Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I shall have great pleasure in conveying congratulations from your Lordships' House to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development. One of the strengths of the White Paper is the emphasis it places on the new and stronger partnership it is advocating for poverty alleviation. Those partnerships should be with developing countries, other development agencies, the private sector and voluntary agencies. As I said, it is not just a question of aid but, as the noble Lord has stated, of greater coherence across a number of different areas of government activity.

The White Paper reflects the collective use of governments and its preparation involved detailed discussion among many departments. The departments will continue to work together, giving greater priority than in the past to the developing country dimension. I would remind your Lordships that we will be establishing a working group of educationalists and others to improve the education issues--not just those from the DfEE but others with expertise in this area--and that there will also be an annual development policy forum representing many different strands in this country, many different strands of thought and many

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1397

different organisations who have an interest in international development. There will be an annual report explaining how the White Paper is achieving its objectives each year.

The Viscount of Oxfuird: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her repetition of the Statement in this House. Can I just go back again to the importance of the aid and trade provision? Perhaps she may have had an opportunity of looking at an application form for the provision, where she will see that the information required by any applicant for this facility is very detailed and in very great depth. It is also a two-way operation. Not only does it apply to the country where the equipment, or whatever it may be, is going to be shipped, but it also applies to the United Kingdom. Certain questions on the aid and trade provision form demand detailed information on unemployment rates, the industries involved, the subsuppliers and a great deal of very important information. Therefore, I suggest that the noble Baroness might look at this application form, because it contains a wealth of information.

My second question is: where is the law deficient, so as to make it necessary to have a new international development Act? Perhaps she can tell the House.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I regret I have not looked at an ATP form--I do not suppose that that comes as a surprise to the noble Lord. However, I can assure him that my right honourable friend and her officials will have looked closely at the forms.

Many projects previously supported by ATP would not now be eligible following the introduction of new OECD rules--the Helsinki disciplines. In those cases British businesses can compete equally with foreign firms without subsidies from the taxpayer. The White Paper makes clear that mixed credits may be available if a project fits squarely within a country's poverty elimination strategy.

The noble Lord asks where the current legislation is deficient. Current legislation does not put the Government's objective of poverty elimination at the heart of the aid programme. There is a new emphasis. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggested to the House that somehow these were the same old policies recycled. That is clearly not the case. The Government may wish, having taken further advice--I stress the importance of consultation in this matter--to bring forward legislation to ensure that it is clear that poverty eradication lies at the heart of the Government's policy.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, perhaps I can join in the general chorus of congratulations and commend in particular the Minister's emphasis on development education. That is an important passage in both the Statement and the White Paper. Now that the Government are doing the right thing in the White Paper, do they believe that support for development overseas will win elections? The reason for the lamentable decline in our gross national product percentage is because the Conservatives never thought that there were votes in overseas development. Can we

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1398

hear something from the Minister in regard to the Government's commitment to the electorate over the next five years? We shall do well with schools through development education, but the wider public needs to understand what the Government are doing.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I have enough respect for the British public to believe that it supports poverty elimination; that it feels strongly about needless poverty where we find it in the world. We had no clearer demonstration of that than the recent sad events in relation to the tragic death of the Princess of Wales and the fact that she devoted so much of her time to children in poverty and related issues. Many people felt that something extraordinarily worthwhile was being undertaken.

However, we are not doing this for votes. The Government believe that needless poverty ought to be tackled and that what we are doing is right. The current position is repugnant and a government dedicated to ethical foreign policy should take a lead. We are doing what we said we would do in our manifesto and doing it with considerable energy.

Environmental Protection and Enhancement

Debate resumed.

4.33 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: My Lords, in the Ugandan villages where I lived for some years, and where I feel it appropriate to mention on a personal note that we lost a child, the issue of the elimination of poverty would not be thought to be an interruption to a debate on the environment. In those communities poverty was the main threat to the environment. The lack of proper fuels meant that forests were continually being destroyed. Women need firewood as well as education and therefore the issue of the elimination of poverty and the environment are totally interconnected.

So too with water supplies. Water supplies were continually being polluted in the areas where we lived because, as part of the environment, they had to support--hopelessly inadequately--a crying need for the proper distribution of water. I hope therefore that we view the Minister's Statement as no interruption of the debate on the environment. The environment has, as one of its principal enemies, the ongoing existence of poverty.

It is a privilege to be able to speak in this debate from these Benches early on--I am conscious of the privilege--since concern for the environment has a key place in many religious views of the world, including the Christian view. It must be admitted that such religious views have often been ambiguous in their effects. In particular, Christianity has been used to support the exploitation of the natural world. The well-known command in Genesis to subdue the earth has been seen in the past as giving people licence to despoil the environment unthinkingly.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1399

But that is not the whole picture. More pervasive than the idea of dominion has been the concept of responsible stewardship as a deeply religious impulse, the model of that quiet care for creation as found in the Celtic and Franciscan traditions. At its heart the Judaeo-Christian tradition expresses a profound and joyful reverence for the whole of the environment in its place in God's created world.

More recently, care and attention to the environment has been clearly linked with another imperative--a very simple one; that is, the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves. The natural order we now see is a web of inter-relatedness. We are not loving our neighbours if we pollute their environment, threaten their health or quality of life, or demand or encourage the production of cheap food and goods which tempt them to despoil or pollute their environment. Nor--this is a new widening of the understanding of "neighbour"--dare we forget our neighbours who will come after us. We have not only inherited the earth from our fathers; but we are also borrowing it from our children and grandchildren.

What is the nature of the responsibilities which we owe to other species, both plants and animals, to the fabric of the earth, to its soil, its rocks, its mineral resources and of course the earth's atmosphere? I am glad to join with the noble Lord, Lord Williams, in congratulating the last government and the present Government on their commitment to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in an attempt to slow down atmospheric change.

Perhaps I may draw attention to the fact that a constituency which I represent--the Churches--are taking action on these matters. Next month the World Council of Churches will be presenting a petition at the climate change negotiations in Kyoto. That petition has already been signed by thousands of people in the industrialised countries across the world. By signing they have committed themselves to changing their own lifestyles in order to use less of the world's resources and to lobbying their governments into taking stronger action to reduce climate change. The petitioners are also aware of other related questions. How may we use energy itself more efficiently?

It is regrettable that the schemes for home insulation and other insulation sponsored by the public utilities and the Government were cut in two previous Budgets. A 1992 White Paper showed that there is scope for power generation from renewable sources. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, described those sources of power from renewables as minuscule. Does the Minister believe that they are insignificant? There have been debates in this House in relation to wind power, the burning of waste and coppicing schemes. What is the present Government's policy in those respects?

There are also national issues to be addressed. What, for example, is the future of our water supply within our own nation? There are disturbing predictions about future demand for water exceeding supply in some parts of the country. Recently, Church leaders in the north west made a submission to the inquiry set up by the

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1400

Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions about the way we pay for our water. They recognised the need for price mechanisms to regulate use. But this group of Church leaders also expressed concern about the effects of metering. Although this appears to be fair, metering does not always take into account the different circumstances of people's lives and the amount of water they may need in order to maintain good standards of hygiene. This is particularly true of households with elderly people or households which contain disabled or sick members, where extra demands on water may be above average in a particular household.

The Church is not alone in this view about the water supply. Barnardos, Save the Children and the BMA have all expressed similar concerns. Action to conserve resources is essential, but will the costs of such action fall disproportionately on disadvantaged sections of society? Environmental concern and social justice must, if at all possible, go together.

Finally, I want to encourage the noble Lord, Lord Williams, in reporting that there is much support in local communities and in local churches for this attention to the environment to which he is calling us. There is participation in the local Agenda 21 process since Rio. There are imaginative schemes to heat our churches more efficiently. There is increasing use of recycling and of environmentally friendly products. There is the development of conservation schemes on land where it is still owned by churches.

It is over a decade since the Church and Conservation Project was set up at the Arthur Rank Centre at Stoneleigh. It continues its work. One element of that work has been to encourage churches to manage their churchyards in such a way as to provide habitats for wildlife and to protect rare species of plants and lichens. In my own diocese there are increasing numbers of people taking part in a Best Kept Churchyard competition. That is in an area stretching from the Peak District down to Stourbridge and from Burton-on-Trent right across to the Welsh Border. There is a take-up for this kind of concern.

I am glad also to report that this concern for churchyards is not restricted to sentimental images of country churchyards. It exists in urban parishes also. There is not much wildlife in Tipton or West Bromwich, but care carries a message about partnership in urban regeneration.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for calling this debate. I trust that it will be heard in international agencies, such as the World Trade Organisation, among our multinational corporations, in our national planning and in our own choices. Unless we can achieve a widely accepted environmental ethic, there is little hope of significant change. A religious vision may be able to undergird that ethic which we seek.

4.44 p.m.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, let me first say how delighted I am to be able to make my maiden speech in this extremely important debate on the

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1401

environment; and, indeed, how proud I am to be a Member of this House. It is a great privilege to be here. I also at the outset express my thanks that an attempt not far short of 400 years ago today, in 1605, radically to change the environment of this place, completely failed.

The environment, for me, must be addressed in all its aspects--whether it is in the home, the workplace, the community, in Britain or, most importantly of all, throughout the world. But to ensure that the protection of all areas of our environment is tackled for the benefit of all human beings, it seems to me that everyone should be encouraged to become more sensitive about our environment.

Apart from governments, local authorities, employers and other organisations, citizens everywhere must be persuaded to develop a keen awareness of the need to sustain the environment and avoid the dangers that could one day take us beyond the point of no return to catastrophe. There is no doubt that with continuing global industrialisation and the many complex changes taking place, we will not, during this debate, be able to say all that needs to be said. Nevertheless, I hope that I shall be able to assist the House in the short contribution I make.

Our environment is plagued enough by natural disasters throughout the world without us adding to the difficulties by neglecting our responsibilities and allowing man-made disasters to get out of control to the detriment of us all. In this country, we may justly feel that we are among the most fortunate of people. Few natural disasters afflict us, though we have had our problems over the years. Lynmouth comes immediately to mind; winter snows in various parts of the country, particularly in Scotland; the uprooting of millions of trees in freak storms 10 years ago--all impacting on the environment, if only for a short time. As a child I well remember the snows and subsequent flooding during the winter of 1946-47 that created major problems for the post-war Labour Government.

The impact of industrialisation made a lasting impression on me from an early age. Two centuries of environment damaging activity through the development of coal mines, iron works and steel works, mills and factories, all had a detrimental effect on the health of people. When I left school at 15 and went to work in the steel works at Port Talbot, 14 miles from my home in the Vale of Glamorgan, I saw the blast furnaces, the coke ovens and the melting shops discharge their waste into the atmosphere 24 hours a day, waste which fell on the communities not only of Port Talbot itself, but also on the communities of Aberavon, Taibach and Margam, leaving layers of dust even on the insides of people's homes.

But I suppose the most poignant impact of man's neglect and indifference to the environment came home to me 31 years ago last week, when I attended the funeral of well over 100 small children who had their lives taken from them in the small south Wales village of Aberfan. By continuing to pile pit waste on tips for generation after generation without adequate safeguards, combined with heavy rain, this man-made mountain was

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1402

turned into an avalanche that buried the school to which the children had gone that morning, a school in which the children felt safe and secure. The least we can do to make amends for avoidable disasters of this kind is to take all the precautions we can to prevent greater tragedies in the future.

When we look beyond our shores and witness the natural environmental disasters that occur elsewhere, we here in Britain can appreciate how fortunate we are. The catalogue of catastrophes is a long one--earthquakes in Japan, Peru and Mexico; volcanic eruptions in the Philippines, North America and currently in Montserrat with such devastating results; and mass flooding, particularly in central Europe, in the USA and India where states of emergency have been declared. I am sure your Lordships could add to these tenfold.

For the world to have to contend with the effects of natural disasters is more than enough. But to add to our difficulties by neglecting our responsibilities to safeguard our environment from monumental destruction of our own making seems to me to be nothing short of criminal.

Arising from my international trade union responsibilities with both USDAW and the TUC, I was, on more than a few occasions, appalled at the suffering inflicted on working people in developing countries. I am thinking of the Bhopal disaster; the terrible deaths of young women locked in factory fires in China and Thailand; the cruel suffering of hundreds of thousands of young children in the Indian sub-continent who even in the 1990s have been sold into slavery and spend short and miserable lives breathing in choking brick dust, or noxious fumes, or lethal asbestos fibres, which will disable them and leave them in agony before it kills them.

Of course, there are controls, rules and regulations; but what we see happening tells us that still a great deal more needs to be done. Indeed, we do not need to go to Asia or Latin America, for example, to see the pollution created by the motor car. We must take particular care in the production of nuclear energy and in the transportation and storage of nuclear waste. As we become more dependent on nuclear energy, the British nuclear industry must be reinforced in the view that the cost of preventing a nuclear disaster can never be too high.

Internationally, the environmental disasters taking place before our very eyes are frightening. We have the forest fires of Indonesia out of control and having an environmental impact on the whole South East Asian region, damaging the health of the people living there. And we know of the rain forest destruction, the long-term effects of which cannot be fully calculated, but which will undoubtedly be extremely damaging.

We must appreciate that the responsibility for environmental protection is everybody's in both the developed and developing world. But there is not a level playing field. In striving for a better living in the rich countries, we must never lose sight of the need to enable all people to grow and live truly human lives. We ourselves need to learn to be and to develop, rather than solely to possess and consume the resources of the

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1403

planet recklessly. This is an area that certainly cannot be left to the market. As a Christian, I believe that governments, singly and in co-operation, have a profound duty to provide protection for the good things that are common to all. This certainly applies to the natural and human environments which cannot be protected by the unrestricted operation of economic forces.

At this point I want to record my welcome of the response of Her Majesty's Government to the devoted, selfless commitment of Diana, Princess of Wales, to clearing the appalling proliferation of landmines around the globe.

We know that for the well-being of all of us there are three factors necessary. They are: wealth creation; social justice; and environmental protection. If we want the developing countries to assist in environmental protection we must ensure that they are helped to create wealth and share the fruits of that wealth without destroying the environment. They will need aid and not lecturing.

At this point I take the opportunity of congratulating my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development for the publication today of her White Paper Eliminating World Poverty.

We in the developed countries must lead by example. We know that emissions into the atmosphere are damaging the ozone layer and creating global warming. Whatever the circumstances and whatever the pressures, we must regret the retreat of the United States from the 1992 Rio agreement. Our hope now must be that disillusionment will not lead to a break up of international co-operation to tackle this problem before it becomes a catastrophe which we will no longer be able to do anything about. Anything we fail to do now may never have an adverse effect on us, but as sure as night follows day, it will upon the generations to come.

So I leave noble Lords with these words, which are not original, and have been referred to by the right reverend Prelate. I believe they should be a spur to all of us to do everything in our power to protect and improve the whole of our environment. These words are: we did not inherit this world from our ancestors, we have only borrowed it from our children.

4.54 p.m.

Lord Desai: My Lords, all noble Lords will agree that it is a very pleasant duty and privilege to congratulate the noble Lord on an excellent maiden speech. He has had a long life of activity in the trade union movement. I am sure that noble Lords will also agree with me that he has demonstrated today his deep commitment to an international view of our problems and his great concern for equity. I am sure all noble Lords will agree that it was a moving maiden speech and I hope that he can make many more in our House in the future.

We are all very grateful to my noble friend Lord Williams for introducing this wide-ranging debate. I want to follow up three important points. First, I stress, as other speakers have done, that the issue of the

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1404

environment and sustainable development is also one of international equity. Indeed, it is also a matter of domestic equity, as the right reverend Prelate said. Poverty causes many environmental problems, both here and abroad. So we have to think of equity when we think of the environment.

Secondly, however, when we tackle environmental problems we have to remember not to ask for the impossible or to imagine that we shall all behave in an altruistic fashion. We have to devise policies which give us all incentives to behave better so that it is in our interests to behave in a way that will improve matters for our children.

Thirdly, I also want to say something about global warming in particular. As an example of the equity problem, without doubt the developed countries have a major responsibility for having generated much of the greenhouse gas emissions we now suffer from. It is the duty of these countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as best they can. We also have to remember that, even if we reduce them to practically nothing, the problem of global warming will not necessarily go away because although there is now a very low level of emissions from the developing countries that will grow. So at some stage we have to strike a balance between reducing the emissions from the rich countries and encouraging the development process in poor countries so that while they fulfil their legitimate aspirations for prosperity they do so in a way that does not exacerbate the environmental problem.

Obviously, many of these issues will come up at Kyoto. The poor countries will argue that it is the task of the rich countries first to reduce greenhouse gas emissions rather than insist that the poorer countries do anything immediately in that respect. In a sense that is quite right, but at Kyoto we shall have to take a much longer perspective than just the year 2010.

The problem with global warming is twofold. There are the day-to-day emissions and there is also the problem of the concentrate level in the atmosphere. In a sense it is what economists call a "stock and flow" problem. As the flow adds to the stock we have to worry. Eventually it is the concentration of effluent in the atmosphere which matters.

That requires very careful consideration of the policies that we may adopt. I have been involved in the United States in an advisory capacity with the Battelle Memorial Institute in which we have been modelling international environmental problems. It transpires that many of the policies that we shall have to concentrate on require a perspective of 30 to 40 years.

To begin with, we must make quite sure that, even if we are not about to change our consumption habits, we measure energy more efficiently. We must also encourage every invention which contains new processes for producing commodities that we consume now. The new processes will be more efficient in terms of the environment. We must also be encouraged to change our consumption patterns.

Perhaps I may give an example. If we insist on having motor cars, first we must make them more energy-efficient. However, we must also find some

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1405

means of transportation which is less polluting than the motor car. Finally, I hope that we can eventually give up our motor cars and travel on more energy-efficient public transport. Those three steps are all different and necessary, but they all require carefully thought-out price incentives and other inducements to behave ourselves. This will not be easy. It is not simply that we must be self-sacrificing or take drastic steps right now; we must carefully think about how we can dovetail the reduction in emissions from the rich countries and the increasing emissions from the poorer countries in such a way as not to threaten the environment.

One problem is how to create an equitable system across the world. My noble friend Lord Williams referred to pricing mechanisms. One suggestion which has been in the air for quite some time and which was endorsed by the UN Conference on Trade and Development is the introduction of tradable permits in environmental pollution. The introduction of tradable permits in phosphorus emissions has already been successfully tried in the United States. Such permits are being traded and have led to a reduction in phosphorus emissions there. I wonder whether it is possible to devise a similar scheme of tradable permits so that the poorer and more populous countries have surplus environmental pollution permits while the rich countries have to buy or lease such permits from the poorer countries.

There would be two consequences of that. It would not only regulate the amount of pollution in the atmosphere because there would be a price to pay for it, but, if successful, it would effect an international transfer of resources whereby the rich countries would pay the poor countries for permission to pollute the atmosphere more than they really should. For the time being, the poor countries would use those resources to refashion their production technology and processes in such a way so that, when they reach our level of prosperity, they will not pollute the atmosphere as much as we do right now.

Although that is a complex way of thinking about global warming, it is operationally feasible. All that is lacking is the international will, and the mechanisms, to implement such policies. It is important that we not only talk about targets, limits and 2010, but that we ensure that we begin to construct the institution of governance which will make possible such international tradable permits in pollution. That would be a very good step forward.

Turning briefly to domestic issues, the same logic applies. Perhaps I may give one example to contest what the right reverend Prelate said about the metering of water supplies. It is true that needs are very different across different families, but the way to tackle the problem is not to prevent water pricing or water metering. I believe that water should be priced properly for everybody. If people need extra water they should be subject to income transfers, which are a much better way of tackling the problem than price cuts. It is a great fallacy to believe that if we could only sell water or energy to the poor at lower prices, life would be better.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1406

Unfortunately, when we do that, it is the rich who benefit, not the poor, because the rich consume more water than the poor.

I give another example, which will not go down very well with my noble friend on the Front Bench. I refer to the cutting of VAT on domestic fuel. The rich consume much more domestic fuel than the poor and, when we cut VAT on domestic fuel, all that we do is subsidise the rich. It is difficult to say this because, politically, it is obvious that there are votes in cutting VAT on domestic fuel. However, it is not good environmental practice. As I do not think that I shall ever convince anybody of those arguments, perhaps I should move on.

I am pleased that my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister is now thinking about road pricing. I believe that that will be possible soon. Given all the fuss that is made about passive smoking, I wonder why nobody considers what the motor car is doing to the environment. I believe that a time-varying road-pricing policy should be introduced. At certain times of the day, we could ease the flow of traffic and make people in their own private decisions take into account the social costs that they are imposing when they use their motor cars.

Now that we on these Benches are talking about price mechanisms as a means of solving problems both domestically and internationally, and when we agree that there is all-party concern about the environment, I believe that we have arrived at a point from which we can only make progress.

5.5 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, environmental protection is a very broad subject, as a glance at the current annual report on the United Kingdom's strategy, This Common Inheritance, reveals all too clearly, and one must of necessity be highly selective in one's comments in a short and, I hope, non-controversial maiden speech. Most of my remarks will therefore be related to the rural areas and transport policy.

When I was elevated to this august peerage, I chose as my territorial title the very lovely mountain of Talyfan which overlooks my home in the Conway Valley on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park. As I have been looking up to the mountain for nearly 30 years and enjoying its infinite variety of moods and appearance, I thought it only right that I should acknowledge the long-established affinity between us. There has been no objection from the mountain as yet.

To the casual visitor, the mountain has not changed over the years, but those of us who live at its foot are well aware of the visual threat posed by over-grazing on the Crown land half of the mountain, which contrasts unfavourably with the other half, where the grazing is more controlled. The problem of over-grazing is endemic in many parts of Wales and in uplands elsewhere. It will have to be addressed sooner or later in the long-term interests of the traditional protectors of the hill areas, the farming community who depend on them for their livelihood.

The importance of international protection of the environment was brought home to us by the Chernobyl disaster which necessitated a lengthy period of isolation

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1407

and the testing of sheep for radiation to prevent harmful elements entering the food chain. I well remember an earlier scare when unacceptable levels of strontium 90 were found in the Cambrian range and I, for one, need no reminder that we must keep the hills as places where sheep may safely graze.

I have mentioned just two aspects of environmental protection on my doorstep at home because I am sure that each and every one of your Lordships, wherever you may live, could produce a similar list of particular concerns. You may also agree with me that our efforts to deal with them are not invariably pleasing to all--or, indeed, wholly satisfactory.

Wind power, for example, which appeared to offer a limited, alternative source of energy, has its visual disadvantages, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams implied. More and more eyebrows are raised as large wind farms threaten to dominate some very sensitive landscapes. Of course, this is a controversial area and all that I shall venture to say at this moment is that the controversy is more likely to increase than diminish as the Government seek to reach their alternative energy targets. This reflects a conflict of priorities within the environmental protection field, and the right balance must be found.

When one reads in The Times that there is increasing pressure on the Prime Minister to phase out fossil fuels in favour of solar, wind and wave energy, it is clear that the Government will be faced with some very hard choices. The future of the coal-mining industry appears to be in jeopardy. Other interests and forms of employment are threatened if the pressure that is being mounted is effective in influencing policy and the decisions that flow from it. We are all aware that environmental protection is not achievable without cost. The steady annual increase of 5 per cent. in real terms in petrol and diesel duties to help meet air quality objectives is a clear example of how cutting the level of air pollutants directly affects the vehicle user's pocket.

While the urban driver, who may well have an alternative form of transport, is reconciled to the increasing cost, the rural driver, who is generally highly dependent upon private transport, feels increasingly aggrieved at having to contribute to maintain the freshness of the largely unpolluted air around him. Every effort must be made to ensure that the financial costs of environmental protection are, and are seen to be, fairly shared as far as that is possible. That point was made by the right reverend Prelate in nobler terms than I have made it. We must be aware of the potentially disparate costs of living in the countryside; otherwise, we may find ourselves threatened by rural depopulation on an unacceptable scale.

The annual report indicates that the previous government--and, I assume, the present Government--aimed to get more people on bicycles. The Government have adopted an indicative target of doubling current levels of cycling by 2002 and doubling it again by 2012. Even then, we shall probably have a long way to go before we achieve the levels of cycling to be seen in Vietnam where a family of five on one bicycle, or a cyclist with two trussed pigs on the pillion, is a

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1408

common, everyday sight. If we are all to be recycled in this way I hope that adequate safety measures will be taken not just for cyclists but for pedestrians as well. I found crossing a street in Hanoi to be one of the major hazards of life.

During my 15 years as a Minister at the Welsh Office one of my responsibilities was for roads in Wales. I am glad to say that the road network was considerably improved during that time. In particular, we completed the upgrading and dualling of the A.55 Chester to Bangor expressway, among other things.

I wholeheartedly agree with paragraph 50 of the annual report that:

    "road transport is a key economic and social requirement"
and that:

    "The challenge is to find the right balance of transport policies and activities to support people's freedom of choice, the needs of the economy and the needs of the environment".
But it seems to me that there has been an excessively adverse reaction in recent years against new roads. That is a reaction that we may well come to regret in the not too distant future if the economy continues to prosper. There is an undeniable and unavoidable correlation between economic growth and growth in road traffic. My experience is that the latter is a direct consequence of the former.

With one or two notable exceptions, we do not build new roads in this country until they are absolutely necessary. New roads are usually built in the nick of time, just before the existing roads reach full capacity and traffic congestion becomes unbearable. For example, that was the situation when the second Severn Bridge was opened. Good roads are the arteries of business and commerce. They are safer and cause less pollution than the congested highways that they replace. To be an advocate of new roads nowadays is so unfashionable that I can say this without causing too much stir in your Lordships' House.

I return to the countryside and express regret at the way that it is treated by many visitors, both local and from afar. In spite of the bins provided by local authorities in laybys in my area, litter thrown from passing cars onto the roadside is visible everywhere. Empty cans and cartons abound, and it is clear that the perpetrators have never respected the injunction to keep Britain tidy. The proper disposal of personal or family rubbish is, surely, the most fundamental form of environmental protection. I am sure that your Lordships agree that there is a growing need for sharper public education and action in this field.

I end by saying that I believe a great deal was achieved by the previous government in the protection of the environment. I am glad that the present Government are to build on those sound foundations.

5.16 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, on behalf of the whole House I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, on his maiden speech. This is not his first maiden speech. His maiden speech in another place must have been made 20-odd years ago. I believe that that was the forerunner to a very

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1409

successful career in that place. His speech today indicates that his experience has given him the opportunity to contribute much to our debates in this House. We look forward to hearing him on many occasions in the future.

My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel opened this debate by drawing a wide canvas. He indicated that within that canvas there were many smaller vignettes that should be spoken to. I want to talk about the problem of polluted water from disused mines. This problem affects all areas of the United Kingdom where coal-mining has existed in the past. My comments draw on the experience of West and South Yorkshire which currently experience many of these problems. This subject is not new to your Lordships' House. Some noble Lords will recall the debates during the passage of the Coal Industry Bill 1994. At that time the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, then chairman of the National Rivers Authority, and others expressed concern and warned the government of the day of future problems that would arise because of water pollution. This problem was also a matter of concern in the other place. Members representing mining constituencies graphically warned the then Minister of growing problems. My noble friend Lord Hardy, whose interest in flora and fauna is well known, spoke about the pollution of rivers which affected trout and other fishing. That is a matter of concern to many noble Lords. He spoke also of the danger to important nature reserves in south Yorkshire. He and other Members referred to the lack of specific powers in the Bill which was then going through Parliament.

When mines close and pumping stops, the water table rises. Water which is heavily polluted with iron, sulphur and other heavy metals seeks outlets wherever it can. The Coalfield Communities Campaign rightly claims that water can cause problems in three major ways. First, polluted water which escapes to the surface can destroy the amenity and recreational value of rivers and streams. Noble Lords who have walked in areas which have contained mines will recall the streams of yellow ochre, which are not pleasant. Economic activity is restricted when clean water is needed for industrial extraction, irrigation, livestock watering and farming. Secondly, rising minewaters, still underground, can affect surface development such as building foundations and other infrastructure works and land drainage. Thirdly, where methane has gathered underground, rising minewater can force it to the surface. If it escapes in built-up areas it endangers life. That has happened in the East Midlands area. The water problem arises not only from recently closed mines but from mines which have been closed for many years. No one knows exactly when and where the problem will occur.

Apart from my interest in environmental matters generally, my specific interest arises from my chairmanship of the National Coal Mining Museum for England--and here I must declare an interest. The museum is affected by the problem. In February this year, water was found to be coming into the museum and endangering it. We had to discover what was causing that and therefore commissioned a survey from IMC Limited, the leading firm of consultants working

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1410

on water in mines. It appears that when the pumping complex at Woolley was set up, British Coal estimated that it would be treating some 2,300 gallons of water per minute. However, it has consistently treated only 1,700 gallons per minute.

It is now believed that the missing water has been blocked from getting to Woolley and that it has built up above the underground section of the museum. As a consequence, in August this year the Mines Inspectorate rightly insisted that the underground section should be closed. If the closure of the underground section were to be permanent, the viability of the museum would be undermined. That would be an enormous loss to our industrial heritage.

The Royal Commission on Industrial Heritage, in surveying all the coalfield sites in England, identified only four areas in which there was an entire colliery complex. It recommended that the four areas should be scheduled and listed. One of those was Caphouse colliery, the site of the National Coal Mining Museum for England. That site was identified as being unique because of a number of features.

I hope that the particular problems of the museum will be resolved at a meeting later this week, but its problems expose a much wider problem. The study by IMC Limited suggested that something must be done because, if nothing were done, it was likely that at some time an outflow in excess of 1,000 gallons per minute would result at three points in the area of west Yorkshire and possibly in other unknown places too. That was confirmed by the principal inspector of mines, who said that even if the museum closed it was not necessarily the end of the water problem. The workings would fill with water and eventually find a way to the surface via adits.

The problem is much wider than that which concerns me as chairman of the museum. It is a problem about which Yorkshire Water is also greatly concerned. During the past few years, the company has invested some £82 million on improving its waste water treatment works in order to improve the quality of water in the rivers Calder and Dearne and has brought about a considerable improvement in the quality of the water. For the five years from 1995 to 2000 it proposes to invest a further £96 million on waste water treatment works. It is concerned that the treatment of water in the Calder, which it hopes will eventually be used for drinking purposes, will be brought to naught by a new pollution problem in the area.

This growing area of pollution was referred to in both Houses during the passage of the Coal Industry Bill. However, we were assured that the matter was covered by the Bill and that responsibility would pass from British Coal to the Coal Authority. We were assured that the Coal Authority would inherit the responsibilities of British Coal. Yet there is doubt on the part of the Coal Authority that it has powers in this area and there is also doubt in the minds of those representing the Environment Agency. Only today the agency issued a statement indicating that surcharge discharges are a legacy of past mining operations, with no one legally responsible.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1411

The case is not entirely bleak because partnerships are being formed. I understand from the Environment Agency's statement that a particular project with various partners will result in the purification of the water and will conclude with extractions from the water being used for industrial purposes; in other words, for brick manufacturing. It is a difficult problem, and one of resources, and I know that the Minister may have difficulty in responding to it. However, I suggest that unless something is done in the immediate term the Government will be faced with an even larger problem in the future.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, before I start my maiden speech perhaps I may say how courteous, friendly and helpful both Peers and staff have been to me since I entered the House.

At the centre of modern British political thinking is the question of change and how government policy should respond to this change. Enormous and somewhat frightening changes are taking place in three key areas. These are the world environment, the global economy and the security of our nation.

The question that arises is how our nation should respond to these enormous changes. I believe the essence of our response in this modern world must be based on the co-operation of nation states. The United Nations, the European Union, NATO, G7 and GATT are just some of the institutions in which nations work together. This co-operation makes the governance of our nation much more complex than it ever was in the earlier part of the century. Governments now have to consult with other countries before making decisions. To a growing extent, decisions are made jointly in the new institutions of the modern world. The Council of Ministers is one very good example of this.

I shall first address the question of the world environment. I have no doubt that in the world fora on the environment Britain's voice can best be heard through the European Union. The United States is doing great damage to the environment and, unquestionably, there has to be a change of policy in that country. The collective voice of the European Union has far more chance of encouraging change in the United States than has any individual nation state.

A big and exciting opportunity is now before us in the European Union for improving the environment in those countries falling into the category of Central and Eastern European countries which wish to accede to the European Union.

The next wave of the European Union enlargement could comprise five Central and Eastern European countries--namely, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. The entry negotiations for these countries are likely to start next year. However, one of the conditions in these early negotiations will deal with the cleaning up of the environment and the restructuring of outdated and dirty industries.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1412

In parallel with all this has been the PHARE Project of the European Union, which aims to support the 11 Central and Eastern European countries during their transition to the European Union. All of this provides a great opportunity to reduce the appalling pollution in the notorious Black Triangle region.

The second area of change that I referred to earlier is the globalisation of world markets. I hope that during the British presidency of the European Union, which starts on 1st January 1998, emphasis will be given to the opportunities for Britain and the European Union which arise from globalisation. These global markets are continuing with their rapid development and are involved each day with enormous numbers of financial transfers, using the latest high speed communications technology. The speed of operation and the level of interaction last week among currency markets--for example, in Hong Kong, New York and London--illustrated the way in which these global markets operate. Speculation was intense, with no international authority existing to regulate the operation of the markets.

I believe that the only way to counter such speculative abuse of the currency markets is for countries to work together in co-operation and for the rules controlling the markets to be strengthened. In my opinion, one of the most effective ways of dealing with abuses of the currency markets in Europe is for there to be a single currency. However, I have always believed that such a currency should be a hard currency, and nothing else will do.

In addition to the changes associated with the environment and the global economy to which I have referred, the third important area of change is that of security. With the break-up of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the threats to our security have changed from superpower conflict involving massive nuclear weapons and stockpiles to more localised conflicts using high technology smart weapons which hardly ever seem to miss their targets. We saw this new kind of war on our television screens during the Gulf conflict.

In addition to the new style of war, however, we have a new co-operation taking place between European nations, leading eventually to growing NATO membership, and this I welcome very much.

The foreign affairs and security pillar in the Maastricht Treaty is now providing a mechanism for the European Union to contribute in a co-ordinated fashion to NATO in a fairer way rather than leaving too much of the burden on our American friends.

How do we respond to the enormous changes that have taken place in recent years? Security of our country must always be top priority, but how best do we achieve this? I believe that enlargement of the European Union will reduce the potential threat of war in Europe.

The Bosnian war was a great tragedy. In price terms alone, the intervention of troops cost $11 billion and there were 400,000 refugees. This is an enormous price tag for an operation which caused so much disillusionment among many supporting countries. This sort of war in Europe should never be allowed to happen again.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1413

In the last two world wars approximately 60 million lives were lost. The rationale behind European co-operation was to prevent this tremendous waste of life recurring. Many of our servicemen who lost their lives were really only children, teenagers.

Perhaps I may end by saying that last week my wife and I visited Brookwood Cemetery, just one of hundreds of military cemeteries in Europe. With the indulgence of the House I would like to read out a few names, just some of those who gave their young lives for our country: Private E.E. Holiday, the Buffs, died 6th February 1941, age 18; Lance Corporal J. Gibson, Duke of Wellington's Regiment, died 18th February 1919, age 19; Driver R.H. Auty, Canadian Field Artillery, died 19th July 1917, age 18; Lance Sergeant P.W. Staunton, Rifle Brigade, died 6th July 1918, age 20; Private A.W. Harding, Middlesex Regiment, died 15th November 1918, age 19; Private E.C.S. Colbran-Baker, Labour Corps, died 4th November 1918, age 18.

5.40 p.m.

Lord Ashburton: My Lords, first, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, for introducing this debate. The importance of the subject needs no emphasising. My next remark is to thank on behalf of all your Lordships the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that he made a most realistic, thoughtful and fluent maiden speech. I have little doubt that he will contribute enormously to your Lordships' debates and affairs generally over the next few years.

I wish to make only two points. The first is, broadly speaking, to give my support to the view of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that, in a global sense, we must take action in advance to some extent of our knowledge of exactly what is going on in the environment. Given the state of human knowledge of such matters as climate change, there is a surprising amount of talk which assumes that there is more or less unanimity of scientific view. As I read it, that is simply not true. There are huge lacunae in the explanations that are necessary to understand climatic processes. Anyone who is sufficiently interested in the subject to try to learn more about it in any depth may well be surprised.

However, there is a growing consensus that, whether or not we understand precisely what is taking place, there are a large number of factors which could and almost certainly will cause fundamental change, particularly in the earth's atmosphere. Given that, and even though we are not able to understand exactly what is taking place, the possibility that eventual changes may already be, as it were, in the pipeline, whatever action is or is not taken, we cannot afford to wait for proof. We must do everything we can to modify the extent to which we alter the environment, be it earth, sea or air, through the addition of the by-products of our very sophisticated lifestyles.

I believe that, for practical purposes, the earth's atmosphere is more or less 65 miles thick; that is, the vast majority of gases which are essential for life on this planet are contained in that space. Anyone who climbs

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1414

mountains will know that the reduction in density in the air, even at the number of miles that can be counted on the fingers of one hand, is enormous.

As a vivid reminder of what that means, one has only to realise--I hope that my arithmetic will not let me down--that if one takes a terrestrial globe of the sort which many households and all schools have--a globe with a diameter of 12 inches--the atmosphere would extend for about one-tenth of an inch from its surface. That is not many coats of paint on a 12 inch sphere. We are not playing with a huge margin to spare.

At the same time, I believe that we should be careful to moderate the language in which the whole subject is discussed. To my mind, nothing debases the seriousness with which people take important subjects more than unnecessary hyperbole. But we should certainly advance as soon as possible. I welcomed very much the very realistic remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, particularly with regard to what he said about tradable pollution permits and the importance of realistic pricing of water and energy if sensible ways to economise are really to be achieved.

My second point is that there is one aspect which appears to be more or less overlooked, at least in public discussion of environmental degeneration; that is, the size of the world's population. Population is certainly not an undiscussed subject. But as far as I can see, it is conducted nearly always in terms of possible shortages of food, minerals or other natural resources. It is conducted rarely in terms of the extent to which people living cheek by jowl may become prey to unsociable habits of a variety of kinds; rarely on the problems that come from urbanised populations' increasing lack of contact with and understanding of natural rhythms, seasons, crops and so on; and virtually never in terms of the demands for the same standard of living of their parents which all children acquire by birth.

As the population of the world expands, so at present its prosperity is expanding. Obviously, there are huge areas where that is not true, but looking, for example, at what has happened and is happening as Asia emerges, it would be a brave man who was certain that the raising of material standards of living would grind to a complete halt there or elsewhere.

In my view, it is highly unrealistic to suppose that the new inhabitants of this world will be persuaded not to press for motor cars, fridges, televisions, economic infrastructure and all the material advantages which we now enjoy. I should certainly not want to be the one to stand on such a platform. In my view, that is where a lot of rhetoric about environmental control sounds fairly hollow. I know that we shall be able to continue, at great capital cost, to make inroads into the environmental effects of, for example, CO 2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. But we shall not wipe them out. We can diminish also, at great capital cost, the extent to which individuals use cars, electricity and gas, but we cannot eliminate them. The new billions of population may well be even more difficult to influence than we are.

I believe very strongly that any morally acceptable influence, teaching or physical resources that can be brought to bear to make it possible for the world's

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1415

existing population to choose to bear fewer children is as important an environmental action as anything else that can be envisaged. I know that in many places that is a matter on which religious beliefs can have great influence. But a reduction in the rate of growth of world population is, I believe, so important from the environmental point of view that I am always surprised that public references to it seem so few and far between.

I end by apologising for the fact that an unfortunately unbreakable date later on will prevent me from being present for the whole of the debate.

5.48 p.m.

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld: My Lords, I am most grateful to your Lordships for the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I am even more grateful for the conventions which surround the making of maiden speeches and which your Lordships have made to assist new Members of the House. Like my noble friend Lord Randall, I have encountered nothing but kindness, generosity and courtesy since joining the House three weeks ago.

The subject of today's debate has become one the great issues of our time and certainly featured strongly in the General Election. The Government won the election on a manifesto which stated:

    "Our generation, and generations yet to come, are dependent on the integrity of the environment. No one can escape unhealthy water, polluted air or adverse climate change. And, just as these problems affect us all, so we must act together to tackle them. No responsible government can afford to take risks with the future: the cost is too high. So it is our duty to act now".
I understand that Her Majesty's Government take the view that the protection of the environment cannot be the sole responsibility of any one department of state. All must promote policies that are environmentally sound. It is the latter commitment that I wish to discuss.

In the course of this present Session of Parliament, we shall debate and consider the proposals for devolution. We will effect the most profound changes in the constitution of the United Kingdom for decades. It seems to me of paramount importance that the arrangements for the government of Scotland, Wales and the UK as a whole meet the need to facilitate policies that combine environmental sustainability with economic and social progress.

The setting up of a Scottish parliament is the flagship of government policy in this Session. It has for a long time been an end in itself. Elections will take place in 1999 and it will be in place for the millennium. The question that the public will ask is, what next? What will this new Parliament do? Of course, all the parties will set out proposals for Scotland in their election manifestos and the environment will be a central issue. If the principles of the 1997 Labour Party manifesto are to be met, an audit will have to be made of all the environmental functions of central government, government agencies and local government in Scotland.

In changing the constitution, we have to ensure that all the constitution's components gel together and work to achieve the often conflicting interests of environmental sustainability with economic growth and

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1416

social development. I am convinced of the huge importance local government has in achieving that aim. Regrettably, local government in Scotland is not the most popular of our institutions and that was not helped by the last reorganisation. It was a reorganisation which had no great principles underpinning its purpose, if I may so as uncontroversially as I can. The result is that local government in Scotland has lost much of the public respect which it should enjoy. I must admit that respect for local government is not assisted either by the conduct of a small minority of councillors and authorities. Conduct of the kind currently the subject of investigation in Scotland must be put right urgently. I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and his ministerial colleagues are anxious to restore the integrity of those authorities, and, at the same time, address their current financial difficulties. However, it is the structure of local government which the new parliament should seek to put right.

There was a time when local government organisation had a traditional basis. It grew out of local, historical, economically-based recognisable communities. Then we contrived at local government to suit other ends. That was a mistake. If the ends of environmental policy like all other important policies are to be achieved, local government in Scotland must be reformed. All parts of the constitution must fit together. It seems to me that the call for an elected mayor in London and a separately elected assembly will sound a favourable echo in Scotland. I believe that the idea of a council chief being elected--the office of mayor does not exist in Scotland--with much smaller council memberships and all full-time professionals, could only be better than the present arrangements.

The day of the large local authority, with large numbers of elected councillors and multitudinous committees all immersed in the minutiae of administration, must come to an end. So, too, must the bad practice of all-important decisions being taken in political groups away from the public gaze, the over-zealous use of the party whip and council meetings that just rubber-stamp decisions taken elsewhere. Above all others, local environmental issues must be subject to openness and transparency.

What is envisaged for London offers in its practice a real prospect for environmental sustainability with a strong emphasis on the integration of public transport services. The public will welcome that in the capital and the Scots will see its merit for the larger conurbations and local authorities in Scotland.

I have appealed for a new concern that we get our arrangements for government right. That has to be right if government and all their agencies are to deal with the gathering environmental crisis. It will be clear from today's debate that many of the problems are global, but their solution is often national and local. It is our duty to get it right for future generations.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, it is my privilege and pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Hogg of

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1417

Cumbernauld after his excellent maiden speech. My noble friend comes to this House with the very best credentials. He has experience of working as a local government officer and as a full-time trade union official. He also has a record of distinguished service in the other place over 18 years; but, unfortunately, only in opposition. However, I am sure that my noble friend will remedy that position now that we are in government. My noble friend's eloquent speech demonstrated to the House his capacity to contribute effectively--indeed, one might say, "unto the manner born". I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say that we look forward to hearing many more contributions from him in the future.

I, too, must thank my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel for opening today's important debate on a very significant issue. I believe that I echo the sentiments expressed by other speakers when I say that that was most effectively done. As other speakers said, my noble friend had a very broad canvas on which to paint. In the limited time available to me, I can only speak on just one element of the environment. In particular, I should like to concentrate on energy consumption. I shall raise three different aspects of the matter. However, before I do so, it is worth while dwelling for a moment on the reasons why energy consumption is significant in an environment debate. Yes, the pollution effects of excessive energy consumption are significant. Smog has a major effect on our health, whether it be the old London variety caused by coal burning or the new Los Angeles variety caused by vehicle exhausts. Indeed, it directly affects the health of human beings. Then there is the effect of global warming caused by CO 2 emissions.

However, there is another aspect to energy consumption which affects our environment, our social environment; namely, the social disruption caused by the scramble for energy resources. That can take the form of war--for example, the invasion of Russia by Germany in the last World War to secure the oilfields of the Caucasus or the Iran/Kuwait conflict of recent times. It can also take the form of literally worldwide economic dislocation, demonstrated by the oil price shocks of the 1970s.

If we look at the global scene, we can see developed countries with high energy consumption patterns and high living standards, and very large developing parts of the world with low energy consumption and low standards of living. That disparity cannot continue. As developing countries increase their standard of living there are two risks: first, the risk to the natural environment of pollution; and, secondly, the dislocation of the social environment due to the fight for scarce energy resources. We must find ways to prevent both catastrophes. We must break the apparent link between high living standards and high energy consumption. I say "apparent" because we must be aware of the realities of life and publicise them.

If we look at the energy consumption of different countries with broadly similar standards of living, we can see large differences in per capita energy consumption figures. We must build on that knowledge. Sweden has a fraction of the per capita energy consumption of the United States and many would argue

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1418

that it has a better standard of living. Later this evening we shall be discussing the situation in Monserrat. I visited the island a few years ago before the volcano erupted. Perhaps I may tell the House that the islanders' living standards were terrific but the cost of that as regards energy consumption was minimal. Therefore it is possible to have a high standard of living without high energy consumption.

I turn to the three aspects that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech. First, I shall discuss home insulation. We know that double glazing cuts energy consumption in the home. However, double glazing costs money. Double glazing salesmen will spend hours convincing you to invest large amounts of money to have double glazed windows installed. For new dwellings that makes sense. My first question to the Minister is, will this Government make it mandatory for all new dwellings and shops, offices and factories, to be fitted with double glazed windows?

For old houses, the situation is different. Secondary double glazing can be relatively cheap. All you need is a pane of glass or perspex, some plastic moulding to go round the edge, some plastic cleats and screws to fix the cleats and, hence, the glass or perspex to the wooden frame. Apart from the cost of the glass or perspex, the plastic moulding, cleats and screws cost pence. In real terms they are very cheap. The problem is that no double glazing salesman will recommend the system as there is no profit in it for him. Few hardware shops stock the plastic moulding and the cleats because there is virtually no profit in it for them. No one publicises the system because, again, there are no large profits to be made. Therefore, in effect, market forces prevent cheap and simple solutions to some people's everyday problems. My next question to the Minister is, how can we overcome that kind of problem?

The second matter I wish to address concerns engines for motor cars. I am sure I do not need to remind the House that cars with larger engines consume more fuel and therefore cause more pollution in the atmosphere. In fact even the previous government recognised that they had to influence market forces to reduce petrol consumption by increasing the duty on petrol. The new Government are carrying on that policy. However, trends in new car sales show that engine size is increasing. This year there are virtually no new cars on the market with engines smaller than 1000 cc. Between 1979 and 1996 the average size of new car engines went up from approximately 1400 cc to approximately 1600 cc. I know that the efficiency of engines has improved in the past 20 years and their emissions have decreased, largely due to electronic engine management systems. However, I argue that, if the average engine size of our national car fleet could be reduced, we could reduce fuel usage.

One of the problems we have is that for motor manufacturers the cost of producing a small engine may be as much if not more than that of producing a larger engine. Given the public's inundation with performance statistics, it is small wonder that they tend to buy cars with larger engines. Again, market forces are acting against informed consumer choice. I suggest two ways in which these forces might be counteracted. First, the

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1419

Government could introduce a graduated car purchase tax based on engine size with a low break point of 750 cc rising in bands above that. That could be instituted to be revenue neutral. Secondly, there could be a requirement for retailers of new cars to give some standardised indication of lifetime ownership costs, which would include an element for the costs of average fuel usage, probably most usefully on an annualised basis. I shall welcome the Minister's comments on these proposals.

The third aspect I wish to address is nuclear power. I raise this matter because I have seen--as I am sure your Lordships have seen--a number of articles in the press recently about how green and non-polluting nuclear power is. I suspect that with the advent of our new Government the nuclear power lobby is spending quite a bit of money trying to win hearts and minds. I argue that we need to learn from history about the development of new technologies. In the previous century as steam power was being developed there were numerous boiler explosions which killed people and caused damage in a surrounding area of probably, at most, a few hundred yards. However, the effects did not linger long. Engineers learnt from the explosions and steam is much safer as a result. However, safety can never be guaranteed 100 per cent. and the tragedies of Flixborough and Bhopal should be lessons to us all. When considering nuclear power we need to remember that it has the capacity to cause damage over large parts of the country, and even the globe, and that the residue or after effects can last for years, even decades, and, some would argue, for hundreds of years.

Some would argue that the Cold War was won by the Americans, whose superior economic effort defeated the Russians by outbuilding the latter's nuclear weapons arsenals. I have a different interpretation of history. I believe that the accident at Chernobyl opened the eyes of General Secretary Gorbachev to the risks of all thing nuclear. That was illustrated by the fact that he brought Sakharov in from the cold. He was the father of the Russian nuclear industry and he had come to realise that there was no safe level of nuclear radiation. My final question to the Minister is, do the Government remember the lessons of our nuclear history from Windscale, through Three Mile Island to Chernobyl?

6.6 p.m.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, one of the intermittent side effects of taking inhaled steroids can be loss of voice. As I can speak no louder at the moment, I ask your Lordships and the Hansard reporters to bear with me.

Our sources of power are finite. Within the past two centuries we have seen the development of electricity, transport on land, sea and air powered by oil products, coal, nuclear power and gas, all of which are being expended at an alarming rate. We have become a society which worships the motor vehicle and where some journalists and television presenters appear to think that the faster a vehicle can go, the larger it is, the more powerful it is and the better acceleration it has, the more desirable it is. However, in these days where our speed

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1420

is governed by speed limits and traffic jams, what is the relevance of having a car which can accelerate from 0 to 100 miles an hour in 3.27 seconds and has a top speed of 275 miles an hour?

To be seen to have a superior car, one must usually own a car whose fuel consumption is excessive. The technology exists for motor vehicles to be more economical but some manufacturers have said that there is no demand for their vehicles to be more fuel efficient, to which I say, "Rubbish!". Nonetheless, it has to be said that some manufacturers are addressing the aspect of reducing size and improving fuel consumption whereas, at the other end of the scale, Mercedes is launching a car which is 19 feet long with heavy fuel consumption. Why, I wonder, and who will buy it? And what is its relevance, apart from having a vehicle to impress the neighbours and colleagues at work? Perhaps it is for those who are insecure and have sufficient money to spare, who will buy this car as a status symbol.

I developed late onset asthma three years ago and am aware, at first hand, of the effect of traffic fumes on people who have breathing problems. After only a couple of hours in London my breathing ability falls by at least 15 per cent., which is not unusual, whereas in the country it hardly changes at all. This reduction is blamed, mainly, on traffic fumes and particulates. Particulates go deep into the lungs and are emitted by both diesel and petrol engines, but it is thought that their emission will be effectively controlled within the next few years. But what are the effects on the environment of the other emissions? Of the five, main, environmentally sensitive emissions, diesel engines produce fewer hydrocarbons, less carbon monoxide and less carbon dioxide than the petrol equivalent. But, as diesel engines tend to last longer than petrol engines, the diesel pollution of today is created by yesterday's engines. The modern diesel is more economical and it is said that every diesel car sold in this country saves about 350 litres of fuel each year. In 1996 this was a staggering 27.7 million gallons. So why are we not all driving diesels? They tend to last longer and they produce fewer global warming gases. They are more economical and they run on a fuel which is easier and cheaper to produce than petrol. But we have this hang-up about them being slow--they are not. We are told that they are noisy--they are not. We are told that they are smelly and messy--they are not. Diesels are good for the environment and good for the economy. And if their use were to be encouraged, the number of asthmatics needing treatment might decrease: fewer triggering compounds--fewer acute admissions.

But we all depend on the diesel engine, whether or not we like to admit it. Let us consider what a day without diesel would mean. No buses would run, there would be no ambulances and no fire engines would be available. No food would be distributed to the shops, no ships would work, nor would tanks be able to exercise. No taxis would ply for hire; no aircraft would be able to start their engines; nor diesel-powered trains. There would be no arable farm work, no airport baggage handling, no Thames barrier to protect London and no power back-up for hospitals, factories, offices, cinemas, theatres, shopping centres, Buckingham Palace or the

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1421

Palace of Westminster--they all use diesel-powered generators. And in no time at all, cars would come to a halt--the delivery tankers run on diesel.

Diesel may not be perfect but, as already mentioned, it produces fewer hydrocarbons and less carbon monoxide than petrol engines and, being more fuel efficient, less carbon dioxide and is therefore more friendly to the environment. Other fuels will be developed but, in the meantime, diesel should be considered to be the optimum fuel until commercially viable alternatives become available.

I shall go a little further as regards the problem of asthma and the environment. The general perception is that an asthma attack is triggered by dust, mites, animal fur and tobacco smoke. These can mostly be dealt with or avoided. But there are those who have problems with the increasingly common usage of the ever pervading chemical smells of things which people dab, spray, sprinkle and plaster on themselves which cannot be avoided and which, for us, pollutes and poisons the immediate atmosphere. The same applies to tobacco smoke. It is surprising how many of our friends from America and Australia have commented on this country's and Europe's liberal attitude towards smoking and to the pollution of the environment that it causes. The chief executive of the National Asthma Campaign has written,

    "Our Victorian ancestors had it right: smoking was recognised to be an essentially anti-social activity, and for that reason it was generally confined to private smoking rooms".
This country is justifiably proud of the attention it gives to minority interests. Making the environment more friendly for those with lung problems would be welcomed.

Finally, it has been predicted that the global temperature will rise by 2 degrees centigrade towards the end of the next century due to the emissions produced by man's ingenuity. However, not everybody agrees. There are those who say that the rise in global warming is being reduced by volcanic activity. Who is right? We should remember that when our ancestors first voiced the fact that the earth was round, they were called heretics. But they were correct. A group of scientists in America has recently begun studying the effect of sunbursts and sun storms on our planet. So perhaps even the sun has an effect on global warming. There are no records to prove or disprove this possibility. However, sunbursts have been proved to be instrumental in knocking out electricity supplies in parts of North America and to have been the cause of making some satellites realign themselves. It is thought that the sun's effect will peak in the year 2000 when, as we are becoming more and more reliant on satellites, confusion could be caused by them being forced out of position. If that were to happen, who is to know what other effects it might have on our environment and our earthly envelope? We should not ignore anything which might adversely affect the future of the world.

6.15 p.m.

Viscount Addison: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, for initiating this debate and commend him for holding in high regard the

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1422

countryside of Wales. However, I must advise the noble Lord that there is much breathtaking scenery within our national parks and elsewhere on this side of the border. Perhaps I may also thank the noble Lord for his broad-brush stroke introduction to a subject which has such strong implications for our planet.

This evening I speak on the subject of national park funding, without adequate provision of which environmental protection and enhancement across 10 per cent. of the land area of England and Wales cannot be achieved. I speak today as vice president of the Council for National Parks. This matter is urgent and pressing in the light of the review of the funding of designated protected areas by the Countryside Commission and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. The review will examine how the national park authorities and those managing areas of outstanding natural beauty might maximise the potential income available from sources other than central and local government grants. The study will also examine the resource needs of national parks against the relative allocation of central government grant currently available.

As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, the ranks of the national parks of England and Wales may justifiably swell in the next few years. While that would be welcome news indeed, it would not diminish the number of visits to the 11 existing national parks, nor reduce the need for their protection. The parks are hugely popular. The recent report of the Countryside Commission and the Countryside Council for Wales, Visitors to National Parks, found that in 1994 the parks had at least 76 million visitor days. Such numbers require careful management, especially in busy and sensitive areas of the parks. The report also concluded that the national parks are a major national resource for conservation, recreation and tourism and that they are enjoyed by people from all over the country and from abroad.

The report also found that the majority of visitors to the parks are seeking and finding the qualities for which they were designated--fine landscapes, opportunities for recreation and peace and quiet.

As noble Lords will appreciate, as recently as 1995 Parliament reaffirmed its commitment to the protection of national parks, culminating in the national park provisions of the Environment Act 1995.

National park authorities provide a diverse and wide-ranging number of services, including being the planning authority, pioneering the delivery of agri-environment schemes and facilitating the enjoyment and understanding of visitors. The authorities carry out all their functions as far as currently available resources permit with considerable economy and efficiency, and provide cost-effective delivery of the Government's sustainable development objectives across a substantial land area.

In 1991 the National Parks Review Panel recommended that a one-third increase in national park spending was needed to secure its recommendations. It said that this sum could be contained within an overall increase of 10 per cent. in real terms spread over four

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1423

or five years. I would welcome the Minister's reassurance that the Government will now implement this recommendation of the panel, having implemented many of its key recommendations in the Environment Act 1995. This is particularly pressing, especially when viewed against the Lake District National Park Authority's level of funding which is £100,000 less than it was four years ago, and the insuperable pressures faced by the Peak Park Authority's minerals planning team in coping with its current workload.

It is interesting to note that in the year 1995-96, grant aid to the 11 national parks of England and Wales amounted to £21.5 million. The total acreage of the 11 parks is 3.5 million acres or 1.4 million hectares. The funding is therefore 16 pence per acre or 39 pence per hectare. What kind of an investment in our countryside is this when one considers that the arable area payment or set-aside payment to farmers for 1996-97 is in the order of £137 per acre or £338 per hectare?

As a farmer I have respected the need to maintain a living from the land. But we are talking about maintaining a living countryside for future generations. Protected areas in general deserve adequate funding, but this should not be at the expense of the funding of national parks.

At the very least, national parks should not be subject to any reduction in the amount of grant aid at present made by government. Even a standstill budget can cause tremendous problems. For example, the standstill budget for 1997-98 for the three Welsh national parks inevitably means that they will not be able to work effectively towards meeting the target of ensuring that by the year 2000 the rights of way network within the parks is legally defined, properly maintained and signposted, and well publicised. It has also affected traffic management work in the parks and the development of relationships with local communities, and will restrict the contribution that national parks can make to the achievement of sustainability and biodiversity objectives. This is a most worrying situation.

In conclusion, by maintaining adequate funding to national parks, we would be ensuring that the nation's investment in these important and much loved areas would be protected. I ask the Minister this: would a few more pence per hectare not be a fine investment in the sustainability of our national parks?

6.22 p.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: My Lords, a number of speakers this evening have talked about global warming. Clearly, next month's Kyoto conference has concentrated people's minds on this topic.

It is my intention to concentrate on two particular aspects of the problem facing the world. Most speakers during the debate have been talking about the practical difficulties of achieving the targets and reducing greenhouse gases. But I wish to discuss, first, the problems created by vested interests, in particular in the energy industry and the cartel of oil-producing

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1424

nations in the Middle East and the United States; and, secondly, the difficulties created by the democratic process and the short time horizons of politicians when dealing with long-term problems which require unpopular strategic decisions.

For many years, the world has been fed a diet of misrepresentation by an organisation called the Global Climate Coalition, which sounds like yet another NGO concerned with environmental matters, but which is in fact a consortium of 50 American trade associations representing every major player in the petrochemical and motor industries, both in Europe and the United States. Their strategy has been to deny that greenhouse gases could affect the earth's climate and to decry any scientific predictions on the grounds that no change could yet be measured. Of course, now that there are really measurable changes, it may be too late to halt the slide to disaster. The current consensus, I believe, is coming 10 or 20 years too late.

Greenhouse warming sounds a rather cosy concept, but the disturbed weather patterns of this past year may be only a foretaste of what is to come. Vietnam, for example, this week has been battered by the worst coastal storm this century, with 20,000 people made homeless.

It is not only low-lying islands and countries such as Bangladesh and India that are at risk when sea levels rise due to the melting of the polar and sub-polar ice caps. Parts of London and East Anglia may also be flooded within the next century. In some parts of North America, in contrast, rainfall may drop by 40 per cent. and California may suffer prolonged droughts. Conversely, Europe may be struck by full-scale hurricanes and we could become colder and wetter if the Gulf Stream reverses its course: our harbours may become habitually icebound in winter.

The fact that these outcomes are unpredictable does not mean that changes are not happening. The greenhouse effect is real and has to be tackled if we are to prevent major world catastrophes. For instance, it is predicted that grain yields may fall by 15 per cent. Tropical diseases may spread into southern Europe and the United States of America.

The major difficulty in the way of taking positive action is the democratic process, I believe, and the need for politicians to be popular. Of two candidates in yesterday's local elections in the United States, one standing for the governorship of Virginia managed to secure a 12 per cent. lead in popularity in the polls by promising to eliminate taxes on cars and car insurance. That was a Republican, but there was a Democrat in New Jersey who also benefited from similar promises. That shows how naive and populist both American politicians and the American public seem to be. It is not surprising, therefore, that President Clinton has been unable to deliver a realistic target and timetable for the Kyoto conference. We are all, of course, devoted to our motor cars but we must accept ways of restricting their use, as some previous speakers have said.

The United States is, at 22 per cent., the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, despite the fact that its population forms less than one-twentieth

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1425

of the world's population. It is also the world's most powerful economy. On both those counts it should be setting an example for the rest of the world to follow. At the Earth Summit in 1992, it promised to stabilise its emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000, with 5 per cent. reductions thereafter. Even this modest timetable has now slipped by 13 years, with no indication that even that will be achieved.

This failure by the United States makes it much easier for Australia and Japan at the Kyoto conference to opt out of setting any targets, however minimal. It makes it even harder for underdeveloped economies that have a long way to go to catch up with our own to make any attempt to restrict their output of energy. To convert from coal to cleaner fuels for many underdeveloped economies is far harder than it is for those which are developed.

In South Africa, for example, where I have just been, petrol, all of which it imports, is half the price of petrol here and whole hillsides are being set alight where people are burning off scrub for pasture or afforestation. That is still an annual event there, as it is in Borneo and the South American rainforests.

Far more should be invested in renewable sources of energy, as previous speakers have said. I have seen many solar panels on the roofs of houses in Jordan, for example, but none on the roofs of all those air-conditioned homes in Phoenix, Arizona, which has sun almost all the year round. We in the UK live in a island which may not have such levels of sunshine but we are extremely rich in those other sources of solar energy, wind and wave power. Far more should be being committed to research in those fields. We should be investing more in exploration of other sources of energy. We should also be using our cars less and investing more in public transport. We have been very fortunate that, due to the Black Wednesday recession and the "Dash for Gas", we are able to set ambitious targets which perhaps other parts of the world have not been able to set.

I welcome the fact that the deputy Prime Minister is to visit the United States for discussions with President Clinton, prior to the Kyoto conference. But I am extremely gloomy about the outcomes of those discussions. I think it is unlikely that any progress will be made at the Kyoto conference. Short-term interests of powerful industrial lobbies will need to be overcome, either by a regulatory framework or by some tax-levying system which will support non-polluting sources of energy. We also need to counter the propaganda of the car and energy industries so that the public in the United States begin to understand that the long-term consequences to the world will be disastrous if action is not taken now. I am not hopeful that this change of mood is likely; nor that politicians will be allowed to act in time to avert disaster.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, perhaps I may commence by expressing my appreciation to my noble colleague Lord Williams for introducing this debate on such a wide-ranging and important subject. I was glad

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1426

that he touched very briefly, at the beginning of his remarks, on a subject that has always been very dear to my heart: the question of housing.

Your Lordships may recall that for a number of years until my illness I was a Front Bench spokesman on the other side of the Chamber, speaking on housing. At various times I managed to raise debates in your Lordships' House on the question of housing provision and house building. In fact it would be true to say that the last two occasions on which that subject was debated in your Lordships' House were in 1994 and 1995. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Williams was involved on both occasions.

I happen to believe that housing, if not the most important, is one of the most important parts of the environment. Very often children who are born in very poor housing are scarred for life, and if they live in bad housing they very often have to suffer bad schools. In all debates that I raised I had a feeling of deja vu because I kept asking--and nobody from the Government listened--how the Government were going to achieve the figure of 100,000 houses per year to let. That figure was called for not by the Labour Party but by the Archbishop of Canterbury's commission on Faith in the City and also the Duke of Edinburgh's committee. They all asked for the same thing. I was perpetually challenging why the Government could take a meaningful decision which would almost literally stop local authorities in their tracks and prevent them from building houses.

The Government said that the tool they were going to use was the extension of the Housing Corporation and the voluntary housing sector--the housing associations. I believed them. In fact, on the last occasion I think I was told that the target they were aiming for would be 60,000 new properties to let per year. I have to say that, at best, only half that total was reached--30,000. It would be well to quote the actual figures, because during the past few weeks a number of new Peers have been introduced from the three main parties and among those taking their places on Her Majesty's Opposition Benches were a number of former Cabinet Ministers in the last Parliament from 1992, and also a number of senior Ministers who must have been responsible for what took place. So I think it is fair to draw attention to what they actually did.

In 1978, the last full year of the last Labour Government--and Conservative Governments when in power always referred back to 1979 when it suited them--public sector completions, which is what we are talking about, were over 110,000. That figure comprised the following: local authorities, 79,517, housing associations, 20,859, new towns, 9,551, and government departments 941. The figures for the last full year before the Conservative Government lost the election last May were as follows: public sector from all sources, 528 houses. If that is not a dereliction of duty by a government towards a housing programme, I do not know what is.

The housing associations' figures, which peaked in 1994 at 30,705 and in 1995 at 31,062, dropped in 1996 to 26,214. So whereas the Government inherited a

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1427

programme of over 110,000 houses, they gradually reduced it to the figure of 26,214. Why, if they were so interested in housing, did they break every promise they made? I was quite clearly given promises, and so were the Members of your Lordships' House at that Dispatch Box, as to what they were going to do through the Housing Corporation. They set out on that task and the financial support for the Housing Corporation went up in 1986-97 to £587 million, which is of course a substantial sum of money. That gradually increased in its peak year of 1992-93 to £2.3 billion. Then of course we had Black Wednesday--and which was the biggest target that was hit? The Conservative Government immediately reduced that sum of money until last year it had been reduced to £1 billion. That had in fact been docked by £1.3 billion by a government who had given commitments as to their programme.

I am quoting these figures because I do not think that they ought to be able to get away with it. The full facts should be illustrated, and that is why I have given them. Incidentally, with a change of government trends do not alter quickly; very often it takes time for the trends which have been in place previously to be turned round and for new trends to work through. I was somewhat horrified, as no doubt were other Members of your Lordships' House, to see that the figure for repossessions because of lapsed mortgage payments reached 500 a month. My latest information is that the figure has gone up to 600, and the situation is getting worse. These are all individual tragedies, because those people will never get back into that housing, and where is the housing going to come from for them to rent? There is none available. Everybody has simply been let down by the last government.

I am not asking the present Government to perform a miracle overnight and produce another 70,000 or 80,000 houses a year very quickly, because they have been left with an enormous liability. I wanted to illustrate that today. The Government will have to give serious consideration to where the finance is to come from, because they are literally starting from scratch. I believe they will get on with the job, but there is no magic recipe for it and it will take a long time.

I want now to turn to pollution in the inner cities. The city whose council I was privileged to lead for a period and on whose outskirts I live now--Manchester--has pollution from cars at peak periods of a London dimension. In fact Manchester, of all the big cities, has the highest death rate in any category. There are more still-born children in Manchester in percentage terms than anywhere in the rest of the United Kingdom. More children die before the age of one and more people die of lung cancer and related diseases, including heart attacks. Manchester is top of the list. One reason is that the area used to be full of chemical works. A lot of them have now gone, but there is now the new peril of the motor car.

Manchester is not a huge city. It is the smallest of the big cities. Leeds is seven times bigger in area than Manchester. However, masses of people pour into Manchester each day in their cars to do their business, and each night they drive back out into Cheshire and the

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1428

hills of the Pennines where they live. That is all very nice, but the people who live in Manchester suffer the consequences.

I do not know what the answer is. It is easy to say to people that they will have to stop driving into the city. They accept that, until we say that we mean their car as well as everybody else's. When we say, "You are a three-car family and all three of you will have to take the bus", they do not like it. The answer lies in the technical development of an engine that produces an almost nil factor of pollution. I believe that it can be done. Unfortunately, the signals from the Americans as to what they propose to do are appalling. But we are a small island and that is one of the points to which the Government must give priority, even if it costs money. An engine must be produced which does not cause the medical damage that is taking place at present.

In closing I want to say that it has been a good debate which has been well worth while. It has covered a wide spectrum. I hope that it will be a widely read debate because it produced a lot of statistics and arguments as to what we may do to improve the situation.

6.41 p.m.

Lord Rea: My Lords, my noble friend says that the debate covers a wide spectrum. It does and I must apologise because many of my remarks could equally appropriately have been made in Monday's debate on international development. However, the order paper specifically mentions a debate on national and international aspects of the environment.

Having just looked at the White Paper which was published today I see that paragraph 2.36 says:

    "Trade and investment are key to sustainable development".
That is the theme of my remarks. One of the main tasks of the DfID together with the Department of Trade and Industry will be to help low income countries to improve their position through trade and through attracting investment from the private sector. That is something which the tiger economies have done successfully, even though they are undergoing a rather painful blip at the moment. However, the countries of sub-Saharan Africa have been singularly unsuccessful in that area.

The effect of private investment (sometimes large projects are financed by the World Bank) has too often had a drastic and harmful effect on the environment--a point already made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashburton, and my noble friend Lord Monkswell. Sometimes that is due to pollution by toxic chemicals and sometimes indirectly by displacing indigenous farmers who then have to clear forests from marginal land which is then over-used or over-grazed and becomes subject to erosion. On the fertile land which is used to grow cash crops for export, pesticides and herbicides may be used which the more stringent rules of the industrial world would not permit.

Too often investment by private foreign capital does not result in a reduction in poverty. Any profits that are not repatriated go to the local elite who usually own the land and, incidentally, often run the governments as well. Those who work on banana, pineapple or tea

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1429

plantations, in chemical factories or assembly plants, are paid at a low rate--of course, that is what attracted the inward investment in the first place. In that connection it is perhaps a rather sad commentary that south Wales has now attracted investment from a tiger economy--Korea--apparently because its wage rates for part-time women workers are lower than they are in Korea.

The great increase in world trade is not matched by an equivalent growth in output. Much of the trade between countries is passing from one part of a transnational company to another. A bicycle, car or camera has parts made in several countries and is put together in yet another country before reaching its final destination--usually an industrial country in the north. Very little of the final price reaches the workers in the countries providing the raw materials or assembly plants.

Transnational companies involved in manufacturing move from one country to another seeking the lowest possible costs and the most flexible regulatory framework, too often paying little regard to the social and environmental impact of their enterprise. Of course, there are exceptions and some transnational companies have far better working conditions than some indigenous sweat-shops, particularly with regard to the employment of child labour.

The World Trade Organisation--the successor to GATT--by insisting on low tariff barriers is making world-wide activity by transnational companies easier. However, tariffs on manufactured goods exported from the south to the north are coming down slowly; for instance, the multi-fibre agreement will only significantly reduce tariffs on fabrics towards the end of its timespan.

The environmental impact of the activities of transnational companies in the south is made worse by their ability to exert pressure on poor countries to relax regulations by threatening to take their investment elsewhere. The regulatory framework controlling the environmental impact of industrial activities, which may be fairly loose in any case, is not usually well enforced in less developed countries.

A further factor leading to environmental degradation in the developing world--a point made already by several noble Lords--is the effect of the debt burden on poorer countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. In an effort to repay or just to service debt, many sub-Saharan African countries have no option but to export more and more cash crops whose price has plunged largely because other developing countries are doing the same. Soils may be exhausted to grow cash crops. For instance, a few years ago Senegal borrowed heavily,

    "to install refining capacity for a million tonnes of groundnuts. But its soils are so depleted by groundnut production that today it can produce nowhere near that amount. Still, the cost of the industrial plant must be reimbursed--through exports of groundnuts".
Some noble Lords will recognise that that quote comes from the well-known economist on international development, Susan George. Debt problems therefore are compounding inequality and environmental degradation.

It is clear that in certain parts of the world population pressure on land is acute and contributes to environmental degradation. But the solution is not

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1430

simply to mount a family planning blitz, though contraceptive supplies and assistance with reproductive health must be made available. The long-term sustainable approach to populations which are expanding faster than their resources allow is to accelerate development programmes which have as their basis investment in social capital. That is spelt out in the White Paper, though I have not yet had time to read it through.

If ever there was a case for "education, education, education", it is in Bangladesh or Rwanda/Burundi. That is the way permanently to reduce fertility rates. Such communities must be encouraged to develop more effective productive agriculture and indigenous industries to provide occupations for a population which will be better educated if they have the social investment that they need. They should export not only to the industrial north but also laterally, with each other, to other developing countries.

The dominance of world markets by technically advanced transnational companies working within the World Trade Organisation framework does not encourage that. In fact, it makes such developments a virtual non-starter. Some would say that this is deliberate, to retain market dominance and squeeze out competition. A new development is now being actively discussed by countries of the OECD. It is the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, the MAI. It is complementary to the World Trade Organisation. Potentially, the agreement could have very beneficial effects by tightening and strengthening regulations which protect the environment from the ill effects of pollution and degradation. It is due to be signed in May 1998. Unhappily, it looks as though this agreement will not help to protect the environment as it could and should but will instead be used to override local protective regulations in the interests of foreign investors, who are, again, likely to be large transnational companies. Countries which object to this but need the investment will be pressurised into joining the MAI, or lose the investment.

There is no time to describe its provisions in detail. However, as an illustration, one clause commits each party not to apply any restrictions on incoming investors in respect of technology transfer, joint ownership, local employment, local purchasing, export levels, production into local markets and employment of key overseas personnel. Another requirement is not to restrict profit repatriation even when a country is experiencing balance of payments problems.

I should like to ask my noble friend what input Her Majesty's Government are making to current discussions on the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. Which department is involved? Is it the Department of Trade and Industry, or has the Department for International Development had any input? I understand that it may not be easy for her to give me the answer today, but she may like to write to me later, if necessary.

The agreement has been drawn up by the OECD countries alone--the rich countries--without representation from developing countries or

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1431

non-governmental organisations which might have been able to point out the potential adverse environmental impact of the new agreement. There are still six months to run. Can my noble friend say whether the Government will arrange for an open forum on the Multilateral Agreement on Investment to include such consumer view points before this potentially beneficial but currently rather ominous agreement comes into effect?

One submission from a consortium of non-governmental organisations--NGOs--in Paris last week was rejected flatly by the OECD committee that was meeting there on the MAI. There is no inherent reason, though, why the agreement must be signed in May next year. To include the interests of those countries which are to be on the receiving end of the investment seems logical and just. If that means that the signing of the agreement has to be postponed, it should be postponed until an equitable and environmentally friendly basis can be found. I hope the Government will insist on that.

6.53 p.m.

Lord Rogers of Riverside: My Lords, it comes as somewhat of a surprise to me, as an architect, to realise that it is cities that are driving the crisis in global pollution. One could say that the countryside and cities are but two sides of the same coin. One affects the other. But cities are from where the pollution comes. Some 50 per cent. of all the pollution comes from dwellings, and an ever growing figure--it is now more than 25 per cent.--comes from transportation. The rest comes from industry.

Cities have grown globally during the century by 500 per cent., and Britain--perhaps with Holland--is arguably the most urban nation in the west. Some 90 per cent. of us live in cities. Eighty per cent. of us live in cities of more than 100,000 people. We are a truly urban society. As such, we have a deep responsibility to husband the globe, for global pollution brings ill-health, dirty seas, dirty air and dirty forests, and all the other problems we have heard of today.

We have to consider the globe as a living organism which takes in and gives out. It is very much like a tree. It is not dead. We have a duty to husband that globe. The nature of cities is such that they are effectively destroying their inhabitants. Cities take in tremendous resources. We suffer dramatically today in terms of short-term market pressures. Cities do not respond to short-term market pressures. As an architect, I deal mainly with buildings, roads and trees, none of which respond to the five to 10-year cycle of a return on money.

It is not surprising that people want to live in cities if they are successful and beautiful cities. After all, cities are the nature of citizenship, culture and communication. Cities are for the meeting of people. Cities have historically been where all, or practically all, creative endeavour has come from. They are the condensers of minds. Yet polls in Britain show that, unlike many other countries, most of the people wish to leave cities because of pollution and a lack of security.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1432

There is much that we can do to enhance our cities and to make them homes for man. We have a need for more than 4 million dwellings. That is a tremendous number. This potentially gives us the possibility of stitching together our often disparate cities which have tremendous gaps and holes in them, of rebalancing our cities so that we do not have ghettos of housing or retail buildings and of making them once more dense and urban. Unfortunately, short-term interests tend to choose green sites to build on. Cities are expanding outward, eroding the countryside. The more they expand outwards, the more we need to use the car and the less we can use public transportation. So we have the cycle of more and more energy being used to chase the city into areas where it should really not be, especially if we consider that cities are where we exchange ideas.

We need to limit cities. They should be places where there are not big holes. If cities have 5, 10 or 15 per cent. waste land, that is where we should be building. That is where public transport can deal with the people.

There are many case studies of successful cities. It always fascinates me that we are very willing to accept international trade, international technology, marketing and so forth, but very seldom are we willing to look abroad. Yet there are some extremely interesting examples abroad as well as in our own nation. For example, as regards cycling, as we know in countries like Holland a vast amount of cycling takes place and a lot of walking. There are also cities such as York, Cambridge and Oxford which also have successful patterns.

But it may be worth for a moment to look at the most successful city in the United States which is Portland, Oregon. It has a tremendous demand both of business and people who wish to enter the city and which in many ways has the most sophisticated response. It has a very detailed planning system. It does not allow growth to expand helter-skelter into green land. As it says in its brochure, money bounces back into the city by the very nature of the fact that growth in terms of land use is limited. Instead they are trying to make the city more dense; to use public transport; large areas of pedestrianisation; wonderful spaces in the public domain, of squares, parks and waterfalls. This city is now thriving. Thirty years ago it was in crisis. It has removed its high-level roadways which used to go along its beautiful river. It has become very much a people's place. So it is now the most successful city with probably the highest land prices, but also with some of the best social housing.

The question of housing is of tremendous importance: the need for a broad spectrum of housing and not just luxury housing. Portland certainly fulfils that. It has connected itself extremely successfully with fast, light train systems with Seattle and Vancouver, creating a belt of successful cities.

Another city which is closer is Barcelona. Again, there is much to learn from it. In their own way they have learnt from us in the way that they have developed. They had tremendous problems with their waterside which was crowded with warehouses. One could not get

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1433

to the water in this wonderful city. They used the Olympics as a way of modernising the whole water's edge. They created the most amazing public domain, with housing, shopping, retailing, yachting, and so on. Now it not only has a beautiful city behind the docks, but right to the water's edge. People from all over the world go to look at it. What is fascinating is that they used the Olympics as their excuse to renovate the city. It has a wonderful advertisement which says,

    "The Olympics and 150 new squares".
That is an approach which recommends itself and it is one which, if we are to humanise our cities, we must follow.

We must take a number of actions to protect and enhance the environment. We need to integrate the environmental costs into our national accounts. These costs have to be real costs. Questions have to be asked why a litre of petrol is the same as a litre of water. Do they both do the same thing? We need to establish national indicators that measure the inputs and outputs of cities. We need to meet and improve on the standards that we were promised at the Earth Summit in Rio. We need to restrict development on greenfield sites--and I stress that point.

We need to encourage development on derelict or brownfield sites. We need to encourage live, working and walking communities, and compact communities, within cities. We need to rebalance those communities so that one can walk from one's house to work or to the corner shop. We need to invest in the public realm of cities with parks, squares and avenues as well as with public buildings, schools and museums.

We need to invest in integrated urban transport systems and to encourage the use of low to zero emission vehicles for public and private transport. We need to include environmental studies in the national curriculum because, after all, the protection of the environment is now at the top of the things that we have to do. Nowhere is the implementation of sustainability more potent and beneficial than in the city. In fact, the benefits to be derived from that approach are potentially so great that environmental sustainability should become the principle of modern urban design.

7.5 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I rise to deliver the speech that the House has been waiting for. It is the last speech before the "wind ups". I know that those who have sat throughout the debate, which has taken almost four hours, will have been as fascinated as I have been to listen to speeches that were not repeated by anyone else. They all came from different areas of experience and none more so than that we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, who brought his experience and perspective and I believe the word is "vision" to what we should do.

I wish to join others in expressing our appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, not only for introducing the debate and setting the parameters, but for widening them. Someone used the phrase, "a broad brush approach". It was more specific than that. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, reminded us of the vastness of the

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1434

issues contained within the word "environment". When one looks at the word, it is both national and international and one appreciates that it is quite impossible to debate the subject meaningfully with time restraints. I am certainly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams.

The other phrase that I picked up from his speech was,

    "By their deeds shall ye know them".
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, related what he wanted to see to what this Government--our Government; my Government--had promised that they would tackle. I say to the Minister in that context that it is much better to get it right than to get it quick. I am sure that one of the things that she and her colleagues have learnt is the situation they inherited. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, pointed out, that is not a stricture on the behaviour or performance of the previous government. The problems are so huge. This subject is not a political issue. It may be that priorities become confused when one has to spend money and issue directions. It is a subject that should be above party politics. Sadly, as we know in this House it will not be completely so. I believe that there is a great deal of common accord in this House and in the country in believing that the major problems will be tackled only if they are seen not in a partisan way but as being in accord with the national interest.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, referred to the manifesto in two or three instances. It is early days. It is just six months into the lifetime of this Government, which I am sure will stretch to at least as long as the 18 years that we were absent from government. One has to take a long view. Especially in economic conditions, we are not going to achieve what we want straight away. The Minister and her colleagues can be satisfied that, for anyone marking up what could be achieved within six months, this Government have made a very good start. I do not put these matters forward in any order of priority. The commitment to a White Paper setting out an integrated transport strategy is warmly welcomed.

Most of us use cars. Last night I came around the M.25 from Heathrow to my home at a very busy time and I was not delayed at all. You can be lucky or unlucky, but one thing is certain: one of the problems that the Government will have to attempt to solve now and for as long as they are in office is to establish something termed an "integrated transport strategy".

One of the first things that the Government have done is to try to deal by taxation and incentives with the problem of traffic congestion. The Confederation of British Industry tells us that it costs British business £19 billion a year. That is an enormous sum and one needs to look at the ways in which the situation can be eased. Is the Minister able to tell the House whether the Government are making serious attempts to get retailers to reconsider how they might deliver their goods at, for example, more convenient times? We all know the problems that deliveries cause, especially early in the day. I can recall serious attempts being made previously to have goods delivered, if not in the middle of the

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1435

night, then certainly outside the busiest periods. I should be grateful if the Minister could say something about that.

I am especially pleased that Gavin Strang, the Minister responsible for transport, has a place in the Cabinet, because that illustrates the seriousness with which the Government are approaching this matter. I am also especially pleased that, in placing the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of what is undoubtedly a major department, straddling what were previously regarded as a number of separate areas, the Government and the Prime Minister have demonstrated not only the seriousness with which they are tackling such problems, but the fact that they recognise the need to tackle them across departments. One is not talking of turf wars or asking who is responsible, but we need to appreciate that, if we are to find the answers to these problems, we shall have to do things differently in the future from the way in which we approached them in the past. Therefore, I welcome the Government's intention to have a strategic review of the roads programme on the criteria of accessibility, safety, economy and environmental impact.

I know that the Minister has an impossible job in attempting to deal with all the points that have been raised tonight, but I should like to hear her say something about the problems that London commuters face with regard to the Underground. I am not knocking the Underground, although I do recognise its problems. It is vital to very many people, including to those who, like myself, do not use it regularly, but even we find it frustrating. When I encounter problems when travelling in on the Underground from my home in Loughton, I remind myself that I do so only infrequently but that many people travel that way every day and it is their only means of getting into London. Can the Minister give us any news about improving the Underground?

I believe that it was my noble friend Lord Williams who referred to Agenda 21. It is terribly important. At one time I was heavily involved at a high level with my local council in Enfield and I should like the Minister to tell us how closely the Government are monitoring not just the intention of councils in this regard, but the way in which they are meeting their responsibilities for implementing Agenda 21 at a local level.

The Government have made a very good start. I was particularly pleased to note what they intend to do with regard to water and leakages. The horror stories that we read need to be tackled. I believe that people are willing to pay if they see something being done. Nothing is more infuriating to the general public than seeing waste or money literally being poured down the drain. It might help the House if the Minister could make one or two observations on that.

The Government are tackling an enormous range of issues with regard to the countryside. The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, rightly referred to our need to protect the national parks. The Government's efforts are laudable and their plans with regard to the national parks and access to the countryside are achievable.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1436

I was involved in the passing of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, into which was spatchcocked the concept of sites of special scientific interest. I supported the concept then and do so now. I remember that Michael Heseltine, Tom King and Tam Dalyell were fascinated by The Rape of Countryside by Marion Self. She opened my eyes to the impossibility of what we are doing with regard to hedgerows. The concept of prairie farming was born. It may make for good agricultural economics, but it does not make for good conservation of the countryside.

My points have been much more insular than international, but, unless we put our house in order, we cannot really lecture others in other parts of the world. There is an enormous amount to do and I acknowledge that the Minister carries a heavy workload in relation to a wide and widening brief. She does so unassumingly, diligently and with great charm. In fact, she comes here today to demonstrate that she is literally the "Green Lady" of the Government. We know that she will treat all our concerns seriously and sympathetically--and I do not think that we can ask for more than that.

7.17 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel--I notice that he left the Chamber rather rapidly in order not to have to listen to my speech--must be very pleased and proud of the debate that he initiated and started so well. This has been a very good debate with a number of outstanding speeches. The maiden speeches were of a uniformly high standard and we look forward to hearing once again from all those noble Lords when they can be as controversial as they like.

It would be wrong of me to pick out any particular speech although I had intended to mention one or two. I shall comment only on how good and bracing I found the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, because she really put the matter on the line. As some of your Lordships may know, I have just published a book which takes a rather more optimistic view of how the population of the world may react to the challenges facing them; but I have an awful feeling that perhaps the noble Baroness comes nearer to the truth.

This Government have to be challenged on what they are going to do. They have produced a number of fine words about the environment, but many of us have great doubts about their performance. We remember that the Government have a considerable standard to meet when compared with Mr. Gummer, who was a most outstanding Minister in this area in an otherwise not very outstanding government, if I may say so.

I turn now to the international level. It is clear that global warming is a major problem. We are disappointed at the lead that is being given by a number of other countries, including America.

We are happy that the Government appear to be sticking to their targets, although there are some doubts as to how they will get there. It does not appear that their sums add up, unless the Government are able to tax fuel in such a way that the poor are spared the impact by the subsidisation of home energy insulation. That will

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1437

mean new money which the Government have said that they will not provide. I do not see how the Government will reach those targets unless they do something along those lines.

Interestingly, the noble Lord, Lord Rea, spoke about the multilateral agreement on investment. I believe that this is a key international matter. Speaking from this Front Bench, my views on the whole business of free trade are somewhat heretical. But if there is to be free trade it and the dependent agreements on investment in the World Trade Organisation and so on, which tend to be dominated on the one hand by dogma and on the other hand by multinational corporations and their greed, must submit to a regime that allows social and environmental conditions to break the iron rules that they lay down that trade is the most important thing. The proposed clauses which the noble Lord, Lord Rea, read out were horrifying. I join with him in hoping that the Government will do their very best to deal with that matter.

There are plenty of other international problems. For example, a dam in Chile is being financed by the World Bank. That dam will submerge 3,400 hectares of forest and move 500 indigenous people. This is the kind of project that international aid and organisations are putting forward. It must be stopped.

At national level there is the problem of reducing emissions and improving air quality. There is also the problem created by the suggestion that clean coal-fired power stations may be subsidised from the non-fossil fuel levy. That would be a very bad move. Currently, the levy is used to support renewable energy sources. The truth is that there is no such thing as clean coal, although coal-fired power stations can be improved. There is a refusal by the Government to back targeted water metering for excessive users--for example, for swimming pools and sprinklers. Labour's so-called water summit fails to address the real issues in the water industry. Targeted water metering has been ruled out even before that summit begins. In the draft manifesto New Labour, New Life for Britain, Labour gave a commitment not to reform company car benefits that encouraged gas guzzlers and also encouraged increased mileage. Nor has it proposed to differentiate VED levels or allow local road pricing schemes. All of these matters are now being canvassed by Mr. Prescott, who is demonstrating admirable freedom of action.

But where does Labour really stand? These are matters on which it must take action. There is no commitment to environmental tax reform. Various opportunities to introduce it have already been lost. VAT reduction on energy-saving materials to 8 per cent., the same level as on fuel use, was supported last year by the Labour Front Bench but was narrowly defeated by one vote when, unfortunately, three Labour MPs did not vote. When the amendment went before the other House in March of this year during consideration of the Finance Bill the Labour Party refused to support it. There is not much sign of support for energy conservation there. There should be an environmental information appeals tribunal. This should be part of open government legislation. I should like to know where Labour has got to in that respect.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1438

All noble Lords who have spoken today and all parties are agreed that this matter should be taken extremely seriously and we shall do our best to do something about it. But between wanting to do one's best and doing something really genuine there is a considerable gap, as President Clinton has unfortunately found.

There are two general considerations to be borne in mind. The first is that I join the noble Lord, Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld, in his admirable maiden speech in suggesting that the main thing to do is to make action local. We in this House call on the Government to take action, but we particularly want them to take action that will empower local authorities at very local level to operate. There are already examples of local councils. I refer with pride to Sutton and Cheam, whose council was led by my noble friend Lord Tope, and Richmond council in which my noble friend is a leading light. These Liberal Democrat councils are very effective in this field. I believe that it is at that level that we must get people behind it. This is where education must take place. One can elect one's own councillor who comes up for re-election in three years. His or her record is there to see. That is where voters can be educated as to the problems. The electors will themselves educate their representatives when they return them to power. The main thing to do is to make the action local, especially concerning energy production. I believe the theory that renewable resources cannot produce the energy that we want can be turned on its head if we start, not with a national grid, but by saying that such and such an area should be responsible for providing its own energy and it should then start to think how it can do so. If we did that there would probably be a breakthrough.

The second point that has emerged from the speeches throughout the debate--although it is not necessarily thought of in these terms--is the necessity to move on from being "environmental" and thinking about protecting the environment to being "ecological" and making certain that the ecology works. That is the difference between saying that it is anti-environmental to have windmills all over the place but it is ecological to have windmills because in that way sustainable energy can be produced. Of course, windmills must be sited with care and environmental matters must be taken into consideration. But I believe that to a large extent this debate has moved on from the environment and environmental protection to address some of the problems of ecology. Both I and my colleagues on these Benches believe that to be a very good thing.

7.30 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I join all other speakers in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, for raising this important subject. He told us that he deliberately chose a wide title which encompassed issues of the environment both domestically and internationally. Furthermore, in 20 minutes he gave the House as good a scene setter as I have heard for a long time. His was not an easy challenge. The debate is well timed and is set in the light of the impending Kyoto

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1439

Summit. However, given the urgency of some of the issues that we face, one might ask when a debate on the environment is not well timed.

We heard four memorable maiden speeches from four experienced speakers. I began to fear that something of a Welsh mafia was in operation because the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, having raised the debate, was followed by two speakers who had their hearts very much in Wales. I discovered from Dod that the third speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, was educated at the University of Wales in Cardiff. Therefore, it was with special pleasure that I welcomed the fourth maiden speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld, former MP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, in being a Celtic counterpart to today's proceedings.

The topics have been wide-ranging and in respect of one aspect we had a truly excellent contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside. He spoke of the role of cities in sustainable development. I encourage noble Lords who were not in the Chamber to read his contribution in Hansard. It grasped the complex and awesome dimensions which cities must play in the wider environmental debate and the social and economic strands which must be rationalised.

The noble Lord, Lord Rogers, also focused on derelict land, brownfield sites and contaminated land. I hope that in summing up, the Minister will bring us up to date on the various contaminated land initiatives. The much debated Section 57 of the Environment Act will be well remembered in this House. When will that be implemented? Are other initiatives coming forward to encourage the greater development of brownfield sites?

A number of scenarios were painted by a number of speakers. We could be facing catastrophe in terms of a radical change in lifestyle being imposed upon us. We could be facing something much worse, such as self-destruction. Could the polluter be about to pay the ultimate price with plunging sperm counts, rising respiratory problems and the dangers resulting from genetic or chemical contamination?

There is a more optimistic approach. Perhaps we shall see good, continued growth but on a more cautious and sustainable level. There are also the techno-optimists and those who have an ultimate faith in human ingenuity, believing that because it can deliver, one day we can all have a standard of living equivalent to the Japanese, with an equivalent spending power.

As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, we can but speculate about such scenarios. There is no way that today any of us will conclusively identify any one of them as being the destination. Undoubtedly we have made progress, but we must continue our endeavour to improve and increase the rate of progress.

I believe that we have made progress because many of the decisions of the past 20 years have been easy. The problem which governments and others now face is that the decisions are becoming harder, the judgments more finely balanced, the trade-offs more difficult and the dilemmas more challenging. We must assess and accommodate with more care scientific uncertainty and disagreement. We must judge with more care the role of

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1440

the precautionary principle. We must weigh up with more care the costs and benefits and ensure that the costs and the solution do not outweigh the intended benefits. On both sides of the Atlantic there have been well documented cases in which over-zealous environmental regulation has imposed punitive costs when cheaper solutions might have been available. Therefore, we have wasted resources which could have gone to further environmental improvements. We must avoid inappropriate objectives, such as those relating to contaminated land set by the superfund legislation in the United States. A number of difficult issues must be tackled as we take environmental improvements further forward.

A number of speakers touched on one of the major philosophies which will help us to unravel some of these difficulties. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, and others touched on the constraints imposed upon us by our democratic systems; the constraints imposed on us by the current structures which we govern; and the constraints imposed upon us by traditional economics when perhaps we want to expand into some more avant-garde environmental economic mechanisms.

I welcome the fact that the Government, building on some of the ideas that we had in government, have taken steps to introduce new machinery which it is hoped will better co-ordinate policy across all departments so that there is greater environmental sensitivity. However, we need more economic instruments. We need to produce disincentives to pollution; disincentives which create incentives for more cost-effective improvements and solutions to environmental problems. We want more cost-effective pricing and greater resource efficiency. We want companies to see resource and pollution control as the defining discipline, just as labour productivity has been one of the defining disciplines to date. Furthermore, we want to remove wherever possible the structural obstacles to environmental incentives. I believe that the landfill tax affects few people in their domestic lives. They are immune to the price mechanism which the landfill tax is meant to place on the management of the waste stream. If the landfill tax were visible and were felt by the ordinary person as he created municipal waste at source, greater effort might be made in the household rather than at the next tier.

In addition to structural change, we must explore solutions which are creative and inspired. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, gave us some thoughts on some possible solutions. I welcome the fact that around the world one sees ideas being tried. The United States at a local level is exploring the concept of tradable permits for land use. They are known as TDRs, or transferable development rights, and they seek to bring a more rational approach to land use. There are areas which are obvious for development and areas which should be far from eligible for development.

Similarly, in the State of Victoria in Australia there is a new initiative called Greenfleet. It allows the motorist to invest 25 dollars in tree planting every time he registers his car or renews a tax disc. The initiative is backed by the government of Victoria, and is in marked

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1441

contrast to the attitude of federal government to embark on serious environmental policies. It is also backed by environmental groups and the media. The idea is that seven fast-growing trees emit the same amount of carbon dioxide as a car emits in one year. Moreover, because the government have joined non-governmental organisations, the media and members of the private sector to deliver this initiative, it is going well. The take-up in the commercial sector itself has been very impressive.

One of the most difficult issues with the economic philosophies we have in place at the moment as regards the environmental aspirations that we hope to achieve involves the utilities and the fact that we have a paradox between economic regulation, competition regulation and environmental regulation. It is a tension which, given the way in which legislation has been written for the various consumer watchdogs, must be resolved by the Government.

Many noble Lords have focused on the international scene. The issues have been very well covered by a number of speakers from a number of different angles. We have to be conscious of the fact that there are ethics in international environmental politics which cannot be ignored. When the less sustainable part of the world points its finger at the developing world and says, in effect, "You will have to remain hungry because it is environmentally better that you do so", we must realise that that is not sustainable as a route to progress.

We also have to distinguish between those emissions which are survival emissions and those emissions which are luxury emissions. A number of issues have to be considered with sensitivity and care, but the sentimentality with which we might approach some of those challenges must not cause us to lose sight of the fact that the world population is expanding at a remarkable rate; and, as some noble Lords have mentioned, it may be that population control itself will be an integral part of the environmental solutions on a global basis.

I hope that the Minister will explore the Government's position on the lack of primacy that environmental conventions have when it comes to global trade conventions. It is disappointing that the WTO seems able to overrule regional and national environmental legislation. It seemed quite extraordinary that when the United States barred an import of highly sulphurous oil products from Venezuela recently on the grounds that the products broke its own environmental thresholds, the WTO ruled that the veto by Washington was out of order. Therefore the USA is, in effect, compelled to take the product despite the fact that it is in transgression of the United States' own environmental legislation.

Responsibility for the environment and for environmental protection, be it within this country or on a regional or global basis, is multiple. It devolves not only to governments, public sector agencies and local authorities, but also to the private sector, to the tremendous work done by many non-governmental agencies and, ultimately, to every single one of us as individuals.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1442

This Government have a number of years before they must next to go to the country. Moreover, they have a comfortable majority in another place. With a measure of goodwill and, indeed, with the foundations which Mr. Gummer and others built, I hope that they will be able to achieve considerable progress. The aspirations articulated by the Government have been admirable. How those aspirations will be delivered still begs questions, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, asked many of those questions.

I hope that the Minister will be able to answer some of the points raised tonight and indicate how we might solve some of the more difficult problems.

7.44 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I too would like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel, both upon his authoritative and wide ranging opening speech and upon choosing a topic which has elicited such a fascinating and distinguished range of contributions in today's debate. The breadth of the motion was, as my noble friend made clear, intentional. It does, however, present quite a challenge in terms of a ministerial response, but I shall do my best to cover the main areas that have been raised.

The debate also saw the occasion for several extremely impressive maiden speeches. My noble friend Lord Davies of Coity spoke movingly of his personal experiences, both in Wales and internationally, and he reminded us, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield, of our personal and community responsibilities for the land. I am tempted to use the biblical Hebraic "eretz" in this context for the land that we temporarily inhabit.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, equally gave us a Welsh perspective and a personal one. He rightly reminded us that, even within the broad heading of environmental issues, there are priorities and choices that have to be made between often competing demands flying under the flag of environmental protection. I say to him that, as the Minister responsible for both roads and road safety, I took his remarks very much to heart and I noted carefully what he had to say about the dangers of pigs as passengers on bicycles. I will look at it in the context of the Highway Code, perhaps.

My noble friend Lord Randall of St. Budeaux gave us a thoughtful and perceptive speech on the global nature of the problems that we face and on the possibilities that, with some optimism, are opened up by positive international and specifically European co-operation. He also spoke with a proper passion about the roots of his views about Europe. In this House, where everyone's views on Europe are strongly felt, it was a very good reminder of the passions that are aroused and the reasons for the deep commitment that some have to European co-operation.

My noble friend Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld made your Lordships laugh while making a very serious point. That is a quality that is always valued in this House. He also managed to relate issues on Scottish local

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1443

government absolutely seamlessly and skilfully to the very relevant issue of the appropriate government level for action on environmental issues.

I am sure that after such eloquent beginnings the whole House will look forward to hearing much more from all our maiden speakers in the future.

Perhaps the key message of today's debate was the need for sustainable development. That need is reflected in the approach of the Government to individual areas of policy, but perhaps most significantly to the decision-making process itself. In the past we have too often thought of economic, social and environmental objectives in their own self-contained boxes as if they were entirely separate. We need to integrate our policy making so that the environmental and social impacts of policies are considered at the same time as the economic ones, rather than as "add-ons" after a decision has been taken. It is only through what I recently heard described as some joined-up thinking that we will achieve the objective of sustainable development.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, in his opening speech and my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton in his very kind remarks acknowledged the importance of the new machinery that is being set up. We believe that the creation of the combined Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions--bringing together the social policies of transport, the economic dimension in the regions and environmental aspects--under the leadership of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Cabinet Committee on the Environment, the proposed Environmental Audit Committee and our new team of "green" Ministers--all of which have been welcomed in the debate today--have a vital role in fulfilling our manifesto commitment to put the environment at the heart of decision-making and in promoting policies which support sustainable development throughout government. The Environmental Audit Committee will be a committee of another place, but I hope that it will also be possible for it to work with relevant committees of this House and we expect to see it established shortly.

I know that noble Lords are impatient for us to make progress. We are all impatient. But I took very much to heart the line of my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton that it is more important to get it right than to get it quick. By putting down the foundations in terms of the structure, we have a much better chance of getting the policies right and coherent for the future.

We need to promote wider public understanding of the sustainable development concept and to generate greater opportunities for individual action and action at local level. We shall be revising the 1994 UK sustainable development strategy to provide a more practical framework for sustainable development. The new strategy will incorporate indicators and targets to allow measurement of progress, and work on a new, improved set of indicators for sustainable development is currently under way and will be linked closely with the review of the overall strategy. We aim to publish a revised strategy in autumn 1998 but will be launching a consultation process shortly to promote a wide-ranging debate on sustainable development.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1444

My noble friend Lord Monkswell was absolutely right to identify the importance of developing and encouraging consumers to buy products which are less resource-intensive and which produce environmental benefits. I assure my noble friend that that concept--the jargon is sustainable production and consumption--will be an important part of our sustainable development consultation.

The international dimensions of sustainable development have been highlighted by many speakers today, including the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lord Desai. My noble friend Lord Rea referred in particular to concerns about sustainable development issues in trade, and the environment and population aspects.

On the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, which was raised also by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, we want to be sure of the implications of the MAI for the environment before we sign it. Therefore, we are pleased that the OECD is contributing to the assessment of the MAI's relationship with the international environmental conventions. I take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, about the importance of achieving the right status for those conventions. We shall continue to take an active role and we hope that the US government will be able to do likewise.

My noble friend Lord Rea dealt also with the question of population growth, as did the noble Lord, Lord Ashburton. The White Paper being published today by the Department for International Development will set out how we intend to contribute to improving the opportunities of all people to make choices about their reproductive health.

My noble friends Lord Williams of Elvel and Lord Graham of Edmonton asked about local Agenda 21. My noble friend Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld stressed the need to take action on environmental issues at a local level. It is right that, as well as promoting sustainable development nationally and internationally, it is equally important that we extend that action throughout local government. At the UN Special Session in June 1997, the Prime Minister called on all UK authorities to adopt local Agenda 21 strategies by the year 2000. Officials in my department are now working with the Local Government Association and Local Government Management Board on a joint document entitled Sustainable Communities for the 21st century, which will be published shortly. That will give clear, practical guidance to councils on how to put an effective local strategy in place for sustainable development. I hope that that will be welcome news for the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, who I know has been concerned about this.

Perhaps I may deal with the issue of climate change and the Government's targets in that regard. Noble Lords have returned again and again to that issue in this debate and, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, pointed out, they have done so with different degrees of optimism or pessimism. My noble friend Lady Hilton of Eggardon described very clearly the gloomier scenario and the dangers which are undoubtedly present.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1445

The Government are convinced of the need to tackle man-made climate change which could have devastating effects on society, the global economy, human health and the natural environment. That is a global problem which needs a global solution. The Kyoto conference in December is an opportunity for us to show that other developed countries and we ourselves are serious about tackling that threat.

My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel expressed some anxiety about the stance being taken by some of the developed nations in the run-up to Kyoto. I assure my noble friend that this Government are in the forefront of efforts to secure a successful outcome from that conference. The deputy Prime Minister has today left to visit both Washington and Tokyo on the first leg of a programme of meetings undertaken on behalf of the Prime Minister. He will visit the key players in the negotiations over the next few weeks to assess their positions and to press the developed countries to take on ambitious targets. We support the EU's proposal that developed countries should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2010 and have a domestic goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010. Those are challenging targets, as we have discussed in this House before. However, we believe that they represent what is necessary and achievable in the fight against climate change.

The issue about the developing countries is very interesting. We have focused on the developed world but, as the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and my noble friend Lord Desai said, we must look also in the long term at the role of the developing world in that regard.

My noble friend Lord Williams challenged us for details on how the Government intend to deliver on their climate change targets. I believe that a degree of scepticism also crept into the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. We have said that we shall develop and consult on a balanced programme after Kyoto, as the outcome of the conference will need to inform our programme. However, I can say now--it will hardly be news to anyone--that there is no single magic bullet here and we shall need all sectors of government, individuals and business to play their part. In particular, we are likely to be looking for improvements in domestic energy efficiency, an issue raised by my noble friend Lord Monkswell, as well as industrial and commercial sectors. We shall be looking at measures to tackle the growth of emissions from transport and a large increase in the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources and combined heat and power schemes.

The current review of renewable energy policy is looking at the scope for delivering 10 per cent. of electricity demand from renewable sources by 2010. Perhaps the right reverend Prelate will accept that that is a significant figure. All methods of electricity generation, including energy from renewable sources such as wind power, have, as my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy, pointed out, environmental impacts. Apart from being careful to minimise those impacts, that is a further argument for reducing total and overall energy demand.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1446

There are also problems in regard to nuclear power and a greater reliance on that, not least of course the issue of the disposal of nuclear waste, a subject debated last week in your Lordships' House. My noble friend Lord Monkswell expressed his anxiety about recent articles in the press which presented nuclear power as a green option. Perhaps I may reassure him on that point. Whatever the final shape of the climate change programme, major changes in the way that we generate and use energy will be needed. Increased efficiency in nuclear generation has helped the UK to stay on course for meeting its existing climate change target. Provided that high standards of safety--a point made by my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity--can be maintained and environmental protection safeguarded, we believe that it should continue to do so. However, we do not see a case for government intervention in favour of the construction of new nuclear power stations.

There are many other measures that we can and will use to deliver significant reductions in the UK's greenhouse gas emissions. Many of those will bring other benefits; namely, a more sustainable and efficient transport system, a more diverse energy supply and commercial benefits for firms which use energy more efficiently or profit from business opportunities with more energy efficient technology.

The issue of transport and the policies which could contribute to our targets on emissions has been raised many times in today's debate, notably by my noble friends Lord Simon, Lord Monkswell and Lord Desai. The transport problems which we face today--increasing congestion on our roads, damage to the local and global environment and effects on our climate--mean that we quite simply cannot carry on as we have been doing in the past. Current forecasts suggest that the situation will be even worse in 20 years' time if there is no change in current policies. That is why we are currently undertaking a fundamental review of transport policy. We are in the course of the consultation process and I can say that early indications from the responses that we have received show that people are thinking radically about the issues involved. The level of response convinces me that the Government now have a great opportunity to forge a new consensus on what we need to do to shift transport policy.

I can assure my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton that we are looking very broadly at the issues and considering proposals including, for example, the use of roads at different times of the day and the impact that that would have on another environmental issue; namely, delivery times and the effect of that on the people who live near the places where deliveries are being made. There is also the prospect of minimising the number of lorry journeys that are carried out part loaded or empty. There are also great incentives for business to take action in that field. We must also be aware that the connection of transport to other policies, particularly land use planning, are vital in this respect. Unless we integrate the policies, they will not be effective.

Several noble Lords pointed to the benefits to be secured by providing economic and financial incentives for cleaner cars and higher patronage of public transport.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1447

I can assure noble Lords that we are considering such matters as part of a transport review, and submissions are being received on fiscal measures and on road pricing. However, as I believe the debate has illustrated, we must consider the environmental, economic and social consequences and weigh them up very carefully before decisions are made which may have a significant impact on, for example, the mobility and economic viability of rural areas where there are limited alternatives to the car.

We must learn to strike a better balance between the various modes of transport and give people real choice when they are making decisions about how to move around. That will involve measures that make the travelling environment safer for cyclists and walkers. The review will consider the measures that we can produce in terms of improved public transport--another theme which has emerged from tonight's debate. That is absolutely essential as the carrot which is the counterpart to the fiscal stick if we are to reduce dependency on the car.

However, as my noble friend Lord Monkswell said, more importantly, we also need to consider policies which "green" the car. We need to develop vehicles which are fuel efficient, cleaner and quieter. My noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick stressed the need to find technological solutions to the problems of transport as regards emissions and their effect on the health of populations like those of Manchester.

Yesterday my honourable friend the Minister for Science, Energy and Technology launched the Foresight Vehicle LINK Programme. The programme will bring together the resources and expertise of government and industry to work towards the development of vehicles that are environmentally friendly; make the best use of limited fuel resources; are lightweight and use less energy; can communicate with other vehicles and the transport infrastructure; are safer and able to avoid collisions; and can be manufactured competitively. That is an area where there are great opportunities. I also believe that there are great talents in this country to exploit such opportunities.

The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, suggested that there was potential for more extensive use of diesel vehicles to reach our objectives for "greening" the car. I agree with the noble Viscount that diesel offers advantages over petrol in terms of lower fuel consumption and hence CO 2 emissions, together with lower levels of local pollutants such as carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. However, diesels also have disadvantages in terms of emissions of oxides of nitrogen and fine particles. These are the pollutants which are now of very high concern, especially in urban areas.

The Government share the noble Viscount's concerns about health and the quality of the air that we breathe, and are currently funding a £3 million research programme to investigate the links between air pollution and respiratory diseases. In the meantime, the air quality objectives in the "National Air Quality Strategy" represent a very high level of protection for public health, and we are determined to implement them as soon as possible.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1448

I move on now to issues relating to the countryside. The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel and the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, all referred to our national parks. Indeed, my noble friend inquired how the new national parks authorities in England were faring. I should like to assure my noble friend that we believe they are making steady progress in furtherance of their responsibilities for conserving and enhancing natural beauty, wildlife and the cultural heritage of the parks and for promoting opportunities for their understanding and enjoyment. The parks are able to act as models for the management of the wider countryside in various ways. We are particularly pleased that they have become so closely involved in developing rural transport strategies through the work of the new Countryside Traffic Measures Group.

The noble Lord, Lord Norrie asked specifically about the South Downs and the New Forest. The Countryside Commission proposes to bring together the results of all its work on landscape designated areas next spring, and its report to Ministers will include initial advice on whether national parks status might be a more effective and appropriate solution for any of the AONBs and other areas, including the South Downs and the New Forest, which may be considered as being in need of particular protection. I should also tell the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, that the relative needs and sources of additional funding available to both national parks and AONBs will also be considered. That study is being funded by the commission but the department is closely involved in it. Ministers will obviously have sight of it when it is finished.

My noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside reminded us in his contribution that the counterpart of the countryside is our cities. He also highlighted the issue which faces us as regards the projected growth in the number of households. We are still considering the responses to the previous government's Green Paper. I noted my noble friend's comments about the potential for building within cities. We certainly are committed to as much building as possible on the so-called "brownfield" sites. The current target is to build 50 per cent. of new housing on previously developed land.

However, whatever target is eventually chosen, we must accept that many new homes may be needed on what are now greenfield sites. That reality cannot be ignored, unless we are willing to see other adverse consequences--for example, increased sharing, overcrowding and an increase in land and house prices. The key challenge will be accommodating these in the most sustainable locations and improving the quality of life for everyone, whether they live in our towns and cities or in the countryside. I should like to reassure my noble friend. We have much to learn from other countries. Indeed, I was fascinated by his description about what they have managed to achieve in Portland. I believe that there is a willingness both to innovate and to learn. By the same token, I was most interested in the example from Victoria given by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay. We must be prepared to think very broadly and imaginatively in such matters.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1449

If we are to improve the environmental quality of our cities, it is essential to protect their open spaces and playing fields. Only by regenerating them will we attract people back to the cities and towns and thereby protect the countryside. A review of the effectiveness of the planning policy guidance for sport and recreation is complete, and we are now considering whether to revise it.

My noble friend will also be aware of the "World Squares Initiative". It is a sign of the Government's commitment to improving the environmental quality of our cities, and particularly public access to landmarks such as Trafalgar Square, that the public consultation on this initiative has been launched by the Deputy Prime Minister today.

My noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick also referred to the quality of life of people living in towns and cities, especially in relation to the lamentable housing record of the previous government. We are determined to tackle the housing problems that we inherited and to channel resources to areas where they are most needed. Under the capital receipts initiative, the Government will be making nearly £800 million of additional resources available for housing in England. That will help councils to refurbish existing homes, which of course will have energy efficiency benefits, and to support the building of new homes by housing associations. We are also carrying out a fundamental review of our housing policies, and that will include examining future requirements for new social housing and the implications for housing expenditure.

My noble friend Lady Lockwood asked about water pollution from abandoned mines. We are taking action to tackle water pollution in those cases. The Environment Agency and the Coal Authority have together identified a priority list of 35 serious mine discharges from abandoned coalmines in England and Wales--there are also five sites in Scotland--which need water pollution treatment. The Coal Authority intends to tackle four of the worst sites by the end of March and the Government are considering the need for further action to clean up polluting mine waters.

This has been an extraordinarily wide-ranging debate. I am aware that matters have been raised--the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, referred to waste--which very much bring us down to earth. We have a personal responsibility for those matters as well as responsibility at a local, national or international government level. The theme of responsibility and good stewardship has run through the debate. Fundamentally we know that our over-arching goal of a better quality of life now and for future generations depends on a healthy environment. That is why six months ago we started to implement the manifesto commitment to put environment at the heart of government. Since then we have begun to put the machinery and the structures in place to enable us to achieve that goal. We are now starting to develop our policies within that framework. I believe that the thoughtful support that we have received in the House today for what is indeed a challenging task and one that will involve hard choices and the balancing of priorities will be important in the work that we have for the future.

5 Nov 1997 : Column 1450

8.11 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, in my opening speech I indicated to the House that the Motion that I was moving set a wide agenda. I am most grateful to noble Lords who have spoken to this wide agenda, contributing their particular expertise in a particular manner. I am particularly grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, for his generous comments about what I had to say. I assure him that there is no Welsh mafia here; it is simply that the Welsh are cleverer than everyone else and therefore we seize these opportunities when we can.

I am also grateful to noble Lords who made their maiden speeches, all of which, if I may say so, were speeches of extreme distinction. I am grateful, too, to my noble friend the Minister for her extremely effective and good response to the debate. I have only two regrets: one is that one or two noble Lords who spoke in the debate did not stay to hear the Minister's reply. I think all your Lordships would regard that as regrettable. My other regret is that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said at the start of his speech that I had slipped out of the Chamber to avoid listening to his speech. As he could not remember the name of his colleague on the Front Bench, perhaps I should have stayed out longer! In that frivolous spirit I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page