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"This Common Inheritance"

Volume 205: debated on Monday 9 March 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on progress on the implementation of the commitments set out in the first anniversary report on the environment White Paper "This Common Inheritance"; and whether there will be a second progress report this year.

I am very pleased to announce further progress on the 400 commitments to action made in last September's anniversary report on "This Common Inheritance". To demonstrate our continuing commitment to environmental issues, the Government will issue a further detailed report on progress in October 1992. This will draw on the findings of the new statistical report on the environment to be produced by my Department in September this year.

Britain is a world leader in the integration of environmental issues across Government Departments. This successful integration has been assisted by the strong role now played by the "green" Ministers in every Department. These Ministers seek to ensure environmental considerations are taken into account in the work of their Departments, as recently announced in the environmental coverage in Department's 1992 reports; training to back up guidance Departments use when considering the environmental impact of their policies and programmes; advice provided by a range of new environmental advisory bodies, such as the Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment.

This concerted approach has allowed the Government to make progress on its environmental commitments in all areas.

In the international arena the members of the Antarctic treaty successfully completed and, in October 1991, signed the protocol on environmental protection of the Antarctic which provides for a 50-year ban on mineral activity in the Antarctic. The British Government have also continued to prepare for the UN Conference on Environment and Development—"The Earth Summit"—which the Prime Minister will attend in Rio in June 1992. The United Kingdom has played a leading role in the negotiations for international conventions on climate change and the conservation of the world's biological diversity, both of which it is hoped will be ready for signature in Rio.

In the European Community significant progress has included agreement in December 1991 on a Community eco-labelling scheme for products which achieve a high degree of environmental performance; agreement in December 1991 on a habitats directive to protect endangered wildlife and natural habitats; agreement on a regulation to control the export of certain hazardous chemicals, mainly pesticides; adoption in December 1991 of a directive on the protection of water against nitrate pollution. The Government have also announced that the use of CFCs will be phased out by the end of 1995, two years ahead of the EC target.

On policies affecting the countryside, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, has continued to press for the inclusion of environmental considerations in negotiations on the reform of the common agricultural policy. Other policies on the countryside include: the launch of "Action for the Countryside", a statement of the Government's policies to enhance the conservation, development and enjoyment of the English countryside, introducing a number of new initiatives to fund and encourage such action; increased protection for sites of special scientific interest; publication of a revised planning policy guidance note on the countryside and the rual economy, setting out a balanced approach to rural development and conservation; publication of "Our Farming Future" setting out the Government's policies for reconciling agricultural and environmental objectives; measures to improve the environment of the farmed uplands, particularly moorland.

In addition, the Employment department has continued to develop policies to encourage environmentally sustainable tourism, with the publication by the English tourist board of the "Green Light: a guide to sustainable tourism" in December 1991.

As far as the marine environment is concerned my right hon. Friend, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has secured agreement in the EC restricting the length of drift nets to be used by all EC vessels wherever they fish in the world.

Measures which affect the local environment include: the introduction in Britain of the first phase of a system of integrated pollution control, which brings together the regulation of pollution of air, land and water. This has attracted considerable interest in the EC, and may form the basis for Community-wide action; implementation of the majority of the provisions of the Planning and Compensation Act including a development plan-led system which pays close attention to environmental factors, supported by strengthened planning guidance; introduction, in January 1992, of the first phase of a new urban air quality monitoring network, which will provide more information for the public on a wide range of air pollutants; the launch in November 1991 of a major national publicity campaign "Helping the Earth Begins at Home" to raise householders' awareness of the link between home energy use and global warming, and to encourage greater energy efficiency.

At the Department of Transport, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has also been making progress on our commitments to make transport more sensitive to the environment by: the introduction of MoT emissions checking to reduce vehicle pollution; publication of "Keeping Buses Moving", a guide to bus priority in urban areas, allocation of £10 million for local bus schemes, and approval of further work in developing the Midland metro light rail scheme.

At the Department of Health work has continued to develop the strategy for "greening the NHS", encouraging the use of environmentally sensitive products, and making more effective use of resources.

Many other Departments are developing their own environmental initiatives. At the Department of Education and Science, the expert committee appointed to consider environmental higher and further education is making good progress; the Ministry of Defence has launched a thorough environmental review of its work; and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Offices all have environmental programmes to meet their particular needs.