§ [Relevant Commission document: No. 11642/79]9.54 am
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secreary of State for the Environment (Mr. William Waldegrave)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 6386/83 on the combating of air pollution from industrial plants; and affirms the need for a consistent framework for air pollution control within the Community.There are two proposed directives for the House to consider in this debate. Directive 6386/83, which is referred to in the body of the motion, was considered at the Environment Council on 1 March and hon. Members will know that the Council agreed a text on that occasion subject to a United Kingdom reserve as Parliament's consideration of the document had not been completed. Copies of an amended version of directive 6386/83, in the form in which I believe it now stands, were deposited in the Vote Office and my comments will generally be addressed to that version.
Document No. 11642/83 is also relevant. It is a proposal by the Commission to the Council for a directive on the limitation of emissions into the air from large combustion plants which, in the interests of brevity, I shall refer to as the large plants directive.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I think that it would be better for me to ask a question now rather than later. The motion refers only to the first document, No. 6386/83, and the second document is relevant to the debate. Am I right in thinking that the Minister is not suggesting that today's discharges the Government's responsibility in relation to the large plants directive?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I confirm that. I shall explain the Select Committee's position. Members of the Select Committee are abroad investigating the matter. We shall want to debate the large plant directive when the Select Committee has presented its report to the House.
A draft of document No. 6386/83—whch is generally referred to as the air pollution framework directive— was passed to the Council by the Commission in April 1983. The proposal was made against a background of increasing concern about industrial emissions in Europe occasioned mainly by German anxiety about forest damage.
Hitherto, the Community's interest in control of industrial air pollution has been expressed in two directives on air quality control and in a directive on control of the sulphur content of gas oil, together with a few other instruments of less significance. The framework directive therefore represents a new course of action within the Community, in that it proposes the institution of a system of control of industrial emissions at source.
The essence of the system proposed was a requirement that industrial plant likely to give rise to air pollution should be subject to prior authorisation; that technology conforming with the "state of the art" should be applied to prevent emissions; and that, if necessary, emission limits should be fixed at Community level. These elements feature in the amended text, although with significant amendments to which I shall refer later.
In the Government's view, the proposal represented a sensible way forward for air pollution control within the Community. Almost any system of control of air pollution 555 depends eventually on the ability to reduce emissions and the UK system of control has long reflected this. The Industrial Air Pollution Inspectorate in England and Wales and its equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland—a Scottish Office Minister is in the Chamber—require the best practicable means, universally known as BPM, to be used to prevent emissions, or, if prevention is impracticable, to render emissions harmless. In order to be in a position to check that BPM are being properly applied, the inspectorates lay down emission limits—known as presumptive limits. A process which fails to conform to the limit is presumed to be failing to match the BPM requirement. I should stress, however, that the main requirement is to comply with what the inspectorates adjudge to be BPM and this applies to the whole process, not only to the emissions which can be measured and to which emission limits can therefore be applied. In practice, the system is flexible and responsive to the varying needs of pollution control and to the complexity of industrial processes. Moreover, it is progressive in that it enables control to be tightened consonant with economic feasibility as control technologies improve.
The legislative base in other countries is different. Most countries lay down standards, including emission limits, in law. They do not require the use of BPM nor do they have a central inspectorate. They tend in our eyes to be rather rigid systems and flexibility is provided by provision for derogrations.
In practice, controls exercised in the UK and those exercised in other countries do not differ greatly and similar control decisions are reached. Since the technical constraints are similar this is perhaps not surprising, but it is an important point, as it meant that, from the outset of negotiations, there was the possiblity of finding a compromise text which could be put into effect in all countries. What is more, there was no question of seeking alternative control systems as in the case of control of discharges to water.
I deal now with the text. Article 3 is of obvious importance. Here the House will see that there is a significant change in the amended text from the Commission's original draft. The requirement to grant prior approval has been limited to the plants listed in annex I. These plants are broadly those controlled by the inspectorates in the United Kingdom and are the ones which give rise to the major emissions. One or two types of plant are included which are not controlled by the inspectorates and are therefore not subject to prior approval. We will have to introduce legislation to cover this matter and I shall refer to it later.
In article 4 there are some subtle but significant changes in the amended version of the directive. The first draft would have required conditions to be fulfilled before grant of authorisation. The amended version requires the competent authorities to be satisfied that certain measures will be taken. I think the House will appreciate that this conforms more readily with practice in this country. Further, the absolute requirements of the first draft—for example that plantswill not entail any dangerhave been dropped, and the preventive measures to be taken are no longer related to the state of the art, but to the best available technology, with the reserve that there should not be excessive costs. This formula accords well, 556 I believe, with the concept of BPM. A corollary to these changes is that the definition of "state of the art" has been dropped from article 2.
I pass now to article 8. I have explained already that United Kingdom practice and that of other countries is very similar, although the legislative base differs. We have an ingrained distaste in the United Kingdom for the rigidity of emission limits, although we do use such limits on a non-mandatory basis and, in fact, we have a few such limits in law. The Commission's first draft of the article entailed the fixing of limits by majority vote and without reference to any criteria. This was quite unacceptable. What we wanted, and what I believe we have now got, is a text which recognised that emission limits are too important to be fixed by majority vote, and which recognised that they must strike a balance between environmental needs—which, of course, are paramount —and the availability and cost of controls. The text also recognises that limits should be fixed "if necessary" and I believe that, in the light of negotiations, the Commission has full regard to whether limits are in fact necessary on the basis of evidence about the pollutants or industries concerned before it makes any proposals.
Article 12 and 13 in the amended version correspond to articles 12 and 14 in the Commission's first draft. Article 12 requires member states to review the development of technology and, in effect, tighten controls on plants as technology improves, subject, of course, to avoiding excessive costs. This accords well with our approach in the United Kingdom. The continuing BPM requirement has often been described as an ever-tightening belt.
Article 13 spells out how existing plants might be brought within control in an altogether more appropriate way than the equivalent article — article 14 — in the commission's first draft. The article is likely to have little impact in the United Kingdom, as most plants subject to the directive are already under control, but the text accords well with the way in which the inspectorate brings existing processes within control when such processes are added to the schedule which defines industries with inspectorate control.
A final point on the text which may be of interest to the House is that it will be noted that the provisions which were included in the Commission's first draft for the setting up of a technical adaptation committee have been deleted. There was a general feeling that such a committee was inappropriate to such a directive.
The directive as it now stands naturally represents a compromise between the various practices of member states. It is, however, a compromise which fully reflects United Kingdom practice. It lays stress on thebest available technology which is economically feasiblewhich we believe to be fully in line with BPM, and it makes provision for emission limits to be devised in a way which we adopt in the United Kingdom. Overall, it provides a sensible and consistent framework for future industrial air pollution control within the Community, without requiring us to dismantle our well tried and widely accepted system of control.
I mentioned earlier that some legislation would be needed. In particular, it will be necessary to legislate to bring local authority powers into line with those of the inspectorates, but, as our response to the fifth report of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution made 557 clear, we have it in mind to do this in any event. We are reviewing the legislation and, in due course, intend to publish a consultation paper on new clean air legislation.
I turn now to the large plant directive, No. 11642/83. Preparation of this draft proposal commenced at much the same time as that of the framework directive, but the proposal did not appear until the end of last year. Serious negotiations have yet to begin.
The proposal deals with the particular problem of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from large combustion plants. It also includes proposals on dust emissions. It is clearly based on German legislation which was enacted last year, and reflects the particular concern of the Federal Republic about air pollution in the light of forest damage. This damage is widespread and a matter for serious concern. The Government share with other members of the Community the view that it is essential to identify and overcome the causes of damage and, indeed, other damage that may be attributed to air pollution elsewhere. It is very difficult, however, to disregard the scientific uncertainties in this case. Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are certainly transformed in the atmosphere into secondary pollutants which give rise to acid deposition, but we know that other pollutants are associated with these processes and may have significant effects on them. We also know that there are many causes of environmental acidity. Finally, we know that ozone, which may also be caused through complex processes in the atmosphere involving various emissions including emissions from car exhausts, may have adverse effects on trees.
I do not think that the House will wish to discuss the general issues today, because, as hon. Members will be aware, the Select Committee on the Environment is currently conducting an inquiry into the problems associated with acid rain. It has visited, as I have, the CEGB's research establishment and taken evidence from the board. It has also been to the Federal Republic of Germany — as I should like to do —to learn about German experience of the effects of acidification on the forests and also about the control of emissions from various sources. It has seen for itself the die-back of trees in the Black forest. The Committee is presently in Scandinavia investigating ecological effects on water and fish life, and subsequently intends to visit the Lake District and Scotland to study the effects attributed there to acid rain.
My hon. Friend for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), the Committee's Chairman, tells me that it is too early for the Committee to give any indication of its final conclusions, although some apparent conflicts in evidence are beginning to resolved. He hopes that the Select Committee will complete its inquiry in time to publish a report to the House before we rise for the summer. The Committee will then welcome an opportunity to participate in a full debate on the issues and the course the House might take — which circumstances prevent its doing today, much to its regret.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has assured the Chairman of the Committee that he will do his best to find time for a debate on the forthcoming report. Perhaps the House might wish to suspend judgment on the acid rain issue, save for the purpose of formally approving —or disapproving—the motion today, until it has had the benefit of considering the findings of its own Select Committee.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I appreciate that this is not the Minister's responsibility, but more that of the Leader of the House, but why was it not possible to delay today's debate until members of the Select Committee were present? We could then have dealt with all the matters at one time rather than having two bites at the same cherry.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
A constraint on us today was to gain the approval of the House for the framework directive before the meeting of the Council of Environment Ministers the week after next. It was thought to be for the convenience of the House to look at the two documents together, and I should like to go to the Council of Ministers with the backing of the House to remove our Parliamentary reserve on the framework directive.
As I said to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), the substantive negotiations on the big plant directive have not yet begun. There is no hurry. If the Select Committee produces its report by the summer, we will be on course for having a debate in the House at the right time.
The Government have yet to complete their consideration of all the technical implications of the draft directive. There are, however, a few major technical points. For example, the bulk of the plants to be covered by the directive would be steam raising boilers. It would also cover many process heating plants, control of which raises many complex technical issues. There is, in general, uncertainty about the availability of control technologies. There is one well tried technique for controlling sulphur dioxide, but new and possibly cheaper techniques that are being developed have yet to be tried. Technologies to control nitrogen oxides in United Kingdom conditions have yet to be developed and work is in progress. Another technique is the continuous monitoring of flue gases, which would be required by the directive. This would be extremely expensive and we believe that it may be difficult, even with the best will in the world, to produce comparable results for all members states.
I mention those points to show that, apart from the policy issues, there are major problems to be considered on this directive. We are receiving comments from interested bodies and I especially welcome the opportunity provided by this debate to hear the views of hon. Members on this significant, but potentially very costly proposal. This debate will by no means be the last opportunity for hon. Members to consider this major issue, and I commend the documents to the House.
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
I am glad of this opportunity to discuss these documents. Too often we are unable to discuss serious environmental problems. It is good to be able to do so on this occasion knowing that, with a full day ahead of us, there is no pressure of time.
As the Parliamentary Under-Secretary pointed out, although we are discussing the framework document, we are at the same time discussing what we might call the large plants document which raises some serious policy problems, not only for the UK and Europe but for the whole world because, as the Royal Commission pointed out in a recent report, some of the most serious environmental problems concern air emissions and control.
I was interested in the intervention of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) about the 559 Select Committee. I took the same view as that hon. Gentleman to begin with. I concluded, however, that it was preferable that the House should have two opportunities to discuss the problem. We are, therefore, able to set out our stall now, consider the report of the Select Committee and perhaps change our views if we consider that new evidence has been forthcoming.
The Select Committee is now in Norway and Sweden. Like the Minister, I have had opportunities to go there. About six weeks ago I met the Norwegian Minister of the Environment and members of the directorate and discussed the problem of acid rain and air emissions as they affect Norway and, indirectly, Sweden. I found that a valuable experience.
It is no secret that I am largely a sceptic on matters affecting the EEC. Too often, harmonisation means little more than keeping a tidy filing cabinet, often resulting in the loss of the individual characteristics of a region or nation. But when it comes to environmental pollution control and matters such as we are discussing today, it is an apt forum for the introduction of controls.
After all, polluted air—that, basically, is what we are discussing — recognises no national boundaries. Indeed, the EEC regulations can be regarded as only a beginning because the boundaries are not restricted to the Common Market. I referred to the Nordic countries, but one must think of eastern Europe, too. Therefore, it is right and proper that the EEC should be involved with these problems.
The Minister conducted us technically, if narrowly, through the main framework legislation, and we accept the basic thrust of his argument. I was less than happy with his more general approach to the documents, especially No. 11642/83, because it seemed to be the familiar story of the Government saying, "We recognise that there is a problem, but we shall do nothing about it. We do not have all the evidence and what action we might take would cost a lot of money." We had the usual wringing of hands followed by lame excuses.
It must be said that this Government's record on environmental matters is the worst of any post-war Administration, Labour or Conservative. Their Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, for example, heralded as provisions to safeguard our natural environment, is little more than a blueprint for people to ignore conservationists and destroy the countryside.
It is sad, knowing that the Minister understands and cares about these problems, that we should have had the type of response from the Government that we have had today, a response that is all too common nowadays. After all, we have earned the wrath of all who are interested in the environment. From the way in which I judge the mood of the Minister — I hope that I am wrong — the Government will not push hard for the implementation of 11642/83 document. I admit that it is at an early stage, but the Germans and Continentals are pushing it, and it is widely known in Europe that the British Government will slow matters down by dragging their feet on these international environmental matters.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is trying to enliven a debate which might otherwise be thought to be unusually calm for the type of debates in which the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey 560 (Mr. Hughes) and I normally take part. We do not have the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) with us today, which is unusual. The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) is being unfair. He and his hon. Friends would, surely, wish us to go carefully before taking action which might add £8 per tonne to the price of coal. We shall take action if the scientific evidence and means are there, but we must take such serious decisions with great care.
§ Dr. Clark
I agree that we must take such decisions with great care. The hon. Gentleman has added a dimension to the debate that was not contained in his introductory speech, and I shall come shortly to scientific evidence.
As for the Minister's comments about coal, it is ironic that this Government should give less subsidy per tonne to the British coal industry than is given to any other coal industry in Europe. In other words, for the hon. Gentleman to talk about coal subsidy is remarkable, and I shall return to that, too.
The Minister, perceptive as always, has realised the key issue to which these directives address themselves. I repeat, when it comes to environmental matters, this Government's record is not good. Indeed, on the international scene, my hon. Friends and I can be seen to be the good Europeans and good neighbours. By taking a negative attitude, the Government are not only being bad neighbours but are doing irreparable damage to our own environment and countryside. I trust that if my information and evidence is wrong, the Minister will, today or on another occasion, correct me.
The point of today's debate is to enable us to look at the scientific evidence. I came across the problem of polluted air, SO2 and carbon emissions, many years ago, though not quite so long ago as Mr. R. A. Smith who, as the Minister will be aware, wrote a book in 1872 entitled, "Air and Rain." I came across the problem about 15 years ago when, having worked in the forestry industry, I felt that there was a good case for some limited afforestation in parts of the Pennines.
I put forward a scheme and had discussions with the Forestry Commission, which was experiencing great difficulty. We tried a pilot scheme on the Pennines and found that the traditional pines above the moors—above Mossley and that area of Yorkshire and Lancashire— would not survive. At first it was thought that carbon from the mill towns of south-east Lancashire was responsible but, on examining the matter more closely, we discovered that that was not so. The basic problem, we found, was acid rain—H2SD4 as it becomes when it falls—and that was someting new to me 15 years ago.
In everyone's naivity at that time, we were happy with an assurance that we got from the CEGB. "Do not worry. The problem will be solved," we were told, because the CEGB intended to build tall chimney stacks so that the SO2 would not fall on the northern Pennines but go into the stratosphere and disappear. We accepted that and thought that it would be grand.
That is exactly what happened, and the rate of SO2 deposition on the Pennine hills was considerably reduced. The tragedy has been that there have been increased emissions. They do not fall on the Pennine hills or on our landscape. Much of it is exported across the North sea.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I accept that the Pennine phenomenon is exactly as the hon. Gentleman describes 561 it. He made what was perhaps a slip of the tongue when he said that there had been increased emission. Great Britain is the only country in Europe which, since 1970, has sharply decreased its overall emissions—by 34 per cent. That is a considerable decrease. The percentage of total emissions in Europe contributed by Britain is smaller than it was 20 years ago.
§ Dr. Clark
I fully accept that. The Minister has made a fair point. We have perhaps increased our export of emissions to the Scandinavian countries over the past 15 years, but I accept what he said about the 34 per cent. reduction over the past few years.
I emphasise that most, if not all, the emissions go to Scandinavia, and there are still major and growing problems in this country. We must not debate the issue too narrowly. It is worth reminding ourselves and the British public of the effect of these air emissions — I believe that this is the best term to use—on our neighbours. In our case it is our Scandinavian neighbours, who are not covered by the EEC treaty.
Many British people take their holidays in the Scandinavian countries and wonder at the landscape, the lakes and the forests. It must therefore be realised that the forests and lakes in Norway and Sweden are dying. The Minister says that there is scientific uncertainty, and that is true. It is difficult to work out, when considering the damage to lakes and forests, whether the air emissions are the cause of the stress factor. Those are the key scientific connotations.
There is no doubt that air emission is, to a large extent, responsible for the damage to the forests in Sweden and to the lakes in Norway and Sweden. In Sweden, 18,000 lakes are acidic, and 4,000 are so acidic that nothing lives in them. They are sterile and dead. Where there used to be fish and plants, there is nothing. In Norway 13,000 square kilometres are affected and 1,500 lakes are dead. There is a reason for that. A great deal of research has been done to try to ascertain the reason, and millions of kroner have been invested in research into the problem.
The Minister talks about scientific uncertainty. I accept that scientists never agree. They are almost as bad as economists. One must look at the wealth of scientific material that is available. I have summaries and synopses of report after report. In Norway a massive eight-year interdisciplinary study was made. It concluded that despite all the complicated chemical interaction of nitrogen-oxide, SO2 and aluminium, the problem was air emission. Similar studies in Sweden have come to the same conclusion.
The studies have proved that, without doubt, air pollution is the cause of most of the acidic damage. That pollution originates in the industrial areas of Europe, especially the United Kingdom, West and East Germany, France and northern Italy. Scientific studies of great magnitude have been done by the British and many other Governments and independent bodies. They have concluded that the air emissions are antisocial and irresponsible. We cannot continue to say, as the Government do, "Let us leave it a little longer, let us leave it two or three years". We cannot wait that long. Our European colleagues, too, have concluded that we cannot wait that long.
In his earlier intervention, the Minister was perceptive and rightly raised the key issue. He mentioned cost. Of course it will be costly to tackle the problem. No one could deny that. We must offset that cost against the cost of the 562 damage being done. A report to the European Parliament suggested that the annual cost of air pollution damage in Europe was £33 billion. I heard a report from a scientist at the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology who estimated two or three years ago that the cost in this country of lost agricultural and horticultural production was roughly £120 million per year. We are talking about the great cost to this country of inaction. It is against that background that the cost of trying to solve the problem must be set.
I accept that the cost would lead to price increases. The Central Electricity Generating Board talks about an increase of about 10 per cent. in the cost of electricity to bring in measures to clean air emissions. I am doubtful about that estimate, but even if it is right I find it odd for the Government to say that is too much, especially when the Government put a 10 per cent. tax on gas and electricity from 1979 to 1981 We could bear the cost then. I do not see why we should not bear it now, although I have grave doubts as to whether the cost will be that great.
I mentioned the damage to Scandinavian and other European countries caused by air emissions in this country. The time has come to start examining the evidence of the effect of air emissions on this country because it is for this country that the Government and we as parliamentarians are primarily responsible. Even if the Government feel that they have no obligations to our European neighbours, they must recognise that they bear some responsibility towards our citizens.
If the Government are coy about telling the British people the truth, the Opposition intend to take the opportunity to explain the position, on the evidence that we have. I put this challenge to the Government—if our evidence is wrong I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity now or as soon as he has checked the evidence —to reassure us and say that it is not the case.
Unless the Government are prepared to take some action, through this document or some other means, the slow death march across the environment of Great Britain will continue. It affects not just rural areas. Town dwellers may think that it does not affect them. It affects urban areas just as much. It affects this great Parliament where we are having to spend millions of pounds on a refurbishment and a facelift. We have only to look across the road to Westminster abbey to see that much of the detail of the building has disappeared through acid rain. St. Paul's cathedral has lost 30 mm. of Portland stone. Cleopatra's needle has lost more detail in 80 years on the Embankment than it lost during the previous 3,000 years in Egypt, despite the harsh climate, the sand and the wind.
The problem affects the whole country. It affects the town dweller as well as the country dweller. Stones can be refurbished and replaced but it is much more difficult to bring to life a dead lake and to make fertile again a forest that may be dying. That is the rural problem. The problem unfortunately seems to be more acute in areas of natural beauty. The evidence that I have shows that dozens of Scottish lakes are being affected. I don't know whether the Minister will deny this, but I understand that the Government are suppressing a report of The Nature Conservancy Council in Scotland which says that Scottish lakes are being affected. I understand that Loch Grannoch in Galloway——
§ Mr. Waldegrave
That is out of the question. No information is being suppressed by my Department or that of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of 563 State for Scotland. My hon. Friend's Department is rapidly increasing its expenditure on resources. Everything that we have commissioned so far has been published. There is no question of secrecy.
§ Dr. Clark
I take that as an assurance that, before long, the report by the Nature Conservancy Council in Scotland which has been completed for some time will be published in full, unedited, so that we may have a look at it.
Loch Grannoch in Galloway is reported to be dead. Perhaps it is Britain's first dead lake. Loch Enoch and Loch Fleet have lost all their fish. If that is right, it is a serious matter, and we need reassurance from the Government. In north and central Wales water courses are affected, as the Royal Commission reported recently, when it suggested that the Llyn Brianne reservoir was seriously affected.
The Lake District is also affected. Mr. David Kinsman told the Royal Society in September 1982 thatSeveral of the large Lake District lakes are now at risk. It would take only minor changes in rainfall acidity to make them more acidic, when there would be considerable biological changes.In our most sensitive landscapes in Scotland, England and Wales, there is serious evidence of acidic damage from air emissions, and action is needed now. According to the Department of the Environment's sponsored study, rainfall in the United Kingdom is becoming increasingly acidic. It is four to five times more acidic than normal. In Bush in Scotland, it was found on one occasion that the rainfall was 100 times more acidic than it should be. In places such as Banchory in Aberdeenshire, in the Grampian region, there is, because of the dry summer and the concentration of rain after it, a major problem.
I wish that the Government would take this on board. The Minister mentioned technical problems. Of course, there are technical problems. When I met the CBI technical committee recently to discuss the problem, I said that I was frankly amazed at its lack of confidence in tackling it. There was a time when this country led the world in pollution control. At that time, we had the leading technology for control. Unfortunately, we have lost that initiative. These problems can be solved by technology. That is a challenge for industry. The problems are worldwide; the markets are worldwide. British industry should try to tackle the problems. It will not do it on its own, so it must be persuaded to do so. That can be done by domestic legislation to encourage a domestic market, so that people's skill and expertise could be used, and we could export the technology to other countries. In that way we could get the industry going again and tackle the severe environmental problems that we face.
We do not even have to tackle the problem on our own. It might mean economic disadvantages for the large plants, but even so, it also means that our main European competitors have the same disadvantages and economic difficulties. Therefore, we are four square with our main competitors. For that reason, we believe that the Government should grasp the problem.
We feel strongly that the Government are listening far too much to the CEGB. We recognise that it has a vested interest. It is legitimate for it to put forward all the difficulties in tackling the problems that we are addressing 564 in these documents, but it is the Government's job to go wider than that and to see what is not only in the national but in the international interest.
The document calls for a reduction in sulphur emmissions to 60 per cent. The Minister said that in the past few years we have had a good record in the reduction of sulphur emissions. Why not continue with that? Why are the Government not prepared to go along with our European neighbours, the Nordic countries and Canada and sign the Ottawa declaration of earlier this year? That calls for only a 30 per cent. reduction in the next 10 years. Have the Government costed that? I do not believe that it would cost a great deal. The Labour party believes that we should sign that declaration. I hope that the Minister will respond to those points, if not today, perhaps at a later date.
Although the two directives that we are discussing are technical, they are a provision to try to tackle one of the greatest environmental problems that we face. We must face up to the challenge seriously, as the Minister suggested. We cannot tackle it alone; we must do so internationally. The documents provide us with that international perspective.
I hope that the Minister, as well as Conservative Members who share our view, will take on board the Opposition's message to the Council. We want Britain to be in the lead, and not to be the laggards. If the Minister is prepared to accept that, I shall give him the Opposition's blessing. We do not want to carp—this is above petty party politics. It is a major issue. We urge the Government to take a much more positive line than the Minister has taken.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
I rise, not in the hope of being able to match the expertise shown either by my hon. Friend the Minister or by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), but because it is not inappropriate to let the House know that a growing number of hon. Members, at least in the Conservative party, are at the beginning of their learning curve on matters such as the details of acid rain and are becoming increasingly concerned at the lack of progress in controlling such a damaging phenomenon.
I—and I am sure that this applies to many of my hon. Friends—have been impelled into the debate partly through my own interest and partly because the subject commands as large a share of my correspondence as any other subject. I come from a constituency which has a large area of outstanding beauty. Although none of us is particularly at risk from acid rain at the moment, none of us feels confident that we will not be at risk, and a variety of environmental threats concern us. That is part of a wider picture.
I took a different message from the Minister's speech from the hon. Member for South Shields. I did not recognise in my hon. Friend's remarks an unwillingness either to take the subject seriously or to look for opportunities of leading the field in tackling it. What I think my hon. Friend was saying—I agree with it—is that we must be careful about leaping into expensive international obligations when it may prove that other methods of dealing with the problem, when more evidence is available, are more appropriate. However, I, too, strongly urge him to make clear this country's passionate interest in this great problem.
565 The hon. Member for South Shields was absolutely right to widen the implications of the problem to the whole world rather than confine it to the EEC and our Nordic neighbours. The problem is twofold. First, pollution knows no boundaries. Secondly, any steps taken in this country or the EEC which increase industrial costs make us enormously vulnerable to competition from other countries which may not at this stage be aware of the need for, or be able to take, similar measures.
It would be tragic irony if we impoverished ourselves only to see our markets taken by countries not at the same stage of sophisticated concern. We have been too ready for too long to accept the view that because Europe is enormously rich and much of its industrial plant is older than the rest we can with impunity take measures which do not apply to the rest of the world. Therefore, although it is essential that the EEC should take a lead and be seen to be doing so, I very much hope that by all kinds of efforts — including, for example, demanding the same standards for emissions from foreign vehicles as we shall gradually demand from our own—we shall make it clear that the problem and the obligations are world wide.
As there will be costs and problems, we must be aware of the great need to educate the public so that they fully understand the issues. I am sure that other hon. Members also receive letters complaining about the growth of the nuclear power industry from the same people who complain about emissions from conventional power stations. One way to deal with the pollution caused by electricity generation would be to have more nuclear power stations, but it would be very difficult to sell that argument to those in my constituency who are concerned about environmental pollution. A great deal of public education is needed on this and on costs. There is a growing understanding of the need for action, but I do not think that the public have yet come anywhere near understanding the possible implications on their short-term standard of living of taking adequate measures to protect their long-term future and that of their children.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I wish to make a preliminary comment on procedural matters. The House frequently debates at large matters that have been causing public concern. This may be done in a debate on the Adjournment or it may be a matter of responsibility for a Minister—perhaps a reduction in his pay—and everyone knows what it is about because there is a motion on the Order Paper.
I believe that the issues before us today are of that nature. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and the cautionary remarks of the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) have admirably illustrated that. We must ask ourselves whether using the peg of legislation is the right way to achieve the kind of debate which the country expects of us today. I make no complaint about the fact that we are discussing legislative proposals— that is what we are here for—but I suggest that it might not always be appropriate to link legislation, rather than a White Paper, with the broad canvas with which the country requires us to deal.
For that reason, I was most disappointed with the Minister's general approach. I had thought that he would begin by dealing with the broad canvas on a matter of such great public concern throughout the country before coming down to the narrower legislative proposals with which we 566 properly have to deal. Instead, he went straight into a quite proper, but highly technical, exposition of one of the documents—the framework document, No. 6386/83, I have a passing acquaintance with that document, but I still had difficulty in following the Minister's references. His comments thus fell far short of what we expected in respect both of the broad canvas and of the detailed draft proposals.
I perceive that we have today a somewhat unusual opportunity to debate these matters at greater length than we might have expected, so I shall now deal with a matter related to my semi-judicial role as Chairman of the Select Committee on European Legislation, following which I shall make some personal comments.
The framework document, No. 6386/83, is the subject of our take-note motion and a matter which the Minister will have to discuss at the Council of Ministers fairly shortly. It first came before the Select Committee in November and is dealt with in paragraph 5 of the eighth report of the Select Committee, HC 78-viii, published on 30 November 1983. I wish to draw attention to some of the points that we made. I was disappointed to note that the Minister did not refer to them in his remarks.
The Select Committee report states that the documentlays down the elements or framework of a system of control to facilitate the preparation of a series of subsequent Directives containing precise requirements for specific categories of plant.In other words, the document lays down guidelines and principles for later legislation. It is not a legislative instrument as such, but the beginning of a process. It lays down principles for subsequent action.
The report further states:The proposed Directive would be made under Articles 100 and 235 of the Treaty of Rome.A directive requires further legislation, so if the Council of Ministers adopts this proposal further legislation will come before the House, but it will not be at large because we shall have to keep within the limits of any document agreed by the Council of Ministers.
Article 100 of the Treaty of Rome deals with the need for regulations in respect of creating a common market. I suppose that it could be said that to ensure proper competition and safety thresholds in relation to energy production, chemical plants, and so on, one must start from a common basis. Article 235 relates to the objectives of the treaty and the implementation of anything relating to them. There might thus be some debate about the extent to which those articles provide a basis for what may or may not be contained in the final document.
As the Minister said, the proposals accord broadly with United Kingdom practice, except in the provision for Community-wide fixed emission limits. That is something of an understatement. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields that limits need to be fixed, but limits laid down from above may be arbitrary and may not produce the best value for money. We all want action, but we also want value for money.
The report further states thatthere is a general objection to the fixing of standards at Community level and to the use of qualified majority procedures for this purpose.When he replies to the debate, I should like the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to say whether that is one of the changes which have occurred in the two forms of document that he mentioned. When the Minister mentioned the changes, I do not think that he referred to any change in this respect. Majority voting in the EEC, 567 which can cause problems on any matter, could do so particularly on this one. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether that is still contained in the legislative instrument.
The Minister referred to the new articles of the instrument as they are now presumably to be discussed at the Council of Ministers. The document supplied to the Vote Office calls itself:Illustrative Text of Draft Council Directive".What exactly does that mean? the Minister referred to the changes and to the articles in fairly definite terms, but if this is only the illustrative text of a draft, there is some room for slippage. In its capacity as a legislative Chamber, the House should not be satisfied with that.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
It would be helpful if, when the Minister has been advised by those who are here to help him, he could tell us exactly what is the status of the second document before us. It is important to know whether the document to be on the table in Brussels later this month is the second draft, and whether those are the words about which we are now concerned. There are substantive changes, some of which have been referred to. It would be helpful to know the formal status of the document.
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Gentleman underlines an important point. We are legislating for a possibly sensitive domestic issue by what amounts almost to blanket approval. Within the framework which the House has accepted that may be inevitable, but we must be very careful about the substantive documents.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I hope that I can lay that worry to rest. The form of words is standard. It recognises that if the House did not approve the motion the text would not be in its final form. However, the substantive negotiations to produce the document have taken place. I am advised that the procedure is standard.
§ Mr. Spearing
I do not doubt that this is a standard procedure in respect of the take-note motion, but there is something which I do not think I have come across before. I stand to be corrected, because this is a labyrinthine area of legislation. The whole heading is:Amended Version of European Community Document No. 6386/83—Illustrative Text of Draft Council Directive on the Combating of Air Pollution from Industrial Plants".That does not sound definitive. It may well be that it is standard procedure to have a flexible document on which the Minister then negotiates, but if that is so, let him say so.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I have just made it clear to the hon. Gentleman that the opposite is the case. This is the document which we negotiated. We leave room to accommodate the opinions of the House, should the House tell us to make any changes. However, the document before the House today is the document negotiated and agreed at the Council of Ministers.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am grateful for the Minister's assurance, but the title does not give that impression. I shall leave the matter there for the moment.
As well as the framework directive, there is a much bigger document—No. 11642/83 COM(83)704. That is the big plant emission document, to which the Minister referred. This document came before the Select Committee on European Legislation earlier this year. The 568 Committee asked many bodies in the country to provide written evidence, and we shall publish a full report on the document in the forthcoming document HC 78-xxvii on our deliberations on 23 May.
We had evidence from many important bodies, including the Association of District Councils, the Central Electricity Generating Board, the Chemical Industries Association, the CBI, the National Society for Clean Air and the Institution of Environmental Health Officers. That evidence is in the Library. At some stage that evidence, the report of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution and, perhaps, the findings of our Select Committee should be debated in the House. I was glad to hear the Minister say that there would be such a debate, and I know that the nation will expect the debate to be properly conducted.
I have spoken in my formal capacity as Chairman of the Select Committee, and I make no apology for being pernickety about procedures. This is a legislative Chamber. I shall now give a more personal view of the matters before us. I was disappointed, personally, at the scope of the Minister's speech. Instead of tackling the matter in a broad way, bringing us down only in the end to the necessary minutiae of technical legislation, the Minister failed to paint the big picture. I hope that the Government will do so at some later stage.
I understand that in doing that the Minister would face certain problems. First, there are some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields. There is the question of international competition. It is not only the EEC which is involved. The EEC is not Europe, and EEC instruments do not apply to the whole of Europe. Norway and Sweden are not members of the EEC. The meteorological charts show that the winter high pressure area extends over both eastern and western Germany, and so the eastern COMECOM bloc countries are involved as well as the western economic summit nations or the free countries of Europe. The COMECOM countries certainly affect West Germany by their consumption of lignite and soft coal.
This is a world matter. Even if the nations of Europe, including East Germany and Russia, came together to consider the effects of pollution on the meteorological systems around Europe, there is nothing to prevent someone in Taiwan, South America, Malaysia or Korea from setting up some chemical plant or process which should necessitate a great deal of expenditure on the protection of the environment. Such a plant could cut into the markets of the rest of the world.
The EEC approach may be welcome, but it may not be enough. The EEC regulations will have to comply with some world agreement on the issue, but EEC regulations and ideas concerning, for instance, agriculture and food do not fit into world patterns. If we go ahead on an EEC basis, we must ask to what extent any EEC agreement will fit into the world economic scene. A satisfactory Europe-wide arrangement would be no good if countries on the other side of the world could undercut us and thereby disrupt not only industries but also societies in Europe.
Perhaps the biggest philosophical problem that faces the Government is that the exploitation of our national resources can have unexpected disadvantages. I am glad to see the Minister nodding assent. Moreover, technology can exploit man. If there is to be the worldwide competition that the Prime Minister occasionally tells us she favours, there must be some form of worldwide 569 arrangement between Governments to ensure that neither nature nor man is exploited. Without such an arrangement we shall be in trouble. It might be possible to get agreement on such issues, but those who are involved in international affairs know that it is difficult to get it. Flags of convenience and the exploitation of seafarers is a well-known example.
I fear that we cannot be sure that every Government will have the same standard when it comes to lives being threatened by asbestos or polluted waters. At least we can measure the pH value of water in lakes and rivers and assess how much hydrogen sulphide is in the atmosphere — although our report shows that that is not always easy. Scientists do not always agree on quantities which seem to be measurable. Moreover, I do not think that it is possible to measure the effect of competition on the societies which sustain the industries with which we are dealing. That is why it is difficult for the Government to approach these matters philosophically.
With regard to the breaking up of societies reliant on the coal industry in Britain, it is possible to measure the quantitative effects and to impose rules worldwide about the quantity of production, but it is extremely difficult to measure exploitation in terms of the quality of life in a society. However, it is the quality of life that becomes an increasingly critical problem in view of ever-growing competition, exploitation and technology.
§ Dr. David Clark
My hon. Friend is drawing the House's attention to a pertinent point. I am sure he agrees that we must tackle the problem stage by stage. Although the documents are a useful starting point, they must be built on. I should like to remind my hon. Friend that, in Ottawa, Austria, Canada, Denmark, West Germany, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland—many of which are not members of the EEC—took some first steps. We should have been there and added our signature to the document. There is deep anxiety in East Germany, Poland and Hungary, and I understand that Russia is interested in having discussions on the Ottawa agreement. I hope that the Minister will take my hon. Friend's point on board.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the international discussions that are going on. The Minister has rather better means of finding out what they are.
Perhaps the framework which the documents will produce are compatible with the international consultations which my hon. Friend has outlined. I strongly hope that they are. If they are, the House and the interested public will rest content. If, however, they are incompatible, and agreement in the EEC or within the European continent does not accord with the trend in international agreements, we should know about that, as whatever we do here could be upset by the increasing rate and pace of international trade.
The phrase "acid rain" has come to mean more than those two words. Most people know that rain is naturally acid—its pH should be about 5.6, whereas neutral is 7. All rain is therefore slightly acid in a world without chemical works and power stations. We must assess how much rain's natural acidity is influenced by man's activities. The dead lakes and rivers which my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields mentioned are not created solely by acid rain. Much happens in soil and the 570 environment during the precipitation and collection of rain. My hon. Friend mentioned his experience with the Forestry Commission. He will know that the acidity of coniferous trees reinforces acid soil or naturally acid rain. It would be stupid to suggest that dead lakes have been caused by afforestation, but I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that acidity in lakes, ponds and streams can be caused by factors other than acid rain.
Acid rain and acid deposits in the United Kingdom have been the subject of a report by the Warren Spring laboratory. I am sorry that the Minister did not mention it. Its report sets out a list of recommendations. The Government might have given their response to those recommendations—if so, I have missed them. As this is the only debate that we have had on the subject, I should have thought that we could be given the Government's general view on these matters.
I should like now to deal with the issue of hydrocarbon emissions being the main or only source of increased acidity in rain. There is little doubt that the major emissions from hydrocarbon power stations are a significant factor, but they may not be the only ones. One criticism that has been made of what I might call the emissions document, which we shall discuss later, is that it deals only with power staton emissions and ignores many other phenomena of which we are not so well aware. There is hardly any smog in London nowadays, and the clean air of our city is remarkable. One can see views now that one would not have thought possible years ago. However, other scientific papers, with which I shall not bore the House now, show that other things happen invisibly. We are burning much more gas. One need only visit Los Angeles to see what happens as a result of motor car exhausts. I do not say that they are the main cause of acid rain, but they could be a contributory factor.
The Friends of the Earth organisation has produced an interesting and worthwhile document called, "Acid Rain: The Politics of Pollution". I do not endorse everything that it says. The organisation might have concentrated on one cause, and we may be tempted to rush in to deal with one cause without considering the others. We should consider this matter more widely. If the Minister has not already done so, I ask him to examine this document and to refer to it during his closing remarks.
I say that because, to some extent, there have been trailers in the press—I shall not call them puffs—that the Prime Minister is becoming more interested in this issue and that the Conservative party is becoming a little green at the edges, at least in its publicity if not in practice. One reason why the Green Movement has not made political advances in Britain similar to those in other European countries is that all British political parties pay some attention to such matters. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) is not here today, but I am sure that he frequently expresses his views on the matter in the Conservative party.
I have the honour to be president of the Socialist Environmental and Resources Association, and for about 10 years there has been a strong green pressure group in the Labour party. No doubt we shall hear from hon. Members of other parties contributing to the debate about their views on the matter. We can be glad that in Britain people of all political persuasions understand the issues. Parliament should discuss them more often. That is why the statements from the Government, as distinct from the statements from parties, are so amazing. In this debate the 571 Government could have set out their policy on air pollution in general; indeed, we partly expected them to do so. However, we got nothing of the sort.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
Before the hon. Gentleman gets carried away with this line of argument, I remind him that his Committee recommended that the documents should be considered by a Select Committee, not on the Floor of the House. He knows that the Select Committee is away, as I explained, and it would be wrong to make this the occasion for a major debate before the Select Committee has reported. That would be a insult to the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Spearing
I made it clear that the latter part of my speech would be a personal view unrelated to the Select Committee on European Legislation. However, I take the Minister's point. The Select Committee on the Environment is considering this matter, especially acid rain. The Committee is presently in Norway or on the continent, but that does not mean that the Government could not have given us an outline of the way in which they approach such matters. The Minister did not take the opportunity to do so.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)
The hon. Gentleman mentioned automobile emissions. Does he agree that the Government have moved rapidly on the subject of lead in petrol, have given an example of their anxiety about environmental matters, and are working in a European context to promote environmental matters in that way?
§ Mr. Spearing
I agree that the Government have moved, but I am not sure whether the adjective "rapidly" is appropriate.
I gave way to the Minister during a peroration, and now I shall have to crank it up again. Although there is considerable and proper concern among Members and supporters of all parties in the House, one reason why the Government are not reflecting that concern is that the Chicago school of economics and proper concern for the protection of the environment do not mix. Chicago economics measure only the strictly quantitative in respect of balance sheets and profits. They cannot take into account the qualitative, even within the confines of one private enterprise company. Therefore, the Government cannot have regard to the qualitative, on a national or an international basis, relating to the protection of the environment, let alone the protection and quality of society. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet cannot move on genuine environmental matters because their political philosophy, not necessarily that of all Conservative Members, will not permit them to do so.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Mid-Bedfordshire)
I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in this welcome debate on environmental pollution in Europe, and I welcome the fact that some first, tip-toeing steps are being taken by the European Community to draw together the approaches of all Community countries to what is a European-wide, indeed a world-wide, problem.
I deplore any attempt to lower the level of the debate to one of party political difference. It must be clear from 572 the number of Conservative Members present today that the Conservative party has a strong interest in the environment.
§ Mr. Lyell
Yes my hon. Friend is quite right, six times; but I too should be descending if I followed that remark by my hon. Friend!
The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), whose interest in the subject is well known, said that the Conservative party is becoming green at the edges. I am happy to accept that description. Conservative Members are not only green at the edges, but have veins of green running through our philosophy, because as Conservatives we do indeed believe in conservation. That applies to the environment as it does to anything else. We believe in a balanced approach to the matter, not in hysterical shouts for billion-dollar solutions before the problem has been properly examined. However, we should not flinch from expensive solutions if those solutions will in the end be cheap in relation to the huge benefits that they may confer.
There is much ignorance about environmental pollution. As the hon. Member for Newham, South said, all rain is mild by acid, and it is far from clear what the major casue of acid rain is. Is it the large coal-fired power stations of Britain and the rest of Europe? I see the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) shaking his head; he may be right because it might not be those power stations. Is it caused by emissions from vehicles? The Germans are beginning to recognise, with their serious problems in the black forest, that vehicle emissions might play a major part in the problem. Is it the increasing emissions of ozone and its effects on the atmosphere? We do not really know. We must find out, because this is a problem that is likely deeply to damage our environment. It is incumbent upon us, in the United Kingdom, in Europe generally and, insofar as we can encourage it, worldwide, to employ large resources on discovering what the real causes are and then directing whatever is needed to overcome the problem.
§ Dr. David Clark
While there is scientific discussion about the effect of acid rain on lakes and the environment, there is no doubt what causes it. The CEGB acknowledges that its power stations are responsible—as are motor emissions—for the vast majority of acidic pollution put into the air. There is no dispute about where that comes from, as the Minister would agree, but there is disagreement about its effect on the ecological balance.
§ Mr. Lyell
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I agree with him. Certainly, the amount of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides being emitted by power stations are increasing the acidity of the rain, as we all recognise. What is not known, and what the hon. Gentleman has highlighted, is the reason why lakes in Scandinavia are becoming sterile, and why forests are dying. There are suggestions, too, that forests in Scotland are being damaged. We must discover the causes.
I welcome the Prime Minister's answer to a recent question in which she pointed out that the CEGB and the National Coal Board are funding a five-year study at a cost of £5 million to investigate these matters. I should like to push the Government further on this, because I am a little worried that the two bodies that find themselves in a corner on this matter are the only ones to be taking the lead in the 573 research into that problem. I see that my hon. Friend the Minister is shaking his head and I am delighted to think that he will be able to enlighten me about further important measures about which I should already know. This matter requires a study under the full impetus of Government so that it is a balanced study, and so that it does not come simply from the two vested interests in this matter.
My main point is that the costs arising from the problem and the benefits that may come from particular solutions should be carefully evaluated across the board. We tend to concentrate on ordinary power stations the cause of these emissions, but I suspect that simple domestic central heating produces a great deal of SO2, for example, into the atmosphere of London. It may not produce smogs such as the ones that we remember from 1956, but it probably causes a great deal of damage. It is recognised that vehicle emissions cause a great deal of damage as well.
When we are looking at the way that we generate power, we should do a careful comparison between nuclear power and power from conventional fuels. A great deal of attention has recently been directed at the nuclear industry and its potential pollutant effects. I have a strong constituency interest, as my hon. Friend the Minister knows, in seeing that we get the right answer to these problems. In Mid-Bedfordshire, we do not particularly wish—that is a gross understatement—to see even the low and intermediate level of nuclear waste dumped in our area. I ask the Government carefully to cost the pollutant effect of these different industries so that we can spend our money in the wisest possible way to generate the power that we need for the coming decades, while at the same time being careful not to ruin our environment.
I suspect—here is a further plug about nuclear waste — that for comparatively limited cost, we need not worry our citizens, and those of other countries following the same route, by distributing nuclear waste around the country and dumping it in the soil, with potentially harmful long-term results. Compared to the overall expenditure of power generation, the cost of finding a more acceptable solution will not be excessive.
To return to coal and standard forms of power generation, we must not allow the NCB and the CEGB simply to say to us that we are proposing a billion-dollar solution to a million-dollar problem, and they cannot afford that. It is not a question of Chicago economics but of particular industries not wanting to have to add to their costs when other industries are getting away with it more cheaply. We are discussing a very important problem, on which my impression is that we are still much more ignorant than we should be.
I ask for further Government impetus and, if necessary, whatever reasonable sums of Government money are required to ensure that the study of what are now recognised to be major problems are carried out as swifly as possible in an impartial, scientific and effective way; then we can apply the right solution.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, even though there are reservations about the way that this debate has been initiated, and to put the position of the Liberal party and its allies on the record. I join those in all parties who are increasingly concerned to put pressure on the Government 574 to make sure that the right things are done, not only in the House, but in negotiations and decision-making, particularly in the European Community.
The question that I asked earlier was intended to elicit from the Under-Secretary the fact that we are debating this matter today because in two weeks' time he is going to an important meeting of the Ministers in the European Community concerned with environmental matters. We hope that that will now be given greater importance by the Government of the United Kingdom as a result of the meeting, to which the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) referred, that we understand the Prime Minister called at Chequers recently to discuss environmental matters and Government policy. I hope that the European meeting will be an opportunity, which the Government will seize, to redeem our position as it is perceived by our allies and partners in Europe.
Objectively, the United Kingdom is seen not as leading the way, but as a laggard partner in environmental protection. There are two obvious sources for those criteria of objectivity. One is the report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the other is a simple statistical table, which shows how we rate, compared to other countries and neighbours, on environmental pollution.
I recall that the Under-Secretary said that he hoped that the Government would produce their response to the Royal Commission report at some stage before the end of this Session. I hope that that means that there will be a full opportunity to debate not just air pollution, a subject which will have to come back to us after the Select Committee has considered its deliberations, but also the wider issues of pollution control and environmental protection, to which the Government are preparing their response. It is a response that needs to be made to the strong criticisms of the Royal Commission. I hope that the Minister will realise that we need to make much progress if such criticism of us is not to be valid.
Paragraph 3.26 says:The United Kingdom may well have been justified in the past in resisting and seeking to modify some of the more impracticable proposals emanating from the European Commission, but we believe that it needs to demonstrate a more positive attitude towards environmental measures in its international negotiations. Whilst the United Kingdom may not have gone so far as to argue that its philosophy, evolved in the context of a unique combination of legal system and geographic al features, is universally applicable, we nevertheless believe it has to some extent over-protested in favour of domestic practices. If only in the interests of international co-operation, the United Kingdom must respond to the views of its European Community partners, and it should do so in a way that ensures that constructive criticism is not mistaken for obstructiveness.The last part that I wish to quote from the report comes at the end of that paragraph, where it says:The United Kingdom cannot easily put its considerable experience in pollution control at the service of the Community as a whole if it continually places itself on the defensive. We would like to see the United Kingdom playing a positive and leading role in international forums, including the European Community, encouraging and formulating further measures for environmental protection. In pollution abatement, as in many other fields, there can also be commercial advantages for a country that is in the lead and has an anticipatory and continuous policy.I hope that that is the attitude that will be manifested by the Under-Secretary of State and his colleagues when they debate environmental matters in future.
Hon. Members have made it clear that air pollution, and particularly acidification or the problem of acid rain, is, 575 to use the words in the title of the booklet that we have received from the Swedish Ministry of Agriculture, "a boundless threat to our environment". As the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) said, the problem knows no natural frontiers. By its nature, it cannot be limited, because it is governed by the wind and geographical factors rather than by political developments. It is a sad fact that the problem has been getting worse, not better.
Two years ago I had the pleasure of visiting Poland where I witnessed the tragedy of the destruction of the physical environment of Cracow — a European city of great beauty which is being polluted away. The best buildings are crumbling almost before one's eyes. I was told that in another 10 years it is highly likely that some of the best buildings in central Cracow will no longer be there. That tragedy is repeated in the physical environment of large parts of Europe.
The book from the Swedish Ministry of Agriculture has an interesting illustration of a statue on the outskirts of the Ruhr area at the castle of Herten—a statue which dates from 1702 and is made of sandstone. The photograph shows the statue clear and well-defined in 1908 but in a photograph taken 60 years later the statue—it my be an angel but it look like a slightly more human creature— has no features at all. We have the same sort of problem in Britain, as we know from the work that is going on around us. Buildings put up by man deserve to be protected and preserved, as does our natural environment —our rivers and lakes.
The table to which I referred shows levels of sulphur deposition in Europe. The total emissions of all the countries shows that the United Kingdom is clearly in the lead. We are clearly and sadly the greatest culprit. Second to us is East Germany. However, we are not nearly as bad on deposition from inland sources, because we export what we have by way of deposition elsewhere. Other countries, primarily Scandinavia, and the north of Britain, receive them by virtue of the way in which the winds blow. Not until we can considerably reduce those statistics which put us in the unsatisfactory position of first in the league table of those contributing to emissions in Europe can we be at all happy that we are going in the right direction.
§ Mr. Lyell
What the hon. Gentleman says may be right in itself, but does he not agree that it is better to put it in context? Is it not correct that in 1950, not quite 35 years ago, we were responsible for about 25 per cent. of all the emissions in Europe. We have reduces our SO2 emissions by 34 per cent. over the past decade or two and are now producing only 11 per cent. Should not that real improvement be recognised widely by our colleagues in Europe?
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman is correct—we have made substantial improvements—but I am sure that all will agree that we are still the worst contributor. That does not mean that we have not been trying hard, but it does mean that we have to try harder, because at the moment we are the country in the dock. As long as that is the position, our environmental status among our partners will not put us in the best light. I accept that we have made considerable improvements. Because of our industrial heritage, we started from a much worse position. Our industrial expansion in the 19th century was not 576 paralleled in many Scandinavian countries. However, we must recognise that we must do the most work in the years to come.
My party takes a different view from that put forward this morning by the hon. Member for South Shields on behalf of the Labour party. We believe that in many issues the appropriate forum for deciding matters is one that does not recognise national boundaries. They are new. It is only since Napoleon that passports and the like have restricted travel in Europe. National boundaries have only added to the problems in the past 150 years. All the arguments that Britain has this great sovereignty, that we are in control of everything, is largely untrue. The EC is part of the continent of Europe and the rest of the land mass to which Europe is attached is part of that same area, in which many problems are common to us.
Although the EC treaties, the preamble to the directives and articles 100 and 235 make it clear that the reason for dealing with environmental matters — which is not specifically dealt with in the treaties of the European Community—is to produce a better Common Market, to reduce barriers and to bring about economic harmonisation. None the less, we believe unreservedly that it is in the context of the EC that we have the best legislative opportunity to agree and enforce measures. It is not perfect. The hon. Member for Newham, South made it clear that the European Community is composed of 10 countries. The Council of Europe includes 21 democratic contries of Western Europe. That is another forum that needs to work on issues such as this. Good work has been done since 1948 in dealing with environmental and transfrontier matters. It has been done by conventions which we should support and encourage. Conventions are a means to progress. It is proper and right in this, as in many other areas, for Europe to be the context of our prime efforts.
Does the Minister accept that just as, for example, in competition policy in the EC the inspectorate is an EC inspectorate, it is time for the Government to say that environmental inspection should be carried out by an EC inspectorate? We could trust it to be more impartial than a body based in Whitehall.
We welcome the progress and the European resolution agreed in February last year which sets out the third action programme on environmental matters. That is a considerable improvement on the earlier two programmes, because it sets out specifics. We look forward to speedy action to fill in the specifics in the framework directive that we are debating today.
I share the concern about the confusion caused by the naming of the second draft of the directive which does not make it clear that it is a second draft agreed by the Commission. In the first draft, implementation was to have been by 1985. The proposed timetable in the second draft, which needs legislation in each of the member countries, is three years after the introduction of the directive. If the directive is agreed in June, implementation will be by 1987. That represents a two-year slippage. How much are we to blame for that? The explanatory memorandum issued in July last year on the draft directive as it was then states:The Commission has proposed that a decision on the directive should be taken by the end of the year".That was last year. It accordingly suggested that opinions should be delivered in October.
On behalf of the Department, the Minister says: 577Given the scope of the directive and the impact it could have on a number of countries' control systems, this is an ambitious timetable. It seems unlikely that a decision will be possible before June 1984.It is June 1984 and the decision will now be taken. Which other country asked for more time? May we be assured that not only the United Kingdom held things back?
Several improvements have been made on the first draft. One of them is the deletion of that wonderful Eurocratic phrase "state of the art". When a document is drafted originally in French and is translated, many contrived, non-English phrases appear. We are well rid of that phrase.
Articles 3 and 4 are the key articles because they contain the mandatory rather then permissive provision. The Minister obviously accepts the establishment of prior authorisation for plants. Does the Minister accept the recommendation made in the previous Royal Commission report in 1975 that one body should deal with all related matters rather than local authorities being asked to deal with some and the Government with others? This year's Royal Commission report continues to press for a unified agency. Does the Minister accept the need for such a body instead of the present inspectorate?
Article 4 uses some words in general terms and the fear is that its provisions might not bite. We must see the later directives to discover how effective they will be. The article refers to the "emission limit values" and "air quality values applicable". As a result, preventative measures could be regarded too generally. The Liberal party accepts that the definitions formulated in Britain, including that on the best application of available technology, are correct, but we are worried about loose definitions which use such phrases asprovided that the application of such preventative measures does not entail excessive costs.We must balance immediate cash costs and long-term cash costs. Environmental damage costs millions of pounds. Pollution causes the destruction of natural flora and fauna and the physical environment which cannot be replaced. We shall be unhappy if "excessive costs" are used as an excuse for saying, "We are sorry, but we cannot make any progress now because it will cost too much."
My reservation about the report from the Select Committee on European Legislation concerns what the chief industrial air pollution inspector said. He said that he considered that the enforcement of the proposed scheme could be achieved by the inspectorate only at the expense of other work. If that is true, will the Department ensure that the inspectorate or its replacement will be given the resources to do the work? It is no good saying that we shall go along with the Community directive and pass legislation, but fail to give the enforcement agencies the material and tools to do the job. That is the professional view of a body that has done a good job over the years, and the Government need to respond to it.
Article 8 has been altered and now refers to unanimous rather than majority decisions. The Liberal party believes it inappropriate for fixed emission limits to be arranged at a European level. On some occasions it is appropriate, but we do not believe in fixed emission limits for all seasons. The evidence submitted by the Liberal party environmental policy panel to the Select Committee explains that.
It is probably appropriate to require unanimity if emission limit values are to be fixed, but it cannot be argued that the Council needs unanimously to stipulate measurement and assessment techniques or the ways in 578 which it evaluates countries' performance. It appears that the Government insist on unanimity at the European Community level in all circumstances when in most circumstances it is not necessary and is not in our general interest. Why is it thought that we need unanimity when establishing monitoring techniques and forms of assessment when that involves an objective, scientific or engineering method which has no immediate implications for national sovereignty?
Article 15 states:The Directive does not apply to industrial plant serving national defence purposes.That could be too open-ended. In the appendix, most matters appear to be covered, but is the Minister satisfied that we can leave the Ministry of Defence to pollute as much as it believes necessary? We do not agree with that. We do not understand why national defence should cause pollution. The premise must be that it should not pollute. Perhaps the Minister could explain why we should give a carte blanche. We will be interested to hear, although not necessarily convinced by, his explanation.
The Select Committee referred to the fifth report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and asks when the Government will give their response to questions in it. Will we get a response, and if so can we have it soon —ideally, today, but certainly during the fuller debate that will be held shortly?
The National Society for Clean Air made some suggestions to the Select Committee, not least that further attention should be given to the procedure for the measurement of emissions. did not attend the Select Committee, but I deduce it meant that we should provide money for research. The hon. and learned Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) made it clear that we should quickly be in a position to carry out accurate monitoring. Otherwise, it might be thought that the Government were dragging their heels if they had to negotiate for ever in Europe about the effectiveness of controlling pollution.
Why has not the Select Committee's suggestion been incorporated? It suggested that the annexes should include open cast mining and other pollutants. Surely the principle should be that all potential pollutants from industrial energy should be covered. Has that matter been considered by the Government, and will it be raised at the meeting at the end of the month?
I want to describe the position that the Liberal party believes the country is in, and from which we need to escape as soon as possible. There is increasing concern among the environmental lobbies and pressure groups that provide us with the good information with which we can challenge the Government. The Friends of the Earth is prominent among those groups, but there are many others. Their information shows that we need rapidly to make progress on the real directives that will fill in the framework. Can the Minister give an undertaking today that when, later this month, we can put on the table the directive that will allow us to legislate to bring ourselves into the framework, we can quickly have the specifics of the later directives? One of them, mentioned on the Order Paper today, is the large plant directive. I have not spent much time talking about that, as there will be a further opportunity to debate it. It is the first of several anticipated directives.
Please can we move quickly? Where it cannot be argued that this will cost us a fortune, can we get on with 579 the job of setting the limits and controlling and enforcing them? Can we please redeem our position in Europe, of which we cannot be proud?
§ Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)
I apologise for having missed some of the opening speeches. It was unavoidable, but I appreciate that because of that I must be brief.
It was pleasing to be told by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) that the Conservative party has veins of green running through it—it makes me think of sage Derby cheese. As the Member for Derbyshire, West, I suppose that that is appropriate.
I wish to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). It was a somewhat partisan point, and he was wrong. He said that the market system was incapable of taking qualitative judgments and values properly into account. Any economic system has difficulty in dealing with qualitative judgments. It is hard to put a quantitative value on them. That does not mean that we are not obliged, either explicitly or implicitly, to put quantitative values to qualitative judgments. Whether one is a Marxist, a Social Democrat or a Conservative, when it comes to taking decisions about the environment we must attach quantitative judgments to the proposed measure.
If we are dealing with acid rain, we must in our minds attach a rough quantitative judgment to what we think will be the damage done to the environment. Until we have done that we cannot know whether we are justified in paying the costs—and they are quantitative costs—of minimising the damage.
The problem of attaching quantitative values to qualitative judgments faces any politician, any economist or anyone involved in running a country. It is not a problem specific to what the hon. Gentleman called the Chicago school.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has taken up my point. Ultimately, it is the heart of the problem. Any political system will have to put a quantitative value on a qualitative judgment. Chicago economics, as expounded by the Government, do not even admit the possibility of putting that into effect. The Government are not prepared to say, "Yes, in strict money terms we will not do that because … but because of the environmental risk or because of the damae to communities, we shall nevertheless … " The Government do not include that possibility within their philosophy.
§ Mr. Parris
The fact that the Government include that possibility is proven by the fact that we are having this debate today and are hoping to take measures and make progress. I suppose that we could find an exposition of Friedmanite economics that would accord with the characterisation given by the hon. Gentleman. However, I do not think that anyone in the Conservative party feels that we are bound as slaves to so ideological or unthinking an economic view. The hon. Gentleman must do us the credit of accepting that we will listen to Friedman and to Chicago and make our own judgments. I do him the credit of knowing that he will listen to what the coal mining 580 industry may say abut the future of coal, but will make his judgment in the end. We all make independent judgments at the end of the day.
I wish to make one point about the attaching of quantitative judgments to qualitative values. I shall bring the debate down from the realms of world diplomacy to spaghnum moss on the moor in the High Peak. The House may know that my constituency includes part of the Peak District national park. One of its problems is moorland erosion. There is little doubt that a principal contributory factor to that is acid rain. If hon. Members ever have the opportunity to climb Kinderscout in the High Peak, with an altitude of about 2,000ft, and look at what has been happening to the moors, they will see a devastating and dramatic example of the effects of acid rain. It is not a new problem; it has been going on for many years. Some people say that it has been going on for more than a century.
The spaghnum moss that is important to the generation of other moss and plants is being killed. There are huge, bare areas on the moors. It looks rather like the surface of the moon. The hon. Gentleman may say that that is a qualitative judgment, but it is not, because the national park and the National Trust have been negotiating the purchase of large areas of the moors to try to reclaim them. Ultimately, much of the cost of that purchase, if it goes through, may fall on the Government.
That is a cost which the Government will have to pay, because we and they want our national parks, which are valuable for the heritage of the country. Therefore, there are quantitative values that can be put on qualitative judgments. I know that it is difficult and vague, and that much guessing is involved, but guessing is all that we can do. We do this in all parties in the House. The fact that the House is debating this matter now is evidence of the Government's good faith and intentions in dealing with this problem.
§ 12.1 pm
§ Dr. David Clark
I am grateful for the opportunity to reply to several of the comments made by Conservative Members.
I shall tiptoe into the dispute between Chicago economics and what I suggest to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) is almost Yale economics. I took the point that he made about the effect on moorland. I had referred to parts of the moorland in the Peak Disrict, although not in his constituency. He is correct in what he says. Anybody who goes to the Peak District, especially a little further north of his area—and this applies also in west Derbyshire—will see layers of peat several feet thick. If one looks under that peat, and up the base, one finds the remains of trees.
At one time that area, which is now bleak—and we rather like it bleak, because we have become accustomed to it—was afforested. As a result of the industrialisation of the Staffordshire and Lancashire areas, there came the acidification and the damage. I said earlier that we had started to export much of that acidic deposition from our country. It falls not so much on our areas now, but is going overseas. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making the point, because it fortifies my earlier argument.
We have had a good debate. Several Conservative Members have correctly said that if we went nuclear for electricity generation much of the problem would disappear. At base level, that is obviously right, although 581 the problem then arises of what one does with nuclear waste, and I know that in the case of mid-Bedfordshire I need not spell that out.
I come next to another problem that arises. It makes sense to generate our electricity with a large coal contribution, and this brings me back to a point that I made earlier. The Government must give the lead to industry to develop the technology. Everything that is going on, such as dilution, fuel desulphurisation, the desulphurisation of fuel gases and so on, needs a little extra shove by the Government to firms like NEI and Babcock Power. They will respond if we give them a lead.
I thought that one or two Conservative Members had been somewhat influenced by a report in The Daily Telegraph in March this year. The report cast doubt on the voluminous research done in Scandinavia. The Daily Telegraph ran the headline:Acid rain theory may be wrong, scientists admit".This really was an example, I assure hon. Members, of The Daily Telegraph—and I may ruin my case by saying this to Conservative Members — as usual, getting it wrong. This was picked up from the Svenska Dagbladet of 18 February, and The Daily Telegraph used it in March. The two authors of the original document, who are university professors, denied The Daily Telegraph report altogether, and said:The article in The Daily Telegraph does not correspond at all with our actual statements. The person who wrote it has quoted from our article as the Devil quotes Scripture. They pulled isolated statements out of context and then drew their own conclusions.Will the Minister give the House an assurance that he will look again at some of the evidence, even if only an abstract, of all the work done by international scientists on the problem in Germany and in Scandinavia in particular? There are volumes of research, and there is some doubt about the interaction and the knock-on effects, which everybody accepts.
There is basic agreement that the problem is acidic emissions. The message from both sides of the House to the Minister is that there is grave disquiet over the Government's attitude. I think that even the Minister's own supporters recognise the mood of the British people. We do not want to be laggards in this exercise. We want the British Government to be in the lead in Europe in sorting out the problem of emissions. I urge the Minister to heed both his hon. Friends and the Opposition. I hope that in two or three months' time, after he has met his fellow Council Ministers, the Minister will be able to say that it was the British Government who were trying to push the other Governments to come up with a European package, and I hope, too, that he can come to some agreement with the Ottawa conference.
§ 12.6 pm
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I shall resist the temptation to irritate hon. Members who are waiting to debate other matters by filling the rest of the time, which I could easily do, with a review of that part of the scientific evidence with which I am personally familiar, although I am no scientist. Indeed, it was a member of my own college, who, when sitting next to Einstein once at dinner, told him that, if one had studied Greats, it would take only a couple of weeks to "get up" science. I do not take that view, and I recognise that I am an amateur in these matters.
I assure the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) that I am familiar not only with the outlines. I and other 582 Ministers are well advised not only by the chief scientist in our own Department, but by the scientists working for the Natural Environmental Research Council, and many other bodies and universities. There are some strong teams in universities such as Imperial college who are expert on these matters.
As more resources go into the matter, it becomes more interesting and more complex. I know that the Swedish scientists now recognise that the original 1972 hypothesis is far too simple. It is not just a matter of sulphur dioxide up, sulphuric acid in the rain and acid down—thus, damage to trees or lakes. The Swedish scientists are in the lead in showing how much more complicated some of this is. I assure my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) that, although I welcome the commitment of resources by the National Coal Board and the Central Electricity Generating Board, and in particular the way in which they have put those resources under the control of the Royal Society and the Scandinavian royal societies, and have stood back from direction of the project, those resources are small compared with the resources that are being applied in this country. In NERC and in my Department, we are spending every year about as much as that five-year programme. Thus, plenty of other resources are being applied, and it is essential to ensure that they are co-operatively applied. Several Members made this point.
Just before the meeting of the Council of Ministers, I am off to Munich where, with representatives from a wide spectrum of nations, including, we hope eastern European nations, we will be reviewing evidence and looking at the German forest that I mentioned. It is essential to co-operate. The evidence gathered and the scientific work done shows that the problem is much more interesting than the original hypothesis. For example, it is clear that acidification in the atmosphere is one of the contributory causes of many of these phenomena, but is the process irreversible? If a loch or lake is poisoned, which is probably done by changes to the calcium levels and the aluminium levels in the water, and may have been caused by an increase in the acid deposit in the watershed, does one reverse the process by simply reducing the acidification in that watershed by the same amount?
We must be sure about these matters because, for example, if we spent large sums on reducing the ambient acid level, we might not reinstate the damage. Thus, the first step might be further work on how to reinstate the damage. We must not regard the CEGB as the villain of every piece. It has working for it some of the best ecological scientists in this sphere at its Leatherhead laboratory. They are doing work on how to reinstate lakes. I am not saying that the CEGB may not have been involved in the cause of the damage in the first place, but it is obviously sensible to consider whether, for example, by liming in a careful way, it might be possible to reinstate the damage.
There is, too, the whole connection with the subject of hydrocarbons, ozone and the less efficient combustion sources which put out hydrocarbons. There are also the well known photochemical reactions which can produce further acidification and perhaps also produce direct actions which create damage to trees. The scientific consensus is beginning to say that forest damage is not just a simple story of acidification and that the various chemical reactions are of great importance too.
583 My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire made a good point when he said, in effect, that we will lead so long as we are sure that we are leading in the right direction. If we commit large resources, only to return to our citizens 10 years later and say, "We have spent several billion pounds but we cannot measure the improvement," our citizens will not thank us. We must be sure what we are doing.
Suppose that the hydrocarbon and ozone route is the trigger that might unlock the damage. I am not saying that that is the story, but if it were, it would be worth waiting a relatively short time—18 months to two years—to see if that is true before committing the resources in that direction. As has been pointed out, we are already one of the leaders in cleaning up motor car emissions, and there are further steps that we can take in that direction. Others in Europe are pressing us on that, anyway.
We may find that there is a much quicker reaction in dealing with forest damage. Just because one can see 15 high stacks on 15 big power stations in Britain, it is simple to say, "Clean up those stacks", and launch a campaign costing perhaps £2 billion. Having done that, we might then have done precisely nothing to the environment. We should not take decisions on the basis of what it is easy to campaign for but on what will achieve the best results.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) quoted from a nicely produced Swedish pamphlet which I have studied closely. It contains a picture of appalling damage to a sandstone statue. One can see much the same in Wells cathedral, which I know well. Such undoubted damage, which can be seen—one can feel the stone; it is friable—is almost certainly the result of traditional intensive and localised air pollution, and it still goes on in some places.
A problem which the Germans have in their eastern forests is that, across the border from Czechoslovakia, comes old-fashioned smog with sulphur levels of the kind that we used to have. Because of that, the Germans have two different targets. They must try, in their eastern forests, to persuade their eastern neighbours to take action which was taken years ago in other places. The surges of that smog when it comes across the border certainly damage forests, and would damage buildings if there were any in their way. Loch Grannoch, which is dead, may have been poisoned by the localised pollution of 100 years ago, when, with a different industrial structure, there were many low chimneys from coal-fired plants nearby. My Department is now financing some interesting research aimed at dating exactly the process of acidification, which can be done by looking at the remains of microscopic organisms in the sediment. That will help us to advance our knowledge of this matter.
I have responded initially to some of the general points that hon. Members raised. We did not think that this was a suitable occasion for a wider general debate on acidification, for the reasons that I gave the hon. Member for Newham, South, and I stand by that. I am being diverted by my enthusiasm for the subject, but I shall not be diverted from pressing the Leader of the House—he needs no pressing—for a wider debate in due course on the Select Committee's report.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am sure that the Minister's speech in answer to the debate will be found more interesting to the 584 House and the country than were his opening remarks. I would not expect him to exclude matters of legislation, and I raised that procedural point in my remarks. I had hoped that he might have dealt with both issues in his first speech, particularly the matters of great interest which he is now adducing.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I am glad that I am pleasing the hon. Gentleman now. I only tease him by saying that his European Committee suggested that this should be discussed in a Committee upstairs. He is, therefore, being a little unfair to me.
I am tempted to join in the debate about Chicago economics. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire warned us against the dangers of party politics, before pointing out that there were six times as many hon. Members on the Government Benches than there were on the Opposition Benches. That was not party politics but a simple matter of fact. Perhaps I should add that not one member of the SDP is present.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The Minister should be aware that his hon. and learned Friend's analysis was inaccurate, because at the time there were four hon. Members on the Opposition Benches and 10 on the Government Benches. To say, therefore, that there were six times more hon. Members on the Government Benches was not a particularly accurate statement for someone who is good at maths, although I accept that he may be good at science.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
My hon. Friend says that it is qualitative. I was about to say the same thing in a different way by commenting that I had not included the occupants of the Front Benches in my calculation.
I should make a philosophical comment about which kind of economics is better suited to this matter. The kind of political power base which is least suited to a proper concern for the environment is one based on producer power. In my view, a liberal system, where the individual citizen is the source of the power—and not what might be called soft syndicalist groups of producers, who are not so concerned about the impact on the externalities, the impact outside their own industries — is the type of system which is better able to represent the externalities in the political process. That is why the liberals—of whom there are many in the Conservative party and a few even in the Liberal party—need have no fears that that sort of liberal philosophy can represent the environment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) referred to the growing number of Conservatives who are concerned with these matters, and that is correct. Some powerful pamphlets have been published by some of my hon. Friends recently, in particular one by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle). The Government welcome that interest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent rightly made the point that the eastern Europeans are closely implicated in this matter, and the hon. Member for Newham, South made much the same point. We are indeed committed to the necessity for forums wider than the European Community. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey commented on that. We are signatories to the United Nation's-ECE trans-boundary convention, which was signed in 1979 and came into force in 1983. That 585 convention, without containing numbers, calls for a major improvement in this area. My representation of the Government at the Munich conference will, I hope, encourage Opposition Members to believe that we indeed take seriously the need to look at this whole issue in a wider, rather than simply an EEC, forum, although obviously the European Community, to concert our activity in the western European countries, is extremely important.
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Newham, South believes that I am painting on a broad enough canvas, but he has withdrawn his accusation that I am merely a miniaturist in these matters. He reminded me that Conservative Members cannot complain because it was a leader of our party who said that it was the duty of an Opposition to oppose. We have made considerable progress in the agreement, subject to the approval of the House of the framework directive. We do not expect the Opposition to thank us for it; we expect them to criticise us immediately and say that we have not done the next thing. We will do the next thing next. That is the logical way to proceed.
The House might be willing to give us credit for having negotiated an important step towards pollution control in Europe. It showed us not to be adopting the attitude for which we were criticised by the Royal Commission in the passage read by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey. We have not sat grumbling saying, "Our system is different so we must be entirely separate." We have said. "Our system is different, but it amounts to the same thing in the end. Surely we can find a framework in which the systems can be sensibly harmonised."
The hon. Member for Newham, South is a formidable proceduralist and one with whom I should not wish to tangle, especially in the presence of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) who is equally formidable. The hon. Member for Newham, South made a number of comments about the heading of the document. If there is any confusion, I apologise. The text of the directive was agreed on 1 March by Ministers. It was not adopted because of our parliamentary reserve. The text that we provided to the House only illustrated the Government's understanding of how the text will read. The text that we deposited in the Vote Office was therefore headed, "Illustrative text". There will be no further substantive negotiations. If the House agrees the document, it will be agreed in the form in which it now is, allowing for translation difficulties which happen sometimes.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said that the Commission will have to come forward with other directives on specific points. He asked us to hurry, but it is for the Commission to bring forward further directives. I have no doubt that it will do so. We have agreed this directive on the assumption that it will. We start with important matters and then there will be further debates to see whether the specific directives contain the right remit.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, to whom I keep referring—I hope I do not embarrass him—said that the party had green edges. That is right. He said also that we must remember—my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent made the same point—the costs involved. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire said that we should compare the energy costs of different sources of power. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent said that we must not forget the industrial costs in our competitive 586 circumstances. Indeed we do not. If one could coin a phrase, the blue of the Conservative party is green, but it is the gold that makes it go green. I apologise for that scientific allusion.
§ Lords Commissioner to the Treasury (Mr. Donald Thompson)
It is the brass.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
My not too silent Whip says that it is the brass. I have answered the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire about resources spent on research, and I hope that I have met him on that.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey asked a number of detailed questions about the framework directive. I said that majority voting was unacceptable to the Government. I am sorry if I did not say that loudly enough for the hon. Member for Newham, South. It is not just the defence of sovereignty, with respect to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, which makes us wish to retain our capacity, if necessary, to stop something by voting against it, even if in the more technical areas only.
One of the matters which worries us constantly about European environmental control is that some countries will agree measures but not enforce them. That is a difficulty. There is a danger of matters being broadly agreed in the early hours of the morning; we return and enforce them, and so do many other countries, but sometimes one wants to be able to say stop, because we want to be sure that there will be sensible enforcement.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
If the enforcement agency was European, it might be possible to overcome that problem, somewhat undermining the reservations on the other arguments.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
That has some problems, but I see the arguments. We have promised a revision of clean air legislation in response to the Royal Commission and it will also be necessary to meet the directive. We will be publishing a consultation paper and some of these issues may be better addressed there.
The inspectorate's comment related to the Commission's original text. I am advised that the new version will not give rise to the same amount of work. The problem should not be so great, although it is necessary to have proper resources. Article 15 relates to the defence exception, which appears in many environmental directives. It is not one for which we pressed, because in this contry we apply the law to Government buildings, including defence buildings. Open-cast mining is controlled in the United Kingdom through planning mechanisms. Different considerations apply to the control of dust from those workings. That is not included in the directive, because it applies to industrial plants.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey also asked about timing. We asked for more time because legislative changes are necessary. We shall have to bring primary legislation before the House. We also want to do a number of other things in response to the Royal Commission. It would be unfair of me to say what the negotiating positions of other countries were. We do not normally do so.
An interesting point was made about sphagnum moss, which itself is acid, as far as I remember. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) mentioned 587 it, and I shall study the point. I visited the Peak park, for which I have great respect, and I was grateful to hear him support it. The officials did not mention the moss on my visit. It may be the result of localised intense, probably thy, deposition from the past, but we will study that matter.
The House has shown, with varying degrees of grudgingness, that the framework directive is welcome. It shows the interest that the House will take in the difficult, major decisions that will need to be taken about the big combustion plants. The House has shown a growing awareness of the complexity and importance of the issues, which is welcome to the Government. I commend the document to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 6386/83 on the combating of air pollution from industrial plants; and affirms the need for a consistent framework for air pollution control within the Community.