed to represent the landfill site of the nation, but I challenge that. The area that I represent is full of landfill sites. They are smelly, and the flies are so bad in the summer that people living within a mile or more cannot open their windows. The sites spawn rats, mice, sparrows and huge flocks of seagulls which, having fed on a mish-mash of domestic waste, leave their droppings on people's washing. The droppings are full of salmonella and other bacteria. However, the Government oppose the sensible alternative of incineration. They have come up with the fanciful idea that we can recycle everything, but goodness knows where all that recycling is to take place.

The ideas behind the Bill do not deal with realities. The Bill is an attempt to appease a particular group of the population whom the Government kidded to vote for them on the ground that they would produce magical results in environmental improvement. The Government are also leaning on the wretched European directive, which will mean more powers for agencies to bear down on small and large businesses alike. When businesses are forced to implement standards that are inappropriate and expensive, the costs are passed on to the consumer.

There is no such thing as a free environmental improvement measure. All such measures add to costs, both domestic and industrial. It is laughable to suggest that all Europe will abide by regulations such as those that appear in the Bill, and thus improve the competitiveness of our industries.


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