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§ The Minister for the Environment and Countryside (Mr. David Maclean)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the European Community Document No. 6132/92, relating to the Fifth Environmental Action Programme; endorses the Government's welcome of the general shape of the Programme; supports the Programme's emphasis on the integration of environmental concerns into other areas of policy, subsidiarity and the need to set priorities and assess costs; and endorses the Government's intention to ensure that these elements and the outcome of the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development are adequately reflected in the Resolution of the Programme which the Council is to adopt.Following the Rio conference, it is timely that we should now be looking at the shape of the European Community's environmental policy until the end of the century. The Commission has previously produced four action programmes on the environment. The latest programme, entitled "Towards Sustainability", sets out the framework for the Community's policies and strategies on the environment until the year 2000.
The strategic approach looks to give a long-term orientation of all the Community's policies. We have made, and will continue to make, every effort to ensure that during our Presidency the programme is given the consideration that it deserves.
Discussion of the programme has made good progress in the environment working group in Brussels. At the Environment Council on 20 October, Ministers noted this progress and looked forward to their meeting in December when they plan to adopt the resolution which will give the Council's blessing to the programme. By that time, we should also have the benefit of the European Parliament's opinion. The programme will begin to be implemented at the start of 1993 when its predecessor expires.
I should point out that the programme is not itself a legislative document. We would not expect the objectives and guidelines that it proposes to be agreed line by line: attempts to seek agreement on each sentence of the programme could take us until the end of the century. Nor do we expect the programme itself to be rewritten. The programme's aim is to set the background against which the Commission will bring forward specific proposals for Community action over the next eight years. As it does so, we shall have to consider the details in specific areas.
As the House will appreciate, the programme covers a wide range of topics. But we can draw out key themes: the programme's objective of the promotion of sustainable growth respecting the environment; the principle of shared responsibility as the bedrock of the programme, meaning action by a wide variety of people and organisations in various sectors and at various levels; and the integration of environmental concerns into all areas of policy. The Government welcome the broad shape of the programme. There are many elements of the programme which fit in with our own priorities.
The first is UNCED or the Rio follow-up. The Earth Summit was an important step in our attempts to tackle the enormous environmental problems which face us all. In Rio, we signed up to many commitments which we are now putting into practice. As we seek to do so, it is right that the Community should play its part. At the Lisbon European Council, the Community agreed to an 967 eight-point plan of action, sponsored by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which aims to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development world wide. Much of the necessary action will be for member states individually or acting in concert. But where there is a clear Community role, proposals flowing from the fifth action programme must take account of Rio follow-up as a major priority and contribute to the early fulfilment of the objectives to which we have committed ourselves.
The second is integration. We welcome the programme's emphasis on the need to ensure the integration of environmental concerns into other policy areas. There are no fewer than 11 policy areas outside the environment where work with an environmental aspect is being taken forward during our presidency. But while the programme describes the aim of greater integration, it does not set out the mechanisms as to how this is to be achieved. That is why we took the issue of integration as a major issue for discussion at the informal Environment Council in September.
Ministers recognised the need to devise practical proposals for giving effect to the principle of integration, and identified a number of measures which should be considered by the Commission, the Council and the member states. We hope that from the highest levels the Commission will demonstrate its commitment to ensuring that proper weight is given to the environment in the formulation of all the Community's policies.
Thirdly, one of the themes of the programme is that environmental policies and objectives should be pursued at a variety of levels according to where it is most appropriate to act. I wish to make it clear, however, that—come what may—we shall not lower our environmental objectives. We shall simply be considering the extent to which those objectives are best achieved at Community level or at member state level, or perhaps through co-operation between member states rather than through Community legislation. Of course there are areas where it is right for the Community to act: pollution, as we know, is no respecter of national boundaries.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
The Minister will be aware that the question of subsidiarity and environmental policy is controversial. Will he explain a matter to which he has alluded but not expanded on? The motion states that it welcomesthe general shape of the Programme",but there is a change between the document signed by Lord Strathclyde, which is the explanatory memorandum, and what is in the Government's "This Common Inheritance" second year report. The latter refers to the Lisbon European Council and states that the programme's emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity led to work being commissioned at Lisbonon the means of giving subsidiarity practical effect.Will the Minister make it clear that there will be no devolution of matters currently within the environmental competence of the Commission to national states as a result of the change in emphasis at Lisbon?
§ Mr. Maclean
The hon. Gentleman misunderstands some of the processes that the Commission is currently taking forward on subsidiarity. The environment is not exempt from the studies that the Commission is doing on subsidiarity, nor would one expect it to be. However, as I have made clear, I do not regard the environment as the sole candidate for some aspects of subsidiarity to apply.
968 The fifth environmental action programme recognises that there are some things that the Community should do and must do because pollution is no respecter of national boundaries. There might be other things which should be left to nation states to do, but there is no inconsistency.
The fourth matter that I want to discuss is where the Commission could learn from British experience, and that is our process of regular review and monitoring of environmental policy and our efforts to record publicly through the annual White Paper the progress that we have made in meeting our targets. The programme suggests a formal review in 1995. We have argued that there should be a more regular process of monitoring and review. The Community should also consider what mechanisms might be introduced to ensure reviews of the functioning of existing legislation to establish where it is not working either because it is impracticable to implement it, according to the text, or because practice has revealed ambiguities.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
There is one aspect in which the Community might not benefit from our experience. That is a worrying section in chapter 6.2 of the White Paper, which states:It is particularly important to the nuclear energy sector that public confidence in it be maintained and even enhanced.Knowing the experience of the past 20 years' publicity from British Nuclear Fuels plc, in which it constantly understated the risk from nuclear power and the costs of nuclear power, is it not worrying that what might be in this document is a continuation not of objective information but of propaganda?
§ Mr. Maclean
With respect, the hon. Gentleman should not try to use the fifth environmental action programme —the general thrust of which all parties subscribe to—to try to support any arguments that he may have about aspects of nuclear policy. He will have difficulty pointing to any country which publishes as much information about its nuclear policy or allows its nuclear reactors and industry to be subject to as much scrutiny as this country does. We are proud of the amount of the information that we publish. We accept that, when such information is published, it is often used against us in attempts to discredit us, but we shall continue to publish information in the future with the same alacrity as in the past.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
Is the Minister not aware that, before the Government decided to privatise the electricity industry, no one in Britain was officially informed of the enormous losses that had accrued to Britain's nuclear activity for a period of 30 years? Throughout the 1970s and until 1988, Members of Parliament were continually told that nuclear power was cheaper and was the way forward. It was not until the City of London refused to have anything to do with nuclear power that the Government decided to privatise electricity that the nation was formally told of the enormous cost that nuclear power incurred. All electricity consumers in Britain pay 11 per cent. on their electricity bills to bail the nuclear industry out.
§ Mr. Maclean
Far be it from me to wander down an avenue that is irrelevant to the fifth environmental action programme and become embroiled in other discussions. When I replied to the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) I referred specifically to nuclear safety. I did 969 not refer to the costs and financing of the industry. However, I entirely subscribe to the hon. Gentleman's view that only privatisation reveals the true cost of an industry. The House has much to be grateful to the Government for in that regard. Privatisation has revealed the cost of the nuclear industry, in the same way as it reveals the true cost of any industry. However, let us not go too far down that route tonight. Others will undoubtedly wish to explore it in the next few months.
My fifth point is that there is a need properly to assess the costs and benefits of environmental policies. The fifth environmental action programme suggests that all Community environmental policies and other policies which have an environmental dimension should be costed comprehensively. That should be vigorously pursued to ensure that our environmental policies are as cost-effective as possible.
As the debate about the Community's future has developed, greater emphasis has been given to openness in the Community's activities. The programme proposes the establishment of a new consultative forum with wide-ranging membership. That could well be a step in the right direction, although it will be essential to decide on its membership and draw up its terms of reference and procedures in order to prevent it from becoming merely a talking shop. It should play a positive and effective role in the formulation of Community environmental policy. The Commission should also develop further its use of "green papers" to canvass opinions on new ideas, and ensure the widest possible consultation when it draws up new proposals.
There are several other areas to which the United Kingdom, as President, will attach importance as we consider the fifth environmental action programme. It is most regrettable that, more than two years after its establishment was agreed, the European Environment Agency has not yet been set up because of disagreements over the siting of other EC institutions. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to force the issue to a conclusion at the Environment Council on 20 October, but we shall continue to use our presidency to attempt to find a solution that will make possible the early establishment of the agency.
We also attach great importance to implementation and enforcement. At our request, the Commission has agreed to report on those issues formally at the next environment council and then on a regular basis in future. The improvement of enforcement will also be covered at the first ever meeting of representatives from the pollution inspectorates of the 12 member states, which Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution will host next week and which we hope will lead to the establishment of a permanent network of enforcement agencies.
The fifth action programme covers an enormous range of ideas and objectives. The resolution to be adopted by the Environment Council must give guidance to the Commission about our priorities and the way in which we wish to see work flow from the programme pursued. That will be the Government's aim as we take forward discussions on the programme and resolution in Brussels. I commend the Government's approach to the House.
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
The Opposition give a broad welcome to the fifth action programme. We have our quarrels with the Government's motion which, as usual, tends to self-congratulation. The programme sets out aims and principles rather than specifics. As the rapporteur for the European Parliament has said of it:It is essentially a declaration of intent rather than a precise proposal for practical alternatives.That is fair enough, because it is a programme that, over the coming years, can be used to shape national environmental programmes.
One of the key themes of the programme, which the Minister rightly highlighted, is shared responsibility. That means a number of different things because responsibility can be shared between different levels of public authority within a member state, between public organisations, the private sectors and non-governmental organisations and between different Departments of State. The Labour party warmly supports all such sharings. It would be good if the Government practised some of this sharing of responsibility within the United Kingdom.
Let us take one simple example—the sharing of responsibility between central Government and local authorities. The Government have told local authorities that, within the next few years, they must ensure that they recycle 25 per cent. of their wastes. We fully support that admirable and laudable objective. However, the Government have given local authorities no extra resources or assistance to carry out that objective. Local authorities are telling the Government that it will be difficult for them to meet those targets unless the Government take some share of that responsibility. Therefore, while we welcome the doctrine of shared responsibility, we question whether the Government will put it into practice here in Britain.
A number of specific points arise out of the fifth action programme. The first is the importance of getting right the mechanisms by which we can achieve the targets set out in the programme. Back in July, the Government commissioned a rather interesting report from the Institute for European Environmental Policy. That report made a number of suggestions, one of which was that each directorate within the European Commission should have an environmental unit examining how, within that directorate—even if it were not entirely concerned with the environment—green policies and the objectives of the action programme were being carried out.
The institute also proposed that each directorate should be required to produce an annual report of its activities in relation to the environment. As the Minister chairs the European Council of Ministers on the Environment, I can ask him what progress, if any, has been made in achieving those wise proposals on the environmental purposes of each European directorate. It would be good to hear an answer on that.
My second query involves ozone depletion and climate change. On page 42 of the programme, there is a commitment to limit the use of hydrochlorofluorocarbons to a maximum of 5 per cent. of the 1990 level of chlorofluorocarbons by the year 2000. This is not as arcane as it may seem, because, while CFCs are a major contributing factor to the damage to the ozone layer, 971 HCFCs are less immediately damaging, although they are not entirely innocent. The widespread use of HCFCs is likely to cause damage.
Why, if there was such a tough target in the fifth action programme, was there a recent decision at a preparatory meeting of Ministers for the Montreal protocol, to allow the use of HCFCs to continue for at least a 27-year period? That does not strike me as an attempt to meet the target date of 2000 for such a tough restriction as is rightly included in the fifth action programme for the use of HCFCs.
It would also be good to be told by the Government whether, as widely expected, HCFCs will be the principal component of the air conditioning systems installed in the Channel tunnel and, if so, what quantity of HCFCs will be used and what will be the anticipated damage to the ozone layer from that use? The Minister could usefully explain how that squares with the provisions of the fifth action programme.
There is a brief mention in the fifth action programme of the need for energy efficiency. The Government must realise that better performance on energy efficiency, energy conservation and energy insulation work is the key to reducing carbon dioxide emissions in this country. Why, then, is there no sign of any national programme from the British Government to improve energy efficiency?
Indeed, why have the Government themselves not performed particularly well in relation to their own expenditure? The Association for the Conservation of Energy has kindly provided me with some interesting figures about the performance of Government Departments in relation to energy efficiency. The most interesting relate to the Department of Trade and Industry. The President of the Board of Trade has in the last couple of weeks referred to the importance of environmental considerations in relation to energy policy. He might start by looking at his own Department. Expenditure in the Department of Trade and Industry between 1990–91 and 1991–92 on energy efficiency work went down by 74 per cent.
Other Departments appear to have performed even worse. For example, Department of Health expenditure on energy efficiency went down by 96 per cent. Although the Department of Education and Science spent a little more on energy efficiency, its energy expenditure—even though it was moving to a new building which, in theory, should have been more energy efficient than the old building it was leaving—went up by 48 per cent. If the Government are serious about the environmental impact of energy policy, they might start by looking at the performance of their own Departments.
The fifth action programme refers to the habitats directive. The Government must recognise the crucial importance of that directive in achieving nature conservation goals. During the period of the fourth action programme, over 1,200 sites of special scientific interest were destroyed or damaged, a record of which no Government should be proud. It is clear that the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is urgently in need of strengthening. The MacSharry reforms to the common agricultural policy still do not provide enough for the enfolding of conservation values into our agriculture policy. Will the Government make a commitment to introduce legislation to implement the habitats directive soon, to strengthen the existing protection which is inadequate for wildlife habitats in this country?
972 Fifthly, the fifth environmental action programme says that we must begin to use new economic indicators, set alongside indicators such as gross domestic product. On page 67 and in the table on page 72 the programme is specific on that point. It sets target dates and says that we must achieve some progress on that by 1995 and on other elements by 1999. How much progress have the Government made in redefining how we measure economic progress? Have they done anything to set new indicators beside our current projections of GDP, which take no account of resource depletion, the creation of waste, pollution, or some of the long-term environmental consequences of economic activity? If they have done nothing to move the debate along on that issue, why not? It is in the fifth environmental action programme. They say that they welcome the programme, so it would be useful to know what they are doing to implement it.
Sixthly, the Government have already mentioned, in the course of the debate and in the motion before the House, the principle of subsidiarity. The Minister was remarkably frank on the subject: he told us that the environment would not be exempt from the search for items for subsidiarity. He said that the environment knows no national boundaries and he knows that the sea that washes the shores of Britain also washes the shores of the rest of Europe, and that sulphur dioxide produced in Britain falls in Norway, Sweden and Germany. He must know that that immediately imposes international environmental obligations on any country in relation to what it does to the atmosphere or the waters around its coast. He must also know that there is an urgent need to ensure that we keep Europe-wide standards of environmental protection in Britain, and that we keep those standards high and consistent.
This week, the bulldozers are likely to move in to start digging up Twyford down. It is only because the European Commissioner has stood up to protect Oxleas wood that the same fate has not befallen that precious ecological site yet. The Government must not yield up the environment and proper environmental protection as a hostage to appease those who believe that bringing power back to Whitehall somehow solves a political problem about Europe in the Tory party. The environment must not be used as a tool in an internal argument within the Conservative party. Environmental protection on a Europe wide basis is too important and precious for that to happen.
Finally, one of the important issues that comes out of the action programme is what is called "the use of economic instruments". The Secretary of State is becoming rather fond of the use of economic instruments. He gave a lecture at the Royal Society of Arts about three months ago on the subject and included copious references to economic instruments in his speech to the Conservative party conference. In the second anniversary report on our common inheritance, he talks about economic instruments. I am not sure whether he has in mind the same economic instruments as the fifth environmental action programme mentions, because those are rather interesting.
There are four kinds of economic instruments in this programme. There are charges and levies; there are fiscal incentives. There is state aid. That would be a novel idea for this Government. There is also environmental auditing. Those are all extremely useful tools for protecting the environment. They all have their place. Indeed, for several years, the Opposition have been 973 arguing for green taxation proposals—ignored by the Chancellor in every Budget over the past three or four years. We have argued for a levy on landfill sites. We have argued for a switch in the use of the nuclear levy to energy conservation, to cleaning up emissions from fossil fuel power stations and to research into renewable sources of energy. That would represent a better use of the levy than the one to which it is currently put. We have also argued for a proper system of environmental auditing. These are all worthy ideas about which the Government ought to be doing far more.
What I suspect the Secretary of State means by economic instruments is simply the use of market forces. He will ensure that market forces, not the proper role of regulation, will be the tool on which he will rely to protect our environment. That is just not good enough. Regulation must remain the linchpin of environmental protection policy.
By all means let us look at taxation incentives, auditing, levies and the various proposals in the fifth directive action programme, but let us not at the same time downgrade the place of regulation as the core of a proper environmental protection policy.
The last but one Secretary of State for the Environment understood all this extremely well. When he published "This Common Inheritance" the first time around, he included an extremely apposite quotation from John Stuart Mill. It is printed at the very beginning of that White Paper:What rights, and under what conditions, a person shall be allowed to exercise over any portion of this common inheritance"—the earth—cannot be left undecided. No function of Government is less optional than the regulation of these things.The Opposition strongly endorse that clear principle. Regulation must be used to ensure that the earth we live in is not damaged. We recognise that market forces can help, but that they will never resolve the issues that face our shared environment. I only hope that the Government and the present Secretary of State will learn that lesson too.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), rather unusually, quoted John Stuart Mill. I should like to quote one of the lovely songs that my daughter plays to me frequently in the car. It is by Bob Marley, and it goes:Don't you worry about anythingBecause everything's going to be all right.This document is a load of rubbish. It places no obligations on anyone. It may cheer up the Community and all the people who go to those expensive conferences, but it will achieve nothing. It may even cheer up the Opposition spokesman, who revels in this sort of nonsense. But I hope that the Minister will have the guts to admit that this is costly nonsense which commits no one to anything, which will not stand up in a court of law and which in any event is a load of old rubbish.
974 I draw the Minister's attention to the seventh paragraph, which sets out these wonderful environmental designs for the future. We are told that thefarmer is the guardian of the soil and of the countryside",and I am sure that that is true. It is said:Improvements in farming efficiency, increased mechanisation levels, improved transport and marketing arrangements and increased international trade in … feedstuffs have all contributed to the fulfilment of the original Treaty objectives of assuring the availability of food supplies at reasonable prices, the stabilization of markets and a fair standard of living for the agricultural community.Does the Minister believe that we have achieved, and will continue to achieve, the stabilisation of markets? My understanding is that markets have never been less stable and never more distorted. Have we ensured the availability of foodstuffs at reasonable prices? In fact, we have grotesquely high prices. In addition, £500 million is spent each week on dumping and destroying food. Colleagues who talk of the need for expenditure in various areas should realise that, every week, £500 million is wasted. How can the Government put their name, and that of their country, on this load of absolute rubbish, which is distorting the truth and common sense in every possible way?
Secondly, the document sets out some of the needs that have to be examined. It refers to the desperate need for additional skills and training in a number of areas, one of which is integrated pest control. I ask the Government sharply and clearly to explain why there is such a desperate need, and why we all have to jump to attention to attend to it. The Minister will know that I am referring to section 7.6, which is headed "Professional Education and Training".
Thirdly, the Government will be well aware that there is not a cohesion fund, and probably never will be. Even if such a fund is established in law, there will be no money to operate it. On page 71, however, the principles of such fund are set out. It is hoped that they will be established under a Maastricht agreement. There are two particular principles which seem to be illogical, unnecessary and contrary to all the principles that involve common sense in economics.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister briefly and in conclusion whether it would make any difference to anyone, whether in the House, outside it or in any other European country, if the documents that are before us had never been produced, if there had never been any silly seminars and discussions to frame them and if we have not spent a fortune producing a load of rubbish that will mean no legal commitment by anyone. My hon. Friend the Minister is well aware that, if it had some form of moral commitment, it could be blatantly disregarded—openly, clearly and daily—by members of the European Community.
If the Minister cannot answer my questions about pest control and agriculture, will he tell me what difference it would make to anyone if this costly and expensive documentation had never been produced and all the costly meetings and journeys of civil servants to Brussels and other places in Europe to discuss the documents had never taken place? Does he agree that it is a costly load of rubbish and that we are wasting our time discussing it?
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I do not know whether the Minister will answer the questions of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor), but I shall. In a short speech, he repeated himself three times. It is clear that he ignores the recent history of Europe in relation to environmental policy. If he is to be so blind to the facts, it is no wonder that he and those who think like him—those who oppose closer European integration—have to make up for their lack of sustainable argument with a lot of noise with no substance.
I respect the views of the hon. Member for Southend, East on animal welfare, but he should understand that some of the progress that we have made in that significant area as in others has been in no small measure due to pressure on us from elsewhere in Europe and not from within the United Kingdom.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. However strongly the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) feels, he must contain himself.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I did not expect to have to call the hon. Member for Southend, East to order again. He has been in this House long enough to know that sedentary interventions of that kind are wholly unacceptable.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman accused the Government, in endorsing and commending the fifth action programme, of supporting a load of rubbish. I will put him right and explain why the programme is not just a load of rubbish but an important measure.
The European Community— thank goodness, some of us say—has always had some level of commitment to environmental issues. It sets out its environmental programmes in documents that are not legally binding but which provide the policy platform from which legislation is drawn. From the time of the Single European Act, to which the House agreed when Baroness Thatcher was Prime Minister, environmental objectives have also been incorporated in Community treaties. The Maastricht treaty proposes their further extension.
There have so far been over 300 pieces of European legislation on environmental protection, and more than 50 more have been published as draft proposals. Some of them have been enormously welcomed in this country— such as the legislation to improve drinking and bathing water quality, to hasten the reduction of lead in petrol, and to provide environmental impact assessments. Those initiatives all originated in the Community, not the United Kingdom.
We have a corpus of European environmental legislation because the Commission had the foresight to think through issues coming down the track and to 976 compile the four programmes we have already endorsed and the fifth one which we are debating tonight. It is impossible intelligently to legislate without a strategy. Indeed, Opposition Members often criticise the Government for legislating in substantial policy areas such as energy in the absence of a strategy. The Government's supporters know the kind of trouble that causes. Only someone who imagines that legislation can successfully be passed in the absence of a policy context would argue that a programme that sets out the general policy is a load of rubbish.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
Does not the hon. Gentleman, as someone who fights for animal welfare, agree that many of the improvements that he and I would like are prevented by European directives from being legislated for in this Chamber? What can the House do about the vile treatment to which transported animals are subjected, or about battery hens? What can be done about any aspect of animal welfare, which matters hugely?
§ Mr. Hughes
I told the House that, on animal welfare, the hon. Gentleman and I are in accord, and I do not doubt his sincerity. It is sometimes entirely possible, and compatible with European law, for individual member states to impose regulations tougher than the European regulations. The problem arises in the context of the law requiring free movement, and so on. The hon. Gentleman is right: in these issues we must take the lead. Sometimes Britain must seek to ensure that the standards of other member states are as high as ours. Farm animals welfare is one example. But there is nothing to stop this country surpassing the European standard in many areas, although this is an issue best debated separately elsewhere.
Tonight's motion may be fine as far as it goes, but it begs a few questions. The Government welcome the general shape of the programme, but we are told that they will make drafting amendments, although we do not know what form they will take. As I said when I intervened on the Minister, severe risks are involved in the Government's plans for delivering subsidiarity in environmental policy —a point that was also raised earlier by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith).
I welcome the work done by the Commission on documents such as this during the leadership of Carlo Ripa di Meana. We in Britain should pay tribute to what was achieved by Commissioner di Meana before his return to Italy, and should also welcome his successor, Karel van Miert.
This document gives us an opportunity to see a way ahead. Of course it is not perfect; unfortunately, it is more imperfect than it might have been, because our Government have watered it down. One of the problems affecting both this document and the Maastricht treaty is the fact that, in regard to environmental issues, the British Government have sought to make them weaker rather than stronger.
The Maastricht treaty, for instance, would have contained an energy chapter committing the European Community to tougher energy conservation policy, along with a commitment to the use of less polluting forms of energy. Why are those provisions not included? Because the British Government objected, and accordingly they went out of the window. There would also have been far fewer exceptions to the majority voting proposals in the 977 treaty. Why are there so many? Why will so many issues still have to be decided unanimously in Europe? Because the British Government, among others, objected.
It is no good for the Minister to pretend to the House that the Government are greatly committed to the highest standards of enforcement of environmental policy. That is not the truth, and there is clear evidence of what happened during the negotiations leading to the Maastricht treaty and earlier this year.
I welcome the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury to his new Front-Bench responsibilities—along with his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), who will no doubt perform in a strongly supportive role—and he was right to raise subsidiarity as a key issue. The Government may well persuade the Commission—it looks as though they have tried—to suggest that one of the matters "downgraded" to national decision should be a series of environmental subjects that are far better regulated at a Europewide level. The bathing water directive is an example.
If the Government wish to sustain support for Maastricht from other parties—particularly over the next few weeks—they had better stop thinking of selling out on such matters as environmental policy by handing more of them down for decision-making at national level. If that is the price that they want the European Community to pay for their ability to hold their party together, they risk losing the support of the Opposition parties. I hope that they will heed that warning. We will not sell out on the environment to get the Government out of a hole; if they take such action, it will be just another U-turn to add to their list.
I share the Government's frustration over the fact that a European environmental agency has not been set up. I heard what the Minister said, and I hope that during the remaining few weeks of the British presidency the Government will exert even more pressure to sort out this nonsense once and for all. I know that it is not our fault, and I am aware that we are pushing; but we are in the President's chair, and we must put on the pressure even more.
I am also aware that the Government are keen to ensure that there is a decent audit and inspection procedure. Earlier this year, in its report "Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Legislation", the Select Committee on the European Communities in the other place made it clear that we must have tough auditing and a tough inspectorate. As the hon. Member for Southend, East would surely agree, it is no use having laws if they are enforced partially rather than properly. However—as the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury and others will also agree—it is also no use agreeing to laws, and criticising others for not applying them, when our own application of those laws is selective.
The habitats directive is a clear example. The hon. Gentleman chose one figure; I understand that, in a single calendar year—last year—we lost 500 sites of special scientific interest in this country. It is no good delaying legislation—[Interruption.] It is no use the Minister muttering, "Rubbish." I should be grateful if he would tell us how many sites have been lost. Those appear to be the statistics. [Interruption.] The sites were damaged, certainly, if not lost. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The reality is 978 that there is a directive but that the Government have not introduced legislation. They are doing nothing to do so. They are standing idly by.
I also predict that the money required for the environmentally sensitive areas policy that was announced by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will not be made available. The Government's supposedly great commitment to environmentally sensitive farming will therefore be thrown out of the window as well.
Thank God for the European Community's environ-mental policy. Thank God the European Community has taken so many initiatives. May it keep up the pressure. May nothing that this Government do water it down any more.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
When we listen to Conservative Members, particularly to those who sit on the Treasury Bench, we are accustomed to trite comment. They put their hands on their hearts and pledge the Government's support for a decent environment, but when we look in detail at their achievements we find that in almost every sphere there are grounds for serious concern. I noticed that, when the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred to the number of sites of special scientific interest, the Minister did not agree with his figure, and that, when it was pointed out that the sites had been damaged rather than destroyed, Conservative Members regarded it as a matter of hilarity. The fact that hundreds of important sites, recognised as vital for nature conservation, are damaged year after year while the Government deny that it is a matter of concern shows that they are unfit to be responsible for our natural heritage.
When the Government rightly banned straw burning, some of the farmers in my constituency said to me, "You know what the response of farmers will be? Because they are banned from straw burning, they will buy and use far more pesticides." When I wrote to Lady Trumpington, she said in her reply that the Government knew that but hoped that farmers would not use more pesticides. During agriculture questions a few weeks later, I asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he intended to take to ensure that, following the ban on straw burning, farmers were discouraged or prevented from liberally applying pesticides and other poisons to Britain's arable land. To the great delight of all his hon. Friends, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that I did not know what I was talking about because all hon. Members knew that pesticides were not poisonous. I accept that they may not be as poisonous as the present Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but the fact remains that pesticides are poisonous and that the Government could not care less.
The Minister said today that pollution does not respect national boundaries and that we must not lower our environmental objectives. Earlier this week, I telephoned the Department of the Environment to remind it that next month 2,700 drums of toxic waste will still be in my constituency. When it first arrived—since its arrival I have complained about it, in one way or another, 174 times in the House—I was told that it would be gone by Christmas. That was December 1989. I do not know whether it will still be there in December 1992.
979 I telephoned the Department and said that, although I knew that it wanted to forget about that toxic waste, there is shortly to be a court action in the United States which I hope will resolve the matter. There is just one problem: the Americans will not allow that toxic waste back into the United States. Although it was legal to export it, it is not legal to bring it back into the United States. We want to know what is to happen to that toxic waste.
The site for that toxic waste is probably the largest single area of dereliction in western Europe. The Minister used to be chairman of the Dearne valley venture, but the chairmanship has now passed to Lord Henley. My only complaint about that is that the noble Lord is Under-Secretary of State for Social Security. I find that rather odd. I wrote to the Minister a number of times. I asked to see him in July, and I wrote to him in August. I have now been told to see the noble Lord who is Under-Secretary of State for Social Security. How seriously can we take the Government's concern about the environment when they pass off responsibility in that way?
I know that the hon. Member for Southend, East. (Mr. Taylor) does not like the jargon and bureaucracy which sometimes emanate from Brussels, but, like the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, I thank God that Brussels is worried about environmental impact assessments. I have been heavily involved in nature conservation and the cause of the environment in Europe for a long time. I vividly recall that a big conference was held when eastern European countries began to embrace democracy. The British Conservative delegation attended to advice those countries on how to approach the economy and the environment. The eastern European countries are beset by foul pollution, but the delegation advised them: "Sweep away all your regulations; dismantle all your laws; free the entrepreneur to stimulate and ensure economic recovery." That was the advice of people who are not fit to be responsible for our natural heritage and for our environment.
The Government have blocked Bills to protect hedgerows, have reduced the capacity of local authorities to protect their own environments and have allowed Britain to be poisoned by the entrepreneur, who has inflicted enormous damage on my area. A few weeks ago, the Department of the Environment produced a lovely little brochure and I wrote to the Minister to congratulate him on the photographs on pages 1 and 2 depicting the Manvers site in my constituency. The local community is still waiting for responses to expressions of enormous anxiety. Unless the Government change their regulations and course, land that they proudly boast to have reclaimed will remain in a sterilised condition as long ahead as one can see. We are entitled to expect the Government to be a little more sincere, a little more energetic and a little more convincing than they have been in recent weeks.
§ Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)
Chapter 13 of the document deals with the United Nations conference on the environment and development. The document was written before the conference.
I remind the House of the twin themes of UNCED—environmental sustainability and social and global equity. UNCED was intended to be a turning point, and I shall quote from the document to show what a turning point it was supposed to be. Page 92 says that UNCED 980should therefore mark the transition from a model of development almost exclusively aimed at promoting economic growth towards a model wherein environmental protection and rational management of natural resources will be taken on board as integral components of development patterns.That was the environmental sustainability theme at UNCED.
On page 92, there is a reference to the Dublin declaration of June 1990, which emphasises the need to meetthe specific needs … of its partners"—the European Community's partners—in the developing world and in Central and Eastern Europe.Chapter 12 on bilateral co-operation and the section on developing countries is quite specific. It states:The Community and Member States will continue to intensify their efforts … it is necessary to increase official development aid and to mobilise new financial resources … to finance sustainable and environmentally sound development programmes and projects.We all recall that the commitment of new moneys by industrial countries to fund agenda 21 was grossly inadequate—about £2.5 billion per annum compared to the United Nations estimated requirement of £70 billion pounds. That is a remarkable disparity. That is the equity theme of UNCED.
Reports since suggest that even that pitiful requirement may not be honoured. First, the earth increment, part of the replenishment of the World bank International Development Association, is said to be in danger of collapse with Britain noticeably cool. It is said that we shall be lucky to maintain existing levels of that International Development Association budget, apart from any increase.
Secondly, Britain offered at Rio to triple its contribution to the global environmental facility to £100 million. That is now said to be threatened by budget cuts. Thirdly, we are told that Treasury Ministers are threatening to cut £250 million from bilateral overseas aid.
To renege on even the undertakings made at what was to be the most important meeting in the history of the world would make a mockery of the Rio agenda, a mockery of agenda 21 and a mockery of the new sustainable development commission which is to be set up in coming months. One can only imagine what the response among poorer countries could be and how disastrously damaging that response would be to the whole concept of environmental sustainability.
If we accept the rhetoric of UNCED—that the future of our planet is at stake—the consequences do not bear thinking about. Already the catastrophic poverty in some of the poorer countries does not bear thinking about.
I ask the Government to come clean and to make a clear statement about where they are at. The Government —this is true of all of us—must decide whether we wish to take UNCED and agenda 21 seriously or not.
§ 11.3 pm
§ Mr. Maclean
With permission, I will reply to a few of the points raised in an interesting debate. I should explain to the House, as I tried to explain in my opening speech, the nature of the fifth environmental action programme, especially for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor). He asked one fundamental question. If we did not have these documents, what difference would it make?
981 The difference would be that the Commission, which has the sole right to propose initiatives and legislation in the Community, could produce any directives and regulations that it saw fit without any guidance from the member states. The fifth environmental action programme gives some guidance. This may not be a good analogy, but it is like a giant a la carte menu. In some ways, it is like agenda 21. One does not expect to have to work one's way through every item on the list, but at least if everything is displayed in the window, one knows the sort of restaurant one is about to go into and the sort of meals that one might get there. My hon. Friend may have views as to the cooking ability of those concerned, but that is a different matter.
I warmly welcome the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). It is a great pleasure to see him on the Opposition Front Bench. It is perhaps unfair to be slightly carping towards him on his first appearance as an environment spokesman, but he should consider what we have been doing in the past few months. Where has he been during that time? He slammed into us on recycling, failing to realise that we gave £12 million in supplementary credit approvals last year, and £15 million this year to 126 local authorities.
The hon. Gentleman made a fuss about eco-auditing —environmental auditing. That is one of the initiatives that we are taking forward and one of the matters discussed at the Luxembourg Council last week and at the informal Ministers' Council. We consider it terribly important. We have even included it in the published programme. It is one of the things that we hope to achieve during our presidency.
The hon. Gentleman may be fortunate enough not to see television very often and has perhaps not seen the advertising campaign, "Helping the Earth Begins at Home", which tells householders and individuals what they can do about global warming. That is one of our energy efficiency measures. It is easy to pick on certain Government Departments for not being energy-efficient in the first year of a five-year programme. I emphasise, however, that those Departments have signed up to energy efficiency improvements over five years, and I do not think that it is fair to judge them in the first year of their efforts to meet a five-year target.
The hon. Gentleman went on about HCFCs. Of course we recognise that HCFCs have some ozone-depleting potential—about one twentieth that of CFCs, which are the real villain of the piece. If we are to make any real progress in combating ozone depletion, we must get the use of CFCs reduced and if we are to do that, we must allow HCFCs to be used in the interim, until all the other all-singing, all-dancing alternatives are available. Every other country in the world takes the view that HCFCs have a role to play in the interim period.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned environmental units in the Commission. We are keen on that idea; we repeatedly raised the subject at the Council meeting last week. I particularly made the point, drawing attention to that excellent report. This is a matter for the Commission, however. We do not have the power unilaterally to tell the Commission what to do or to impose a regime in Europe whereby all the directorates-general have their own 982 environmental units and reorganise and reform themselves. I repeat that we pursued the matter last week, and we shall raise it again and again because we see merit in it. Environmental policy has now been integrated into all other aspects of our policy in this country—we have interdepartmental discussions on it—and Europe could easily follow that example.
The hon. Members for Islington, South and Finsbury and for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred to habitats, and sought to extract a promise from me that we will introduce legislation to implement the habitats directive. That is not news, however—we have been working on it, and we shall introduce the legislation at the earliest possible opportunity. We have some years to do that, so time is on our side.
This country has 5,600 sites of special scientific interest, and 8 per cent. of the land mass of Great Britain is contained within SSSIs. It is easy to pick on a site where damage has been caused, and I should perhaps have listened to hon. Members with more respect if they had pointed out that SSSIs in other countries have also sustained damage. I was fascinated by an article in The Daily Telegraph two weeks ago, showing the substantial damage that had happened not to an SSSI but to a special protection area. Although we are the third or fourth country in Europe in announcing SPAs, we have been criticised. According to the article, in one country thousands of acres have been devastated, but we heard not a word from the Opposition about that.
In our White Paper, we publicly acknowledge those matters on which we have done well, and those on which we have not done so well and on which we must make progress. When considering the fifth environmental action programme, it does us no service to denigrate this country for some of the progress that we are making in respect of the environment and to paint a picture showing that our environment is the only environment which is going down hill or that we are destroying the environment. The reverse is the case. We are protecting our environment exceptionally well, although of course there is more that we can do. And we shall do more: we shall take further measures to protect our environment whether or not the Commission proposes those measures. We recognise that protecting all aspects of our environment is good for the people of this country and for our industry.
§ Mr. Chris Smith
It does the House no service if the Government dismiss, as the Minister has just dismissed, the real problem of the 1,200 sites of special scientific interest which were damaged during the course of the fourth action programme. The Minister must not simply dismiss that as not particularly relevant. It is very relevant. The Minister said that we have plenty of time to institute the habitats directive and to implement it in legislation, but we do not have that time, because, while the Government are waiting, more SSSIs will be destroyed or damaged.
§ Mr. Maclean
I reject the hon. Gentleman's pessimism. We are not complacent about some of the SSSIs that have suffered damage, but we must also recognise the extensive network of protection in this country exercised through English Nature, the large number of SSSIs, the substantial measure of protection, and the fact that we have the most designated Ramsar sites in Europe. We must also recognise the large number of special protection areas that we have designated. Of course, English Nature now wants 983 to concentrate on ensuring that its protection of SSSIs is as effective as it can be. When I said that we have plenty of time to implement the habitats directive, I meant that we have sufficient time within the time scale in the directive to do that. We intend that it shall be implemented.
§ Mr. Hardy
The Minister suggested that we were not critical of our neighbours. I have been chairman of the natural environment sub-committee of the Council of Europe for a long time and I have berated our neighbours on many occasions. After the war, and for a considerable part of the post-war period, Britain was far and away the lead country in conservation and environmental concerns. That is no longer the position and the Minister gave examples which proved that a few moments ago. The Minister should not suggest that we are critical only of Britain.
The Minister referred to Ramsar sites. On occasions, private Bills have been introduced in the House whereby important areas of the environment were due for serious damage or destruction and Conservative Members trooped through the Lobbies to support that destruction. They did so in respect of the very important Ramsar site affected by the Felixtowe Dock and Railway Bill which—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not make another speech. Interventions should be brief.
§ Mr. Maclean
I was trying to suggest that it would not be the British way simply to criticise our neighbours or to exempt ourselves. However, it is not good for us to give the impression that we criticise and denigrate only ourselves as though we were still the dirty man of Europe. I reject the claim that we are no longer in the lead in respect of nature conservation. We are the most respected country in the world in that regard. No other country has such a scientific lead in nature conservation as we have. In negotiations on the convention on trade in endangered species or other issues, it is the British scientists who are listened to because we have the expertise.
The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) referred to pesticides and gave the impression that our use of pesticides was increasing and that farmers were ignoring the strictures, but that is not so. Pesticide use in this country has decreased by 20 per cent. in the past 10 years. The hon. Gentleman should not give the impression that it is doing the opposite.
On toxic waste, I do not want to comment on the specific case as it is sub judice—subject to legal procedures—at the moment. However, I make the general point that last week at the Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg we obtained agreement. It was thanks to the brilliant chairing of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State that we got agreement on the waste shipments directive. The Community is now in a position to sign the Basle convention, and we shall be able for the first time to bring in measures through the national self-sufficiency plans to put proper controls on the transfer 984 or shipment of waste between developed countries. I look forward to the day when those shipments will be drastically reduced if not stopped.
The final point that I make to the hon. Member for Wentworth is about derelict land. Again he lambasted me on this matter. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have gone out to consultation on a scheme which will deal with section 143 registers. That consultation period has not yet ended; it will end at the end of this month. I am quite happy for the hon. Gentleman to write to me expressing his concerns about how that might impact—
§ Mr. Maclean
We are near the end of a consultation exercise. I should very quickly end up in court if I prejudged the outcome of the consultation exercise. I shall bear carefully in mind the points that the hon. Gentleman and others have made about the impact that those registers might have in his constituency and in other parts of the country.
§ Mr. Maclean
I shall not give way, because I want to conclude my speech.
As we endeavour to build on the commitments that we signed up to at Rio, and as we shape our policies on the environment into the next century, the European Community has a role to play alongside and together with the individual member states. The fifth environmental action programme will be a vital part of that process. I have indicated tonight the approach that we are taking in discussing the programme in Brussels and the main themes that we would wish to see the Community pursue as the programme begins to be implemented. As those discussions move forward, we shall take account of the views expressed in this debate.
There is much work to be done in the Community in assessing how its policies match the aspirations of its member states—for example, the renewed commitment to the principle of subsidiarity and the requirement to integrate the environment in all policy aspects. As President of the Environment Council, we shall continue our efforts to ensure that the fifth action programme is adopted in terms which meet those concerns and enable the Community to continue to pursue effective environmental policies. I commend the motion to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That this House takes note of the European Community Document No. 6132/92, relating to the Fifth Environmental Action Programme; endorses the Government's welcome of the general shape of the Programme; supports the Programme's emphasis on the integration of environmental concerns into other areas of policy, subsidiarity and the need to set priorities and assess costs; and endorses the Government's intention to ensure that these elements and the outcome of the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development are adequately reflected in the Resolution on the Programme which the Council is to adopt.