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European Year Of The Environment

Volume 113: debated on Wednesday 1 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what initiatives his Department is taking to contribute to the European Year of the Environment.

My Department intends to provide more than £750,000 in direct support of the United Kingdom's National Committee and of projects within its programme for European Year of the Environment. We are also sponsoring a number of specific projects.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, in addition to the various initiatives in which he is involved, industry in the United Kingdom has set a lead in producing much of the new technology that will help to abate pollution? Does his Department intend to support in any way the fair that is due to take place next month in Birmingham, which will show British technology at its best?

Yes, Sir. We had a lot to do with the generation of the idea of the international pollution abatement technology fair at the national exhibition centre in Birmingham. which starts on Monday. It is important to remind people that valuable jobs are to be found in providing modern equipment for pollution abatement for home use and export.

Will the Minister comment on the work of the national committee in promoting the European Year of the Environment, and in particular the efforts of the officers who have been responsible for drawing-up the programme?

I should like to pay tribute to those, including the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who have done sterling work on the committee under the chairmanship of Sir Peter Harrop. The committee is finding the job enjoyable, in that many good projects are coming forward. I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the staff, who will now be in place with a proper budget to deal with.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House what progress is being made in the European Community, particularly by the United Kingdom, towards reducing levels of acid rain?

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last year, we are committed to a £600 million programme of flue gas desulphurisation to ensure that the declining trend of our sulphur emissions continues, as we need it to do.

As to European Environment Year, will the Minister indicate what occurred at the meeting of European Environment Ministers with regard to the protection of the ozone layer?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is the case, at least in theory, that Council meetings are confidential, but it is no secret that the Community agreed a negotiating position to take to the Vienna meetings, where the protocol will finally be agreed, which will involve a freeze followed by cuts in the production of chlorofluorocarbons.

As part of the European Year of the Environment, will my hon. Friend encourage bee keeping? If so, will his Department drop the proposal that is contained in the consultation document to classify bees as pests?

There has been a certain amount of unnecessary alarm about this matter because, by a failure, for which I apologise, I did not send the relevant consultation paper about air pollution to the bee keeping associations. Bees are ecologically and economically important, but in urban areas uncontrolled swarms can occasionally cause problems to householders. We were discussing whether additional powers were needed to deal with that.

Will the Minister note that this is the European Year of the Environment, and will he send a message of goodwill to our European neighbours by announcing that the British Government will join them in signing the 30 per cent. declaration on acidic emissions? Will he announce the phasing out of the dumping of sewage sludge in the North sea, and will he give the House an assurance that the Government will not block the directive on large-scale plants for acidic emission, which is due to come up at the May Council meeting, and thereby do something to improve Britain's bad name in European environmental circles?

Britain's name is not so bad as the hon. Gentleman appears to hope it is. To start at the end, it is not Britain but Spain that is now blocking the large plant directive. Secondly, I would be happy to end any particular dumping if it were shown to be environmentally correct to do so. Scientific studies show that for some treated sewage sludge dumping at sea may be the best practical environmental option, and we must not abandon that concept. On the hon. Gentleman's third point, we have explained again and again that the starting date of 1980 for the 30 per cent. club is systematically unfair to Britain. That has been recognised in the negotiations in Europe on the large plant directive, incidentally, but it has not been recognised yet in the protocol itself.