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Mr. Hoon: We have made clear the need to avoid duplicating military capabilities. Returning to the point about more money, we have debated consistently in the House the importance of reforming the UK's military capabilities to take account of the very significant changes in the strategic environment. We need to develop structures in NATO and complementary structures in the EU to persuade our partners and allies to embark on the same course. Many have started on that course, but they need to go further and they need to go faster; otherwise we will see not only a weakening of Europe's contribution to NATO, but a weakening of NATO's position. In the new spirit that pervades the Opposition these days, I invite them to start thinking hard about the importance of European defence, rather than simply having these knee-jerk reactions to that important development.
Mr. Soames: The right hon. Gentleman is in danger of reducing this to a facile argument. There are very important issues at stake, and those are made more serious by the astonishing behaviour of the French and German Governments over the stability pact. Does he accept that reliability is a major factor, and that there is a real question arising from the fact that in these alliances we depend on people turning up, with the kit that they say they will have, on the day that they are due to turn up? People remain extremely anxious about anything that would be outside the NATO umbrella, where all the good military practice exists, which the right hon. Gentleman knows is the key to all successful military operations.
Mr. Hoon: I do not necessarily disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but he is missing the point that I was making. It is a matter of improving European military capabilities and the various ways in which that can be achieved. [Interruption.] I hear from the shadow Foreign Secretary that that must be within NATO, but that is not always so. Not all the United States forces are committed to NATO. Not all of the United Kingdom's forces are necessarily always committed to NATO. It is about developing and harnessing national military forces to be used in the context of NATO and in the context of United Nations operationscoalitions of the willing. It is about having usable, effective military forces. I invite the Opposition to think about how to engage other European nations in that process.
We agree across the Dispatch Box that the United Kingdom has gone a long way towards ensuring that our armed forces are usable and effective in the modern strategic environment. The challenge for the Opposition is to ask themselves why, in a knee-jerk
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): Will the Secretary of State concede that there is a difference in principle between allowing military units to serve in certain operations under NATO and in certain operations under the EU, and establishing a rival military planning headquarters for the EU, which would be a direct rival to what already exists at SHAPE? That is a fundamental change and it is wrong for him to try to fudge that.
Mr. Hoon: I am not in any way trying to fudge that. I said that the developments in the European Union and the improvements in military capability, whether they are in structures, items of equipment or trained forces, need to be complementary to the efforts made through NATO. I emphasise to the House once again that it is important that NATO reforms. NATO was, and largely still is, couched in the cold war. Too much of its organisation, bureaucracy and committees are based on cold war concepts. The challenge for most of our European partners is how to re-organise their armed forces to ensure that those forces are capable, as I believe ours are, of dealing with a modern strategic reality.
Mr. Soames: I imagine that the Secretary of State was intimately involved in the defence capabilities initiative at NATO, where the capabilities have not moved on. He accuses us of being anti-European, but why does he believe that those capabilities would move on outside NATO, when there already exists a coherent, joined-up command structure, with all the means of delivering our military requirements?
Mr. Hoon: As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are countries that give greater weight in their international relationships to membership of the European Union than to membership of NATO. It seems eminently sensible that we should encourage those countries to develop military capabilities, whether through the mechanisms of the EU or through NATO. What difference does it make in the end, if we get better military forces that are better organised and better structured to engage in overseas operations? That must be something on which everyone should agree.
We spoke about multilateralism. That has been a recurring theme of our international relations, and is reflected in Iraq, which is a thoroughly multinational effort. There are currently more than 30 countries on the ground there, contributing military forces, and helping to set the conditions for a secure, stable and prosperous Iraq. The United States continues to provide the bulk of the international presence, but many of our European partners and a host of other countries are helping to provide security in large areas of Iraq, where there is no American presence. As well as providing much-needed military capability, such a
There are many positive developments in Iraq that we simply do not hear as much about as we should. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes for the tribute he paid to the work of British forces in Iraq, and for his acknowledgement of the progress being made in restoring stability there. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that the provision of basic serviceswater, electricity and oilhas improved significantly. Almost all of Iraq's 240 hospitals are now functioning and the child vaccination programme is much wider and more effective than ever before, as is the system for distributing medicine. The school year began last month and more than 1,500 schools have been refurbished.
The petition of residents of the Westbury constituency.
Declares that high rates of council tax impose an unfair financial burden on residents, and on pensioners in particular.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to take steps to prevent rises in council tax & to safeguard the interests of pensioners.
And the Petitioners remain, etc."
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Lafarge Cement works has submitted an application to the Environment Agency to run a trial using recycled liquid fuel. RLF is a soup of things that no one wants: it includes windscreen wash, antiseptic, nail varnish remover, cosmetics, paints and thinners, and photographic material. The cement works already co-incinerates tyres with coal and coke, but there are serious questions about the way in which the Environment Agency has managed permissions to burn tyres. It is therefore understandable that the local public are concerned that their interests will not be adequately protected in relation to RLF. The use of tyres as a substitute fuel has been driven by the need to comply with European Union directives, including the landfill directive. Given that imperative, it is easy to see how the Environment Agency, as an agency of Government, could be steered in a direction that might not be in the direct interest of people who live cheek by jowl with what has become, by the back door, an incinerator in west Wiltshire.
Lord Whitty wrote to me on 30 October in response to a petition raised in my constituency that requested a public inquiry into the use of RLF at the Lafarge Cement works. He was not minded to grant the request, which is a pity, as I believe that there is a need to examine and test in public the evidence on RLF and tyre burning. It is a pity that we are not at this juncture to have the opportunity of a full public inquiry into both matters. I shall press the Minister for the Environment on that point later in my speech, and I am grateful for the opportunity to bring my constituents' concerns to his attention. I am indebted to the Air That We Breathe Group based in Westbury, West Wiltshire district council, Wiltshire Friends of the Earth and, indeed, Lafarge Cement and the Environment Agency for their input. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) shares my concerns, as Devizes lies downwind of the cement works. He has asked to be associated with my remarks.
Let me say at the outset that the cement works in Westbury is a very good local employer. Lafarge, formerly Blue Circle, is actively engaged in the community in west Wiltshire, and provides £10 million a year for the local economy. As a heavy manufacturing concern, it is something of rarity in rural west Wiltshire, and broadens our economic base considerably. The Environment Agency, as the principal statutory authority involved, has a lot of work to do to convince me and, more importantly, my constituents, that the disposal of waste as fuel at the plant will not pose a danger to public health.
The use of substitute fuels is governed by the Environment Agency's substitute fuels protocol, which, unsurprisingly, the cement industry, wants to amend. Indeed, recent decisions by the European Court of Justice have paved the way for that. The Environment Agency says that it is consulting the public on proposals
I worked with the Environment Agency before I became an MP, and developed a healthy respect for it, so I am somewhat saddened that it has not gained the confidence of the public in west Wiltshire. Historically, monitoring procedures regulated by the Environment Agency in connection with the cement works could have been better. Contrary to the impression given at the time, there was no like-for-like comparison of emissions between the old coal/coke regime and the current co-incineration of tyres. Moreover, recent data show that total particulates have gone up since tyres have been burnt at Westbury, and other key pollutants have either gone up or not been monitored at all.
We have little idea of what the electrostatic precipitators in the chimney at the Westbury plant are removing. Surprisingly, the Environment Agency does not seem to know whether they remove small particlesthe so-called PM2.5s, which measure 2.5 microns across or less and have recently been linked to a range of human illnesses. If PM2.5s are venting to atmosphere, there is a potential problem with RLFs. One does not need a GCSE in chemistry to appreciate that halogens are an integral part of solvents. Halogens cling to small particles, so the co-burning of RLFs may increase the amount of highly toxic halogen leaving the plant.
To make matters worse, it seems that we will be disposing of other people's toxic waste. The UK management plant for the export and import of waste sets out policy on the trans-frontier shipment of waste. It is based on the EU waste framework directive, and it rightly bans the import of waste for disposal. However, when is waste not waste? The answer is when the European Court of Justice says that it is an energy recovery material. In other words, people cannot import French RLF to burn in a designated incinerator but they can if it is heading up the A350 to be burnt as a fuel at the French-owned Westbury cement works.
The Environment Agency may refuse the Lafarge application following the receipt of a health impact assessment from the primary care trust. That assessment is overdue, and is eagerly awaited. However, the Environment Agency stated from the outset, in a slightly prejudicial way, that it was minded to allow the trial. The Minister may have a view on that, and he will perhaps agree with me that if a trial is permitted at Westbury, it must be subject to the heaviest scrutiny. It must have a minimum three-month baseline monitoring period so that changes in atmospheric pollution during the burning of RLF and afterwards can be properly
It must be clear to the public during any trial period that air quality is not deteriorating. If it is, the trial must be stopped immediately. Assurances must be given to my constituents living along the A350, and particularly in the town of Westbury and the villages of Yarnbrook and West Ashton, that they will not be put at risk from tankers bearing toxic material. If that assurance cannot be given, transport by the existing rail link into the cement works must be a condition of the trial.
Finally, and this is vital, if the Government are to have any chance of convincing sceptics such as me that our backyard has not become home to a back-door incinerator, there must be an unequivocal undertaking that unless any trial gives confirmation of environmental benefit, no definitive permissions shall be granted at the end of the trial.
Lord Whitty has rejected a public inquiry at this stage. I very much regret that, because such an inquiry would have clarified many issues, both to do with RLF and other novel fuels. Certainly it was the wish of my constituents that one should be carried out at this juncture. I hope that the Minister can give me some of the assurances that my constituents seek today.