Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East) : On a cold dark night a few weeks ago 1,100 constituents from Hengrove, Stockwood, Whitchurch, Easton, Eastville and Brislington turned out for a public meeting. They signed a petition to Parliament to curb the incompetence and political malice of Avon county council.
The petition is about gipsies. It calls on the Government to amend the Caravan Sites Act 1968 and section 39 of the Public Order Act 1986 in such a way that the Caravan Sites Act
"places a duty upon the local authority to publish a list of all sites under consideration for permanent, temporary, emergency or other provision" --
something that Avon council is not doing--
"hold public consultation on each of the sites"--
again, something that the council does not do--
"hold all council meetings and its committees and subcommittee meetings convened to discuss action under the act in public so that councillors can be accountable for their views and their votes"-- again, something that Avon county council refuses to do ; and it "states that no site be placed close to people's homes". It asks
"that the running costs of the site be paid for by the users and is not a financial burden on the local residents."
It asks that relief be afforded
Column 686"to local residents whose property may be adversely affected by the imposition of such a site."
It asks that councils should not act in such a way
"as to attract travellers to their area"--
something that Avon county council is doing at the moment. The petition also states that
"Section 39 of the Public Order Act be amended so that those adjacent to the land as well as the landowner are given protection under this section of the act."
Finally, and very importantly, it asks that the Government abolish "Avon County Council at the first available opportunity and Bristol returned to a single tier authority."
The petition, from 1,100 residents in the areas concerned, has my full and hearty endorsement.
To lie upon the Table.
Mr. Secretary Lilley, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Heseltine, Mr. Secretary Wakeham, Mr. Secretary Brooke, Mr. Secretary Hunt, Mr. Secretary Lang, Mr. John Redwood and Mr. Edward Leigh, presented a Bill to make provision with respect to standards of performance and service to customers in relation to the telecommunications, gas supply, electricity supply, water supply and sewerage service industries ; to make provision with respect to complaints by, and disputes with, customers in those industries ; to make provision with respect to the powers of the regulators of those industries and with respect to related matters ; to make provision with respect to the payment of deposits by customers of certain telecommunications operators ; to make further provision for facilitating effective competition in certain of those industries ; to make provision with respect to mergers of water or sewerage undertakers ; to make provision with respect to compliance orders against public gas suppliers ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday next and to be printed. [Bill 8.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. John M. Taylor.]
Our last major debate on the environment took place on 12 July. That we are again debating environmental policy reflects the priority that we as a Government, this House and the nation as a whole attach to this most central of issues. I very much hope that, unlike last time, the Opposition will have the grace to allow the Government to respond to the points made in the debate.
This debate is centred on the White Paper anniversary report, published on the exact anniversary day of the original White Paper launch--25 September. The anniversary report is acknowledged as a tremendous achievement. It is as unique in its way as was the original White Paper.
The original White Paper was the first comprehensive policy statement on the environment by any British Government. The anniversary report is the first time that a British Government have subjected their own implementation of its policies to such public scrutiny.
I hope that right hon. and hon. Members who wish to participate in this debate will have now had an opportunity to read the anniversary report in detail. Those who have read it must agree that it is an exercise in open government. Every one of the original White Paper commitments is accounted for, every action taken to date is described, and the plans for every aspect of concern are set out. Every commitment is attributed to a specific department. The targets that we have set ourselves are clearly summarised ; so, too, is the substantial additional expenditure that we have given to the environment over the past year.
In all, of the 350 commitments in the original White Paper, more than 200 have already been fulfilled in this first year alone and significant progress has been made with the remainder. Well over 400 individual environmental measures have been taken over the past 12 months to deliver our commitments, ranging from telephone helplines for those concerned about air quality to major international agreements on new standards for cars and water. There are 400 commitments to take forward in the next year--from proposals for new standards for indoor air quality to work on the major international agreements which we hope will be signed at the earth summit in Brazil in June 1992.
Accountability and openness are not the only unique features of the report. Over the past year, the Government have put in place unparalleled mechanisms to keep the environment at the heart of policy making. Every Department now has a Minister charged with environmental responsibilities-- no Government have ever taken such a cross-departmental approach to an issue. We have published guidance which every Department must use in assessing the environmental impact of its policies and programmes. Again, that is a first. We have given advice to Departments on drawing up environmental housekeeping strategies for themselves--another first which every Department must complete by the end of 1992. We have
Column 688made public the existence of two standing committees of Ministers, one chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and one by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister--again an unprecedented step. One of the Government's White Paper commitments was to establish a dialogue with the business community on environmental issues. The Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Trade and Industry appointed the Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment in May. Since then the 25 business men and women on the committee have been working to an ambitious programme. Earlier this week, they published their first report containing 35 action recommendations, principally on global warming and recycling. Of those recommendations, about half are addressed to the Government ; the other half are addressed to industry itself. They call for the setting of tough targets for improving energy efficiency and recycling materials, as well as other specific action.
It is a measure of how seriously the Government take the committee's work that we have responded to its recommendations within a month of their being submitted to us. Apart from those recommendations relating to fiscal measures, which are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we have set targets for action on every one of the recommendations--and we shall report again on progress in six months.
What the members of the committee have shown is that, when it comes to the environment, Britain's business community is able to provide clear, vigorous and effective leadership. That is a vital component of the nation's action on the environment, because only business can actually deliver environmental improvements.
When we published the original White Paper more than a year ago, the overall reaction was, "Good ideas, let's wait to see how they are delivered." If I may be allowed a topical rugby metaphor, we had, so to speak lined up the ball for a conversion. The question was, would we convert it?
My answer is an emphatic yes. The House does not have to take my word for it, because the action taken to deliver our commitments is there for all to see in the report.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : The evidence is not there in the Bolsover area. The Minister will know that, contrary to the Government's views about linking business with the environment--we all agree that coal can successfully be converted to coke--for some reason the Coalite works in Bolsover seems to be polluting the whole environment. Certainly that is the suggestion now that the incinerator is to be replaced at the end of November. We have farms with dioxin-contaminated milk which must be transferred to the west midlands, where it is not being destroyed at the proper temperature, so dioxin is being spread in the west midlands. We now have evidence of a cluster of breast cancers in and around Bolsover--50 per cent. more than in other parts of north Derbyshire. The River Doe Lea is much more polluted than all other rivers in the area. It is high time that the Minister went to see Anglo-United and told it to get its act together and stop polluting the environment.
Mr. Trippier : I sympathise with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am not going to suggest to him or to the House that I am not prepared to pay such a visit. As the hon. Gentleman knows very well, the Under- Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member
Column 689for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), dealt with that very point at Question Time on Wednesday. Of course what is going on in the Bolsover area is a matter of great concern to the hon. Gentleman, as it is to me and to the whole House. An investigation is being carried out at the moment, not only by Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution but by the National Rivers Authority. The most comforting assurance that I can give the hon. Gentleman, which I am sure that he will welcome, is that the results of the study will be made public.
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen) : I am glad that HMIP is now becoming involved in Bolsover. However, the British people must be asking where it has been all these years. Dioxin is already in the environment. It is in the people, it is causing breast cancer, it is in the milk of cows, and it is in the rivers at 1,000 times background levels. Where has HMIP been all these years to allow dioxin to escape into the environment?
Mr. Trippier : The hon. Gentleman is on to a weak point. I should remind him and the House that the Government set up Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, for which we got no credit whatsoever from Her Majesty's Opposition. The hon. Gentleman heard me say on numerous occasions when the Environmental Protection Bill was being considered in Committee that it was under strength. It is no longer under strength. I shall make an announcement later, indicating how I hope to increase the inspectorate.
Of course, we have not done everthing in just a year, nor have we taken things forward in every aspect as much as we would have wished. But our readiness to act is clear, and our willingness to deliver is illustrated by our early success with our half of the original commitments. We have made many new commitments. We are not sitting back in self-congratulation and the pace will not be slackened. Yet no sooner is the ball winging towards the uprights than we find that the goal posts are being moved. This year, I am being told that the test was not whether we could deliver our unprecedented number of detailed commitments, as I had thought, but whether we would do a lot more than we said we would do just a year ago.
I and my right hon. Friend would be the first to admit that the White Paper process is the beginning of a long road. We said that it was a first step, not the last word. But I think that everyone concerned needs to realise that this is not a process without cost, nor one that can magically happen overnight.
I believe that there is a balance to be struck between environmental enhancement and economic development. I believe that this Government have got that balance right. To make sure that we keep that balance, we have created new forums to discuss environmental issues with business, with local government and with the voluntary sector, because the environment needs every one of us to work together.
There are Opposition Members who take some perverse delight in running down Britain's environmental record and who are all too often to be found, both at home and abroad, adding their voices to those who accuse Britain of being the dirty man of Europe. Being deliberately deceitful about the Government's policies has become something of a habit for the Labour party. It is just another deceit.
Column 690However, that is not an accusation that I could level at the Leader of the Opposition, as he has not found time to say anything at all about the environment--true or false.
Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington) : Bearing in mind that Labour Members have made many promises without costing them, will my hon. Friend tell us whether they have made promises about the environment in which they claim to be interested? If so, have they costed them, or is it something else that they say that they may do in future if economic growth comes their way?
Mr. Trippier : That is a good point on which I can give my hon. Friend not only a specific example, but an assurance. Let us have the assurance first. If the Opposition do not cost their proposals, we do. The renationalisation of the water industry would cost £3.8 billion--and that is to say absolutely nothing of the £28 billion programme which is currently in place and which will run for the rest of the decade. As I shall illustrate later, that cost could not be met, and I do not think that Labour would do it.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Do not actions speak louder than words? Does the Minister recall the vandalism of the former Secretary of State for the Environment, his right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who, at the very time that the White Paper was issued, turned down the inspectors' recommendation for a tunnel under Oxleas wood? Does not that presage terrible problems for the Thames corridor plans of the present Secretary of State for the Environment? I refer to the decision in respect of roads and the environment and to the prospective legislation that will put railways into the same category, especially in relation to the channel link. Surely that threatens the environment, and surely the Government's proposals for removing the power of the House to make the final decision on railways means that the Government are not to be trusted with the environment. That is proved by their actions.
Mr. Trippier : I understand and have previously heard the views that the hon. Gentleman has just expressed. As he knows, as that matter is quasi -judicial, under planning law it has been left to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman was wrong about the timetable. The White Paper was launched in September 1990 when the Secretary of State for the Environment was my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten).
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East) : Will my hon. Friend confirm that the green belt, which enables us all to have a degree of green and open space and fresh air, has been doubled under this Conservative Government?
Mr. Trippier : I try regularly to remind everyone of that point, and I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of it. That is something of which the Government are enormously proud. It featured hugely in the White Paper and was mentioned again in the anniversary document.
I remind the House that Britain is now taking the environmental lead in Europe. I offer some key examples. Our own system of integrated pollution control, introduced in the Environmental Protection Act 1990, is to be adopted across Europe in the coming years. So that was a first. We have led on proposals for environmental
Column 691labelling of products, for environmental reporting by companies, for public access to information, and on directives as diverse as the nitrates directive and forthcoming tighter controls over emissions from cars and heavy diesels.
For those who still feel that we are lagging, let me say that Britain is one of only a handful of countries to have set a target for reductions in carbon dioxide. We are now developing a programme of measures to implement this target. The number of countries that have produced full comprehensive environmental strategies like our own can be numbered on the fingers of one hand. In the Montreal protocol which controls ozone-depleting substances, United Nations negotiations on climate change, in biodiversity and on forestry Britain is among the leading nations.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : I have no doubt about the Minister's commitment, but I seriously doubt that of the Government. Despite what the hon. Gentleman has said, from which I do not dissent, the fact is that only 15 minutes of the time that the Prime Minister chaired the summit of the Group of Seven countries was spent on the environment. Not one word on the environment passed the Prime Minister's lips when he welcomed the Queen's Speech at the start of this Session. Neither the Chancellor's speech on the Queen's Speech nor his autumn statement, which is meant to be central to Government thinking, contained one word on the environment. The Government's commitment to the environment can have no credibility--I stress that I am talking about the Government, not the Minister--if the Prime Minister and the Chancellor do not think that the environment is important, even if lesser Ministers do.
Mr. Trippier : It is not a case of a word, because the anniversary document contains a tremendous number of words and has the seal of the Prime Minister, who wrote the foreword. The hon. Gentleman must admit that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was the first world leader to commit himself to going to Rio next June for the world summit. We have not yet had similar commitments from all the Heads of Government of the other European member states. Our commitment is real. The fact that my right hon. Friend made an important speech on the environment shortly after becoming Prime Minister is itself significant. In contrast, I have not heard any major speech on the environment, either inside or outside the House, from the Leader of the Opposition.
We have also set the pace in the negotiations for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development next year. As I have said, the Prime Minister was the first to commit himself to attending that conference. We are playing a leading part in the negotiations of the framework conventions on climate change and biodiversity ; and we have committed financial assistance and resources to assisting developing countries in preparing for the convention.
In June we held a seminar on biodiversity to prepare the United Kingdom's contribution on biodiversity. In the
Column 692same month, we hosted an UNCED workshop on biotechnology. We have also funded two studies by Touche Ross on the role of technology transfer in relation to climate change and in biodiversity. Within the United Kingdom we have committed £150,000 to the United Nations Environment Programme--United Kingdom national committee to assist non-governmental organisations in preparing their own contribution to UNCED.
It is vital that UNCED results in practical plans of action that can be implemented through existing institutions. We are determined to avoid the creation of any new bureaucracy. That is why we are supporting an urgent review of UNCED's management and organisation which will assist implementation.
We pride ourselves on keeping to our agreements. In the last European Community report on proceedings taken against European Community countries for infringing environmental directives, Britain's record was ahead of all its industrialised competitors and behind only Luxembourg, Portugal and Denmark, which is something that the Commission forgot to mention when it wrote to us recently--just as it forgot to mention the fact that when it wrote to us about environmental impact assessment, it wrote to 10 other countries at the same time.
We believe that our record stands up to detailed comparison and criticism. We want people to look at the figures, to ask the necessary questions, and to make their own decisions on how we can build a better environment. That is why access to information and accountability must be a central plank of what we are about. The anniversary report is a major part of that process, but it is not the only aspect.
In the summer, we produced the first report of the new drinking water inspectorate. It gives the results drawn from the 3.3 million individual tests made over the year. It is frank about where we need to do better, but it shows that 99 per cent. of those 3.3 million tests met the legislative requirements for water quality. Again, we are the only member state in the whole of Europe which publishes such a report.
A cornerstone of this Government's environmental strategy was water privatisation--a bold and innovative step which has given the new water companies £28 billion over the next 10 years. It is the biggest private investment programme ever in water quality and represents £5, 000 for every minute of every day, day in, day out, year in, year out, for the next decade.
That is something the nationalised water boards could never have done. Now Labour says that it would renationalise water at a cost to the public purse of £3.8 billion, with no mention whatever of what would happen to the £28 billion private investment programme. The country could not and would not trust the Labour party. Because of their economic incompetence, the last Labour Government were forced to slash investment in water quality by a third and in sewage treatment by half. The facts speak for themselves. I challenge the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) to say that the Labour party will drop its proposal to renationalise the water industry, just as I hear this morning that it has dropped its proposal to renationalise British Telecom.
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury) : Before the Minister leaves the subject of the water industry, may I suggest that it would be unusual if we had a debate on the environment in which we did not have to reiterate the figures for
Column 693investment by the water industry under the Labour Government compared with that under the present Government. The average figures show that under Labour investment ran at £1,254 million a year whereas under the Conservative Government it was £922 million a year. Even the Minister should know those figures off by heart. While we are on the matter of trust and the water industry, let us deal with water quality. The Minister mentioned the drinking water inspectorate. I was expecting him to give a little more detail than he did. He has had the report of the inspectorate for some considerable time. He will be aware that it shows some serious incidents of water quality breaches of standard, some serious incidents of pollution, and some problems of supply that have caused illness. Does the Minister intend to use his powers under the Water Act 1989 to prosecute any of the water companies for those breaches?
Mr. Trippier : The drinking water inspectorate, which has the teeth to recommend prosecution, believes that where there are infringements prosecution is necessary and should be undertaken. I shall not hesitate to support the inspectorate.
On the hon. Lady's first point, I shall send her a copy of a graph.
Mr. Trippier : So that all Members of Parliament can understand it. They will be able to see at a glance the disgraceful record of the last Labour Government. It is a statement of fact, and I am making it, that under the Labour Government investment in water quality was cut by a third and investment in water treatment was cut by a half. The hon. Lady cannot deny it. As the Labour party says, the principal reason for those cuts was that the Labour Government were pushed into them by the International Monetary Fund. That is its excuse. But who got the country in such a mess that the IMF had to move in?
Mrs. Ann Taylor : I wonder whether we would all be saved a great deal of trouble if the Minister did the sums on the same basis that I have done them and used the figures in the Conservative party brief on how to oppose Labour on water privatisation.
Mr. Trippier : I will happily exchange letters with the hon. Lady. To be consistent with our policy on the environment, which is to give public access to environmental information, I will release my letter to the press. I trust that she will release her reply to the press.
Mr. Sayeed : Is it not a fact that today the water inspectorates, including the drinking water inspectorate and the National Rivers Authority, are independent of the water authorities and can therefore demonstrate that they are doing their job more effectively by prosecuting those who get it wrong? Previously they were poacher and gamekeeper and hid the facts from the people.
Mr. Trippier : My hon. Friend is right. The principal part of the Water Act 1989 was the separation of the poacher and gamekeeper within the water authorities. Now we have set up the NRA, which is the toughest regulatory body in the whole of Europe.
The Labour party is greatly embarrassed because it opposed the Water Bill virtually clause by clause.
Integrated pollution control already requires the compiling of registers of emissions, open to public access. We now aim to take this a stage further by drawing up aggregate registers for processes and types of emission. These will make the figures much more readily accessible to those who wish to study them. I hope to issue a consultation paper on those proposals shortly. Next year we will produce a new statistical report, drawing on guidance from a wide-ranging consultation process. That will place a whole new range of environmental performance in the public domain.
There is no clearer demonstration of the Government's commitment to integrated pollution control than our expansion of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. In January I announced that the inspectorate had been allocated more than 80 posts to enable it to expand to 313 staff by 1 April 1992. I draw it to the attention of the spokesman for the Liberal party, the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), that after further review I shall today announce a further increase of about 50 staff to raise the inspectorate's 1992-93 complement to more than 360. We hope that that approach will produce greater awareness of the role of the individual in environmental improvement and pave the way for setting ever- higher environmental standards. I am pleased to say that, already, we have responded to the very good report of the Environment Select Committee on indoor air quality by saying in the anniversary report that we would develop indoor air standards for the first time. Similar steps are being pursued elsewhere. The NRA is preparing new statutory water quality objectives. A new expert group will help to establish new air quality standards for nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide. HMIP is beginning to introduce IPC standards for industrial plant. There are new requirements for standards of cleanliness for our streets and public places.
Accountability and high standards are the Government's watchword for the environment and the watchword of the citizens charter. I remind the House that every major piece of environmental legislation on the statute book has been put there by a Conservative Government. I have every intention of ensuring that that proud record continues. I listened with interest to what the hon. Member for Dewsbury said to the Labour party conference. She claimed that the Clean Air Act 1956 was introduced by a Labour Government. Absolute rubbish. The Clean Air Act was introduced in 1956 by a Conservative Government. No one on the Opposition Benches seems to be paying attention. Labour Members seem to be studying invisible spots on the Benches. If the hon. Lady is prepared to mislead--I am sure not intentionally--
Column 695water figures? The exchange of correspondence that will take place might flush out some facts rather than hypotheses.
On Wednesday my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his autumn statement our public expenditure plans for the next three years. Within those totals there are significant increases for expenditure on the environment, on top of the substantial increases in the past two years. I shall announce next week full details of the amounts available for the various environmental bodies. In environmental protection there will be new resources for the pollution inspectorate ; and in waste disposal the new arrangements for operating through the private sector or free-standing companies should give local authorities the scope to bring in up to £50 million of private capital to bring about improved standards in that sector.
There are also significant increases for the programmes of other Departments which affect the environment. The large increases for British Rail and London Transport will lead to major improvements in the quality of public transport and conditions on the roads. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will have new resources greatly to extend the programme of support for environmentally friendly farming.
This Government are 100 per cent. committed to the protection and improvement of our environment. We have established the standards in our legislation. We are committing the resources of the public sector and bringing in the private sector. We are making the public our partners in this enterprise and giving them the information and access to decisions which they need to play their part. I am proud of what the Government have already achieved and I commend that record to the House.
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury) : The Minister has proved again that he can get excited on occasions such as this. He was somewhat more low key than usual when he started off this morning, perhaps because of the by- election results yesterday, but, true to his form, he managed to wind himself up as the debate went on. I sometimes wish that we could have a constructive debate rather than an exchange of statistics such as we had on the water industry. However, as long as the Minister wants to conduct these arguments in that way, we shall have to co-operate. I look forward to the exchange of letters on the water issue.
I am pleased that we are having another debate on the environment--that is one thing that hon. Members on both sides of the House can agree on. I hope that this will not be the last word or the only debate during this Session, because debates on the environment are always topical, although often for the wrong reasons--because of crises that arise due to the lack of Government action and foresight.
As the Minister said, the previous debate on the environment was on 12 July. Since then there have been many interesting developments affecting environmental problems. There have also been some significant gaps in Government action, especially in recent weeks. I shall review some of those developments and try to block some
Column 696of the gaps, while making positive suggestions about what the Minister and the Government ought to turn their attention to in the few months left to them.
The Minister spent some considerable time talking about the first anniversary report of "This Common Inheritance"--the report of the Government's record. It would be easy for me to go through that report and point out the areas where there has been a lack of progress. Even the Secretary of State admitted when he launched the anniversary report that there had been problems, especially in many of the Departments. We could talk about water quality or hedgerows ; as the Secretary of State admitted, there are many gaps. However, I intend to resist the temptation of simply going through the report and pointing out those gaps.
Mr. Sayeed : Does the hon. Lady welcome the fact that the report was unprecedented? There has never been an environmental audit of that type before. It was unprecedented to set out the targets and a year later set out how we matched up to them. No other Government have done that.
Mrs. Taylor : I was able to agree with the hon. Gentleman's first comment, as the report is, by definition, unprecedented. However, he went on to talk about targets being met and I must disagree, as I do not think that there has been a clear definition of the targets, nor the range that we would have wished and there have been many gaps even on issues that were the subject of legislation as late as the summer, such as hedgerows. We have not witnessed the progress that we had hoped for. The Government's sort of approach is good, and it is good for information to be provided, but it would be a lot better if the information showed that more progress had been made not merely in the Department of the Environment but in other Departments.
Mr. Trippier : I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments about the report being unprecedented and I appreciate that she was trying to be fair. However I do not think that she would wish to give the impression to the House that there were a lot of gaps. Out of 350 commitments in the White Paper published last September there were only seven gaps and that is not a lot.