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Commons Chamber

Volume 264: debated on Tuesday 24 October 1995

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 24 October 1995

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Standing Orders (Private Business)


That the following Amendments to Standing Orders relating to Private Business be made:

Standing Order 39

Line 4, leave out 'the Department of Health and Social Security and'.

Line 9, after first 'of insert 'Education and'.

Line 9, after 'Employment' insert 'the Department of Health'.

Line 10, after 'Heritage' insert 'the Department of Social Security'.

Line 21, leave out 'Science' and insert 'Employment'.

Line 24, leave out 'Science' and insert 'Employment'.

Table Of Fees

Line 2, leave out '£2,500' and insert '£3,500'.

Line 3, leave out '£2,500' and insert £2,3,500'.

Line 23, leave out £2,2,500' and insert £2,3,500'.

Line 29, leave out '£1,250' and insert £2,1,750'.— [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Saint Paul's Churchyard Bill


That the Promoters of the Saint Paul's Churchyard Bill shall have leave to suspend proceedings thereon in order to proceed with the Bill, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament, provided that the Agents for the Bill give notice to the Clerks in the Private Bill Office not later than the day before the close of the present Session of their intention to suspend further proceedings and that all Fees due on the Bill up to that date be paid;
That on the fifth day on which the House sits in the next Session the Bill shall be presented to the House;
That there shall be deposited with the Bill a declaration signed by the Agents for the Bill, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill at the last stage of its proceedings in this House in the present Session;
That the Bill shall be laid upon the Table of the House by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office on the next meeting of the House after the day on which the Bill has been presented and, when so laid, shall be read the first and second time (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read) and shall be ordered to be read the third time;
That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during the present Session.
That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Oral Answers To Questions


Defence Establishment


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the current level of the defence establishment; and what was the equivalent figure immediately before the end of the cold war. [36559]

As at 1 September this year, the strength of our regular armed forces was just under 228,400 and our civilian staff strength was about 130,000. On 1 April 1990, the figures were 305,711 regular service personnel and 172,273 civilian staff.

Will the Minister recognise that there is now an estimated shortfall of about 10,000 personnel in Her Majesty's forces? Will not that present problems to Britain when meeting its national and international obligations in future? Will he recognise, too, that—by contrast—the British economy is suffering from severe unemployment? Does it not take a Government of some ineptitude to bring about such a contradiction?

Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman has not quite got the right end of the stick. It is true that there are manning shortfalls, principally in the Royal Armoured Corps, the Royal Artillery and the infantry, because of poor recruiting and the inadequate retention of young soldiers. These shortfalls occur from time to time but are being dealt with by a vigorous recruitment campaign; and a special bounty has been introduced to improve retention in some areas.

The hon. Gentleman should realise that 32 per cent. of the land Army is engaged in commitments and operations—it is still an extremely exciting and thrilling career, one that is well worth people's joining. We must do more to ensure that people continue to be recruited to the service.

Will my hon. Friend use this opportunity to congratulate all involved in the defence costs study, which will save about £720 million on next year's defence budget? Will he also confirm that those savings will not be plundered by the Treasury but will be ploughed back into defence expenditure? Would he like to earmark some of it to improve on the establishment of our manpower, which is suffering from overstretch?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says about the defence costs study. As he rightly says, the results are extremely impressive: not just because the front line has been preserved but because substantial savings have been made.

I am also able to announce this afternoon that, in order to alleviate undermanning in the Army, we intend to retain for three years, from 1997, some 400 Gurkhas who would otherwise have been made redundant next year. They will form up to three infantry companies to substitute for British soldiers in infantry battalions, and a small number will also fill unmanned posts in units of the Royal Signals.

I believe that this imaginative scheme to use available military manpower in this way will be warmly welcomed by the Gurkhas, by the British Army, and above all by the British public, who rightly have huge regard and great affection for the Gurkhas.

I can assure the Minister that, despite the misleading headline in one newspaper this morning, as regards the defence establishment the Labour party has no intention of abolishing the courts martial system. As far as the figures are concerned, does he not have some explaining to do? The Ministry of Defence and the armed forces Minister have spent £500 million on redundancy payments, made 40,000-plus soldiers redundant, and now tell us that because we are short of soldiers we have to spend £100 million on recruiting them. Is that not an indication of mismanagement on the part of the Ministry of Defence?

No, Madam, it is not. We are grateful for the clarification on the courts martial system. I am disappointed to see that the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), its genesis, has been removed to the Whips Office. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well—he is merely mischief making—that restructuring could not be achieved by natural wastage alone. A phased redundancy programme had to be used by each of the services. Obviously some recruitment continues during a redundancy programme, to ensure that there is a properly balanced age and rank structure to meet all the skill shortages in certain areas. The hon. Gentleman is making mischief in the way in which he phrased the question. There is a problem on recruiting. He knows that, as do we. We see it coming and are taking the most radical and sensible steps to ensure that we deal with it.

My hon. Friend reflected on the fact that, at the height of the cold war, under the previous Labour Government, members of our armed forces faced decline in their conditions of service, whereas today they have realistic conditions of service that reflect the dangerous and challenging nature of their job. Does not that show that, on many other issues, one cannot trust Labour with defence?

The whole nation knows that one cannot possibly trust the Labour party on defence. My hon. Friend is quite right. Indeed, the services have never been better equipped or motivated than they are today. They are indeed at a lower level than they were, and quite rightly and inevitably so. They continue to be the most formidable armed forces of any nation in the world.

Financial Waste


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he maintains a central record of financial waste in his Department. [36560]

My Department has identified significant improvements in the way in which we carry out our tasks, leading to large efficiency savings. We are determined to bear down on waste wherever it occurs.

Given the Secretary of State's tough reputation for controlling public expenditure, can he explain why his Department appears unable to control cost overruns at a time when more and more disclosures of incompetence and mismanagement are emerging virtually every week?

I am tempted to ask: where's the beef? The hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Cummings) was one of those who signed the Labour amendment last week calling for huge cuts in defence spending and the scrapping of Trident. He is living proof of the adage that was just stated by my hon. Friend the Minister: one cannot trust Labour on defence. My Department has been at the forefront in cutting out waste. The defence costs study, to which my hon. Friend the Minister referred, rightly called "Front Line First", will yield savings rising to £1,000 million over the next seven years, and that is over and above the efficiency savings that my Department has gone in for.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the financial waste that would accrue both to his Department and to the British aerospace industry if the Department were to purchase F16s rather than have the mid-life update of Tornados? Is he further aware that such a decision, if it were taken, would be seen as a major blow to British industry and to many of the constituents of his hon. Friends, and as such would be wholly unacceptable?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on managing to get into his question an important point on behalf of his constituents. It is true that we have to consider all options in considering the mid-life update of our Tornados. One of those options is the possible leasing of F16s from the Americans. That is an option that we are obliged to consider, and we would be properly criticised—possibly by my hon. Friend, but certainly by Opposition Members—if we did not consider all the options in deciding on the mid-life update of our Tornados.

On the subject of waste, will the Minister confirm that the Department spent £24 million on buying 846 Reynolds Boughton light vehicles in preference to Land Rovers; that all those 846 vehicles have been found to be defective and unroadworthy and are in store in Army depots since they are unusable? How does he justify that as a sensible spending of taxpayers' money?

I have already said that, if I or any of my fellow Ministers find waste in our Department, we are determined to come down on it like a ton of bricks. That remains the case. The hon. Gentleman is, as always, picking around tiny little things. He is determined to undermine as much as possible the savings that we are introducing. The efficiency scheme that we have introduced in the Ministry of Defence has over-achieved its target ever since 1988. It has produced savings of around £2.5 billion; that is a dramatic achievement of which we are proud.

When my hon. Friend pursues his study in bearing down on costs, will he tell the House what is happening about the disposal of surplus MOD properties, which has been a subject of complaint for many years now by the Public Accounts Committee? Some progress has been made, but will my hon. Friend tell the House?

My hon. Friend is right that some progress has been made, but it is not yet sufficient and that is why we are conducting a study to improve it and will be able dramatically to improve those sales of land during the next few years.



To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the latest military situation in Bosnia. [36561]

The situation is generally much quieter following the ceasefire which came into effect on 12 October. [HON. MEMBERS: "Thanks to the Americans."] Sarajevo, for example, is a changed city with trams running, convoys arriving unhindered and prices falling.

In the new military situation, what guarantees can the Secretary of State give that British troops will still be available for protection and escort duties for British humanitarian and aid missions?

For as long as the United Nations mission continues, British troops will continue to play their part. I should say that I am aware of a situation which has arisen in central Bosnia where mujaheddin appear to be operating with some sort of vendetta against British troops and, for the time being, the United Nations has withdrawn British troops from certain convoy escort duties in central Bosnia. That is on the recommendation of the United Nations for their own protection. But the general position remains that British troops will play their full part in United Nations operations.

Did not the firm, decisive and well co-ordinated action that took place during the recess, in which British troops played a conspicuous and distinguished part, prove that decisive action does in fact pay?

Yes, I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I was bemused a moment ago to hear Opposition Members calling out that the improvement over the summer had been due to American troop operations, as though British troops had played no part. It is typical of the anti-patriotic ranting that we get from some Opposition Members.

The fact of the matter is that, as the House knows, British forces firing their artillery on Mount Igman played an extremely distinguished part, as did pilots from the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, who committed themselves to missions with absolute courage and commendable success. Opposition Members would do well to recognise that.

Does the Secretary of State accept that, if NATO was to be unable to put the full force into the field to support the fragile peace, it would be damaging for the prospects for peace, and also to the credibility of NATO? Is the right hon. Gentleman apprehensive about the extent to which the United States is willing to put troops into a NATO force in order to assist the peace process in the former Yugoslavia?

No, I am not apprehensive about that. I agree with what the hon. and learned Gentleman says about the importance of NATO deploying a full and effective force, but I am confident that the United States will wish to play its part in that. I can also assure the House that the United Kingdom will wish to play its full part as well.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the current situation in Bosnia was brought about largely because we deployed the right equipment and the right people at the right time? In particular, the top-cover flying of the Royal Air Force with the Tornado F3—especially at night—could not have been done by other aircraft crews available from NATO. The same applies to the important job of delivering the necessary laser bombs, performed by Harriers and Jaguars, and the enormous task undertaken by transport and other aircraft, including helicopters. All that meant that we were doing the right thing at the right time.

This has been an enormously distinguished period in the history of all three services; but the history of distinguished service in Bosnia goes back further than just the past few weeks. What we have done, patiently, in feeding the hungry and saving human lives has been commendable, but when our forces were called on to adopt a more robust posture, they did not fail.

Is the Secretary of State yet in a position to advise the House on the command structure for the 50,000 to 60,000 troops that, according to NATO, will need to be deployed in Bosnia following a truce and peace accord? Will British troops serve under the United Nations or NATO, and is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the agreement outlined yesterday in Washington will safeguard those troops?

I believe that the operation must be undertaken by NATO, operating within the bounds of a United Nations Security Council resolution. I believe that NATO is the appropriate body. As has been proved recently, it is able to operate effectively in military terms. I also agree with the American position, which is that the command and control arrangements for NATO need to be absolutely straightforward and unambiguous.

That having been said, however, I should like nations outside NATO to participate. I am thinking of Russia, and of Muslim countries. I hope that we can find a way of including those countries in the operation without in any way confusing the command and control aspect.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that recent events in Bosnia show how successful air power can be if it is properly deployed? Will he contrast NATO's effectiveness in the past few months with the dithering of the UN over the past two years? Will he ensure that, in future, British interests in Europe are pursued through NATO rather than the United Nations?

I certainly agree that NATO has been very effective, but I do not join my hon. Friend in his attack on the UN. I think that the UN found itself in a difficult position. Many of the problems that it faced were not its fault, but were caused by the inadequate support and resources voted to it by member states. I do, however, join my hon. Friend in again paying tribute to the way in which our troops have performed in the NATO operation.

National Parks


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what new proposals he has concerning the extent of military activity in national parks. [36562]

My Department has no new proposals that will alter the current extent of military activity in national parks, which continue to provide essential facilities for our armed forces.

Will the Minister support a full public inquiry in relation to the proposed Ministry of Defence development in Northumberland national park—an area that is already being subjected to intensive military activity? Does he realise that, as well as the environmental concerns expressed by the Ramblers Association and others, concern is felt in the urban area of Tyneside about the number of military convoys and the inadequacy of roads to accommodate them?

I do not think that the hon. Lady speaks for many people in that part of the world. There is massive support for the developments at Otterburn among all local people; the Army continues to be an important part of their lives. We hope very much that a sensible decision will he made early in 1996, and I hope that a planning inquiry will not be necessary.

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the defence land agents and land command at Wilton on the sensitive way in which they have improved the management of the defence estate, and the use of the national parks and other countryside sites? Does he agree that the strange coalition who oppose the Army's sensible and sensitive development of the Otterburn ranges are anti-Army, anti-local people, anti-jobs and anti-countryside?

My hon. Friend is right. That coalition is also anti-defence and I am extremely grateful to him for his tremendous support for the services in his part of the world. The Ministry of Defence gives the highest possible priority to conservation and maintains close liaison with national parks officials at both national and local level. The MOD has an unparalleled and unrivalled reputation for its conservation programme and it does not need lessons from anyone in that regard. I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

European Security


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he next plans to have discussions with his colleagues on the Council of Ministers of the Western European Union about the future of European security. [36563]

The members of the Ministerial Council of the Western European Union will meet in Madrid on 13 and 14 November.

When he meets his colleagues on the Council of Ministers, will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to seek the support particularly of those in the associate partners organisations, to persuade our French colleague on the council to abandon all nuclear testing in the Pacific?

No, I will not do that. It is extremely important that the House should understand that, if a nuclear deterrent is to be credible, people must know that it works: the country that owns the deterrent needs to know that and others need to know it too. In the United Kingdom, we are able to have that confidence about our weapon system without undertaking tests, but it is not for us to lecture the French on whether they can have that confidence without testing.

I remind Opposition Members—I remind those many unilateralists among the Opposition—that we have secured a long period of peace thanks to the operation of the nuclear deterrent, which has been paid for by the taxpayers of the United States, of France and of the United Kingdom, and that those countries have borne responsibilities on behalf of the rest of the world.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the European Union's ambition to absorb the Western European Union defence organisation is deeply resented by those connected with the WEU and by many people outside, particularly in view of next year's intergovernmental conference? Is he also aware that the efforts made by his diplomats and officials in that sphere to achieve a sensible, middle-of-the-road approach are much to be welcomed and are much supported by many people connected with WEU? In those circumstances, will he give every encouragement that he can achieve a worthwhile bridge between WEU and the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation?

My hon. Friend puts it extremely well. I understand why there should be resentment among members of WEU at the idea that it would be absorbed into the European Union. The two are not susceptible to being merged. After all, the European Union includes a number of countries that are neutrals and it would be absurd to erect a new barrier to entrance to the European Union—a defence qualification that those countries would have to cross. My hon. Friend is right to say, therefore, that we want to build a bridge between the European Union and the WEU and to ensure that, as European nations take on more responsibilities for their defence, the arrangements they make are compatible with NATO and not in competition with it.

Does the Secretary of State accept that Labour Members disagree both with the concept of the single European army and with majority voting by the Council of Ministers on defence policy? Will he therefore assure the House that his discussions with his European counterparts are both sensible and constructive and are not coloured by an obvious and damaging anti-European bias? Talking about trust, how on earth can we trust a party and a Secretary of State for Defence who, over the past two weeks, have played party politics of a most blatant sort with our nation's defences?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position; after hearing his question, that welcome is really heartfelt and sincere.

The hon. Gentleman rises to denounce his own party, because Pauline Green, leader of the socialists in Europe and a Labour Member of the European Parliament, tabled a motion calling for the abolition of the veto in the European Union virtually everywhere, including the application of qualified majority voting to foreign and security policy, to frontiers and to tax harmonisation. If I might be entirely fair, I should also mention that the European People's party decided that qualified majority voting and participation and monitoring by the European Parliament must be worked out and that intergovernmental co-operation in foreign and security policy must be replaced by qualified majority voting.

It is perfectly clear that there is a battle to be fought to make sure that the national veto is maintained. There is nothing anti-European in what I say; it is merely anti-federalist. That is because the Conservative party will defend the United Kingdom's vital interests in the European Union.

Airmobile Brigade


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the role and activities of 24 Airmobile Brigade in the former Yugoslavia. [36565]

Following the taking of British hostages at the end of May, 24 Airmobile Brigade was deployed to the former Yugoslavia to make clear our determination to enhance the effectiveness of UNPROFOR and provide additional protection to British troops. As part of the changes in UN force deployments requested by the UN Secretary-General, most of the troops are relocating to England and will remain on short notice to return to theatre if required.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. As well as paying tribute to the Highland Gunners who took part in action outside Sarajevo this summer, will he also pay tribute to the other elements of 24 Airmobile who were stationed rather unhappily in Ploce on the Adriatic coast? They were in great discomfort, but nevertheless provided an important deterrent role.

Yes, I am extremely pleased to do that. While for the majority of 24 Airmobile their mission in Bosnia turned out to be somewhat unglamorous, that does not mean that their role was unimportant. They played an important role in deterring and they lived under difficult conditions with very good cheer and I congratulate them on that.

When discussing former Yugoslavia and the remaining British forces there, will the Minister make it clear to the United States that we do not intend our forces to take one side in the conflict and that when the implementation of the peace plans begins, firm and, if necessary, tough military action should be take against Croatia if it continues to violate human rights and the rights of civilians throughout the former Yugoslavia?

It is extremely important that the forces in Yugoslavia—including the implementation forces—should be even-handed. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about human rights violations. We wish to have further details about what has been happening in Krajina following the Croatian advances.

My right hon. Friend rightly paid tribute to 24 Airmobile Brigade and to all our troops engaged in Yugoslavia. Can he give any indication of the total cost to the British taxpayer of our operations there over the past three or four years? To what extent have they been underwritten by the United Nations, and how much is currently outstanding?

I speak from memory, but I think that the cost has been £224 million so far. We have recovered about £70 million, but in principle most of that sum is refundable by the United Nations.

Anti-Personnel Land Mines


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he is having with other countries' Defence Ministers to reduce the number of anti-personnel land mines currently deployed. [36566]

The Government are at the forefront of international efforts to restrict the export and use of anti-personnel mines. We are disappointed that the recent conference which was called to tighten such restrictions was unable to reach agreement, but we will continue our efforts.

While I share the Minister's disappointment about the breakdown of the talks in Vienna recently when the United Nations held a conference on inhuman weapons, who does he think was to blame for the breakdown of those talks? Will he clarify the Government's position on self-destruct weapons and whether that played any part in the breakdown of the talks? Does he agree that with more than one million fatalities so far from anti-personnel mines and inhuman weapons and with many countries littered with hundreds of thousands of such devices, it is a major humanitarian and development issue, and that, when the conference meets again in January, our Government should give a moral lead in ensuring that the world is rid of anti-personnel mines?

I have some sympathy with the way in which the hon. Gentleman has put his question. I do not think that it would be appropriate or constructive for me to attempt to point the finger at any particular country, because we want to achieve a successful result when the conference resumes, in December we hope. We and our allies believe that a bad agreement would have been worse than no agreement at all. In order to press for a better outcome, we strove for the resumption rather than the total abandonment of the conference.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of any agreement covering self-destruct and detectable anti-personnel mines, because those mines cause severe damage to civilians throughout the world. We want to restrict their use and their export.

What is being done about de-mining measures in countries such as Afghanistan, Laos, Cambodia and Rwanda? Can my hon. Friend confirm that, with expenditure totalling nearly £20 million, Britain is in the lead in spending money on such projects? Would he agree that that pragmatic policy, combined with his policy to impose a moratorium on the export of land mines, is the right one rather than the rubbish spoken by many Opposition Members?

I can confirm that we have committed nearly £17 million to mine clearance projects around the world. We have funded projects in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, northern Iraq, Laos, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia and the Yemen. We are one of the world's leading contributors to mine clearance programmes. We have also been working with the United States and others on proposals for a land mine control programme, which would regulate the production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines.

We believe that the conference result demonstrated that a total ban on anti-personnel mines—called for from a number of quarters—is not possible at this stage because there is simply not enough international support for it. We will work, however, for a successful outcome at the future conference, which we hope will take place in December.

Local Authority Discussions


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had with local authorities in the last year to discuss changes to the size of the defence industry. [36575]

We try to involve local authorities by giving them early warning of changes to defence requirements for land and buildings, and we seek their help in finding alternative uses when those lands and buildings are no longer required.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that, since 1979, more than 345,000 highly skilled people have been paid off from the defence industry? Is it not about time that the Government formed a diversification agency to employ those people? The worry in the communities where those redundancies have occurred is that, without some action, those skills will be lost to their future generations.

We consider that decisions on how to adapt to changes in market circumstances and what products to make are for the commercial judgment of companies. I must say that, if ever there were a Labour Government again, no company would be likely to ask for the advice of Labour Ministers on how to run industry, because they have never run a whelk stall.

In his discussions with local authorities and defence industry leaders, can my hon. Friend reassure them that Her Majesty's Government are using their best efforts to ensure an equitable work share on important collaborative programmes, such as the Eurofighter 2000? That programme has been seriously delayed because the Germans are insisting on a bigger work share than that to which they are entitled according to their production requirements.

I can indeed confirm that the Eurofighter 2000 programme is intended to form the cornerstone of our air defence in the next century. If the cuts in defence spending proposed by many Opposition Members ever came into effect, we would have to have far more discussions with local authorities than we do now; then perhaps even Labour councils might begin to recognise that one cannot trust Labour on defence.

Why will the Minister not accept that the real problems facing many areas are as a result of the downsizing of the defence industry? Instead of using the cheap political rhetoric that we have just heard, why will he not accept the responsibility of Government to set up a defence diversification agency to work with industry and local authorities to deal with the problem?

So did I. It is not cheap political rhetoric; it is in fact the truth. None the less, I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. I feel sure that he will carry them out very effectively. I am pleased to be able to say that our recent decision, for example, on the Rosyth naval base, which I announced last Tuesday, had the full support and involvement of Fife regional council. That decision has been widely welcomed. We are grateful for the input of local authorities. We do not believe that a defence diversification agency would add anything to the conversations which we have already had.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, were the policies of the Opposition to come into force, there would not simply be diversification of our defence industries but destruction of them? Not only can we not trust the Labour party on defence but the Labour party itself does not trust Labour on defence, judging from the policies that it advocates and the votes that were not taken at the Labour party conference.

I could not have put it better myself. In fact, I did put it like that myself.

Greenham Common


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to transfer Greenham Common air base to Newbury district council. [36568]

Newbury district council, as one of the former owners, will have the opportunity to acquire part of the open area at Greenham Common under the Crichel Down rules. The area which has been developed is not covered by these rules and is expected to be sold on the open market.

Does the Minister accept that one of the main causes of delay is the fact that the developed part around the main gate is still common land? Would not a faster way of going forward be to exchange land between the developed land around the main gate and other land adjacent to but not part of the common, so as to avoid the whole issue of deregistering the common?

The hon. Gentleman is right; it is a fiendishly complicated matter, made the more so because of the element of common land, which, as he knows, has been the subject of a court case which recently found in favour of the Ministry of Defence. He will understand that it is our intention to ensure that the best possible use is made of the whole site and that it benefits the community and taxpayers. I can assure him that we are taking a great deal of trouble in processing it all, and I would be happy to discuss it further with the hon. Gentleman if he wished to do so.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best possible use of the land would be to make Greenham Common available to the Millennium Commission so that it may be used as a theme park for the great failures of socialism? There could be monuments to unilateral disarmament and global socialism, and it would serve as an everlasting reminder of the fact that we cannot trust Labour on defence.

That is a fantastically tempting proposition, which I have no doubt my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would find very interesting to push forward. I shall ensure that is drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage.

Married Quarters


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the progress made in dealing with surplus married quarters. [36569]

We are making good progress in dealing with surplus married quarters and aim to dispose of 4,000 quarters by the summer of 1996.

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree—I suspect that he does—that it has been a scandal that so many houses were empty—[Interruption.] Does he not agree that it has been a scandal that so many houses were left empty in the village of—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Gentleman still agree that it was a scandal that so many houses were left empty in the village of Longhoughton for so long when they could have been taken over by the district council or by a housing association? It is not only a scandal at a time of housing shortages but an embarrassment to the Royal Air Force locally, because it has no control over the situation at all.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that it has taken much longer than we would have wished to resolve the matter. I know that he has been following it keenly and pushing it along. Our aim is always to dispose of surplus property at the earliest opportunity so that it can be brought back into use as soon as possible. The sale of 20 houses to a housing association will be completed in December. I know that this will be welcome news to local people in housing need.

I thank my hon. Friend and congratulate the Government on their excellent progress in disposing of surplus properties in Portland and around Bovington. May I, however, add to the pleas I have made in the past as a result of talking to local authorities and housing associations? Many people would also like quite a large number of these properties to be sold to private people because we do not want to have a block of just council properties again; private owners tend to bring up the whole quality of an estate for the people living in it.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's point; what he says is self-evidently true. Whenever possible, quarters that are temporarily surplus are leased to local authorities and housing associations. We are currently looking to identify more properties that can be leased in the short term which would well fulfil some of my hon. Friend's ambitions.

Prime Minister



To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 October. [36589]

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is attending the commemorations for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in New York.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming yet another fall in the unemployment figures, which are now below even those of Germany for the first time in recent years? Is this not a resounding vindication of the Government's policies and is it not about time that the Labour party explained how a minimum wage would help young people to get jobs?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The latest unemployment figures are quite excellent. He raises an important point in directing the House towards the minimum wage. I noticed that the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), the deputy Leader of the Opposition, said:

"Some Party Colleagues have advocated such a wage without having the courage of their convictions to state an amount that would make the commitment meaningful."
Will the deputy leader of the Labour party now break the habit of his party and answer the question? What is the figure that would give meaning to the policy?

This is an historic moment. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his first Prime Minister's questions. It has been a long. time, but he has finally made it.

Given the Prime Minister's belated but welcome concern with waste and mismanagement abroad, can we now expect him to show the same concern for waste and mismanagement at home? Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell us how much money was wasted on the poll tax? How much money was wasted on the new bureaucracy in the health service? While he is at it, can he tell us how much it cost to set up and run his own new empire?

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to the Dispatch Box today in this position. Of course, I reciprocate in welcoming him to the position he holds. But I cannot help but notice that, while my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has trusted me to come alone, the right hon. Gentleman has had a minder appointed to look after him. The curious point about the minder is that he has not even had the courage to turn up to help with the minding process. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well—[Interruption.] Do I gather that the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) has crossed the Floor and is now sitting on this side of the House, or is he scouring away in the basement somewhere relaying what is going on in the House to the leader of the Labour party, who, of course, will never be able to get a first-hand account from the deputy leader because they do not talk? It really is ridiculous—[Interruption.]

Order. This is very time-consuming. I want brief questions and brief answers now.

I think that we shall get a brief answer, Madam Speaker, because the hon. Member for Hartlepool has now turned up.

As the right hon. Gentleman cannot give us a proper answer, may I help him? According to the Government's own figures, £14 billion was wasted on the poll tax and £1 billion on the new bureaucracy in the health service. Is not the real truth that the Government's press and publicity machine costs the taxpayer £1 million every working day? Is that not the real cost to the country of the right hon. Gentleman's new title? Is it not clear that something so expensive to sell must be a pretty shabby product?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that, when a Government have as many good policies as we have, it is our duty to draw them to the attention of the people who will benefit from them. Our first obligation is to point out that, for every £1 spent on the health service in 1978–79, we spent £5 last year.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 October. [36590]

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will resume his seat.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the BBC and Channel 4 on transmitting live the whole of last week's debate on the Prison Service? Does he agree that that provided viewers with the opportunity to see my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary demolish the Opposition's unworthy and unsuccessful attempt to smear his reputation?

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. It was excellent that the House and a wider public had the chance to see the vacuum that lies behind Labour's allegations. They also had the chance to hear the excellent speech by my right hon. and learned Friend. If the BBC continues to show the Opposition in that light, it will not be Alastair Campbell who rings up to complain but the League Against Cruel Sports.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 October. [36591]

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Lady to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware that, because of financial constraints, Rochdale health authority proposes that elderly, critically ill patients should not be allowed into nursing homes funded by the national health service unless they will die within four weeks? Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that that is ultimately the responsibility of the Government?

It is the ultimate responsibility of the Government to provide the excellent health service that we do. I would not be prepared to discuss at the Dispatch Box the sort of case that the hon. Lady put to me without a chance to examine it in more detail. However, the health service is attracting increasing funds and the results are increasingly attractive to the public. Public assessment of the quality of the health service is rising consistently.

After the warm-up bout last week, will my right hon. Friend arrange, after the manner of the Ryder and Walker cups, a series of singles matches between members of the Cabinet and their opposite numbers, not least so that we can see whether the captain of the other side, in a manner unusual in international golf, continues to intervene to help his hon. Friends out of bunkers?

My right hon. Friend is a pastmaster at coming to the heart of a matter. I suspect that the Leader of the Opposition will not want to reveal his shadow Cabinet too conspicuously because it is self-evident that the parliamentary Labour party has elected a shadow Cabinet diametrically opposite to the direction in which the Leader of the Opposition wants to go.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 October. [36592]

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister recognise that investment in manufacturing is lower than it was six years ago, despite a recent and welcome improvement? Does he accept that the lack of investment—widely acknowledged as a British problem—is directly responsible for the loss of 520 jobs in my constituency at the British Steel plant which is the only supplier of specialist seamless tubes in the United Kingdom? Will he undertake to intervene—preferably before breakfast—and ask for a rethink on the closure? Does he recognise that, if the plant closes, we shall have an even bigger balance of trade problem than we have at present?

The hon. Gentleman would help his constituency if he got up earlier in the morning, as he would discover that unemployment in his constituency has fallen by 30 per cent. in the past two and a half years.

On United Nations day, will my right hon. Friend reflect that the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference at the General Assembly in New York a month ago agreed unanimously that the problems of the UN are our problems and that, if we did not have the organisation, we would have to invent it?

My hon. Friend has made a valuable contribution to the subject, and particularly to the work of the IPU, and the House is indebted to him for that. Our support of the UN is second to none, but that is no justification for the organisation wasting money and not collecting its proper dues.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 October. [36593]

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

We seem to have some difficulty in eliciting direct answers from the Deputy Prime Minister. Following what my right hon. Friend the deputy Leader of the Opposition said, an article in The Independent yesterday asserted that the Deputy Prime Minister had spent £80,000 of public money on a desk diary. Did the Deputy Prime Minister receive permission from the Prime Minister to spend that money in such an extravagant manner?

The hon. Lady will find that, if she relies on the national press for the basis of her research, she will be consistently wrong-footed. I spent no money on a desk. The hon. Lady would be better employed praising the Government, who have presided over a 22 per cent. reduction in unemployment in her constituency.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 October. [36594]

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend—[Interruption.]

Order. The House must come to order. I want to hear the answers to the questions, whether the House does or not. [Interruption.] Order. Do be quiet.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that no less a luminary than the director of the Fabian Society has come out in support of grant-maintained schools, much to the relief of the Leader of the Opposition, whose party is opposing him on the matter? With almost cross-party support for the measure, can we count on the Government to proceed with all speed to make all our schools grant maintained, thus bringing a choice of school to every parent?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw the attention of the House to this critical matter. The fact is that, in putting forward the proposal, the Fabian Society is once again looking to the Conservatives for the ideas which are taking us forward into the next century. For all the rhetoric of the left, what the Opposition are about is abolishing grant-maintained schools, abolishing grammar schools, abolishing city technology colleges and abolishing simple performance tables and simple tests—everything is for dogma and rhetoric, and nothing is for quality in education.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister not realise that all this knockabout opposite will be taken very badly by starving millions in the third world who are already fearful of the proposed cuts—[Interruption.] Conservative Members are laughing, as usual. Now we have the Prime Minister at the United Nations talking about abolishing UNESCO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Labour Organisation. That will go down extremely badly because everyone knows that, like the cuts in overseas aid, the proposals are to fund the pre-election tax cut bribes of the Tory Government.

Did I hear the hon. Gentleman refer to knockabout Opposition when he first intervened? It cannot be explained in any other language. This country has the fifth largest aid programme in the world. How can the Labour party decry that? When one adds to that our inward investment in other people's countries and the remarkable contribution that we make to peacekeeping, one has just one further example of the way in which, whatever this country does, the Labour party seeks to decry and destroy it.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 October. [36595]

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Did my right hon. Friend welcome the protestations that we have heard, particularly from the Opposition parties, that all of us in the House are in favour of increasing investment in our railways? Does he believe that those protestations are consistent with, first, the suggestion by the Leader of the Opposition that the railways will be renationalised and, secondly, the statement by the new shadow spokesman on transport that she would not pay for it?

The whole House is interested in what my hon. Friend has to say, but it is also interested in what the deputy leader of the Labour party has to say to the union that sponsors him. Is he in favour of it taking strike action and imposing hardship on very large numbers of Londoners trying to get to work, or is he not in support of that?

Constituency Surgeries

3.32 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it in order for another Member of this House to advertise surgeries in my constituency and seek contact with my constituents? In seeking your advice, I should add that my constituents will be excluded from my constituency following boundary changes at the next general election. However, it is my belief that it is my duty to represent my constituents until that time, and that no other Member should intervene.

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct. Until the next general election, the hon. Gentleman represents his constituents, even if he has boundary changes. I, too, have boundary changes, but I still represent the people who put me here from West Bromwich, West. If the hon. Gentleman would like to let me see the advertisement, I shall be glad to deal with it.

Registration Of Fostering Agencies

3.33 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable voluntary and independent fostering agencies to approve foster carers subject to registration and inspection of the agencies.
I am grateful that the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) is present to listen to my introduction of the Bill. The Department of Health's latest figures show that 60 per cent. of children looked after by local authorities are placed with foster families. That proportion has increased since 1989. Foster care is the community's response to the needs of parents and children in difficulties.

The children who are accommodated in foster care are not blue-eyed angels. They have many needs and problems, which can be displayed in very difficult behaviour. They often come at short notice from traumatic family situations which often take time to resolve, either through rehabilitation of the child at home or through alternative long-term foster or adoptive placement.

Foster parents face increasingly complex tasks—for example, contributing to assessments, dealing with parental visits and giving evidence in court, in addition to nurturing hurt and sometimes aggressive children. The majority of foster carers are volunteers; they are not paid. They volunteer for altruistic motives. It is their way of contributing to the community. It is their choice and their decision.

Without their volunteering, the child care system would collapse. It is remarkable, therefore, that, under the present regulations, foster carers are effectively denied the opportunity to choose for whom they foster.

Voluntary organisations have a long tradition of providing services for children—Barnardo's, Catholic Rescue, The Children's Society, and the National Children's Home, to name but a few. Those organisations have contributed to innovative services and provided diversity and choice in the placement of children as a complement to local authority provision. Many of the organisations are already adoption agencies, and they run registered children's homes.

Under present regulations, however, they cannot approve their own foster carers. They can approve parents for life, but not parents for one night. The Foster Placement Regulations 1991, which are clarified by circular number LAC(94)20, state that voluntary organisations can approve foster carers only when delegated to do so by a local authority in relation to a particular child, that those foster carers are deemed to be on the list of the local authority and that any subsequent placements have to be agreed by the local authority. So voluntary agencies can recruit, train and assess, but those foster carers end up on the list of the local authority that has placed the first child. They are owned by the local authority.

As people may have been attracted to an organisation because of their religious beliefs, it is clearly unacceptable that they find themselves as local authority foster parents. If that is what they had wanted to be, they would have applied to the local authority in the first place. A letter sent to me by Norwood Child Care states:
"Foster parents come to our agency because it is Jewish and because it is small. They do not want to belong to the council because of a legal requirement."
The regulations raise other technical issues, which I do not have the time to discuss. The circular also states that, in delegating duties,
"the local authority will need to satisfy itself about the capacity of the organisation to discharge duties on its behalf."
That may not be difficult with adoption agencies, but a number of smaller organisations are coming into the field. One matter of concern is that the study by the social services inspectorate into small, unregisterable children's homes, which was published in August, identified some private organisations running small, unregisterable children's homes in the profit-making sector and parallel voluntary fostering sector.

There is no central point where concerns about agencies can be collated. Termination of approval of foster parents does not constitute termination of approval for an organisation, where problems may have been in the support offered in the placement or in the management of the organisation.

Indeed, the inspectorate's report identified proprietors of children's homes who had had previous convictions for fraud and for sexual and physical abuse. It is worrying that those same proprietors might be running voluntary fostering agencies.

Only registration and inspection similar to that for adoption agencies can ensure that organisations maintain proper standards. That step has the widespread approval of reputable organisations in the voluntary and independent sector, as well as the Association of Directors of Social Services, British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering and the National Foster Care Association.

Clarity of responsibility is one of the prevailing issues in child protection. That clarity of responsibility in foster placements will be met by registration and inspection. I am conscious that the Department of Health consultative document, "Moving Forward" asked the question, "Should voluntary and private sector agencies be subject to statutory regulation?" Before one asks that, one should deal with the question whether voluntary agencies can approve their own foster carers.

Earlier this year, the Minister proposed to extend the fostering regulations to include private agencies, to encourage diversity and choice. I find it surprising that he was unaware that the existing regulations were denying voluntary organisations the opportunity to provide that choice and diversity, and denying foster parents the opportunity to make their voluntary contribution to the agency of their choice.

The Government have not provided an opportunity for a debate on the Floor of the House on fostering. Indeed, the statement by the Minister on the result of his initial consultation was issued during the recess, as was the report on small unregisterable children's homes. The House can draw its own conclusions about that timing.

I am aware that this Bill will not make any parliamentary progress, but I am bringing it before the House because the issues it raises are important enough to be a matter of public record. I urge the House to support the Bill, as a clear message to the Minister that we want voluntary agencies to be able to approve their own foster carers, subject to registration and inspection. In doing so, we would recognise the contribution that the voluntary sector makes to children's services, as well as the contribution of the thousands of volunteers who, as foster carers, are the unseen and often undervalued carers of society's most difficult and disturbed children.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Ms Ann Coffey, Mr. Alun Michael, Mr. Keith Hill, Mr. David Hinchliffe, Mrs. Barbara Roche, Mr. George Howarth, Mrs. Jane Kennedy, Mr. Kevin Hughes, Mr. Dennis Turner, Mrs. Bridget Prentice and Ms Janet Anderson.

Registration Of Fostering Agencies

Ms Ann Coffey accordingly presented a Bill to enable voluntary and independent fostering agencies to approve foster carers subject to registration and inspection of the agencies: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 27 October, and to be printed. [Bill 178.]

Questions (Transfer)

3.41 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I refer you to some correspondence that causes me great concern. I tabled an oral question the other day to the Deputy Prime Minister—and if I recall correctly, there was a point of order on this matter only two or three days ago—asking

"What plans he has to meet representatives of Campbell's Soups to discuss competition in the production of soups."
To me, that is an important question, because Campbell's Soups, an American company, last August purchased Home Pride in my constituency, and last week announced that 120 jobs are going to be lost in Maryport.

I tabled the question after taking advice from the Clerks in the Table Office, and now, because of some civil servant's view that that question is not relevant to the Deputy Prime Minister, it has been transferred. I object very strongly, because I made a point of ensuring that it was in order so that, in two weeks' time, I could ask the Deputy Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box—it came up as No. 4 on the ballot—a question on this issue of great importance in my constituency.

I wonder whether you would ask the Parliamentary Clerk in the Cabinet Office to withdraw the letter that I have received, and to advise me that I can table this question. I do not do this only on my own behalf; other hon. Members are being affected by such decisions. We believe that we are being most unreasonably treated. It is very damaging to me in my constituency.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's frustration. I have heard similar complaints from other hon. Members. As the House knows, I have no influence on or responsibility for the transfer of questions. It is not the Parliamentary Clerks who make transfers, but Ministers themselves who are finally responsible for transferring questions to other Departments.

May I ask the hon. Gentleman to raise the matter with the Deputy Prime Minister? I would encourage him to do so, because the matter can be dealt with if the hon. Gentleman would write to the Deputy Prime Minister raising the matter and asking him why the question has been transferred.

I understand that you would wish us to proceed in that way, Madam Speaker, but the reality is that the Deputy Prime Minister will say that he does not believe that it is his departmental responsibility, but a matter for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food But the issues that I am driving at are competitiveness and competition, which fall directly within the right hon. Gentleman's brief—it was on that basis that the Table Office accepted the question.

I believe that we have now got to the position where the Speaker of the House of Commons should intervene, with a view to protecting the rights of Back Benchers.

This is not a matter for the Speaker of the House of Commons; it is a question for the Minister concerned. It is the responsibility of Ministers to transfer questions. This is not the first time that it has occurred, and I take it seriously. I shall see what I can do, but I have no powers in these matters.

I do understand the frustrations felt by Back Benchers, who seek out the Minister who they feel is responsible for a particular matter, only to find that it is sent elsewhere. I have every sympathy; I understand the frustrations; I would ask the hon. Gentleman to write and ask for an explanation, and I shall do what I can.

Opposition Day


Environment (Scotland)

I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.45 pm

I beg to move,

That this House recognises the depth of public concern in Scotland and beyond at HM Government's failure to provide proper stewardship of Scotland's environment; notes the triple threat posed by plans to increase the number of reprocessing contracts at Dounreay, the disclosure of the munitions dump at Beaufort Dyke and continuing uncertainty over Shell's plans to decommission the Brent Spar; views with alarm reports that between five and fifteen thousand fuel rods of US origin may be destined for Dounreay, pending the decision by the USA Department of Energy; further notes that over a thousand phosphorus devices have been found along the shores of south west Scotland; is dismayed that crucial decisions affecting the Scottish people are taken without any semblance of public consultation; calls on Her Majesty's Pollution Inspectorate to refuse to grant any further applications for discharge authorisations at Dounreay; demands an urgent investigation into the munitions dump at Beaufort Dyke so that the dangers posed to the public and the marine environment can be properly assessed; urges the Government to refuse any application for a licence for the offshore disposal of the Brent Spar or any other North Sea installation until such disposal can be assessed by an independent authority; and rejects the contemptuous treatment which fleeces Scotland of its natural resources while imposing unacceptable environmental dangers upon the Scottish population, threatening industries such as fishing, farming, food processing, whisky and tourism which depend crucially on Scotland's perception as a country with a clean environment.
In choosing this topic for today's debate, my colleagues and I in the Scottish National party seek to highlight what we consider to be the real concerns that are uppermost in the minds of Scottish people. We have chosen to focus on three specific issues.

First, I refer to the disclosure by the Ministry of Defence in June of this year that more than 1 million tonnes of conventional munitions had been dumped at Beaufort dyke off the south-west coast of Scotland over 50 years, between the 1920s and the 1970s. Secondly, there is the prospect of up to 15,000 spent nuclear fuel rods of United States origin making their way to Dounreay for reprocessing, with all the risks that that will inevitably entail, both at Dounreay and in the course of transportation. Thirdly, I want to mention the continuing uncertainty over the disposal of Brent Spar, with the Government refusing to rule out the idea that it could yet be dumped at sea.

Each of these issues is of vital importance to every man, woman and child in Scotland, because of their impact on the perception of Scotland as a clean country on which so many of our vital industries depend—farming, fishing, food processing, whisky and tourism. Each issue is different, but they all have one thing in common: they raise questions about the safety of people's lives, the security of their jobs and the sustainability of their communities.

They also have something else in common—an apparent view of Scotland as some kind of convenient waste disposal unit. That certainly makes a change from the Thatcher years, when Scotland appeared to be regarded as a testing ground, but I do not think that the people of Scotland will regard it as a change for the better.

How many Scots have lost their lives as a result of the transport of nuclear equipment of any kind through Scotland?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is not the point. We are discussing an enormous increase in the likelihood of risk. We are talking about risk in this debate. I shall return to that issue, but I want first to deal with Beaufort dyke, an issue of current concern up and down the west coast of Scotland.

If this debate had been held two years ago and an Opposition Member had stood up and said that more than 1 million tonnes of bombs, incendiary devices and other high explosives had been dumped in Scotland as a deliberate act of Government policy, he or she would no doubt have been accused of scaremongering and irresponsibility. Yet, on 29 June this year, that is exactly what the Ministry of Defence admitted, in a letter to the Irish Sea Forum:
"In total, we estimate that the Ministry of Defence may have disposed of over 1 million tons of conventional munitions within Beauforts Dyke … between the end of the war and December 1948 some 135,000 tons of conventional munitions were disposed of at this location. Subsequently other dumpings took place during the 1950s, particularly of aircraft bombs and disposals continued at a rate of about 20,000 tons per annum into the late 1950s".
The letter goes on to state that, by the early 1970s, the annual tonnage had reduced to about 3,000 tonnes, and that Beaufort dyke was last used by the Ministry of Defence for general munitions dumping in 1973—although I understand that there was a further emergency dump in 1976. We are also told that, between July and October 1945, some 14,000 tonnes of 8-in artillery rockets filled with phosgene were similarly disposed of.

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but is she aware that, in the period 1945 to 1955, many thousands of chemical warfare bombs were transported from Wales for dumping off the Scottish coast at Beaufort dyke, and that the safety of those bombs has been a matter of considerable concern?

I was not aware of that, and I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention, because it shows the extent of what has been going on in Beaufort dyke. Off the west coast of Scotland, we have the largest single underwater munitions weapons repository in western Europe. The Government have admitted that there was a 50-year programme of dumping between one of the UK's busiest shipping lanes, only six miles from the Scottish coast.

Neither Parliament nor the Scottish people have ever been told what was going on, let alone consulted. The Scottish people, their elected representatives and their environment have been treated with utter contempt by successive UK Goverments, as though they were physically and politically expendable.

I should point out that Stena Sealink carried 1.3 million passengers between Stranraer and Larne in the past year. Those waters are also home to deep-water trawlers and Royal Navy submarines. It is a busy channel. An undersea gas pipeline is being planned across the channel, with construction later this year. The company involved, Premier Transco, has already announced that it has changed the planned route to take account of Beaufort dyke. When the Ministry of Defence concedes, however, that it does not have complete records, the situation is clearly fraught with difficulty.

The concern of the local population was summed up very well by the chief executive of Wigtownshire district council, Mr. Alastair Geddes, when he said:
"Nothing is more damaging than uncertainty. An inquiry should look at where the dumping took place, what was dumped and whether or not it remains in a stable condition and also if there is to be any danger in the future."
There is understandable local concern about the impact that that uncertainty will have on the economy of the area. Wigtown had the lowest rate of economic growth in Scotland this year, and Upper Nithsdale had the highest level of unemployment in Scotland. Already, two shore front developers in Stranraer have threatened to withdraw their development plans, and uncertainty can only harm the economic prospects of those who have invested heavily in the area.

I now turn to the nature of the materials dumped in Beaufort dyke. Responding in 1985 to a question from the late right hon. Donald Stewart MP, the then Scottish Secretary, Mr. George Younger, said:
"Because of the non-toxic nature of the materials that have been dumped at Beaufort dyke it has not been considered necessary to check for leakage or environmental pollution."—[Official Report, 1985: Vol. 71, c. 518]
Yet that statement is in direct contradiction of the letter of 29 June from the Ministry of Defence, which refers to the toxic potential of munitions materials. It is worth recalling the Department of the Environment's definition of toxic material, in May 1995:
"a substance which inhaled or ingested or penetrates the skin may involve serious, acute, or chronic health risks or even death."
Yet, by their own admission, that is what has been dumped off the coast of Scotland.

Will the Minister confirm that, although the toxic potential of munitions material may be reduced by the combined effects of dilution, dispersion, hydrolysis and low temperatures, it is not eliminated? If, as the Government admitted in 1985, it was not their practice to check for leakage or environment pollution, on what scientific evidence do they base their assertion that the toxic potential of the munitions material has been reduced? Further inconsistencies demand clarification.

There is the whole question of the failure to mention any dumping of chemical weapons in the previous claim by the then Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Viscount Cranbourne, in a letter dated 13 October 1992 to the, hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), that small quantities of chemical weapons were dumped at Beaufort dyke. The letter stated:
"small quantities of chemical weapons were sea dumped in 1945 in Beaufort's dyke a deep water … trench in the Irish Sea."
Dr. Paul Johnston, a munitions expert at Exeter university, has said:
"The conventional weapons are still active and potentially explosive. The chemical drums are corroding and some may have been punctured."
He has warned of what he says is
"a mind-blowing potential for an environmental disaster."
The Ministry of Defence says that it is prepared to carry out a detailed survey of the dyke, but that, as long as the material remains undisturbed 263 fathoms below the waves, there is no cause for concern. The Government must be made to realise that only a full and urgent investigation will suffice.

I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this matter on the Floor of the House of Commons. Incidentally, I hope that she will bring the Scottish National party councillor for Newton Stewart on side with what she says and what I have been saying as well.

Does she agree that, although what is dumped in Beaufort dyke is bad, even worse is what has been dumped outside the permitted area of Beaufort dyke? Does she further agree that it is outrageous that, when we met the Secretary of State for Defence last week, he did not admit that the laying of the gas pipeline had been stopped for six days because of the dangers to which those laying it had been subjected?

Does she also agree that it is imperative that the Secretary of State for Scotland considers that when he is considering the report of the reporter into the proposed electricity interconnector with Northern Ireland, because that could also cause great disturbance of the munitions and chemicals that have been dumped outside Beaufort dyke? That is an extra reason why the proposal should be rejected.

Some of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman will be brought out in the course of the debate. The matter is of great concern, because, while what has been dumped in Beaufort dyke is a matter of some uncertainty, what has been dumped in the surrounding area is a matter of even greater uncertainty. We shall be talking about that in a little more detail, because it highlights people's concern. If the Government themselves do not take any notice of what is going on, how can we possibly have any control over our environment?

I recognise that the Government have travelled some distance since expressing the view in 1985 that it was not necessary to check for leakage or environmental pollution, but they will have to go much further if they are to allay public anxieties.

Why, having written to the Secretary of State for Scotland more than a month ago calling for a public inquiry, has Wigtown district council still to receive a reply? Will the Minister confirm that the gathering of water samples at the north channel dump site by the Ministry of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food were concluded in August? If that is the case, will details be published? The Ministry of Defence letter of 29 June said that results would be released on completion of the tests. If those tests were completed in August, we would all be interested to know what immediate publication meant.

Finally, it is a matter currently causing great concern that more than 1,000 phosphorus devices have been scattered along the shore of south-west Scotland. Can the Government give us any information about that? On Saturday, we learned from the national press that a four-year-old boy had come across a phosphorus flare and been burned. In March 1994, the then Minister of State for the Armed Forces, now the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), said that investigations had been unable to identify the origins or purpose of those objects, except that records showed that no phosphorus objects were ever stored at Beaufort dyke.

I dare say that people on the west coast of Scotland would be obliged if the Government could do something fairly soon about finding out, if they do not already know, precisely what these things are and from where they come. It seems quite extraordinary that they are washing up in such vast numbers, yet the Government appear thus far not to wish to take any view on them. That cannot be enough when it is clear that the devices have been washed ashore from somewhere, and continue to be.

I am sorry to say that the overwhelming impression currently being given is of near indifference to the public's real and understandable concern. In the face of that, it is little wonder that public confidence has been so undermined. We are suffering now for decisions made decades ago. We must have action now, so that we do not suffer in future decades for the current lack of decisions.

Environmental decisions cannot be made on an ad hoc basis, having regard only to the short term. All the matters raised today have serious long-term implications, and none more so than another matter raised in the motion—the possibility that the United States Government will decide to send between 5,000 and 15,000 US-origin spent fuel rods to Dounreay for reprocessing.

The volume of such a transportation affects most of Scotland—and, indeed, may well affect large parts of England as well. The port of entry may be Scrabster, Aberdeen or Leith; the route will go right through the centre of Scotland, up through its most populated areas. Indeed, if the items are brought ashore at English ports, they will go right through the most heavily populated parts of England as well. Once the fuel rods have arrived at Dounreay and been reprocessed, waste is likely to be retained for up to 25 years.

The irony of all this is that the United States Government have been carrying out an on-going consultation exercise among the US population, and we are told that a decision is imminent. The United States Government appear to have regarded the issue as serious enough for detailed consideration; whatever we may think of the range of possible options, the contrast with what is happening in Scotland could not be more acute. The United States Government have engaged in no consultation there—unless my questionnaire has been lost in the post. Their openness does not appear to extend to us who are likely to be most affected. Nor have our own Government engaged in any consultation.

The whole issue of Dounreay is very controversial. In view of that, should there not be consultation before we proceed? There has been an appalling loss of confidence in Dounreay over the years. I shall refer to only a few of the more recent developments that have led to that loss of confidence, but I could mention many others.

A report published in May this year by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment, and the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee, does nothing to allway public concern about Dounreay. The then chair of the advisory committee said:
"The contamination on the beach and within the site has proved to be higher than I had previously been told. I received the highest radiation dose I have ever recorded during my time with the RWMAC while standing at the top of the waste disposal shaft. To say they"—
he was referring to the Dounreay management—
"were lying is not an unreasonable conclusion to reach."
That sentiment is echoed by the chair of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment. A further eight hot spots have been found since the sweep began in July; moreover, particles found on the foreshore are apparently likely to cause death if ingested. For that, we can thank Dr. Wheldon of the committee.

Those are only the most recent examples in a catalogue of contamination reaching many years back. The lack of public confidence in Dounreay is well founded; yet we may face a considerable increase in activity if the United States opts for sending some or all those elements to Dounreay.

If, following widespread public consultation in the United States, it is concluded that it would be a good idea to send all this material for reprocessing in Scotland, is it not reasonable to suppose that the outcome of widespread public consultation in Scotland might be the conclusion that it would not be a good idea? No country wants to be the world's nuclear laundry.

Indeed, although I was not planning to use the words "nuclear laundry" in the context of my speech—"nuclear dustbin" is used more often than "laundry", but if that United States decision is taken, it will lead to a massive increase in activity at Dounreay.

I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady's speech, and I share many of her concerns about the transport and reprocessing of nuclear materials, but I notice that there is no mention of Sellafield in her motion. Is that because it is not in Scotland? Is she happy that the reprocessing should be done in Sellafield because it is not in Scotland? If so, is she aware that my constituents live nearer to Sellafield than to Dounreay?

No. The decision was to highlight current environmental concerns in Scotland. We are, of course, concerned with environmental questions throughout the rest of the United Kingdom, and, indeed, in the rest of the world. When I come to the question of transportation, I will be talking about transport through England as well as across international waters, so it is not right for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that we are not interested in what is happening outside Scotland.

It is a question not just of on-site dangers, but of transportation dangers. The routes may be many and various, as I have already said. The road route passes through many of Scotland's most densely populated regions. As I said earlier, the spent fuel rods are brought ashore at ports in Aberdeen and Leith. All the regions on the east coast would be included, as well as the places that the A9 goes through. If the things are brought ashore in England, they will be transported through the heart of England. It may have been more interesting to hear some of the speeches of English Members who might be concerned if their constituencies were on those routes. Many people will have those concerns.

I speak as an English Member of Parliament very near to a nuclear power station, and I welcome its contribution to a clean electricity supply. Will the hon. Lady make it clear that her party is still opposed to the principle of nuclear power, and explain how Scotland would possibly survive economically without 50 per cent. of its existing power generation?

In Scotland, we currently export more power than we use. We are an energy-rich country, and there is no difficulty with making a conversion from nuclear energy to alternative sources of energy. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to have more details on that, he may see me later. I was discussing the dangers—

No. I have given way frequently in the past 15 minutes. If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will continue, and make the point about the safety of transportation on land.

Undoubtedly, test accident standards are set down for specially designed flasks that carry this waste, but those standards cannot begin to accord with the standards necessary for what is likely to happen in a real accident.

For example, the test standards for transportation in the marine environment work on the basis of testing flasks for 30 minutes in fires of 800 deg C. I understand, however—we have the International Maritime Organisation to thank for these figures—that the average length of a shipboard fire at sea is 23 hours, and that the fire is likely to reach 1,100 deg C, so the test standards that are being applied are not the standards that are required if flasks are to cope with any such accident at sea.

If hon. Members doubt that, I refer them to a specific incident in 1991, when a ferry and a petroleum tanker collided off Livorno on the coast of Italy. The fire on the ferry burned for 45 hours and reached more than 1,000 deg C. That would suggest that test standards of anything less than those temperatures and those times are wholly unsatisfactory. Any such accident has serious—if not catastrophic—implications for the Scottish economy and its environment.

I understand that marine insurers refuse cover for radioactive contamination because of the scale of the likely effects of such an accident. The position on land is little better. Local authority emergency planning units get no warning whatsoever. The Highland and Islands fire brigade has no resources to deal with such an accident and has therefore called to an end to reprocessing at Dounreay.

Furthermore, Dounreay is touting for contracts in the United States, although Her Majesty's pollution inspectorate has not yet approved discharge reauthorisations, which have already been delayed for two years. When do the Government intend to publish the review currently being carried out? Will the Minister confirm that no contracts can be signed until those reauthorisations are approved? Ultimately, the decisions currently being taken will affect Scotland for the next 35 years, yet they are being taken by a management distrusted by the public and, in effect, by a foreign Government. That highlights the ultimate powerlessness of Scotland under the present regime.

The final part of our motion deals with Brent Spar, but expresses the same concerns that we raised about Beaufort dyke and reprocessing at Dounreay, and highlights our powerlessness under the present regime.

On 19 June, in his statement to the House after the G7 summit in Halifax, the Prime Minister told the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that the proposition that Brent Spar
"could have been taken inshore to be disposed of is incredible."—[Official Report, 19 June 1995; Vol. 262, c. 28.]
However, since 1987, 914 platforms have been removed from the Gulf of Mexico and 13 from the North sea—including nine in the same depth range as the Brent Spar—to the shoreline. The same group of companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico removal own 140 of the 205 platforms in the North sea.

The industry has a wide range of experience in removal techniques and could help to revitalise the United Kingdom construction industry by utilising available skills and plant for the deconstruction of decommissioned platforms. At the heart of the Brent Spar controversy, I received phone calls from businesses in my constituency advising that they would be only too keen to be involved in such decommissioning.

Is the hon. Lady aware that one of the companies that she has just mentioned is currently seeking to persuade the Government of the sensibility of toppling the North-West Hutton platform on its side, in order to create a reef which will become rich with fish? Does she agree that that is a rationalisation and that toppling a structure is cheaper than bringing it ashore for dismantling?

I was not aware of the specific instance to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I was aware that reef forming with such structures has been carried out in other parts of the globe and is one of the many things that can be done with such installations.

My party endorses the ministerial declaration of the fourth international conference on the protection of the North sea which states:
"Even if the offshore installations are emptied of noxious and hazardous materials, they might still be, if dumped or left at sea, pose a threat to the marine environment. Disposal of such installations on land by recycling recyclable materials and by ensuring safe and controlled disposal of unavoidable residues would be in accordance with generally agreed principles of waste management policy.".
In contrast to the sensible approach outlined in that document, which the United Kingdom refused to sign, the Minister for Industry and Energy, the right hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) refused to rule out the disposal of the Brent Spar on 12 July, when he stated:
"I would not rule out the option of deep sea dumping for the Brent Spar in future."—[Official Report, 12 July 1995; Vol. 263, c. 935]
That has created a great deal of uncertainty, and the Government's position should be clarified.

It would be far better if the Government did as suggested in today's edition of the Financial Times and adopted a co-ordinated international approach to the removal of North sea installations rather than simply adopting a case-by-case one. According to the Financial Times, such a proposal would mean that £630 million could be saved by the Government and the oil industry.

It is that case-by-case, ad hoc, short-term approach which causes the greatest concern about all environmental issues. As a result, the SNP is demanding three courses of action in the motion before the House. First, we demand an urgent investigation into Beaufort dyke and the surrounding sea area, so that the dangers posed to the public and the marine environment can be properly assessed.

Secondly, we call on Her Majesty's pollution inspectorate to refuse to grant any further applications for discharge authorisations at the Dounreay plant. Thirdly, we urge the Government
"to refuse any application for a licence for the offshore disposal of the Brent Spar or any other North Sea installation until such disposal can be assessed by an independent decommissioning authority".
Westminster has turned Scotland into the largest single underwater munitions dump in western Europe, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has said, Dounreay into the world's nuclear laundry. They would quite happily see 150 Brent Spar installations dumped in the North sea. The Scottish National party is today signalling that the days when Scotland gets every dangerous substance dumped on its doorstep while it is fleeced of its natural resources are coming to an end.

4.16 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"congratulates Her Majesty's Government on their environmental achievements in Scotland and applauds their continued commitment to the further protection and enhancement of the environment, notably through the creation of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency; supports the Government's view that United Kingdom's Atomic Energy Authority should be allowed to continue to undertake reprocessing of spent fuel, subject to the appropriate regulatory requirements being met, and that sound science and careful cost benefit analysis should continue to guide the Government in their consideration of issues affecting the marine environment, the matters of safety always to the fore."
I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) on her lively and vigorous speech. It is only a pity that it bears little resemblance to reality. Her description of Scotland's environment is a travesty of the reality, and she should not let her enthusiasm for debate triumph over her respect for the truth.

It is pleasure to see that some members of the shadow Scottish affairs Front-Bench team are present, considering that none of them bothered to turn up last night for a debate of vital importance to Scotland's fishing industry. Their absence has been noted by the fishing communities and fishermen's organisations.

A visitor to north-west Europe would soon see Scotland as something of an environmental beacon.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As someone who was here last night, I can say that the Minister's comment about that debate has the modest disadvantage of being completely untrue.

That is not a matter for me, but no doubt the Minister has taken note of it.

I did not realise that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) is a member of the shadow Scottish Front-Bench team.

Is it not true that the Labour party's embarrassment is further deepened by the fact that, although it wants a Parliament in Edinburgh, its own Front Bench is comprised mostly of Scottish-based Scots, including its Chief Whip?

My hon. Friend has made a valuable point. I said that no member of the shadow Scottish Front-Bench team was present last night. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North has admitted that he is not a member of it, so I hope that he will withdraw his remark at some appropriate moment.

It is a simple matter. The Minister should learn that it is a waste of a speech to make such stupid, false points. It is a matter of fact that the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland—

Order. That is not a point of order. We should get on with the debate.

I apologise. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was making a point of order; I did not realise that the Minister had given way.

There is no need to apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to take up time in the debate, but I do not want a straightforward, factual inaccuracy to remain on the record. For part of the time when I was present for the fisheries debate, the shadow Secretary of State was also present. The Minister made the same cheap point last night. It was not true then, it is not true now, and he should withdraw it.

I will not withdraw my remark, and let us continue with the debate.

Scotland has an international reputation as an environmental beacon. I fear that the only problem is that the perennial parochialism of the SNP and its desire for cheap, quick soundbites create an extreme distortion of the current healthy situation.

I shall begin to respond to the remarks of the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross by trying to put matters into context. There is no denying that the era of heavy industry, which was the foundation of Scotland's wealth for more than 100 years, has left a legacy of environmental problems. But the new, high-tech industries, which are fuelling Scotland's economic resurgence, are not major polluters.

Regulatory standards are tighter as a result of European Union and United Kingdom controls. Industry itself increasingly acknowledges the force of the green imperative and is now moving quite independently to give a higher priority to environmental management.

What stage have the negotiations with Ameco reached concerning the disposal of the Northwest Hutton platform? Is Ameco to be allowed to dump it at sea to form a reef as it claims, which is absolute nonsense, or will the Government, in accordance with part I of the Petroleum Act 1987, insist that that installation be brought ashore or at least into sheltered waters where it can be dismantled?

The hon. Gentleman raises matters of commercial sensitivity between the company and the Department of Trade and Industry, but I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is made aware of them. The hon. Gentleman's points are primarily a matter for the DTI.

Industry increasingly acknowledges the force of the green imperative and is now moving quite independently to give a higher priority to environmental management. While we must still tackle problems from the past, we can at least look forward with real satisfaction to a much less polluted future.

The hon. Member for Perth and Kinross made great play of the prospect that the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority may be in a position to secure further contracts to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. It is unfortunate, if not surprising, that she did not praise the highly skilled staff of the facility, without whom such contracts would not be possible. She chooses instead to scaremonger; putting local employment at risk. Is she unaware that there are after all about 1,200 staff directly employed at the Dounreay site, plus 400 or so contractors? A further 250 jobs in the local economy can also be attributed to the plant.

The UKAEA has carried out reprocessing work for decades, and so long as it makes commercial sense for it to continue to do so, and the appropriate regulatory and safety requirements are being met, I see no reason why the Caithness area should be deprived of the benefit that such contracts would bring simply to satisfy the dogma and the narrow-mindedness of the SNP.

Her Majesty's industrial pollution inspectorate will scrutinise fully and in great deal the application for authorisation made by the authority in respect of discharges of radioactive material from Dounreay. That scrutiny includes taking account of comments received from public bodies and local authorities consulted by HMIPI. A considerable amount of environmental monitoring has been and continues to be carried out around Dounreay, and that shows clearly that levels of radioactivity in the environment are well within internationally accepted limits for the public.

I am confident that the new Dounreay site management is dealing with that latter aspect with vigour and determination under the guidance of regulatory bodies. Indeed, the determination of the present management to ensure that all such localised contamination is fully identified and dealt with openly has brought about a great deal of the recent criticism made of operations on the nuclear site.

Similarly, we should not forget that the recent comments about Dounreay's operations made by the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee and the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment are made by Committees set up by the Government to provide such independent advice and criticism, precisely in order that the operation of the nuclear industry in this country may be to the very highest of standards and so that the public may be reassured of that.

As for the transport of spent materials testing reactor fuel to Dounreay, were the United States contracts to come about, there is a history of safe operation and transportation to build on. I am amazed by the short memories of Opposition Members. Dounreay has been receiving such spent fuel elements for more than 35 years since the reprocessing plant opened in the 1950s. Why can the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross not come to this debate and congratulate the work force on their skills, expertise and safety record over decades, rather than seeking to destroy their livelihoods in search of a quick headline in tomorrow's paper?

I am deeply conscious of the concern about the phosphorous containers washed ashore in south-west Scotland and about the safety aspects to which the incident gives rise. The injury that at least one child sustained is most regrettable, and I convey my sympathies to him.

Unfortunate as the incident is, I record my high regard for the way in which the emergency services have handled the incident. Efforts are continuing to try to find the origin of the containers and where in the sea bed they came from. The video of the trench-laying operation will be studied carefully to establish whether it reveals any connection with munitions, if that is what the phosphorous objects turn out to be. Through the Scottish Office's initiative, all the appropriate Government Departments are working together, not only to try to get to the bottom of the incident, but to establish as much as possible about what munitions were dumped.

I endorse what the Minister has said about the emergency services; they worked extremely well. I cannot, however, say the same about Government Departments because over the past two weeks, there seems to have been a concerted attempt to cover up exactly what is going on. We were not told by the Secretary of State for Defence that there was a prohibition order, and British Gas did not tell us. The Ministry is still not answering questions about why the order was imposed and why it was lifted.

On behalf of my hon. Friends and myself, I have written seeking an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, because all fingers point in his direction. The Health and Safety Executive is clearly responsible and is under his control. I hope that the Minister will use his good offices and that the Secretary of State for Scotland will use his good offices to get us an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to try to solve the mystery of what exactly is going on in and around Beaufort dyke.

I know of no cover-up. What I do know is that the hon. Gentleman had what he called a constructive meeting with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. Following from that meeting, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is seeking to move matters forward. As I said, through the Scottish Office's own initiative, all the appropriate Government Departments are working together to try to get to the bottom of the incident. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is made aware of the hon. Gentleman's request for a further meeting with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.

My hon. Friends and myself said that we had a successful meeting because we thought that we were being told the truth. It emerged afterwards that it was being withheld from us that the Secretary of State for Defence knew that there was a prohibition order and that there was trouble at Beaufort dyke. He did not tell us about that and neither did Cedric Brown.

That was an appalling cover-up of what was going on; that is why a lot of us are now suspicious that a cover-up is still going on and that there are dangers at Beaufort dyke to which the Government are not prepared to admit. That is why we need a meeting urgently.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman has said. He is, by his own intervention, admitting that this is a matter that crosses many Government Departments. I have said that, following the hon. Gentleman's meeting with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is seeking to move things forward. I will ensure that he sees this exchange of views.

Many of us were present at the meetings and we were an all-party delegation. I confirm everything that has been said by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). Why is it only now, some several weeks on from the first indication, that the Scottish Office is talking about co-ordination? Can the Minister tell us who will be working on the group, exactly what its role will be, to whom it will report, how we shall find out the information, how we shall report back to our constituents and what the time scale is?

As I have said to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), the local Member of Parliament, this is a matter that crosses Government Departments. Following the meetings that he and others, including the hon. Lady, have had, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is seeking to take matters forward. When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland winds up, he will address the hon. Lady's question in greater detail. I now want to make some progress.

I now turn to the Government's achievements, as spelled out in our amendment, and our ambitions for Scotland's special and unique environment. So far, the 1990s have been an outstanding decade for our leading-edge policies to protect and to enhance the environment. The decade began with the Environmental Protection Act 1990 which, by any standards, represents a post-war landmark in pollution control legislation.

The Act's centrepiece has been the introduction of integrated pollution control—IPC—for the most potentially polluting industrial processes. This has undoubtedly set a benchmark for the rest of Europe. As a pollution control concept it was world class and the regime that we established in Britain had the immediate effect of persuading the European Commission that it should follow suit. Accordingly, an integrated prevention and pollution control directive—the IPPC—was agreed by the Council of Ministers earlier this year, and will follow very much the same trail as that blazed by the 1990 Act.

IPC finally brought to an end the separate regimes of pollution control that had applied to each of the environmental media—land, air and water. It has therefore heralded an era of greater coherence and more thoughtful analysis of the possible harmful discharges from industrial processes, compared with what was previously a rather fragmented area of operations.

Nor was IPC the only feather in the cap of the 1990 Act. For the first time, air emissions from less polluting industrial processes were brought within a tight regime of codified guidance notes in place of the ad hoc controls that had previously applied.

Waste management controls have also been greatly strengthened. Indeed, because of the extent of the reforms embodied, implementation has been phased over two or more years, and the final tranche of the new waste licensing controls did not come into force until May last year. The 1990 Act also strengthened litter laws, with clear output targets for local authorities.

The emphasis in that legislation was on the substance of pollution control, but the focus has shifted in subsequent years to the organisational aspects of securing on the ground the objectives set out in the Act.

The first fruit of that determination was the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991, which brought together the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and the Countryside Commission for Scotland in the shape of a new and powerful body—Scottish Natural Heritage. That body has now settled down to the twin task of reconciling conservation with recreation, and is proving its worth across the entire spectrum of countryside policies. In particular, it has been able to secure a shift in the general climate of opinion towards achieving a much more constructive dialogue between landowners and conservation interests, putting aside the divisive debates of earlier years.

The current Session of Parliament has seen the passage of another major Act with far-reaching provisions. I have no doubt that the effect of the Environment Act 1995 will be felt well into the next century, and I understand that its 394 pages make it the longest piece of legislation passed by Parliament this decade.

The most striking impact for Scotland will probably arise from the creation of a Scottish Environment Protection Agency—SEPA. It is fitting that we should discuss the environment today, because 24 October is the day on which the board of the new agency meets formally for the first time.

The effective protection of the environment requires an integrated, holistic approach. The introduction of IPC—and IPPC in Europe—is an acknowledgement of that fact. SEPA will take that integration a stage further. The agency will concentrate on the key forms of industrial pollution of air, water and land where the benefits of a one-door approach to the prevention and control of pollution will deliver more effective environmental protection.

I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene; my question will allow him to catch his breath, because he is speaking at such a speed. Following the correspondence that I have had with the Scottish Office, does what the Minister now says mean that the operation to deal with the mercury from the former Nobel works in Redding, Falkirk, which is washing into the Forth and Clyde canal, where people still fish, will be funded by the agency? Or will the people of my constituency still have to pay through their taxes to the local council for cleaning up Government pollution?

If the hon. Gentleman had waited a little more patiently, I would have reached the funding of the body.

From 1 April next year, SEPA will bring together the work of Her Majesty's industrial pollution inspectorate, the various river purification authorities and the district and islands councils in respect of waste regulation and some air pollution control. It will be a formidable organisation with about 600 staff and an annual budget of more than £22 million. Its functions will encompass the control of radioactive substances, discharges to controlled waters, air pollution, flood warnings and waste management, to mention but a few.

The Environment Act also tackles one of the legacies of Scotland's industrial past that I mentioned earlier. It provides a new framework for the remediation of contaminated land sites based on the "suitable for use" approach. That resists the temptation to throw money at every conceivable area of contamination regardless of the benefit that it would bring. Instead, it proposes a selective approach concentrating on remediation programmes on sites posing the greatest environmental risks or the greatest potential for reuse.

The Minister has described the environmental agency as being under Scottish Office control. However, does he have any real power in connection with the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing)? The munitions dump off the south-west of Scotland was put there by the Ministry of Defence. Nuclear waste transportation is under the control of the Department of Transport. Dounreay and its regulatory bodies are under the control of the Department of Trade and Industry, as is the disposal of offshore platforms. The simple question is: does the Scottish Office really have effective power to deal with the concerns that my hon. Friend raised, even if the Minister wanted to tackle them?

The hon. Gentleman well knows that the Scottish Office has a powerful voice on every issue that he has just mentioned as an integral part of the Government of the United Kingdom. He should know better.

The Environment Act also has important enabling powers to combat air pollution. Even though we have made great strides in the decades since the Clean Air Acts of the 1950s and 1960s, first to reduce air pollution from domestic fires and then from industry, we now find that a third threat to our air quality has emerged in the form of exhaust fumes from road transport.

The Act addresses this development by enabling air quality management areas to be set up in localities where air quality is particularly poor. As a backcloth to such local initiatives, the Government will publish an air quality strategy to outline the national policies which apply in this important area. The Government will also be discussing with local authorities the range of measures which they might apply to make the AQMAs really effective in improving air quality. We will give them new powers where they are shown to be necessary.

There is not enough time to go through the other provisions of the 1995 Act, but I believe that the Government have demonstrated their commitment to environmental improvement and have proved their ability to come up with appropriate policies to meet the changing challenges of our time.

I should like to turn to the wider environmental debate in the country. I detect behind the hon Lady's remarks a kind of moral absolutism, which I believe we must resist if the cause of environmental improvement is not to lose credibility in the minds of the community at large. The clamour from the green corner is all too often for the environment to be returned to its natural condition of pristine purity, regardless of the actual benefits of doing so and regardless of the costs involved.

I have already given way to the hon. Lady. I sometimes feel that these calls are part of a flight from reality to a never-never land of simple truths and instant values, and we must all resist that pressure. The first fallacy is that nature is always a benign and beneficial force. As any scientist knows, harmful chemicals abound in the natural environment and naturally occurring radiation almost certainly poses a greater threat to health than radioactivity from nuclear operations.

Undoubtedly we must be careful and considerate in our treatment of the environment, but we must also be alive to the law of diminishing returns. The expenditure to clean up that last trace of pollution in the remaining residue of waste material is likely to be much better spent for the benefit of humanity in many other ways. Yet one hesitates to say anything that obvious in polite society, lest it offends the gospel according to the greens which we are all increasingly expected to acknowledge.

That inevitably brings me to the saga of Brent Spar. Shell undertook a very full assessment of the disposal options, and deep-sea abandonment was the conclusive outcome. The Government's licence to dispose of Brent Spar in this way was granted only after the most careful scientific evaluation by Scotland's foremost marine laboratory in Aberdeen.

The wisdom of those decisions has, of course, been totally vindicated now with the publication of the Det Norske Veritas study. The study demonstrates that Shell had been right all along and that Greenpeace's discreditable manoeuvring has served both to mislead the general public and to leave Brent Spar as a potential threat to the marine environment until it is finally disposed of. It is as regrettable as it is pathetic that the hon. Lady and her party fell in with the Greenpeace line in such an unquestioning and uncritical fashion. I had hoped that she would come to the debate today with her lesson learned—unfortunately, that has not proved to be the case.

That brings me to a matter which I ought perhaps to have mentioned earlier and which certainly looms alongside domestic reforms to improve environmental protection, and indeed overshadows and dwarfs them in many respects—the concept of sustainable development. This was endorsed at the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. To my mind, the concept adds the vital ballast of economic realism to counter what can be the sentimentality of those who constantly see the world through green-tinted spectacles. The importance of development in the concept is crucial because as a society and as a planet we need to grow and innovate if we are to progress. Over-caution will lead to stagnation, and that can cast a blight over millions where growth and innovation can give them hope.

The Rio document which set out the many aspirations for sustainable development is called Agenda 21, and it carries the salutary lesson for us all that top-down solutions—so beloved of Opposition parties—are not the answer. The seedcorn of change lies in our local communities, in our schools and at the workplace. Exhortation from on high, whether from Governments or the moral crusaders in the green movement, cannot actually achieve the shifts in life style and patterns of behaviour which sustainable development asks of us. Agenda 21 recognises this by calling for the full participation of all segments of society. This will not be an easy process, nor a swift one.

However, the Government are determined to play their part. The Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991 was the first piece of UK legislation to make specific reference to the concept of sustainability. The Environment Act provides for the Secretary of State to provide guidance on sustainable development to SEPA so that the general aims of Agenda 21 can be reflected in the day-to-day work of that agency. In reality, of course, the very practice of pollution control is at the heart of sustainable development.

We have established a separate Scottish advisory group on sustainable development which has already issued a thoughtful report on transport and the environment. We have commissioned a survey of Scottish attitudes to sustainable development, which was published last year. We have supported the Association of Scottish Community Councils to give local Agenda 21 a higher profile. On the environment, as on so much more, the Government are leading the way. Our record is second to none. I invite the House to reject the scaremongering and political posturing of the SNP. I commend the amendment to the House.

4.40 pm

I do not know about green-tinted spectacles, but no Opposition Member will be green with envy of the quality of the speech that we have just heard from the Minister.

I rise in my place as a Scottish-born and Scottish-based member of the Scottish Labour party to speak from the Scottish Labour party's Front Bench. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) seemed to believe that those qualities were something of a disadvantage, but I am proud of them. I am also proud of the role that my party is playing in securing a Scottish parliament, which will be created after Labour's victory at the next general election. We shall make debates such as this in this House unnecessary. In future, such matters will be debated in Scotland, where they should be debated, by elected Members of a Scottish parliament.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) on introducing this important debate. Labour Members agree that there is genuine concern across Scotland about what the motion describes as the
"Government's failure to provide proper stewardship of Scotland's environment."
We disagree with the SNP that concern about the Government's poor record on environmental issues is a matter simply for the Scottish electorate. That concern is shared by the vast majority of people who inhabit this small offshore island.

Indeed, the concern is shared beyond the shores of this island in the wider world. The Government's repeated refusal to condemn the French nuclear tests in the south Pacific have made them moral outcasts among civilised opinion in the world—and deservedly so.

Today's debate is about Scotland and what the motion describes as the triple threat posed by reprocessing at Dounreay, leaking munitions from Beaufort dyke dump and decommissioning of oil rigs in the North sea. I shall deal with each issue in turn and in the order in which the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross did so.

The motion refers to 1,000 phosphorous devices that have been washed up on the south-west coast of Scotland. They are sometimes referred to as flares, but experts now believe them to be incendiary bombs. The Royal Navy's description of the devices is chilling. Any hon. Member who has not read it would be well advised to do so. It refers to the devices exuding a distinctive pungent smell, their being seen smoking on the shores of Scotland and their ability spontaneously to combust when they are dry. The Clyde coastguard has gone further and said that the devices have the potential to kill. So all hon. Members should be worried about the extent of the munitions being washed up on our beaches.

Youngsters are already picking up the devices—one did so and his clothes started to smoke. He sustained injuries to his arms and legs that required him to be taken to hospital. The devices are very dangerous indeed. The Government's slow reaction to the danger presented to the Scottish people by such devices is amazing.

If the Government do not care about today's children—they cannot vote in the coming general election and save the Government's necks—or about tomorrow's environment, perhaps they should at least be worried about the threat that the devices pose to Scotland's economy. A threat arises from the impact of publicity about the devices on the tourist trade in Scotland.

I go along with all that the hon. Gentleman has said about the hazards associated with the phosphorous sticks, but what evidence does he have to substantiate his comment that the Government have not taken a keen interest ever since the first sticks were washed ashore? I have evidence that the Scottish Minister with responsibility for the environment was aware and involved right from that time.

If the hon. Gentleman waits, he will hear what evidence I have to substantiate my claim. For the moment, I am talking about the impact that the bad publicity is having on potential tourism to our coasts, which are famous for their marine environment and which attract visitors.

I am grateful for a briefing that was provided to Scottish Members by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It revealed that millions of pounds were pumped into coastal local economies by visitors. A Countryside Commission for Scotland survey of users of the south-west coast path revealed that in the past year almost £16 million was spent in the local economy by people attracted to the area by the environmental qualities of the south-west of Scotland.

Whether one looks at the problem on safety, environmental or economic grounds, one thing is clear: the Government should make it a priority to preserve the quality of our coastal and marine environment. Yet what did we find when the story first broke and the issue became a crisis in Scotland? One of the headlines in the Scottish press at the time simply read:
"Offices pass buck as munitions wash up on Scottish coastline."
The Ministry of Defence said that the matter was not its responsibility but that of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. MAFF said that the matter was not its responsibility but that of the Ministry of Defence and the Scottish Office. No less than a spokesperson for the dynamic new Secretary of State for Scotland was quoted as saying that the Secretary of State did not feel it appropriate to comment on the devices. They all washed their hands of any responsibility for what was happening on the south-west coast of Scotland. They were all utterly clueless about what they could do about it.

We hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) that the Department of Trade and Industry hid from its responsibility in the matter.

Would the hon. Gentleman have my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland comment on something before he was fully aware of exactly what he was talking about? This is a complex issue. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of that and that significant effort has been made by many people to determine where the items have come from and to ascertain how to stop them.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for trying to come to the assistance of the Minister who is leading for the Government in the debate. The spokesperson for the Secretary of State for Scotland said that it was not appropriate for him to comment, not that he did not want to comment because he had not checked out the matter. The spokesperson said that it was nothing to do with the Secretary of State for Scotland. That is why the Secretary of State will rightly be condemned by people.

Were it not for the successful campaigning by my hon. Friends the Members for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley and for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), who demanded Government action, an immediate investigation into the source of the munitions and the extent and nature of the munitions held at the Beaufort dyke dump and a halt to all undersea operations in the area, I suspect that Ministers would still be dithering and doing nothing. Only after my hon. Friends' intervention did the Ministry of Defence agree at last to meet them, and only then did the Secretary of State for Scotland decide to intervene in the affair and try to rescue something from it.

It was not just here in Westminster that the Labour party forced the Government into action. A Labour Member of the European Parliament, Alex Smith, took emergency action in the European Parliament and succeeded in persuading the European Commission to investigate the munitions dump at Beaufort dyke and the claims that radioactive waste was dumped secretly in the area.

That is the story of what happened at Beaufort dyke—Labour action to protect the public and the environment, but Government inaction and failure to defend the public interest until they were forced into action by Opposition spokesmen.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, because everyone who has taken an interest in the matter is concerned. He must acknowledge, however, that Beaufort dyke has been used extensively for the dumping of wartime munitions under Governments of different colours. Accountability, therefore, lies with the people who decided to dump.

Accountability for action today lies with this Government and the Minister sitting on the Treasury Bench. Clearly, they have failed to take action, for which they will be condemned not merely by the Opposition but by people who are interested in the subject throughout Scotland.

The second part of the motion refers to Scotland's nuclear industry. I must begin with a confession. I am not in the habit of reading Scottish National party election manifestos—a failure that I think I share with the vast majority of the Scottish people. Indeed, if we are honest, it is probably a failure that I share with the majority of members of the SNP, as you would realise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you had ever taken part in a debate with them.

In preparation for this debate, however, I took the trouble to look up the SNP manifesto for the last election to find out what it said about the Scottish nuclear industry. Page 10 makes it very clear that the SNP would pledge itself to creating
"A Scotland without the nuclear menace."
That phrase is obviously similar to one used last weekend by Mr. Kenny McAskill, a senior member of the SNP, who said that only the SNP could deliver a nuclear-free Scotland.

A nuclear-free Scotland and a Scotland without nuclear menace are good slogans, with a certain ring to them. They may even be attractive to certain people, but they are entirely bogus, as I hope to show. They provide the background, however, against which the references to Dounreay in the motion should be judged. It is important for the House to understand that the references stem from the wider SNP attitude to the nuclear industry and nuclear power in Scotland.

The facts about Scotland's nuclear industry must be revealed before we can judge the references to Dounreay. For example, Scottish Nuclear has signed contracts with British Nuclear Fuels this year for the handling of Scotland's nuclear waste, which will cover the period between now and 2068 and are worth about £4,000 million in total. Of course, we do not have the details of the contracts because BNFL and Scottish Nuclear keep them well hidden, but we can be fairly certain that severe penalty clauses will be included if anyone should decide to tear up the contracts and break the agreements entered into by the two parties.

Under the contracts, Scotland's nuclear waste is to be transported not to Dounreay but to Sellafield in England, where some of it will be reprocessed, but most will be stored, either in wet storage or long-term surface storage. The SNP objects to the possibility of Dounreay being used as a dumping site for nuclear waste from other countries.

We heard from the hon. Members for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and for Perth and Kinross that they are equally concerned about England's nuclear future and would object to Sellafield being used as a nuclear dustbin for Scotland's waste. We must assume, therefore, that, if they were ever in a position to do anything about it, they would tear up the contracts and be obliged to compensate BNFL for its loss in full—an enormous cost to the Scottish taxpayer—and that they would agree to the repatriation of Scotland's nuclear waste to Scotland, where it would be stored in sites throughout the country. A Scotland littered with nuclear sites of that type could hardly be described as nuclear-free, but no one has ever accused the SNP of being honest.

The SNP plan goes further, however, as it proposes to close down all Scotland's nuclear industry—not merely Hunterston A, which is being decommissioned by Scottish Nuclear, but Hunterston B, Torness, Chapelcross and Dounreay, which will all need to be decommissioned at huge cost to the Scottish taxpayer and will require huge amounts of radioactive material to be stored and disposed of.

On the subject of honesty, will the hon. Gentleman give the House the precise date on which he came to believe that the Trident nuclear system should be supported?

That shows the hon. Gentleman's desperation. Rather than answering questions on civil nuclear power, he mentions defence, which is not part of this debate. He will have to suffer in silence a wee while longer because I intend to continue exposing the bogus nature of the SNP's policy on the civil nuclear industry.

The hon. Member for Perth and Kinross said that there would be no difficulties in closing down Scotland's nuclear industry and switching to non-nuclear power systems. Perhaps I might refer her to the problems associated with Hunterston A and Chapelcross, which both have Magnox reactors. The hon. Lady quoted, with great approval, the words of the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee, but it pointed out that spent Magnox fuel is potentially unstable and, on safety grounds, should be reprocessed before being disposed of.

Yet the hon. Lady and the SNP are promising to ban reprocessing at Dounreay and have made it clear that they will not have anything to do with reprocessing at Sellafield, which will make it impossible to deal safely with the spent fuel rods from existing Magnox reactors in Scotland. It seems strange for a party that talks about creating a safe Scotland to take decisions that make it impossible for us to dispose safely of Magnox fuel rods from reactors in Scotland.

At its most recent conference in Perth, the SNP decided that Scotland's nuclear industry would be retained only until it could be decommissioned safely. I am not entirely certain what that means and at what point all the nuclear stations would be decommissioned. We know that Hunterston A is already well down the road. The reactors have been defuelled, the ancillary reactor plant has been dismantled, the fuel storage ponds have been cleaned up and all that remains is to remove the reactor core, once radiation levels decrease significantly and it is safe to do so. British Nuclear Fuels estimates that that might be in about 100 years' time, so the SNP has a wide time span in which to decide when it will decommission Scotland's nuclear plant. Perhaps it should invent a new slogan, "Scotland nuclear-free by 2093", but that suggestion might not appeal to some SNP members.

It is incumbent on SNP Members to let the House and the people of Scotland know exactly when they will decommission and write off Scotland's nuclear stations. We must recognise one thing, however: that it is simply no longer credible for us to deal with complex nuclear issues on the basis of simplistic sloganising. The 4,500 workers in the Scottish nuclear industry and the many thousands more in the spin-off industries deserve a little more respect and consideration from that party. Indeed, the SNP did not touch on the most immediate threat to the Scottish nuclear industry—privatisation, which will definitely threaten safety standards in the industry. It is not merely the official Opposition who are saying so. Even the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) is about to say so.

Has the hon. Gentleman not read recent reports from Scottish Power, stating that its safety performance has increased beyond all recognition from the days when it was in the public sector? On that basis, will he take back his words about the privatisation of the nuclear industry?

Has the hon. Gentleman not read the comments of Mr. Richard Killick, who is saying what I said? He may not know who he is. Mr. Killick admits that he is not a political animal because he admits to voting Tory more than anything else, but he served for 25 years in the Royal Navy and held all the top safety posts on nuclear submarines. On retiring, he joined Scottish Nuclear and, in 1992, was appointed safety and quality director, so I think that we can take it that he knows something about the nuclear industry and about safety standards within it. Yet, following the merger of Scottish Nuclear and Nuclear Electric into British Energy, he was invited to leave the company. Within a week, he was obliged to clear his desk and to pass on his safety responsibilities to a fellow director from Scottish Nuclear.

Mr. Killick said that the speed with which he was asked to pass on his safety responsibilities alarmed him and was symptomatic of "the fundamental flaw" in the privatisation of the nuclear industry. He claimed:
"There will be increasing pressures on people and safety as output and profit become ever more important".
That will not happen immediately—not in the first two or three years following privatisation—but in the longer term. As Mr. Killick puts it so chillingly, the Government
"are building in latent instability".
Given the threat posed by a nuclear industry that is inherently unstable, the charge against the Government could not be more damning or serious. For the sake of a privatisation receipt, which they hope will allow them to introduce tax cuts and increase their electability at the next general election, they are prepared to put at risk the safety of the entire nuclear industry and, indeed, of the people of Scotland, whose interests they claim to be looking after.

Finally, there is the dumping of North sea oil rigs. The Scottish National party has never been able to allow a bandwagon to pass without trying to jump on it. It has done so again by trying to hijack Brent Spar for its own political ends. There has been a deluge of press releases from the hon. Members for Banff and Buchan, for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) and for Perth and Kinross opposing deep-sea dumping of any sort in the North sea. We hear that the Government and oil companies cannot be allowed to dump rigs in the North sea. We are told that Scotland gets all the dangers and few of the rewards. Today, the SNP has again highlighted the benefits that the total removal of rigs from the North sea and recycling them on land would bring through the jobs that the process would create.

The hon. Member for Perth and Kinross went so far as to condemn the Government for adopting a case-by-case approach. That is all very well, but it is a different line from that taken by the Energy Select Committee in its 1991 report, "Decommissioning of Oil and Gas Fields in the North Sea".

It is nothing strange for the SNP to be at odds with the Energy Select Committee; it is strange that a member of that Select Committee was the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, who as part of the Committee, agreed to commend the Government for their case-by-case approach to the North sea. He also agreed that, on balance, environmental interests favoured the partial abandonment of at least some rigs, that environmental issues could not be used as an argument against deep-sea dumping of rigs and called on the Government to examine the claim that total removal was more dangerous than partial removal because of the dangers that it posed to the divers who would carry out the process. He even agreed that the Government would have to consider the possibility of using abandoned platforms as artificial reefs to encourage fish stocks. Finally, he agreed that the Government should preserve the options of toppling and deep-water dumping while permitted to do so by International Maritime Organisation guidelines.

I have no complaint with the hon. Gentleman agreeing to all that, because I was a member of the same Committee and agreed to it myself, but when the SNP starts to deal with such matters, it should do so responsibly, seriously and with due consideration of the scientific and environmental facts and not treat the debate as if it was something to read about in a tabloid such as The Sun. The issue deserves better than that.

Reference was made to the gulf of Mexico, where 945 rigs were moved on shore for recycling. The hon. Member for Perth and Kinross said, however, that 100 platforms in the gulf of Mexico, belonging to 36 companies, have already been dumped at sea as part of the rigs-to-reefs programme, which has been running for the past 10 years. It is a good programme which has many qualities so far lacking in what has been suggested by the Government. For example, all pollutants and hydrocarbons must be removed before a platform can be considered for disposal. Half the cost savings that arise from not having to dump rigs on land must be handed over to state Governments for long-term monitoring and research into the effects of dumping on marine life.

The programme is supported by local fishermen and environmentalists in America, and even Greenpeace in America does not oppose it. It is at least worth considering.

The hon. Gentleman has been busy reading the Scottish National party manifesto; it is a pity that he did not read the motion on the Order Paper. Does he not agree that the key issue is that the oil companies and the Government, because of taxation laws, have a vested interest in the cheapest form of disposal, which is often offshore disposal? Can he not bring himself to agree that we need an independent authority with no financial vested interests properly to supervise disposal?

I have no problem agreeing with that, but I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman giving only one side of the argument and trying to disguise from the House the positions that he took some years ago. With complete inconsistency, he is about-facing on those positions and not owning up to it.

I appeal to the hon. Gentleman to deal with such important matters seriously and not use them as part of the usual knockabout stuff of party politics. We are talking about future generations. The document that Labour commissioned on environment policy states:
"We cannot go on living as if there were no tomorrow."
I would advise every political party to take that phrase to heart, because the tomorrow that we are discussing does not belong to the generation sitting here at the moment but to the generations that will come after us. We are not debating our future and environment but those of generations to come. They deserve a debate worthy of them, and they have not heard that from the SNP today.

5.3 pm

I wish to bring some realism to the debate instead of the rhetoric that we have heard so far.

We are, of course, concerned about what has happened in the Irish sea and the firth of Clyde. That needs to be—and is being—investigated. Until we get the results of the investigation, it is pointless to raise alarm and despondency before we find out what the true picture is.

We have to be practical. If there are problems in the Beaufort dyke hundreds of fathoms down, we have to find out whether the munitions are inert and whether there is any cause for concern. If there is, we must consider what on earth could be done about it, bearing in mind that nothing has happened for about 40 years. I suspect too, that the incendiaries and the possible flares in the firth of Clyde are from a different source altogether. It just happens that they have come together in public concern.

We should say to the Government that, yes, we want to know the results of investigation as soon as possible, but it is no use shouting from the rooftops until the experts have found what the position is. The sooner that that can be done, the better.

It is quite wrong of the Scottish National party to keep thumping away about toppling the Brent Spar in the North sea. We have never intended that any oil wells should be toppled in the North sea because it is far shallower than the Atlantic, where the Brent Spar might have been toppled. That is a different issue altogether.

Without in any way underestimating the Beaufort dyke question, I wish to deal with some more important long-term issues. We can say straight away that the Scottish National party is dead against nuclear power. Its candidates and members have been dead against it ever since the power stations appeared in Scotland after the war.

I live alongside Chapelcross; I brought up a family alongside it. I have no fears at all about the safety of living near a nuclear power station. The standards of the work force, the nuclear installations inspectorate and the Health and Safety Executive are extremely high. There is never any concern about safety in the area. Chapelcross provides 500 jobs. Think of the input that that makes to the local economy through the 500 families.

I cannot understand the concern of the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham), who is not in her place—I appreciate that she cannot be there all the time—about transport. Nuclear flasks have been transported between Sellafield and Chapelcross for 40 years. I cannot understand the worry about transporting nuclear equipment under the closest security and scrutiny. It is absolutely safe.

The thought that these flasks are going to catch fire on the road in central Scotland is unjustified. Again, the SNP and, indeed, others are raising alarms about an issue that is a non-runner. Perhaps hon. Members saw the television programme that showed a train crashing at high speed into a nuclear flask. The nuclear flask came off best. It is a safe form of transportation. Nobody could want it to be safer more than the nuclear industry.

It is wrong to say tat we cannot effectively generate electricity from nuclear power or carry out reprocessing at Dounreay or elsewhere; our country has taken safety as its No. 1 priority. I believe that not only the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority but British Nuclear Fuels, which runs Chapelcross, and Scottish Nuclear, which runs its own stations, will keep their high standards as their top priority.

I am concerned about the long-term future of Chapelcross. I want it to continue. I am glad that, subject to safety checks, its future looks guaranteed for at least another 10 years. That is not on account of any support that we have had nationally from the Labour party, the SNP or the Liberal Democrats. I know that local candidates sometimes put a smudge on it, but, by and large, listening to the party conferences, I believe that there is no doubt that the other parties would support the future development of nuclear power.

I should like to be positive in this debate. The motion on the Order Paper must be one of the longest sentences ever composed. It contains the phrase:
"Government's failure to provide proper stewardship of Scotland's environment."
The Scottish National party must be completely out of touch with what is actually happening in Scotland. A great deal of progress has been made. The Minister made the case for Scottish Natural Heritage; the Government combined the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland, of which I was a member for nine years, and the Countryside Commission for Scotland into Scottish Natural Heritage—precisely to develop the environment and heritage of Scotland. It has been extremely successful, and we should congratulate Magnus Magnusson on his good work.

We have also enhanced the value of Scotland's sites of special scientific interest. It is rubbish to claim, as some organisations do, that we are destroying SSSIs. Only a tiny percentage—one or two out of 3,000—get damaged from time to time, and that is only inevitable. By and large, the standards set by SNH in promoting and improving the environment, habitats, wildlife and heritage of Scotland are first class. We have also set up the Scottish Environment Protection Agency as an additional safeguard, to be up and running by next April, to deal with river pollution and sewage—an outstandingly serious issue in Scotland about which local authorities have done too little for too long.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall his meeting with me in Glasgow about chromium toxic waste sites in Rutherglen, when he committed the Government in principle to doing something about those sites and expressed great and genuine concern about them? Does he further agree that that commitment has not been honoured by his successors, who have repeatedly said that they will not provide the resources to make the sites safe?

I cannot say what has happened, but I well remember the hon. Gentleman coming to see me and the wish that I expressed that we could resolve the matter, which involved the regional and district councils and the enterprise company, all of which have a part to play in developing the site and removing the contamination about which he and I were rightly worried. I am sure that when he speaks in the debate he will express the strength of his feelings and try to encourage a more rapid solution.

It is most important to support the Government's policies in respect of agriculture, because, if we are to have a beautiful Scotland, with high standards of husbandry and great scenic beauty, we need profitable agriculture. That requires, in turn, support for our policies from Europe, and support for the farming community. That is essential if we are to raise environmental standards in Scotland. I believe that it is already happening; we are putting money where it matters.

We have developed the environmentally sensitive areas and management agreements, and we have helped farmers to farm more sensitively. We have put additional money into the less-favoured areas, particularly hill farming. All these factors contribute to improving the environment. We have introduced special conservation areas, under the habitats directive. Environmental grants are channelled through the wildlife advisory groups. We have promoted forestry and brought in woodland grants. Now that the forestry review is over, I hope that things will settle down, with the forestry authority and Forestry Enterprise in place, providing greater opportunities for access to the woodlands of Scotland.

We set up the Cairngorm partnership, after extensive consultation. David Laird is the chairman presiding over positive co-operation in the Cairngorm area. I hope that it will help to develop the ski areas of Aviemore, as well as the wilder areas in that part of Scotland.

We were also keen to develop the same sort of partnership for the Loch Lomond area. The investigation has been conducted and the report drawn up. The new councils that will come into existence next April will, I hope, get together on this matter. They have the additional powers that they need, but they must also see it as their duty and responsibility to develop opportunities around Loch Lomond, and not just leave it to the Government to bring in new legislation. They can do the task themselves.

The SNP motion also contains the phrase:
"without any semblance of public consultation".
What on earth was the SNP doing this summer? Did it not play its part in responding to the consultation document preceding the White Paper? Everyone in Scotland has been asked to submit ideas. When the White Paper is issued shortly, I hope to see that the SNP has fed in positive ideas. Its members cannot say that they were not consulted; probably no White Paper has ever been prepared more thoroughly than the one in the pipeline for Scotland. Claiming a lack of public consultation just shows how out of touch the SNP is with Scottish thinking—

The hon. Lady looks very lonely sitting there on the Bench all by herself. The forthcoming White Paper will highlight the development of rural communities, and that means everything in the countryside, including village shops and post offices.

We are therefore guided by good policies and by the principles of sustainable development and shared development, working with local people, who know better how to identify their own needs and find the best way forward. Local planning requires flexibility—if we are to develop farm buildings for alternative uses, for instance. We need imaginative planning, too.

At this point, I again put down a marker, well known in the Scottish Office and to many other people as well: I refer to my outright disagreement with wind farms. We cannot improve Scotland's scenic beauty at the same time as building wind farms. I know that we have a duty to find renewable energy sources, but it is difficult to justify erecting up to 20 wind farm propellers, given the desecration of the countryside that ensues and the small generating capacity of the plant. I hope that the planning authorities will be very strict when it comes to locating wind farms in Scotland.

There are too many other objective to mention today—housing, crime, rural transport and unleaded petrol, on which we have taken a lead. Our environmental policies are prominent in Europe and the world. We intend to conserve our natural assets. We will reverse any decline in wildlife. I do not have the time today to give the Red Deer Commission a pat on the back for its work to contain the deer herd in Scotland. We must maintain the diversity of our rural landscapes and remain determined to prevent environmental damage, especially to our green belt. We must not ease up in our commitment to retain it around our cities.

We must also provide people with opportunities to enjoy the countryside for recreational pursuits, offering them reasonable and responsible access. Everyone must have the right to enjoy Scotland without overstepping the mark, as a few foolish people tend to do. We can thus proceed, with good stewardship and a practical knowledge of Scotland, to make it even more attractive for the future.

5.18 pm

I congratulate the Scottish National party on initiating the debate, and the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) on her speech. I have no hesitation about doing that; as my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) said, we should approach this subject on a non-party basis.

I should like to pursue a point made by the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), who mentioned the industrial legacy that has been left in the west of Scotland, particularly in the central belt, as a result of the industrial revolution. The position in my constituency is similar to that in Dumfries. A chemical-producing company, Whites, operated in the Rutherglen area for around 150 years. During that time, the factory dumped its chromium waste not only all over Cambuslang and Rutherglen but over a wide area of south and south-east Glasgow.

Folk did not realise at the time the damage that can be done by such waste. I was born and brought up just a couple of hundred yards from that factory and used to play in the streams and the burns adjacent to it, despite the fact that the burn ran all sorts of colours as a result of the chemicals dumped in it. One did not realise the dangers at the time; it was only in later years that one realised the environmental mess that the place was in.

That company was castigated by no less than Keir Hardie around the turn of the century for its working practices and cavalier attitude towards the safety and environmental conditions in which the workers did their trade. My own knowledge of that company is further enhanced by the fact that my grandfather, four uncles, numerous cousins and my own brother worked there. It got to the stage in that factory where workers had chromium holes burnt into their skin through working with the chromium waste, which eventually was dumped all over Cambuslang and Rutherglen.

Eventually, the company moved away from Rutherglen and ended up out of business. I have tried to pursue its legal responsibilities and liabilities but am advised by legal opinion that there is no way in which I can do so. It has left a legacy in my constituency, and in adjacent constituencies, of chromium waste sites, which are now fenced off and barred to the public, with signs on them, saying, "Danger. Keep Out." These are not small, isolated sites; they are sites on which houses are built, and community halls and large secondary schools are built adjacent to them. There is a host of such sites throughout the area.

We came to realise that hexavelant chromium was lying in the sites, but, to its credit, Glasgow district council—with which I am not always in tune—commissioned a survey by Dames and Moore, which cost upwards of £150,000, so that it could get the facts and figures, not hearsay and ad hoc comments.

The survey outlined in specific detail what was wrong with each of the sites, and each category of chromium waste contamination of the sites. That has caused great worry and concern in the area about health. Four or five years ago, it was proven that there was an abnormal rise in the number of leukaemia cases in the Cambuslang area. The health board, at my instigation, carried out an investigation and confirmed that there was an abnormal blip in the number of leukaemia cases, but it could not link it to the chromium waste sites. In similar circumstances, it had found no explanation for the rise in leukaemia cases in different areas in Scotland.

Although I accept that it has not been proven, and I use that phrase advisedly, that cancer can be caused by these chromium waste sites, the fact that they exist and have been categorised by Greater Glasgow health board as causing health risks—that has been proven—heightens apprehension in the area.

Although one or two individuals in organisations have been over the top in scaremongering on this issue, I do not blame any family who is concerned about the health risk for children. I stay only five minutes walk from one of these sites. Families are quite right to be concerned and to pressurise and harass me to try to get something done. I, in turn, am passing the matter on to the Scottish Office. I do not blame folk for being concerned about the health risks. Greater Glasgow health board concedes that these sites are health risks if the chromium waste is disturbed; the dust can be breathed in, which can cause health problems. Problems can be caused if the chromium is touched. If young children play on the sites and then put their hands in their mouth, swallowing the chromium can also cause them health risks.

I have pursued this environmental disaster with the Glasgow development agency and Scottish Enterprise, to which I had been referred by Scottish Office Ministers. The local enterprise councils made the point that they had no funding to take care of the sites. I then went to the paymasters—the Scottish Office Ministers—who said that there was an allocation for Scottish Enterprise and the Glasgow development agency to take care of the sites, at least to make a start. But then I came up against a policy that said that remedial work should be carried out on such sites only if there was an economic end use. It is quite wrong that people's health should be put at risk purely and simply because some bureaucrat in the Scottish Office says that, because there is no economic end use to remedial work sites, no work should be carried out.

I would like to record without hesitation the valuable support and encouragement that were given to me by the right hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) when he was a Scottish Office Minister, and the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who was extremely helpful in trying to process grants.

Perhaps the Under-Secretary revealed a change of policy on the Scottish Environment Protection Agency when he said that it would have the ability and powers to tackle these contaminated waste sites. I hope that I can get some clarification from Ministers that the criteria of economic end use will no longer be applied to any work to remedy sites that have been contaminated in this way.

It was quite right that I paid tribute to the right hon. Member for Dumfries and to the hon. Member for Eastwood, but my meeting in Dover house, Whitehall with the then Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), was like bashing my head against a brick wall. That is the only description that I can apply to it. With me was Mr. Brian Kelly, Glasgow district council's director of environmental health. He was a totally neutral public servant. He was so exasperated that he asked the then Secretary of State whether someone would have to die or be proven to be seriously ill before he would act and give us some resources to try to get something done about the sites.

There are, unfortunately, swathes of land in the west of Scotland that are contaminated, but my constituency and surrounding areas are the only areas of Scotland that are contaminated by chromium waste. No precedent would be set by the Scottish Office in ensuring that resources were given for tackling this drastic problem in my area.

Recently, Scottish Enterprise allocated around £150,000 to Glasgow district council for experimental work in each of the sites to find the best solution for each site. That is certainly useful, but there was no commitment—I fully understand that—from Scottish Enterprise to make a start and to allocate the millions of pounds that will be required to make all the sites safe. I am a realist and am not looking for £20 million immediately, but I think that it is right that the Scottish Office, in conjunction with the unitary authority of South Lanarkshire and with Europe should combine different pots of money to tackle the problem. I know that not one pot of money is available to tackle it, but if there is good will and co-operation, the Government should co-operate and contribute other pots of money to tackle it.

There is hope that some of the sites will be tackled fairly soon because of the planned extension of the M74, which will run from Fullerton to the Kingston bridge. I emphasise that that is an extension, not a new motorway, and it is crazy that one small section should not be completed. I make no apology for supporting the M74 extension. It is right to do so.

There are potential benefits in that the motorway route runs through or adjacent to a number of chromium-contaminated sites. Those sites will be tackled as part of the motorway extension. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Dumfries, who initially suggested that, although the motorway extension might not be planned to go ahead for another couple of years, the associated works which will remedy the sites should be brought forward and the money spent now. That would considerably reduce the number of contaminated sites and reduce the amount of money required. That is a reasonable point of view, and I hope to obtain the co-operation of the Scottish Office on that issue.

I shall await a reply from the Minister and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency on whether the requirement of an economic end use before contaminated sites are treated has now been removed and whether the sites to which I have referred, which have "only" environmental and health risk factors to be taken into account, can be included.

I make no party political point, but the Under-Secretary said that the Government were leading the way in treating Scotland's environment properly. I extend an open invitation to all Scottish Office Ministers to come to my constituency to see the sites and the scale of the problem there and to say whether they would like to have such areas in their constituencies, fenced off as a health risk to the public. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State, who has already come to my constituency at short notice. I invite Ministers then to look me and my constituents in the face and say that there is no way in which they can help. I look forward to receiving assistance.

5.32 pm

First, I apologise for missing the opening speech. I was involved in a meeting with a Minister from the Department of Transport on an issue of great environmental and economic importance to my constituents—the opening of a new air route between Prestwick and Stansted in the not-too-distant future.

That route will have great environmental benefits, easing pressures on the roads, around other airports and particularly on Heathrow, which is undoubtedly overcrowded and where passengers have problems getting to the city centre.

I was surprised at the omission of roads from this environmental debate, particularly since at the end of yesterday's Scottish Grand Committee the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) had a debate on the Fochabers bypass, an environmental issue worthy of discussion. I understand that some progress was announced on the provision of bypasses yesterday.

The provision of roads throughout Scotland, particularly since 1979, has done much to remove the congestion and pollution resulting from the use of the motor car on roads that cannot cope with them. The progress on roads is one aspect of environmental improvement for which the Government can take credit.

I make no apology for referring to local road issues. I draw attention to the stushie about the M77 between Malletsheugh at the top of the A77 and the M8 in Glasgow. A great environmental row broke out over that road, which was destined to improve the environment for many people in Glasgow and certainly for my constituents in Ayrshire and those to the south of Glasgow who want to travel into the city or to the north.

We listened to the so-called environmentalists. For a period, there was trouble and strife, but now all that has gone quiet and I am pleased to say that the M77 is being built to what I hope will be time.

But another threat comes from the so-called environmentalists, and that is a block on the upgrading of the top end of the A77, where motorway standards are desired by the Government, by all in local government in Strathclyde and certainly by all Members of Parliament in Ayrshire.

Here again, we have objections from the mindless environmentalists—people who do not really look at the issues, but simply make a lot of noise. Again, they put in jeopardy the safety of my constituents and the constituents of others. I should like to think that Ministers could ignore their siren cry, but I understand that a public inquiry on the upgrading of that road to motorway standard will almost certainly be required in order to quell their arguments. Every so-called environmentalist who has objected to that road should have on their conscience any deaths or accidents that occur on that stretch in the immediate future. Great shame should be felt by such individuals.

Talking of shame, I come to some of the points that have already been made, in particular with regard to Brent Spar and the shame that should be felt by Greenpeace. It put up scare stories completely in line with those that we hear so often from Opposition spokesmen. We have heard inconsistencies and the distortion of facts—all the rubbish that comes from Opposition spokesmen on occasions which tends towards scaremongering rather than analysing the facts.

Shell considered the position, as did the Government over the years, and it came up with an acceptable proposal for dumping the Brent Spar. Yet that was stopped at the last minute by inaccurate and prejudiced comments.

The problem now is that Brent Spar is stuck in Norway and something has to be done with it. The safest solution was that previously proposed. That seems to be the view of experts across the board. But now other factors must be taken into account. Other risks are associated with the moving of the rig in the coming autumn or winter. If it ends up dumped in the North sea, it will be because of those who listen to Greenpeace and, perhaps, those in the SNP who give them such support.

While we are talking about dumping at sea, it is worth noting a matter of concern to all in the Clyde estuary—phosphorus sticks. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) referred to most of the dangers caused by those sticks, which I accept and endorse. However, I take exception to his comment that the Government seem not to be responding. Why does he believe that those particular sticks come from the Beaufort dyke? I shall give him the opportunity to reply to that. I understand that no one can identify their source, or establish whether they were used by the Ministry of Defence. It is not known whether their source is private—or even whether they were dumped over the side of a ship by some foreign merchant years ago. To say that they definitely came from Beaufort dyke is to make an unwarranted assumption.

Will the hon. Gentleman reassure the House that he is certain that the sticks do not come from the Beaufort dyke arms dump? If he had listened to my speech, he would know that I called for a Government investigation of the source of the munitions.

The hon. Gentleman is rather late in calling for such an investigation. The Government have been examining the position for three or four weeks. I give credit to the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) for raising the issue—and to the hon. Members for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) and for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie). I even give credit to the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), who, along with others, accompanied me to meet representatives of British Gas.

We have all taken an interest in the matter; we are all concerned. But to suggest that the Scottish Office, the MOD and the Department of Trade and Industry have not registered the anxieties that have been expressed is a travesty of justice and a distortion of the truth.

It did surprise me that, at the time when we met representatives of British Gas, there had been no troughing along the pipeline that British Gas was running. While I was not prepared to point the finger at British Gas and identify it as one of the sources of the problem that had arisen in the short term, I am sure that my hon. Friends the Ministers will take account of that point and will stringently examine possible steps to end the threat to the entire Clyde estuary.

I am surprised that, in a debate on the environment, no one has mentioned the touchy subject of floods. That is particularly surprising in view of last year's events in Paisley. Recent correspondence from people in the area stresses that responsibility lies with local authorities: it is up to them to identify the remedies. They can now refer to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency for expert advice, and SEPA is obliged to provide that advice. I am sure that, if reasonable requests are made for capital allocations, the Government will use their limited resources to try to deal with this important issue.

Needless to say, the nationalists referred to nuclear matters. I do not understand why hon. Members who have every opportunity to examine the facts and consider the issues relating to environmental protection cannot be a bit friendlier to the nuclear industry. Nearly every aspect of the nuclear industry—for instance, air pollution and safety—make it to the top of the poll; it is certainly an environmentally friendly industry. As for alternative forms of generation—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about Chernobyl?") It is good that we have a capable nuclear industry that can deal safely with such matters, and can offer advice to those who operate plants such as Chernobyl to ensure that such accidents never happen again.

If we, like the nationalists, had buried our heads in the sand and refused to examine nuclear issues, we would not have been able to offer the rest of the world the expertise that can create the safe environment that these islands require. With nuclear power and other forms of environmental pollution, these islands do not stand alone: we depend on the co-operation of other nations and industries to improve the environment.

Fears are expressed about safety in the nuclear industry. Whether it is in the private or the public sector, the responsibilities of the nuclear inspectorate do not change; nor do the safety factors. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will correct me, but I am not aware of any Government plans to privatise the inspectorate. It will remain a Government body, charged with looking after nuclear safety. The hon. Member for Dundee, East confused the House by suggesting that safety would be a problem.

In his speech, the hon. Gentleman questioned the standing of others with respect to truthfulness. I noted the question put to him by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) about Trident. It would have been interesting and honest if he had told us precisely when he was converted to the Trident programme—a conversion that strikes me as being in line with many of the recent conversions of his leaders, and many of the about-turns that he himself has made.

Let me now deal with another form of beach contamination. I am concerned about sea water standards, and about the lack of effort exerted by Strathclyde regional council to keep beaches clean in my constituency and to enforce sewage control in the Clyde estuary. Its handling of the issue has been disgraceful for some years. Thank heavens, at long last we are to have a water and sewerage authority that will stand aside from political doctrine and intrigue and provide decent facilities for my constituents. I warmly welcome the interest already shown by the new West of Scotland board in future provision and sewage treatment.

Let us look back at the Government's handling of environmental issues in recent years. The condition of our rivers is better than it has been for centuries; fish are reaching the upper levels of rivers where they have not been for many years. Air standards have also improved, and—as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) pointed out—the Government's environmental legislation has undoubtedly improved the environmental well-being of the countryside.

The term "the environment" does not refer only to what happens in the countryside, or in towns and villages; it refers to what happens in our homes. Another of the Government's major achievements concerns energy provision. Energy prices have fallen, particularly following the privatisation programmes. That is important to elderly people who need warm, comfortable homes. I commend the Government on policies that allow elderly people to use various facilities, and to ensure that their homes are draught-proofed and warm during the colder months.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East registered another conversion when he spoke of the need for people today to consider the requirements of those who will inhabit our land tomorrow. Given Labour's past policy in government, in local authorities and in opposition, especially their economic policy—their "spend today, pay tomorrow" attitude—that is a conversion indeed.

5.49 pm

I too would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) and her party on bringing the debate to the House today. I notice that the Order Paper says:

"The Opposition Day is at the disposal of the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party",
so I hope that she appreciates that the leader of that party is such a nice person.

The only one—well, the only one for a federal party.

I was concerned about the rather dismissive way in which the two Front-Bench spokesmen talked about Dounreay. It made me feel that they did not realise what widespread anxiety exists. I understand that is possible—neither of them lives in the highlands region—but there is a great deal of concern and I would like to articulate it.

We have already heard about the unexplained discovery of radioactive particles on the foreshore at Dounreay, about the explosion in 1977 in an intermediate level waste disposal shaft, and about the proposals for reprocessing work to be undertaken at Dounreay to a far greater extent than has happened in the past. People in the highlands are asking: why should Dounreay and Scotland be the recipient of highly enriched fuel rods which other countries refuse to accept?

If the hon. Lady thinks that the people of the highlands have such a strong view on that respect, will she explain why they continue to support her hon. Friend the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who takes a very different line from the one that she is putting forward?