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Lords Chamber

Volume 518: debated on Monday 9 April 1990

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House Of Lords

Wednesday, 9th May 1990.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of St. Albans.

Lord Morris Of Castle Morris

Brian Robert Morris, Esquire, having been created Baron Morris of Castle Morris, of St. Dogmaels in the County of Dyfed, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Baroness Birk and the Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos.

European Air Traffic Control

2.50 p.m.

What are the prospects of serious delays to flights in Western Europe this summer because of air traffic control problems caused by congestion or industrial disputes.

My Lords, the Government cannot make a firm prediction at this stage, though of course we cannot rule out the possibility of delays this summer. Industrial disputes have already caused delays this year and there could be further disputes. However, the United Kingdom and other European countries are making strenuous efforts to reduce air traffic congestion by improving co-operation between air traffic centres.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer. While it seems that most trouble will be caused by industrial disputes abroad, is it not bad news for British holidaymakers that they are likely to have to spend many hours delayed in great discomfort at airports? Are there channels of communication with neighbouring countries by which routes can immediately be rearranged or similar alternative measures taken?

My Lords, I can tell my noble friend that conference communication facilities came into operation last year between the air traffic flow management units of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. These facilities played a valuable role in rerouting traffic during the strike by French air traffic services staff last summer and no doubt will do so again if necessary.

My Lords, I realise that the Minister will not agree that unified air traffic control is the best way of dealing with this matter. However, does he accept that the reason it has not been dealt with in the past is the inefficiency of a system which deals with and relies on far too many centres? Does he recall that I asked him last week whether it is true that 42 centres will still be necessary in 1998? Did the Minister not hear what I said? I am sorry if I was not clear. Does he recall that last week I asked him whether it is true that in 1998, under the harmonisation the Government prefer, some 42 different centres will be required instead of the six or eight that are really necessary?

My Lords, I always hear what the noble Baroness says. If she thinks that I do not hear it, she repeats it. I am unable to predict exactly how many centres will be needed in 1996 or 1998. Did the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, say something? If so, I did not quite catch it.

In March 1989 ICAO experts agreed on a new traffic orientation system which will spread traffic on the busiest European routes more evenly over the European ATC network. European states are co-operating to make certain weekend routes available, in agreement with military authorities, at peak traffic periods on weekdays. That is what is happening for this year.

My Lords, will the Minister inform the House what action is being taken to increase the number of UK air traffic controllers thereby increasing the safety of air travel and reducing the danger of congestion and the possibility of industrial disputes?

My Lords, there has been no suggestion so far that industrial action is expected in the UK. Last year UK controllers did a marvellous job in minimising the delays caused by industrial action elsewhere in Europe. We expect them to do the same this year should the need arise. The CAA plans to recruit more air traffic controllers over the next few years to meet a downturn in the number of controllers who took up their posts just after the war.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware how much his tribute to British air traffic controllers will be appreciated by all those who have worked with them?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. The controllers deserve such tribute.

My Lords, political unification of the centres and technical advances are very important. However, should not the immediate step—even, perhaps, the long-term step—be improved conditions under which air traffic controllers work? Anyone who has visited a control tower will realise that the pressures are incredible. Is not the best and quickest solution to have more fully trained controllers?

My Lords, the Government entirely agree. In the United Kingdom, NATS plans an accelerating investment programme and increased recruitment of controllers—from 80 a year in 1988 to a target of 200 this year, rising to 240 from 1999 onwards. I agree that controllers work under very difficult conditions. We are planning investment to ensure that such improvements are achieved.

My Lords, I did not hear the Minister say anything on the matter of the 42 centres. Is it not correct that he and I were both hopeful that I might receive a reply today to a Question I asked a week ago? Is that reply still delayed?

My Lords, I thought that I had replied to the noble Baroness. However, I think that we must just continue to travel hopefully.

My Lords, will the system adopted on 24th April by European transport ministers enable controllers in one country to direct aircraft flying over it and landing in another?

My Lords, there has been a certain amount of press speculation on the matter. However, so far as I can see, the system will not be available in the foreseeable future.

My Lords, can the noble Viscount be more specific about the Government's view regarding what will happen at our airports during the high peak holiday season? Does he recall that in the past few years there have been serious logjams at all airports around London—and, indeed, in the North—and that people have been kept waiting in departure lounges for many hours? The Government must have a view on what will happen in response to his noble friend's Question. What is that view?

My Lords, I thought that I had given the Government's view. However, I shall go a little further. I can say that the Government's view is that the overall prospect for the summer of 1990 is that, given the expected growth in traffic and the lack of a significant increase in capacity, there will be air traffic delays this summer. Those delays could be seriously aggravated by industrial action elsewhere in Europe. We are doing our best to ensure that such aggravation is minimised.

World Population Growth

2.56 p.m.

What action they are taking, in concert with the governments of other countries, to deal with the problem of increasing world population.

My Lords, we give high priority to population-related activities within the overseas aid programme. We are major contributors to the main population multilateral organisations. We also work through our bilateral aid programmes and support relevant research and teaching and the work of British charities. Our spending in this sector has increased from £6·5 million in 1988 to over £17 million in 1989.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the population explosion, and all that follows therefrom, is the biggest problem facing mankind at present? Is he aware that the laudable attempts being made by many countries are simply not solving the problem? Is it not now time—indeed, it is long overdue—for a fundamental rethink of policies? How can we not be concerned about the situation when the latest United Nations report on population growth states that the present world population of 5 billion people will increase to 8 billion in the year 2024? I must tell the Minister that I am rather disappointed in the reply he has given today.

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord is disappointed with my reply. We do give priority to the issue. We support the major multilateral organisations; that is, the United Nations Population Fund, the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the World Health Organisation's human reproduction programme. I agree with the noble Lord that it is indeed one of the biggest problems facing the world at present. I also agree with the figures he quoted in his supplementary question.

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that, apart from an increase in the aid we give towards population services in under-developed countries, perhaps the greatest service we could provide would be to increase our aid towards the education and training of women in third world countries?

My Lords, we already have a substantial aid programme. Much of it indirectly helps slow population growth because it improves economic and social prospects for the poorest which in turn reinforces the desire for smaller families. We are ready to do more. Bilateral spending is of course dependent upon recipient governments giving population growth a high priority in their own plans. We are encouraging them to do so.

My Lords, perhaps I may support what my noble friend Lady Robson said and ask the Government to view the matter as one of great urgency. Undoubtedly one of the best ways to reduce the population is to increase the education of women. Support earmarked for that purpose through government aid and the voluntary organisations which can give it is in the long run probably one of the best ways of doing so. Cannot the Government attach a much greater priority to giving of that kind?

My Lords, we give the matter a high priority. We take account of the role of women in all parts of our aid programme and shall continue to do so. As I have said, we are ready to do more bilaterally if we can persuade, as we are trying to do, recipient governments to give the problem a high priority.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the close relationship between poverty, especially rural poverty, and the rapid population increase? Is he further aware that the burden of external debt in relation to GNP is greatest in the poorest countries, especially in Africa where the population increases most rapidly? Are the Government planning to take active steps to break the vicious spiral of debt, which leads to poverty and increased population, which in turn lead back again to poverty and more failure to repay the debt? Is it not time to cancel the external debts of the poorest countries?

My Lords, we are involved multilaterally in the problem of overseas debt, which is a subject different from the one we are discussing today. As I said earlier, through our aid programme we seek to improve the economic and social prospects of the poorest, which helps with the population problem.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the whole House should be indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, for asking this Question on a vital topic which is so often ignored? On a practical level, is the Minister aware that the Reagan Administration cancelled all United States Government funding to the International Planned Parenthood Federation as a result of pressure from the so-called "Life Lobby" and that the United States' funding was at that time the main source of the IPPF's income? Will the Government use their influence with the Bush Administration to have that decision reversed?

My Lords, I was not aware of the United States position with regard to the IPPF. I shall take note of what the noble Lord said. The IPPF is the largest single recipient of the funds that I have described this afternoon.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with UNICEF that the only way to decrease world population growth is by reducing the level of infant mortality, which, as the noble Baroness said, is a reason for women having bigger families? Does he believe that more aid should go towards improving the health of small children and babies as well as towards the education of women? Are Her Majesty's Government currently commissioning any research into population growth and the means of reducing it?

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness makes a good point in her first question. Part of our funding goes towards research. In 1988 we spent £80,000 directly on research and a further £296,000 on training awards.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that by the time we have Question Time in the House tomorrow there will be another 250,000 people on the planet? Does not that kind of frightening statistic show how inadequate—I realise the difficulties facing this Government and other governments—present policies are?

My Lords, it is of course a difficult problem. We recognise that it is a sensitive issue in many countries. Fortunately, it is probably a less sensitive issue now than it was a little while ago. We must continue to work to educate people along those lines.

My Lords, further to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Rea, does the Minister agree that history shows that a deceleration of population growth only comes with an increase in standard of living and that that is especially the case in countries where a large percentage of children die before the age of five? Is there not a case for the Government to increase their overseas aid instead of decreasing it by something like 40 per cent. as they have done over the past 10 years?

My Lords, our aid programme, currently standing at £I -65 billion, has not been decreased in cash terms over the past few years. It is a substantial programme which is extremely well targeted and well spent.


3.5 p.m.

Whether, now that the USSR is to refer draft legislation on its economic reforms to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, they will rejoin that institute.

My Lords, we are currently reviewing the question of United Kingdom funding of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

My Lords, good. Do the Government agree that President Reagan's action in walking out of IIASA in the days of his belief in the evil empire was probably unhelpful to the world? Is not the Soviet action in apparently deciding to lay before IIASA every so often the draft of all legislation affecting its economic reforms a most remarkable action which shows willingness to depend upon the collective goodwill of Western and world academics? Do the Government agree that it would be very much in this country's interests if we could be part of that collective goodwill?

My Lords, as I have said, we are reviewing the situation at the moment. We withdrew our funds in 1982 because the scientific community doubted the value of the institute's work. The strength of the scientific case will be the deciding factor in our decision whether to renew funding, which we hope to take later this year.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the creation of stable economies in the countries of Eastern Europe, especially the Soviet Union, is of the first importance in the interests of world peace and other matters at the present time? Does he agree that in those circumstances it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to rejoin and reactivate the international institute with a view to making certain that when the economic problems of the Soviet Union and those other countries are brought to the institute they are discussed in a co-operative and friendly way?

My Lords, I agree with the first part of the noble Lord's question that stable economic conditions for the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc are important in terms of world peace, especially in the Soviet Union. We have to decide whether rejoining the institute is the best way forward. That is why we are seeking from Vienna further information on the institute's programmes and are consulting government departments and research bodies.

My Lords, the Minister's reply was vague and unsatisfactory. Her Majesty's Government ceased to take an interest in the international institute. Given his constructive reaction to my suggestion that economic stability in Eastern Europe is of the first importance, cannot Her Majesty's Government take a more positive step towards co-operation in the institute?

My Lords, I should have thought that we were being positive by reviewing whether to rejoin the institute. We have been out of it since 1982 for good reasons. We are now looking into whether we should rejoin.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that stability in Eastern Europe and whether we rejoin the international institute do not necessarily run together? If we left the institute because we did not think its contribution was worthy of the cost and our attendance, we should not think of rejoining until we are satisfied that its ability has improved to a satisfactory level.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. That is the point that I was trying to make to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn.

West Lambeth Health Authority: Cuts

3.10 p.m.

Whether cuts are planned in the services and staff of St. Thomas's Hospital, London; and, if so, what they will be.

My Lords, West Lambeth, like all health authorities, must operate within its resources. To enable it to do this in 1990-91, after consultation with medical and nursing staff, the authority has agreed a package of measures which includes a reduction of around 60 beds at St. Thomas's Hospital and a corresponding loss of posts.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her Answer. Will she confirm that in its decision the West Lambeth Health Authority has decided to cut not only 60 beds and 60 medical and nursing posts at St. Thomas's but also four psychiatric wards at Tooting Bee, the geriatric ward and 50 per cent. of the family planning service, with a severe cutback in operating theatre time? Does she accept that, with ward closures, and including Charing Cross, Central Middlesex and Westminster, this brings to about 500 the number of hospital beds that have been closed in the past few weeks?

My Lords, I said nothing about 60 posts being lost in the process. I simply mentioned a corresponding loss which we expect to represent existing vacancies and natural wastage.

As concerns Tooting Bee, the South Western Hospital and community services, changes that were being made were part of the reorganisation. It was planned to transfer them into the centre at St. Thomas's. In many cases it represents much better facilities for operations.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness saying to me that the health authority can do without four psychiatric wards, the geriatric ward and the family planning service? I cannot believe that for a moment.

No, my Lords. I should like to remind the noble Lord that as part of the good news about St. Thomas's Hospital he should not overlook the splendid new south wing development due to be formally opened in July. It cost over £13 million. The fine new accommodation for the Dreadnought Seafarers' Hospital opened in September 1988 and the Baroness Lane-Fox Unit opened at the end of last year.

My Lords, has my noble friend observed that, with the exception of the single supplementary question from my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls, every supplementary asked during this Question Time has involved pressure to expend further sums of money? On the assumption that each of those suggestions was worthy, is it not also clear that all of them cannot be fulfilled?

My Lords, I am sure that my noble and learned friend is absolutely right. I also wish to draw to the attention of the House the importance of the National Health Service reforms that we are introducing. They will very much help the situation which has been referred to in the Question.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness, with her noble and learned friend, recognise that very few supplementaries have come from the Benches opposite? Does that imply that Conservatives are not prepared to engage in these debates?

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that part of the problem of St. Thomas's Hospital is that resources in the NHS have been moved out of London into the provinces? Does she further agree that the person who had a great deal to do with the movement of resources was none other than the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, himself?

Further, does she accept that part of the problem at St. Thomas's Hospital is that a device was used called "the suspense account"? If one receives a bill and does not know what to do with it one puts it in the suspense account, also known as "the dustbin". This is a perfectly reasonable device so long as one looks in the dustbin at regular intervals. The failure at St. Thomas's resulted from not looking in the dustbin for a period of about a year.

My Lords, I am well aware that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has considerable experience with the predecessor of the West Lambeth Health Authority. He had to threaten it with the use of default powers in order to encourage it to restrain its overspending. I am grateful to my noble friend for having drawn my attention to the "dustbin" or suspense account.

My Lords, the two questions from the other side perhaps illustrate why it is better that they should remain silent. Does not the noble Baroness think this situation a scandalous waste of the resources of the highly skilled and dedicated staff of St. Thomas's? I speak from personal knowledge of them. They cannot do a full job because unfortunately they cannot carry out surgery without beds for people after their operations. The hospital has had to close a further 60 beds in addition to the closures that have already taken place. This means that the national loss and London's loss are that much the greater.

My Lords, it remains the aim of the West Lambeth Health Authority that the 1989–90 activity levels should be maintained through 1990–91. As I said in my original Answer, the measures were agreed only after lengthy consultations with medical and nursing staff. It was on the understanding that they would have the least possible effect on patient services. One advantage is that services should not be subject to the sudden curtailments of recent years, when last minute efforts were made to stay within cash limits.

My Lords, how far is the reduction of these services due to the fact that there has been an attempt over the years to rationalise teaching and research at St. Thomas's Hospital with that at Guy's Hospital? Does this reduction in the number of beds flow from the decision to try to rationalise the teaching and research in both hospitals?

My Lords, I am not aware that that is so. However, I know that there is a history of overspending by this authority. I emphasise that, with the White Paper and National Health Service and Community Care Bill proposals under which the money will follow the patient, a hospital such as St. Thomas's, which has expertise in so many clinical fields a central location and an internationally recognised name, is bound to benefit.

My Lords, if the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, is correct and the Minister agrees with it, is it not a serious matter? Should it not be reported to the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office?

My Lords, I am not quite sure which aspect of my noble friend's question the noble Lord refers to. When the regional health authority discovered the extent of the current overspending it commissioned a report—namely, the John Barnes Report. That report was published towards the middle of April and it concentrates not only on the underlying problem but on finding solutions to it.

My Lords, I am one who has benefited from treatment at St. Thomas's, for which I am extremely grateful. Does this cut result in a worsening of the service to the patients? Has there been any lessening in demand by the patients, or is it alleged that there is inefficiency in their treatment? How can it be justified that after 11 years of this Government we should have to reduce health services in one of the poorest areas of London?

My Lords, I refer the noble Lord to a previous Secretary of State for Health, or for the DHSS as it was in those days, who had similar problems with this authority. Everybody must operate within some cash limit and we aim to achieve the most efficient use of available funding and to ensure that patients certainly do not suffer.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the RAWP formula, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, was introduced by me 13 years ago? It received the support of both sides of another place. It has not been stopped because it succeeded in its purpose. Further, does she accept that some of the blame for what has happened at St. Thomas's has been put on the former finance director for spending too much time on health service reforms? We should bear in mind the fact that that hospital has just voted by a margin of five to one against becoming independent and self-governing as the National Health Service Bill requires it to be. Is that not one of the matters that is causing the problems in the National Health Service and St. Thomas's at the present time?

My Lords, I am well aware that the RAWP formula was originally introduced in 1978. The John Barnes Report to which I referred earlier identified a disorganised and hoping-for-the-best type business culture in the authority as one of the chief sources of its financial problems.


3.20 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to say a word about this afternoon's short debates in the names of the noble Earls, Lord Shannon and Lord Baldwin of Bewdley. As the mover is allowed 15 minutes and the Minister should rise to reply not less than 20 minutes before the scheduled end of the debate, in the case of the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, the number of speakers is such that it is not necessary to propose a formal time limit, but I know that noble Lords will keep their speeches within limits in conformity with the spirit of these short debates. In the case of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, all other speeches should be limited to a maximum of eight minutes.

My Lords, as the noble Lord the Chief Whip has made a Business Statement, I wish to ask him, or possibly the noble Lord the Leader of the House, a business question. A reference to the Second Reading of the Environmental Protection Bill has appeared for the first time on the statement of forthcoming business. The Second Reading is to take place on Friday 18th May. Is it not possible to revise that date, as very few noble Lords attend the House on Fridays and there is minimum media coverage on that day?

I know the answer to such a query is that the matter is decided through the usual channels. However, this concerns all Members of the House in all parties and in none. A major Bill of this kind should have its Second Reading at a time during the week when it is convenient for a large percentage of the membership to be present and when it will receive full media coverage. Will either the noble Lord the Chief Whip or the noble Lord the Leader of the House reconsider this matter and find possibly a Wednesday to use for the Second Reading of this important Bill?

My Lords, I understand the concern which the noble Lord expresses. However, this matter has been agreed through the usual channels.

My Lords, we have the example of the Second Reading of the Social Security Bill which took place a few weeks ago on a Friday. There was a lack of attendance and interest at that Second Reading debate. That Bill concerned one of the biggest spending departments in the Government, but because the Second Reading took place on a Friday it did not receive the attention to which it was entitled. Is the noble Lord the Leader of the House not concerned at that? If the trend is to have Second Readings on Fridays, is there not some merit in the concern that has been expressed by myself and by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby? Is it not possible to reconsider allocating a Wednesday for the Second Reading of the Environmental Protection Bill?

My Lords, before my noble friend replies to that question, does he recall that the debate on the Social Security Bill was extremely interesting and valuable? Is he aware that many of us thought it was a great advantage that, unlike much other legislation, the Second Reading took place in daylight?

My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention. I understand the concern which the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, expresses. However, I must say once again that the matter was agreed through the usual channels. The noble Lord will forgive me if I add that I had hoped the noble Lords, Lord Stallard and Lord Hatch, would take the hint behind what I was saying, which was that if they feel stongly about the matter they must take it up with their Chief Whip.

My Lords, I ask the noble Lord again whether he will reconsider this matter through the usual channels. Members on all sides of the House, including those on the Cross-Benches, have told me of their concern that a number of noble Lords who want to speak in this debate will be prevented from doing so as it is on a Friday. That fact also means that the debate will receive minimum media coverage. Will the noble Lord reconsider the matter through the usual channels?

My Lords, my hints do not seem to be getting across very well today. The hint behind my remarks to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, at the beginning of these exchanges was that the answer was no.

Waste: Environmental Policy

3.25 p.m.

rose to call attention to the case for a national environmental waste policy; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have sought to call attention to the need for a national environmental waste policy and for the establishment of a national council for environmental waste policy as the Government have failed to demonstrate a cohesive waste policy and the mechanism to evolve such a policy. Before discussing my proposals, I wish to refer to the discussion which has just taken place across the Floor of the House on the concern of noble Lords over the Environmental Protection Bill. As has just been observed, we have been told at short notice that the Second Reading of the Bill is to take place in this House on Friday, 18th May.

The Commons Committee stage of the Bill had 32 sittings. The Bill has now emerged with 13 new clauses and four new schedules. Members of your Lordships' House will have had little time to consider the Bill as it is now amended. It has been suggested in the national media and not just in your Lordships' House that the choice of the time for the Bill's Second Reading was in part a means of ensuring that Members of this House would have less time to scrutinise the measures contained in it.

We should bear in mind that few members of the public know of the existence of the Bill because the Department of the Environment has done so little to publicise it and because the media have largely ignored it. Therefore I believe that Members of this House should and must have more notice and time to deliberate it fully.

A senior official from the European Commission stated last week to a number of Members of this House and others that,

"Waste is now the priority environmental issue for the foreseeable future from any point of view".

If that is the case, I think the Minister should regret the timing to which I have referred. I am sure he will give us assurances that such a timing was not intended for those reasons. Further, I hope he might feel led to assure the House that there will be limited repetition, if at all, of this kind of procedure. Last Sunday the Observer newspaper stated:

"Almost everyone has been waiting for the House of Lords to sort out this mess".

The article was referring to the Bill in question. Yesterday the first European response to the 1987 Brundtland Report began in the form of an international conference in Bergen, Norway, at which 24 nations, including the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, are represented. The main item on the agenda will be that all participants should bind themselves to producing for the United Nations a national annual report on environmental progress. I must say that I find difficulty in believing that our Minister, Mr. David Trippier, will be prepared for that if he only includes in his case for the United Kingdom the need to upgrade the publicly unknown Digest of Environmental Protection and Water Statistics as an appropriate response to the likely Bergen initiative.

One hopes that the Government will be more imaginative when attending the 1992 world conference on the environment and development which will take place in Brazil. One hopes that before that conference all government departments will recall the Prime Minister's remarks in her Royal Society address:

"It is possible that … we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself.

I make that point because it is reported that Whitehall will resist some, if not all, of the Bergen conference's final declarations which the Secretary of State for the Environment had hoped to include in the promised environment White Paper. If there is substance in that view, what possible grounds do the Government have for believing that they have the British public's confidence on matters related to the environment? The Government have been given no mandate to experiment with the system of these fair isles.

Seeing no committed environmental policy from the Government and witnessing politico-economic abuses of the land, waters and air of this country, the unelected people of this land have donned the green mantle of common sense. They have drawn up their own mandate. It obliges us all to listen and respond in order that there may be a planet Earth worth living on in 40 year's time.

This groundswell of public concern and action is not indifferent to sustainable development but it must be sure that environmental considerations are an integral part of all economic policies emanating from government, industry and the business community alike. However, as the Council for the Protection of Rural England puts it:

"Vague rhetoric, exhortation and limited gestures will not do".

In the current issue of CBI News, commenting on the views of some 250 companies, out of a sample of 2,500 companies which had responded to a survey on environmental issues conducted by the CBI/PA Consulting Group, a PA spokesman said:

"I believe that the Single European Market, after 1992, will exert a much stronger environmental pressure on British industry than appears to be recognised in the results of this survey".

The PA spokesman added:

"The survey shows that industry is more concerned about minimising the effects of legislation and less about opportunities for actively addressing the environmental issues ahead of legislation and thereby creating competitive advantage.

Another important survey was conducted by Strategy Europe Limited, a company with which I have a connection. It is a government and public affairs group. The survey was carried out at my request. Among the respondents were leading British companies including BP International, Shell UK, British Gas, Sainsbury, Boots and Pilkington, together with waste management companies, local and waste disposal authorities, waste trade associations and environmental research organisations and also universities and polytechnics, other professional bodies and Members of both Houses of Parliament.

The responses to the survey revealed overwhelming support for a national environmental waste policy. There was also massive support for the involvement of manufacturing industry and the public in the development of a policy for waste. The exerperience of many companies and the need to educate many others in reducing and dealing with huge quantities of waste generated in the modern economy were the dominant reasons for consulting and involving industry. Education of the public and the need for their support for the numerous different measures required to deal with waste also demanded that any waste policy was directed at them. Strong support was given by industry as well as others for statutory directions of industry's own policies towards the environment.

One response to the survey's questions came from the chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, Mr. John Collier who said that,

"from long experience in the nuclear industry and of observing the behaviour of other industries, it is essential that a company's duties in the area are dictated by statute. Otherwise, competitors will interpret their responsibilities in the 'least cost' mode".

Curiously, at the time of the survey, it was reported that only one waste management disposal company in the United Kingdom, Shanks and McEwan, had carried out a complete environmental audit. I leave your Lordships to decide for yourselves what that says about the majority of the members of the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors or of that organisation itself.

The survey to which I have just referred set the scene for an important conference which I called on 23rd April. It was held in a committee room here, with Mr. Peter Thompson, deputy chairman of Strategy Europe Limited. Speakers included the Minister for the environment and the countryside, Mr. David Trippier; the director of industry and the environment from Directorate-General XI of the European Commission; Mr. J. W. Huismans from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); Mr. Andrew Waite, secretary-general of the United Kingdom Environmental Law Association; and Mr. Michael Cohen, director of the Department of Trade and Industry's business and environment unit. That was a very impressive list of speakers. The guests included many scientists, academics, chief executives of major companies, environmental research organisations and many others with specialist knowledge of waste minimisation, production, management, recycling and usage as well as some Members of your Lordships' House.

I was glad to see that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, was able to attend the conference for part of the time, having in mind his Environment Protection Bill which was debated in this House. Some of us hope that certain measures contained in the noble Earl's Bill may still be considered—although the Bill has been withdrawn—in the autumn White Paper, if not in part considered when the Government's Environmental Protection Bill reaches this House on that fateful Friday next week.

The theme of the conference was the same as the theme of this debate, and out of it the environment Minister agreed to support, in principle, Mr. Thompson's proposal for the establishment of a national council for environmental waste policy, having concurred that the Environmental Protection Bill fell,

"short of a national plan for waste disposal [and] did not have all the answers".

The new council would evolve an integrated environmental waste policy related to waste minimisation, re-use, recycling and disposal.

That policy would be based on consultations with local authorities, industry and the business community, directly and through trade and employer groups. Trade unions, public and consumer pressure groups and specialists in the waste sector would also be consulted. Other responsibilities of the council would include ensuring that manufacturing companies committed themselves to using raw materials which were conducive to environmental criteria laid down by the council.

Environmental audits leading to acceptable corporate environmental strategies would also be monitored by the council, and where waste producing businesses did not meet an acceptable environmental criterion laid down by the council, a ruling would be posted to shareholders and the investors involved with that company, and the appropriate government departments would be notified. Too few companies at the moment have such strategies, although some have taken the initiative to consult organisations like Industry & Environment Associates which have considerable experience in devising corporate environmental programmes.

The council would have its own corporate investigative arm. The method of investigation would be best compared with the quality systems procedures employed by leading companies such as Shell UK which are checked by independent third parties against the requirements of the British Standard for quality systems, BS 5750. The investigations of a company's environmental audit and corporate environmental strategy by the new council's quality systems-type investigators would be paid for by the company, and that company would be obliged to co-operate by law.

Earlier, I drew attention to the public reaction to the politico-economic exploitation of our environment related to waste issues. Like the United States group Environmental Strategies, I believe that matters would be dramatically improved if the following conditions were fulfilled: first, when industry, government and the public co-operate in addressing environmental issues; secondly, when voluntary disclosure of information relating to the environment is common practice, company by company; and, thirdly, when we have compliance with effective legislation providing for strict liability.

The public would then have peace of mind, knowing that resources were being directed to resolve environmental problems rather than being diverted to litigation and transactional costs as has been the case in the United States. At the moment however, the public sees no ideal world and lacks confidence in the ability of the national and local government to solve environmental problems. That view is endorsed by many experts in the field.

What the public does not know about is "green consumerism" which has begun to influence industry. The world-wide market for environmentally friendly products and technologies is estimated at between £100 billion and £150 billion. There has also been a development of "green" unit trusts, such as the Merlin Ecology Fund, which invest only in companies which show sound financial and environmental performance, according to the Institute of Directors' current issue of The Director magazine.

The CBI points out that it is estimated that business expenditure on environmental improvements could be approaching £4 billion per year. Should the Government take notice of my proposals today, and given the existence of the Environmental Protection Bill, business will be well rewarded and the public's peace of mind assured. After all, the environment Minister, at my conference spoke at length about self-sufficiency and private sector initiative. I beg to move for Papers.

3.46 p.m.

My Lords, the first thing that I must do in this debate is to declare an interest. I am a director of a small company involved in the research and development of a container for the transport and storage of toxic waste products. I am also a director of an environmental consultancy.

Since the so-called absence of a waste management policy and the reliance on market forces within a framework of monitoring and regulation is in itself a policy, I shall not speak about whether we should have one, but about what type we should have, what direction it should take and, above all, why we must have a positive, fully functional waste management policy in the United Kingdom. Among other things, the degree to which the Government are committed to the solution of pollution problems is reflected in the nature and effectiveness of their environmental policy.

For brevity's sake, I shall take it as read that the worldwide objectives of environmental problem-solving from the public's point of view are, broadly speaking, identical in aim, if not in emphasis or application. Many buzz words and phrases appear frequently in reports and surveys, regulations, legislation, codes of practice, directives and conventions which indicate similar thinking internationally. They include "the duty of care", "the polluter pays", "self-sufficiency" and "long-term sustainable development". All those concepts are highly commendable. They are more than commendable; they are the essential basis of the considerable commitment necessary for all of us to make if we are to correct our errors of the past, to lessen pollution today and to leave a satisfactory legacy for future generations.

How are those objectives to be achieved? I shall take as a guide the current European strategy for waste management. Incidentally, that is explicitly on the face of legislation in Holland, Denmark and West Germany, in which, apart from the regulation of transport and remedial action, there are three other headings. The first is waste minimisation along with the development and application of clean technology. That responsibility lies with industry or, should I say, potential polluters, who must at all times be encouraged not only to look to the means of production used and the ways in which they can alter or eliminate waste products, but to the potential, long-term effects that their products may ultimately have on the environment.

The best publicised examples of polluting products are PCBs and CFCs, which have direct consequences, and fossil fuel used in the generation of power and in motorised transport. A very good example of waste minimisation was shown on the programme "Tomorrow's World". In Northern Ireland a company which has the most advanced sawmill in Europe no longer uses a conventional sawing technique but what appears to be a very large chisel to cut its raw material, thus eliminating sawdust as waste, saving the equivalent in number of trees and increasing the company's profits.

Secondly, there are recycling, residue recovery and the re-use of raw materials. They are not only an essential part of the reduction of waste in general; it must also be stressed that they are a necessary preservation or topping up of ever dwindling resources. Recycled paper means that fewer trees are cut down over a given period of forest development. Preservation is a cornerstone of that concept of sustainable long-term development so succinctly outlined in the report Blueprint for a Green Economy prepared by David Pearce and his team for the Department of the Environment.

At this time government procurement policy in the United States requires that wherever possible purchases must contain at least 50 per cent. of recycled products. That is a very good example of leading from the front with policy making.

Direct landfill and municipal incineration of domestic waste in this country must be classed as two of the most wasteful uses of potential raw materials. All over the United Kingdom schemes have been instigated locally for recycling raw materials for the generation of power and heat for the community. But those schemes are piecemeal and patchy because they involve capital expenditure that some local authorities are ill-equipped to undertake. A national waste policy that not only imposed a statutory duty on such councils but also gave them some kind of financial assistance could well be the inducement needed to turn those schemes into a homogeneous effort throughout the country.

Thirdly, we come to optimisation of final disposal. Final disposal must take place at the point at which waste cannot be recycled, reused or recovered in any way, and when there are no other avenues open—although in the United States there is a process that even makes it possible to turn fly-ash into bricks, which puts some incineration into the previous category of recycling.

The alternatives for final disposal are incineration, chemical treatment, chemical fixation, physical fixation, storage under stable conditions and, lastly landfill, which should only be considered for disposal of waste that has been rendered inert. In this country landfill is used far too freely, to the detriment of both the general public and the development of other means of disposal available. I mean that so long as we are happy chucking things into holes in the ground, we limit the incentive to find more satisfactory methods.

Certainly we do not have unlimited potential for usable landfill sites. In time we shall be forced to make use of those other methods in which sadly we shall have fallen far behind the rest of Europe. We should benefit greatly from the kind of research and development programmes that are carried out at the moment in countries such as West Germany, where they spend 10 times the amount that we do. We shall eventually become importers of technology in fields in which we are capable of being world leaders. The powers that be seem to dislike the options that are available elsewhere. The attitude is that landfill has been okay in the past and will be okay in the future. If things were so great in the past, how come we are worried about the environment at all?

All those parts of the European strategy for waste management are areas that should be targeted by environmental policy and a national waste management policy. The Government set great store by the power of market forces to regulate the waste management business. Unfortunately, in dealing with waste at this embryonic time of our environmental awareness, "market forces" means that not-in-my-backyard or the cheapest alternative nearly always wins the day. Thus arises the overuse of landfill.

The concept of self-sufficiency must be engineered by policy. And what of the principle of BPM (best practicable means) or BATNEEC (best available technique not entailing excessive cost)—the new acronym introduced by the Environmental Protection Bill? Who is to decide what is best? It will be Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution, which is overworked, under-resourced both financially and in manpower, and which will have even more jobs to do under the concept of integrated pollution control. That is the main policy thrust of the new Bill. Despite the dedication and expertise, it is unable to come anywhere near fulfilling its appointed tasks now.

A woeful tale was brought to my attention recently. It highlights the problems that can arise with market forces and the introduction of a new technique. A company in this country has a process available for the elimination of paint sludge. Because of its association with suppliers of production lines and paint shops to the motor industry, that has been the company's targeted market. The process is used by General Motors and by Chrysler in the United States. A treatment centre has also been set up in Ohio. The process is under consideration by various European car manufacturers. Moreover, the company offers it on a leasing basis so that no capital outlay is involved.

Paint sludge is a toxic waste which contains solvents and heavy metals, mainly lead, cadmium and chrome. The process reduces the volume by 92 per cent., removing and destroying the solvents and leaving a residue of heavy metals sealed in an inert resin that is used as a base for the manufacture of paint. Paint sludge is currently disposed of to landfill. It is dewatered but still contains solvents and heavy metals. Unfortunately for the motor industry, it means a 1,000 per cent. increase in cost per unit to dispose of the sludge using the process as opposed to using landfill. The figures have persuaded the industry's accountants that the costs are too high.

The cost to landfill is 8p per car. The cost for processing is £1 per car. I find the motor industry's attitude unacceptable. Paint sludge is not only produced by the motor industry. This process could eliminate paint sludge completely from the toxic waste list and place it firmly on the list of material for recycling. That is the kind of anomaly that arises from relying too heavily on the operation of market forces in the waste business. It must be remembered that this is a market where nobody wants the end product.

As I mentioned earlier, it is impossible to achieve any kind of self-sufficiency in waste management and disposal on a local, national or international basis if no coherent and consistent policy exists as the overall guiding framework. It is essential that we have a national policy to standardise the methods of disposal. It is essential that that policy should be part of the process of standardisation throughout Europe since with the coming of 1992 the concepts of "local" and "national" will spread to include the whole of the European Community.

Self-sufficiency and the constructive operation of market forces can only operate within a strong regulatory framework based on the highest possible standards supported by satisfactory monitoring and stringent enforcement. I also believe that all stick and no carrot in our national policy would be counter-productive. Standards must be improved, but incentives also must be given to industry and local government to make the necessary capital outlays for clean technology, minimisation, new methods of disposal, recycling and, above all, for continued and extensive research. Whether the Environmental Protection Bill is the right place for the introduction of incentives is open to conjecture. The Budget is probably a better place to introduce the kind of incentives that are necessary.

I should like to take up the proposal made by the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, for setting up a national council for environmental waste policy. I must admit that my first reaction was, "Oh dear, not another association. Haven't we enough already?" However, I feel that any association that can set high standards of waste management policy and implement them effectively has a part to play in the overall framework. But I still feel that the spreading of responsibility, when the Government are trying to achieve their policy of integrated pollution control, leads to more complexity and masks the fundamental problem of environmental policy in this country and the fundamental problem of the Environmental Protection Bill.

The Bill has many flaws, not the least of which is clarity. I believe that its greatest failing is that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution will still be totally inadequate to fulfil the responsibilities being vested in it. If HMIP does not obtain the financial resources and manpower necessary no amount of policy will make the slightest difference to the environmental problems that we face in this country. At the moment we are constructing a skeleton with a brain but no muscle with which to operate and no food to sustain it. At this rate we shall continue to be called, however unfairly, the dustbin of Europe.

4.1 p.m.

My Lords, it is sad and disappointing that the list of speakers is so short. It makes us all the more grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, for giving at least a few of us the opportunity to debate a problem of the greatest importance to everyone in this country and others too.

I confess to having no expertise in the matter. Until I was privileged to sit as a Member of your Lordships' Select Committee considering air pollution from municipal waste incineration plants, I had a very simplistic attitude towards waste of any kind. Waste was something that one put in a dustbin; someone took it away and disposed of it; and one forgot about it. Occasionally—speaking as a farmer—if one was fortunate enough to live near a factory which produced asbestos waste (I speak of a time long before anyone became aware of its dangers) it was a useful item for making up farm roads. That was what waste meant to me. I believe that to most people in this country waste is not a matter to become excited about. It is disposed of by someone in some way or another, and that is that.

However, listening to the evidence put before the committee, I realised what a very big and dangerous problem it is. Dealing with waste of any kind is hazardous. We were told that in the county of Staffordshire the total cost of waste disposal amounts to £4-5 million or 1 per cent. of the total expenditure of the county council. That is a significant amount.

In the county of Somerset, with no very large conurbations and no great industrial complexes, the cost of waste disposal every year is in the neighbourhood of £625,000. I was interested and rather distressed, although not surprised, to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Rayton, said about the average cost of landfill. It runs at over £2.70 per tonne whereas the new site cost is just over £5 per tonne. Again one can see the magnitude of the problem. It is not a matter on which one can turn one's back and say, "It has gone all right so far and will continue to go all right."

What can we do? We cannot go on dumping waste in the sea as some urban districts and those living near sea coasts have been able to do. That is a cheap way of getting rid of waste and forgetting about it.

Incineration is obviously the largest and most effective way of dealing with waste, but again the costs are very substantial. The cost for Sheffield is nearly £10 per tonne. To acquire incinerators equipped with the most up-to-date techniques which are essential in order to prevent dioxane and other harmful gases being spread into the atmosphere can cost £15 million to £20 million. A new incinerating plant on the outskirts of Paris was estimated to have cost that amount. It is far in excess of the funds available to local authorities. Such incinerators deal with large amounts of waste, if not in an entirely satisfactory way, at least in one which minimises the harmful emissions and leaves the residue in a relatively inert and harmless form. It still has to be disposed of in one way or another. But that is a very much easier thing to do because it has been reduced so much in volume.

On the landfill method of disposal, perhaps I may briefly recount to your Lordships a day that I spent visiting sites in Somerset. My overall impression was of the amount of highly developed technology that is necessary even for landfill which one considers a perfectly simple way of dumping waste in a hole in the ground. It is not only a question of collecting the material and transporting it, but of sorting it to a certain extent. Bottle banks are a good example. There is the sorting of CFC gases from refrigerators so that they can be dealt with separately; there is the sorting of metal which, being of some commercial value, may bring some money to the local authority. That is one aspect.

However, there is the further aspect of the choice of site. Consideration has to be given to the permeability of the subsoil so that there is no risk of contaminating water supplies, and to the remoteness of areas from habitation so that the smell—which is inevitable at times—does not disturb people. One has to ensure that birds—above all, crows which pick up the bits and pieces—do not cause damage or annoyance to neighbouring farmers and inhabitants.

In addition, such large areas must be designed and laid out so that there is adequate drainage and no contamination of the water supplies which will eventually be extracted for human use. We must be able to trap the methane gases which are produced and use them for generating electricity which will earn a small revenue. Dealing with environmental waste is increasingly becoming a technological operation, even as regards the simple matter of landfill.

I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Layton, who has a great knowledge of the subject. I also agree with the general thesis put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Shannon; that we need to have a more serious attitude towards the problem of waste disposal. It is a growing problem and it is becoming increasingly serious. There is a potential source of useable material, if not wealth. A great deal more effort should be devoted to the recycling of waste. It should be separated and use should be made of certain items rather than simply dumping and forgetting about them. Far more research should be carried out into incineration. There is already a great deal of knowledge but there is room for more. We must study the toxic gases which are emitted even from the best-constructed incineration plants.

All such measures must be carried out with a real degree of urgency. As was mentioned by both noble Lords who have spoken, there must be adequate inspection to ensure that those who are responsible for the collection and disposal of waste material, whether household or toxic industrial, carry out their jobs properly. They must have due regard to the widest aspects of the environment not merely to the emission of toxic gases. The whole gamut of environmental protection measures must be carried out on an international scale and certainly on a national scale. However, I believe that the responsibility of collecting waste products of any kind should rest with the local authorities which should be given strong guidance and money for research from central funds. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Layton, that there should be a skilled and experienced inspectorate. At the present time it is woefully understaffed and it will remain so if its responsibilities are further increased as I hope they will be.

4.13 p.m.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, on introducing his appeal for a national environmental waste policy so robustly. I also congratulate him on the conference that he called. I apologise to him for not having submitted my name earlier. However, with the rapid approach of the Bill time is short and we are all so busy that sometimes we miss our opportunities. I thank the House for giving me an opportunity now.

Many national organisations already exist; for example, the British Institute of Cleaning Services, the British Institute of Wastes Management, the British Cleaning Council and Tidy Britain of which I have the pleasure to be chairman having succeeded the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. All those bodies are concerned with the general disrepair of Britain and the fact that it has suffered great difficulties with untidiness and waste disposal.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, has already pointed out that the local authorities are the true experts in the matter. The existing sites which are managed by the local authorities are rigidly controlled and efficiently managed. The British Institute of Wastes Management focuses professional and other attention on the problems caused by infill projects and local authority tips. However, as we in this House approach the new legislation it must be said that, just as there are already existing national councils, there is existing legislation. Part of the problem is that it is flouted by those who create waste and those who fail properly to dispose of it. The carrying of waste across the country for disposal is a source of untidiness, litter and toxic infection. Legislation has long existed to control that but in many cases it is flouted.

In many cases the existing technologies are under-used, as has already been hinted at. In addition, research into the problem is underfunded. We have an understanding of the nature of the problem but we have an inefficient and under employed use of resources.

It so happens that 1990 is Tidy Britain year. It is also the beginning of the decade which has been declared "the clean nineties". It is hoped that the new legislation will deal with some of the fundamental problems that have been outlined in the debate. I shall not take the time of the House by repeating what has been said. However, I wish to emphasise that if there is a move towards setting up yet another council to introduce a cohesive national environmental waste policy—and I consider that that has merits—account should be taken of all the existing bodies before it becomes of interest to those who now see that not for much longer will they escape the consequences of flouting the existing legislation.

The House is today debating the subject and will discuss it again on a Friday. Despite that, there is in Britain a general consensus that we should tackle the problems of dirty beaches, foul water supplies and litter and that we should do so in a national, co-ordinated way. I wish to point out to the Government in a friendly fashion that local authorities have come to think that they are not properly respected by central government and that their efforts are not properly regarded. I make an appeal that in this case we should have a body of expert inspectors of the environment throughout the country in local authorities, which, with diminished resources, have grappled with the growing problem.

I wish to give the House an example of how daily the nature of the problem becomes more difficult as the attempts to grapple with it become more serious. In Pembrokeshire, my home county, agriculture is basic to the economy of the area and the people. I have noticed that there is a new technology whereby every early potato is planted under a plastic cover. Now as one drives through the lanes and highways of Pembrokeshire, one sees that each field is covered in plastic. When the south-westerly gales come off the Cleddau estuary the plastic is lifted from the potatoes and wrapped around the blackthorn bushes. The plastic is indestructible and is causing a new problem, or a new aspect to an old problem.

Telephone directories have been buried in the infill projects of the world and show the date when each layer was laid. As the sites are dug up one can see from the date of the telephone directory, which has not changed its nature in the slightest, exactly when it was put into the infill project. I believe that most, if not all, of the states of the United States have outlawed infill projects and that that material will be dug up. In fact, there is a saleable product emerging from some of the new technologies and there is an end buyer for some of it. I know that your Lordships will know of the great machines which produce material called fines. That can then be used in agriculture and horticulture. Therefore, there is marketable product.

The first important point to bear in mind is that we have steeled our nerve about the problem. The second is that we are in the nervous nineties. In grappling with the Bill I believe that we should try to make certain that it is amended in order to face up to some of the very basic problems with which it does not seem to deal in its present form.

4.20 p.m.

My Lords, we are particularly indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, for enabling us to have what could be described as a curtain raiser debate to the debate which we shall have in a few days' time on the Environmental Protection Bill. Our attention has already been drawn to the unfortunate choice of a Friday for such an important debate but, quite apart from that, the Bill deals with so many wide-ranging matters—and waste is one of the more important of them—that to have a preliminary discussion at this stage seems to me entirely appropriate. This is all the more the case as noble Lords who have spoken so far have personal experience of the subject and I believe that they have made a very positive contribution to the developing debate.

The fact is that the whole question of waste has entered more and more into the public domain. However, let us not assume that this is the first time in our national history that we have been anxious about waste. In the days of horse-drawn traffic the accumulation of manure on the streets of London caused serious problems. Calculations were made by the economists of the day as to how that would grow into great mountains before the century came to an end. Before the century came to an end another means of transport was developed. Human ingenuity knows no bounds. However, in turn that led to other emanations which have caused other sorts of problems with which we are now seeking to grapple. Therefore, this is an ever changing scene. It may be argued that because it is ever changing at no point in time can one say,
"Well, this is it. Now let us have a clearly defined policy to deal with it".
However, I suggest that we have reached a situation in which enough has been done to recognise the problems of waste in the society in which we live at present to enable us to have a more clearly defined policy than we have at present but which would allow for flexibility and change in the future.

The problem of waste divides itself naturally into two parts: industrial waste—the waste associated with a manufacturing process; and what is called post-consumer waste—domestic waste. In the case of industrial waste the real problem is that a number of industrial processes lead to noxious by-products which must be very carefully disposed of in a controlled manner. I believe that much progress has been made in that direction and more measures of that sort are proposed in the Bill which we shall soon be debating.

What I feel is a shortcoming in our attitude towards waste in industry is that on the whole that attitude is reactive. Enterprises are constrained to carry out certain measures and ways of doing that are found, quite rightly, with the minimum possible expenditure. We need a more pro-active attitude. A good example of that was given by the noble Lord, Lord Layton in his very interesting speech, of a saw mill in Northern Ireland which has found a way of sawing wood without creating sawdust. Therefore, a waste problem is automatically eliminated. That should be encouraged.

How can it be encouraged? Businessmen are businessmen and the best way of encouraging them is to give them an incentive. I feel that some sort of fiscal incentive would be highly desirable and certainly there should be no fiscal disincentive such as a I found in the coal industry when dealing with the problem of pit heaps. We developed a way of reclaiming the material on the pit heaps for the purpose of providing road in-fill material. However, as long as the pit heap remained in place it was not rateable. As soon as we started to take away the material and began filling in roads with it, it became a commercial operation and we immediately had to pay rates. That made it much more difficult for us. I regard that as a fiscal disincentive to being pro-active. I merely illustrate the mysterious ways in which we seem to operate. Perhaps in reviewing the whole policy of waste in industry we might, in order to stimulate positive thinking, have a degree of fiscal incentive.

When one looks at domestic waste, that is a different problem. It all comes together in the family dustbin at the end of the day. However, there has been one big social change: we notice that in all our households our wives, children and so on are keen to do something about the problem. That is a big phenomenon which is emerging in Britain today and I do not believe that we are taking sufficient advantage of it. I believe that people who feel that they should so something about the problem are not clear as to what they can do. There may or may not be a local bottle bank or a place where tins can be disposed of. There may or may not be a waste paper collection. In the end, most people say, "We'd like to do something about it but we can't work this out", and they shove all the waste into one dustbin which is then taken to the landfill site and disposed of in what we all recognise as the least effective manner.

The Secretary of State for the Environment has made it clear that the aim of the Government is to recycle at least 50 per cent. of recycleable materials in domestic waste by the end of the century. That is a very laudable and desirable objective. However, we must ask how that is to be achieved. How are we to move from where we are today—when the proportion reclaimed is in low single figures—to the Secretary of State's 50 per cent.? Many changes must be introduced.

One simple way of setting about change is to facilitate the separation of household waste. That is being practised in other countries. For example, in Ontario, Canada, there is the blue box system. They have separate collections at different times of the day and week for different forms of waste. Experiments are now being carried out on a similar basis by forward-looking local authorities such as Sheffield, Richmond and one or two others. I strongly recommend to the Government that, as soon as those experiments and any other studies which are considered necessary are concluded and if they are serious about the idea that domestic waste can be recycled in such high proportions, they should introduce a legislative framework within which the separation of domestic waste can be brought about and facilitated.

Therefore, there are ways in which, through the adoption of clearly defined policies to be enshrined in the appropriate legislation, we can move forward very positively. Where I believe the Environmental Protection Bill falls short is that, while it sets up a regulatory and monitoring system, it leaves open the actual policies to be pursued. I read Part II of the Bill with great care to find out what those policies were to be. I am afraid that they are not very clearly defined. There are all sorts of restrictions on doing wrong things but what those wrong things are is not properly defined and there is no incentive to do the right things.

I suggest that, in tackling that part of the Bill, we bear in mind that there has been a gigantic step forward in the public attitude towards the waste problem. I believe that industry and the public in general are really prepared to move but there must be guidance. More than guidance, there must be a clearly defined legislative framework which must reflect the work being done within the European Community and in other countries. In an area in which international efforts are very considerable, we have an opportunity to move forward so long as we do it in a way which is more practical and effective than we have so far.

4.30 p.m.

My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, on his choice of subject for the debate this afternoon, and for the way in which he introduced it. I do not think that even he realised quite how topical the debate was going to be when he won the ballot. This, after all, is the week when the 23 other members of the conference taking place in Norway, which was called by Ms. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Prime Minister of Norway, expressed great shock that the Secretary of State for the Environment, having undertaken to attend the conference himself, decided to send a junior Minister.

I appreciate that the Secretary of State for the Environment has major problems with the poll tax, but I suggest that they will not go away because he is absent for a few days at an environmental protection conference. I suggest that if he is making any attempt to preserve the green credentials which he so proudly waved when he first took office, he would have been wiser to attend the conference himself and not send a more junior Minister.

The noble Earl, Lord Shannon, has a second reason for being fortunate in his timing in that, as he observed he has timed this debate for the week before the Second Reading of the Environmental Protection Bill. I am not one of those who protested loudly with regard to the timing of the Second Reading debate. That is not because I do not agree with those who said that the subject matter of the Bill was of great importance and should have the utmost prominence in the timetable for business in your Lordships' House, but because I do not believe that the Bill is very important. It is in no way adequate to address the major issues which confront our society in the control of pollution and environmental protection.

Even if the Bill goes through with the major amendments for which we shall be looking, I fear that it will still need to be followed by a more comprehensive programme for environmental protection rather than simply for control of pollution. That must certainly be undertaken in the next Session and the subject must be treated as a high priority by the Labour Government which will be elected at the next election. The debate therefore is one which continues. It is not one which we should anticipate in too much detail on Second Reading next week.

The thrust of the noble Earl's speech, and of his conference which he held towards the end of April, concerned the need for government to impose obligations on industry and to ensure that it is forced by statute to declare environmental protection programmes and strategies and to act on them effectively under the control of an inspectorate. We disagree with none of that. Many of us feel that we already have an environmental inspectorate in the form of the officers of local authorities, who have been our environmental protection inspectorate for around 150 years. However, that is a relatively minor disagreement.

We, in our Labour policy, have been in agreement for many years with almost everything that the noble Earl says. He refers to the need to enshrine the polluter pays principle. He refers to the need for adequate access to information on environmental matters; and that means information from individual plants and companies,not just in general terms. He refers to the need for strict liability. With all those matters we on these Benches strongly agree. If the noble Earl intends to introduce amendments to the Environmental Protection Bill along those lines, he will find that we have comparable amendments. We shall have to come together to ensure that they have the greatest effect because they are best presented in agreement with each other.

The most interesting point arising from the debate this afternoon is the way in which it is already clear that the Government will be surrounded by well-informed and very able critics of the Environmental Protection Bill. I do not mean faced by able critics; I mean surrounded in the sense of the Cross-Benchers and the Minister's own Benchers.

Obligations on industry, however valuable, and however important it may be that they are supported by statute, as the chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority said in response to the noble Earl's survey, are only part of the effort required if we are to have effective environmental protection. Noble Lords will forgive me if I state a number of examples regarding the way in which local authorities, the voluntary sector and the academic community can play a role in environmental protection. These examples are taken almost at random because there are so many, but they will give a flavour of the way in which we could and should be making progress.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to the blue bin system being considered in Sheffield. I commend to him and to the House the activities of Leeds City Council, which, together with a company called SWAP—Save Waste And Prosper Limited set up by the voluntary bodies in the community in Leeds in collaboration with the city council—has been investigating the possibilities of what is called the split bin system. In other words, they have the same bin with divisions for organic and inorganic materials and a separate collection system for recyclables. I have confessed to the House before that I have great difficulty in differentiating between organic and inorganic. I was a student in the United States in the 1950s. I never understood the distinction between garbage and trash which was required by the local authority of the city of Columbus, Ohio. I knew what the article was; it was the correct name which caused me difficulty.

The idea of a split bin system seems to me to be eminently reasonable. There is a division in the bin, and when the waste goes into the vehicle there is a division in the vehicle. That achieves what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is rightly commending, which is the separation at source of different sorts of waste for which different solutions are required.

There is an important economic lesson to be learnt when dealing with recyclables. Glass manufacturers estimate that it costs £35 to recover a tonne of glass which, in turn, is only worth £25. On strict Thatcherite principles that means that the whole exercise is pointless. However, if one looks at the effect on the environment, the cost of disposal of that glass by other means and the effect of the lower utilisation of the raw materials of glass, the balance of financial advantage becomes quite different. The difficulty is that a single company cannot make that social cost calculation. It has to be done by society as a whole. We need to balance in our costing the value of the recycled material together with the cost of alternative, less satisfactory methods of disposal.

The same is true of cars and tyres. Norway introduced a system whereby a deposit is paid when a new car is purchased. That deposit is returned only when the car is scrapped by an authorised dealer who has the responsibility and the facilities to recover the metal and the plastic material from the car. That is something which requires government action. It is not up to individual companies to do it. The Government have to take an initiative in imposing that kind of penalty for inadequate scrapping of cars.

The same argument applies to tyres. I will not deal with the economics of using tyres as a source of heat, although there are experiments in California and Connecticut which show that it is possible. There are methods of cryogenic reduction of waste tyres. There is probably one tyre made waste each year for each member of the population of this country. That means that tyres combined with other materials would become not only a relatively cheap but also a very effective method of road surfacing. That has been done in Sweden. Why is it not being done in this country? I hope that is another question which the Minister will consider in his reply.

1 now turn to the recycling of plastic from domestic refuse. It may be that there are individual commercial companies which carry out the work. The example which comes to mind is the study being carried out in Manchester by the University of Salford Business Services Limited, the Greater Manchester waste disposal authority and the Government's laboratory at Warren Spring. Here the collaboration between government, local authorities or ex-local authorities and the academic sector means that there is a possibility of significant improvement in the recycling of plastic.

Perhaps the most urgent and widely known problem which the Government now face is not how to deal with new waste but how to deal with old waste. In recent months we have learnt of the dangers from the very large number of landfill sites around the country containing toxic materials which are seeping out. Any governments who claim to have a coherent environmental protection policy must do rather better than this Government have done so far by saying what they will do about the dangerous landfill sites. Lists have been published for the first time. In effect, these sites have been concealed for many years. They are rightly causing concern in hundreds if not thousands of communities around the country.

I will not give other examples of the way in which waste policy in this country is inadequate. From the very few examples that I have given it is quite clear that, in addition to the remedies proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, relating to the responsibilities of industry, we have major responsibilities which the Government must assume. They must collaborate with local authorities and the voluntary sector. I am not going to make an advance or a rehearsal Second Reading speech on the Environmental Protection Bill, though I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that when it comes to defining the evils which it seeks to prevent it is remarkably vague.

The fundamental issue which noble Lords must consider this afternoon and which we must consider when we debate the Bill during the summer and autumn is this: who pays for an effective environmental protection policy? Where do the costs lie and now are we going to assume a proper balance with fiscal incentives, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, or penalties and recalculation of the cost, as the noble Lord, Lord Layton, said in his admirable speech?

My noble friend Lord Parry and the noble Lord, Lord Walston, spoke about the role of local authorities. In the balance of the responsibilities between government and local authorities I do not believe we have yet got the matter right. There is a good way further to go. There is a need for much more listening to the expertise of local authorities as we consider the Bill, the White Paper and the legislation which is to follow. In the meantime the noble Earl's initiative is most welcome. We agree with a very large part of what he had to say.

4.44 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment
(Lord Hesketh)

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, on his choice of subject for today's debate and on his timing. I knew well before the debate the depth of expertise in your Lordships' House on this subject. I well remember last year piloting the Private Members' Control of Pollution Amendment Act through your Lordships' House and the high standard of debate which that promoted. I have not been disappointed today by the distinguished contributions.

The timing of today's debate is also particularly fortunate. It offers a curtain raiser to the much longer debates which I am sure that we shall be having on the Environmental Protection Bill over the next few weeks. The subject of waste occupies the largest single section of that Bill, and it is a valuable opportunity to put the government measures in the Bill in the context of our wider policies on waste.

I must first of all remind your Lordships that the Government have waste management policies. There has been criticism that our general approach, and this Bill in particular, are piecemeal in the way that they tackle waste management problems. Partly this reflects the fact that the Bill and our other measures are building on the existing system in the 1974 Act and partly it is true that the Government have been fire-fighting problems as they arise. Such problems as the import of toxic waste and landfill gas at abandoned waste disposal sites have come very suddenly into public prominence. We have had to take measures to deal with them.

It is also true that we cannot consider the United Kingdom's policies in isolation. The UK's membership of the European Community is the greatest external influence on the development of our waste policy. At first the Community adopted environmental law only where it was necessary to equalise the conditions of trade, but since the coming into force of a Single European Act in 1987 the Community has had an express remit to legislate on the environment. The European Community now has a sheaf of directives on waste.

There is the so-called framework directive of 1975 which defines waste and which requires member states to set up competent authorities and requires these competent authorities to produce waste management plans and to license waste disposal facilities. It is no exaggeration to say that the Control of Pollution Act 1974 was the model for this directive. There is the toxic and dangerous waste directive of 1978 which lays down more stringent controls for toxic and dangerous waste than in the framework directive. There are two directives on particular types of waste—on the disposal of waste oils and on the disposal of PCBs. Finally, there are two directives on the transfrontier shipment of hazardous waste. A number of these directives are now being renegotiated.

Although the Community issued these merit-worthy directives, there was no context and no overall Community waste policy into which they fitted. That was a deficiency corrected in March of this year when the Council of Environment Ministers adopted a resolution on waste policy. The resolution starts off from the premise that unless there is a waste management policy as a consequence of economic growth—the fundamental purpose of the Community—more and more waste will be created. It describes a waste management policy that will reverse this trend, this peril of affluence.

The use of low waste and clean waste technology is endorsed, as it is more easy to dispose of products themselves. Where waste is unavoidable, recycling and the re-use of waste is encouraged. Where waste cannot be recycled or re-used, the council said that the Community must plan for and build an adequate network of disposal sites. More than this, the council said that it was desirable for member states individually to aim at self-sufficiency in waste disposal. All these ingredients of a Community waste management policy, it will be noted, play their part in the Government's national waste management policy.

There are of course other international influences at work. At the global level the United Nations environment programme has produced the Cairo guidelines on waste management and the Basel convention on the specific subject of the transfrontier shipment of waste. Then there is the OECD, which is made up of the free market democracies. The OECD has almost specialised in the subject of transfrontier shipments and it was a major source for UNEP's Basel convention.

The UK supports these international measures, each and every one. In the case of the European Community they are hardly international measures but measures from our own hearth. There is an international waste management policy and a national one, and they coincide. The Control of Pollution Act 1974 was the progenitor of the European Community's framework directive. I am not too bashful to detect a new British influence on the Community mind as it now turns to revise the framework directive.

Within this international context, we have domestic overall policies on waste. These are reflected in the Bill which will be coming before your Lordships' House on Friday week. I shall pick out a few of the strands of policy which noble Lords will find in the Bill.

First, the polluter pays principle is being introduced to waste. One modest step towards this is the introduction of charges by regulation authorities. The regulation of waste management is expensive and is likely to become more so. It is only right that the producer of waste, which ultimately means the consumer, should meet these costs through the charges on licences.

It is vital that all waste producers should meet the full costs of the waste they produce. That is not only fair it is also the most effective market means of encouraging waste minimisation and recycling. Waste minimisation and recycling must be made to succeed on the basis of genuine economic viability. Undeserved subsidies are not a long-term solution to encouraging environmentally friendly routes. We do not want to lower the cost of recycling by subsidy; rather we want to increase the comparative cost of disposal, which will happen anyway as a by-product of meeting increasingly tough environmental standards.

But that brings in another strand of policy. The higher the standards and the higher the costs of disposal, the more incentive there is for evasion and law breaking. If we are expecting the legitimate disposal industry to invest heavily in plant, equipment and sites to a very high and expensive standard, we must ensure that it is not undercut by a lower standard or downright illegal competition. That means that we must make the flow of waste from producer to disposer tightly sealed against leakages from the system. However, the biggest step to curb illegal dumping is to cut off the supplies of waste before they ever reach the unscrupulous who could undercut.

That is where the duty of care comes in. The duty of care, for which credit is due to the Select Committee under the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, and to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, is not only a means of making producers responsible for the subsequent destination of their waste. It also offers a big step forward in enforcement and detection for waste regulation authorities. Combined with the registration of carriers under the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act, the duty of care will provide a chain of movements of waste that can be traced from producer to disposer to find where anything has gone wrong. That is without the necessity for a bureaucratic and cumbersome scheme of registering every waste producer in the country and without a formal consignment note system on a prescribed format such as we use for special waste. I believe that this is quite a reasonable balancing act between minimising bureaucracy and ensuring a sealed pipeline of waste from producer to disposer that can be properly policed.

With this sealing of waste disposal routes we can and shall press for much higher environmental standards. This will be largely achieved by turning the screw on waste management licences. The department will continue to issue waste management papers on the technical standards to be expected at disposal sites. We are determined to see a steady raising of pollution control standards everywhere, so that even the worst sites are operated at the standard of today's best. The control of standards by setting and enforcing licence conditions is the unglamorous bread and butter side of waste management that will not be found in the newspapers. But it is also the most important.

Another problem area, also touched on in the Bill, is that of the international trade in waste. In the past two years there has been rather more heat than light on the subject of waste imports. The odd thing is that, almost unnoticed amidst the thunder of outrage, we have reached a consensus on policy. It is now generally agreed that movements of waste across international frontiers are to be discouraged. Developed countries should certainly be able to deal with their own waste. It is also agreed that there may have to be exceptions and that we may need to help out developing countries and some of the smallest developed ones which lack specialist facilities. There is also a case for exempting movements of waste destined for recycling from those same countries where there are special cases. That is now the Government's policy and we are now very close to hammering out a policy on these lines in Europe and in the OECD. The Bill provides powers for the Secretary of State and local authorities to control international waste movements to implement that policy.

The final major issue addressed in the Bill's provisions on waste is the role of local authorities. I know that many noble Lords and people elsewhere would prefer that the Government had decided to strip the waste regulatory function away from the local authorities completely. The Bill, however, does not take this route. But we expect regulation authorities to show the consistent high standards of work that only a few of them have achieved up to now. I shall explain why the Government believe that statutory regional waste regulation authorities are not the best way forward. We should begin by looking at the measures that we have on the face of the Bill, and which incidentally, we believe, command general support.

Much of Part II of the Bill is concerned with increasing the powers of waste regulation authorities. But we also have to ensure that the authorities themselves do their job. That is why we place so much importance on the separation of poacher and gamekeeper. In future all waste regulation authorities will be divorced from their operational function, which will go into arm's length companies. For the first time regulators throughout the country will be able to concentrate effort and resources on enforcing high standards. There should be no more allegations of poacher and gamekeeper, and the income from licence charges will stop authorities from using the excuse of inadequate resources if they fail to come up to scratch as regulators.

The Secretary of State will issue guidance about licensing and enforcement of which authorities will have to take account. Regulators will be able to gain access to sites and information to enable them to see exactly how waste is being managed in their area. There will also be the tougher licensing regime carrying forward what we had in the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and improving on it in a number of significant areas to close loopholes.

Regulation authorities will have to account for their performance in annual reports, which will lead to local pressure on them to raise standards. But that is not all Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution will inspect and report on the performance of regulation authorities, taking into account the authorities' annual reports. It is worth reminding ourselves that the role of HMIP is not to inspect every waste disposal site in the country. That is the role of the regulation authorities. Rather HMIP will audit the performance of the authorities and publish reports on their performance, praising the good authorities and castigating the bad.

So we will have single purpose regulation authorities, freed from their operational role and untainted by conflicts of interest, enforcing the new licensing system to higher standards and accounting for their performance to their local electorates and to HMIP. I am confident that these measures will lead to higher standards of waste management. But we do not stop there. The Secretary of State will be given new finely targeted default powers to use against authorities which fail in their duties. I hope those powers will rarely, if ever, need to be used but they are there and regulators should take note that they will be used if necessary.

Running alongside all those measures to raise standards, there will also be encouragement for authorities to co-operate in voluntary joint arrangements for waste regulation. This voluntary co-operation will lead to greater consistency in waste regulation. The Department of the Environment is now actively pursuing this with the local authority associations and I am convinced that the associations will play their full part in formulating voluntary regional arrangements. Indeed there has already been some co-operation between authorities.

The improvements to waste management standards which we all wish to see can be achieved by the measures in Part II of the Bill, implemented by regulation authorities participating in voluntary regional co-operation. We must not disrupt local authorities just at the time when they are being given the tools to do the job. But rather we should build on the strengths of the existing authorities. If we did go in for a wholesale re-organisation of local authority functions we could well jeopardise the genuine gains which will result from the measures in this part of the Bill. I hope therefore that we can all agree that there is a place for voluntary regional co-operation between local authorities. By encouraging and guiding that co-operation and co-ordination of effort and resources we can gain the benefits of higher and more consistent standards without causing unnecessary and damaging disruption.

Those are a few of the policies which find reflection in the Environmental Protection Bill. But I have to agree that such policies are not in themselves a strategy. I believe that we need a national waste strategy, though I am not sure that I agree with everyone else's views on what such a strategy should comprise. I believe that it should include what is proper for government both central and local to do, but is should exclude what is not within the power or competence of government.

We have to recognise that market-based solutions are the best answer to many environmental problems. It is the Government's job to set the standard and the authorities' to enforce it, but within a regime of regulation. It should be perfectly possible for the market to determine the answer adopted for particular wastes. That is especially so in this country where we have a well developed and impressively geared up waste disposal industry. What the industry and the country do not need is anything like a national plan for waste disposal, which might attempt to specify within itself what should happen to which sort of waste and where. With that caveat in mind, I do feel that there is a place for the Government to endorse a national waste strategy as a guide for local authority decisions and a confidence building backdrop for the private sector to make the necessary substantial investments over the next few decades.

One area in which such a strategy could be helpful is in identifying and planning to enable the provision of a sufficient network of strategic specialist facilities around the country. The facilities themselves will have to be provided by the private sector. But public authorities should be able to provide the assurance that a place will be found for them. Responsible local authorities, who are both planning and waste regulatory authorities, should be above the practice of NIMBYism. They should plan for the waste needs of their areas and make sure that the planning and licensing system enable the private sector to bring those facilities into operation. Every region produces waste: no region should expect another to dispose of it for them.

There is a need for strategic co-operation at a level higher than that for an individual authority. Many specialist facilities need a catchment area greater than that of a single county. There is quite a rational case, recognised freely by the Government in our publications, for regional scale co-operation in the planning for waste management. We have not taken the route of setting up statutory authorities; but we believe that authorities should be co-operating on a regional scale.

One facet of this is the ending of waste tourism. On the international scale, we have agreed within Europe on the general principle of minimising waste movements between countries. I see no reason why this policy should not also be applied on a regional level. There is no good reason why major flows of waste should have to take place from one end of the country to another or one end of a county to another; it cannot be environmentally beneficial, nor is it entirely driven by the consumer. More often, major flows of waste reflect differences in the willingness of different parts of the country and their local authorities to deal with their own waste or to regulate it to the same standards as their neighbours. That is not a responsible, rational or tolerable situation. Waste disposal facilities should be provided in places that are most suitable for those facilities, and where the market for waste disposal exists. They should not be provided in areas of least organised public protest and most obliging councillors and officials.

These are among the issues which the Government believe should comprise a national waste strategy. I am not sure that we can meet on all points with the views expressed by the noble Earl, both at his conference and during today's debate. However, I can say that we share his wish to create such a strategy. Officials of the department are now in contact with the local authority associations who must be our essential partners in any new strategic approach to the problems of waste management responsibilities. I expect to be able to come before your Lordships' House at a later date to report the progress that we are making.

I move on now to deal with specific points raised by noble Lords during today's debate. My noble friend Lord Layton and the noble Lord, Lord Walston, mentioned the funding of HMIP and what they referred to as the lack of resources. I can assure the House that the Government and the department are well aware of the problems which have arisen. We have increased the salaries of inspectors by about 30 per cent. in order to ensure that recruitment continues successfully and that the inspectorate vacancies are filled. I can assure both noble Lords that HMIP is not being starved of resources to achieve the ends to which it most valuably has to contribute.

Certain noble Lords referred to the United Kingdom as being the dustbin of Europe. I refute that assertion most strongly. If the articles written by Mr. Richard North in the Independent— which I think could be described as an independent newspaper in its own right, apart from its title—were perused by noble Lords, they would see that the newspaper holds a view which states that we are one of the best compilers with European directives both as regards those which lie behind us and those which lie ahead.

My noble friend Lord Layton said that he thought the UK was falling behind in Europe as regards landfill. We feel that we are far from falling behind; in fact, we are actually leading from the front on the issue. We are one of the first countries to have an effective licensing system. No other country has yet proposed a general duty on all waste producers to match the duty of care mentioned in the Bill which will be coming before this House on Friday of next week.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, referred to the recovery of methane from landfill sites. I can assure him that the Government are actively pursuing, through the Department of Energy's energy technology support unit, a number of schemes for the recovery of methane gas from old landfill sites for electricity generation. We are also looking to exploit the considerable potential which lies ahead in that area.

The noble Lord, Lord Parry, referred to local authorities and the perceived shortage of money. I should point out that the new system, to be introduced by the Bill, of charging for licences should ensure that that is not a problem; indeed, the reverse is the case. They will be fully funded and able to carry out their statutory requirements without any hindrance.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. When he reads his speech tomorrow, the noble Lord may find that the adjectives therein give the impression that it is much more likely that one would find a local authority dodging its obligations rather than a polluter. Is he prepared to make some correction to that statement?

I am most surprised by the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Parry. I like to think that my words will receive the unqualified support of his noble friend Lord Mcintosh on the Front Bench. The Government are endorsing local authorities as being pro-active in these arrangements. Far from suggesting, as did the noble Lord, that I used adjectives that do not encourage local authorities, the reverse is the case.

The noble Lords, Walston and Lord Ezra, and other noble Lords, referred to recycling and the need for its encouragement. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to single figure percentage points against the 50 per cent. figure envisaged by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State by the end of the century. The Bill contains many measures to promote recycling. Waste collection authorities will be required to draw up recycling plans. They will be able to keep back waste from the waste stream to recycle. Moreover, my honourable friend the Minister for the Environment has announced that on Third Reading an amendment will be brought forward in your Lordships' House to ensure that they, and others who recycle waste, will benefit financially from the reduced cost to disposal authorities. Such authorities will be required to pay them a proportion of the cost saved. I hope that that will be part of an overall and bigger programme which will achieve the figures that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State desires.

The noble Lords, Lord Ezra and Lord Mcintosh of Haringey, both referred to the "blue box" system. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to it in respect of Sheffield and the noble Lord, Lord Mcintosh, extended the examples to Leeds, if I heard correctly. The Bill provides many measures to encourage this system and others; for example, the preparation of waste recycling plans and the payment of rebates to which I referred earlier by disposal authorities. Those are just two examples of what I hope will be an extension and in no way anything other than an encouragement for the system.

The noble Lord, Lord Mcintosh, referred to tyre recycling. I can assure him that the matter is at present being researched and studied at the Warren Spring Laboratory. The noble Lord referred to the fact that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would not be present at Bergen. He said that the task had been passed to a junior Minister. He was of course referring to my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Environment, who I should have thought is a very suitable Minister to be attending the conference. I can assure him that there are many reasons for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State being busy. I am sure that he will understand when I smile at him and suggest that hope springs eternal.

I should like to say a few words about the noble Earl's suggestion that there should be a council for environmental waste policy. The Government have some reservations. We have had such bodies in the past, and we do not believe that they achieved a great deal. The noble Earl intends that that body should be jointly funded by industry and government and that it should produce a voluntary policy for industry in the management of its waste. I wonder whether there is a need for such a group. The CBI and the CIA—I should point out that that is the Chemical Industries' Association and not another body on the other side of the Atlantic—already produce excellent guidance on waste management for their members which is available to a wider audience. That guidance is drawn up in the way that the noble Earl proposes for his council—by consultation within industry, using the expertise available through the trade associations.

The question is: how would a new council add to that expertise and how would it avoid duplicating it? I am sure that we can look to the industry associations to continue to provide the advice for their members that they have produced so well in the past. If they see a need to come together in larger groups, they will do so. I do not at this moment feel that there is a need for a joint industry and government council. However, we are agreed on the need for a national strategy and for the planning of the provision of waste disposal facilities. I thank the noble Earl for his efforts in promoting such a strategy and for organising the seminar on the subject which occurred last month.

5.11 p.m.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short, short debate. We may have been short on numbers, but I believe that your Lordships will agree that the quality of the contributions was that generally associated with your Lordships' House. All contributors spoke with great knowledge on the various aspects of the subject.

We are all waste producers. Waste is something that will not just go away. A charming example was given by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, when he said, "We put it in the dustbin. We shut the lid, and we turn our backs on it. It is someone else's job". The trouble is that we have made it, and so it is something that we must consider.

As we have heard, there is no universal panacea. Recycling, incineration, minimisation and landfill—not one is that universal panacea. We must have a strategic blend of all those processes. Our decisions on that blend must be based on proper scientific evidence and not on some euphoric dream of an impossible Arcadia.

Perhaps I may give one small example. When one mentions domestic waste, one of the first reactions one receives is, "Oh, excess packaging". No one has yet defined what excess packaging is. It is a statement which has clearly not been thought through. I may not get the percentage figures right, but they are of the right order. The person who complains about the packaging that goes into his dustbin does not seem to realise that over 30 per cent. of the food produced in developing countries is lost before it reaches the consumer. In developed countries, the loss is of the order of 5 per cent. Why? Packaging. We cannot suddenly say, "Get rid of packaging. Get it out of my dustbin." Let us then see how our food bills will increase. The wastage of food will be enormous. We must have good scientific evidence before we start to take any decisions.

Furthermore, we must remember that we, the producers—we are all producers of waste—are the baddies in this game. The goodies are those who are trying to get rid of it, provided that they are responsible. They should be regarded properly if they are worthy of it.

I was pleased to hear what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Layton, with his considerable knowledge of the subject and his technical knowledge of paint sludge, and the chisel, or whatever it was, that does not produce any sawdust. I noticed that, unlike the Minister, he kindly gave approval to my idea of a council. In support of that idea I should like to give a small quotation from a letter received by a colleague of mine from the deputy chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment in the other place who said:
"I am therefore delighted that you have formed a council for environmental waste policy. That seems to me a very welcome step forward".
We also have encouragement from elsewhere.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to the fiscal incentives to business to use new technology. That was followed by a fairly broad hint from the Minister that there would be something of that nature in the forthcoming Bill. The noble Lord also referred to public enthusiasm, both domestic and industrial, which needs encouragement and direction. That is not like the Duke of Plaza-Toro, leading his troops from behind, which I strongly suspect is what one finds in Part II of the forthcoming Bill. It is strong on, "Thou shalt not", but does not contain a great deal of leadership as to which way we are going.

We also heard about the blue bin experiments in recycling. I have heard that they may not be fully economic; but any subsidy which may be found to be required will also be found to be well spent in the long run. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Mcintosh of Haringey, about something with which I was involved many years ago in the Glass Manufacturers' Federation. He pointed out that the glass manufacturers did not want all that cullet back again but were prepared to take it back and make a financial contribution to the environment.

We are pleased to hear that something seems to be in hand with regard to inspection. I would disagree slightly with the Minister because there is no such thing as "the polluter pays". They are the buzz words referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Layton. Let it be fairly and clearly understood: the polluter never pays. It is always the consumer who pays, because eventually the price returns to him.

The Minister kindly gave a carefully delineated list of unenforced directives. When we have inspection and enforcement the situation may improve. It was good to hear of the building up of the network of strategic specialist facilities. Specialist facilities in this field can be expensive. It would clearly be useful for the movement of waste to be dealt with properly rather than improperly because of the need for transportation.

We have had a good short debate. Once again I thank all of your Lordships who participated. I hope that the Government will pay attention to the many wise suggestions made. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Rights Of Way Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Medicine: Complementary And Conventionaltreatments

5.19 p.m.

rose to call attention to recent developments in the field of complementary medicine and its relationship to conventional treatment; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to introduce the subject of complementary medicine in your Lordships' House this afternoon. It is two and a half years since it was last debated. It was introduced on that occasion by the noble Lord, Lord Kindersley, who is most disappointed that he cannot take part today because of an engagement this evening.

I was asked by a noble Lord when I spoke briefly on this subject in a debate on the National Health Service recently what was meant by the word "complementary". There have been a number of attempts to define it, but these have often resulted in more confusion than before. It refers to that body of therapies which in the bad old days were known as "fringe", then more recently "alternative", and which are also sometimes described as "natural medicine". I suppose a useful working definition would be those approaches to health care which do not feature in the conventional medical or paramedical curricula. The better known and developed ones are: osteopathy, chiropractic, herbalism, homoeopathy, acupuncture, naturopathy and healing. But this is in no way to play down the many other approaches that have a great deal to offer.

We should not forget that these are unorthodox only by reference to a particular time and place. For example, chiropractic and osteopathy are mainstream medicine in Canada and the USA. Homoeopathy is orthodox in Germany, France and India, while medicine from plants is still the most widely used therapy throughout the world.

My own interest in the subject is threefold. I came to it—as most people do—as a patient. I had a chronic condition which took complementary methods first to diagnose and then painstakingly to clear up. In the course of a personal odyssey I have experienced more therapies from the patient's end than most people. At the same time, I did my best to study and understand what was going on at each stage, to talk to practitioners about their work, to attend courses and conferences. Arising from this, I acquired two particular interests which I ought to declare. I sit on the Research Council for Complementary Medicine and I chair a board which has been set up to accredit the training of acupuncturists. I shall speak more of this later.

Probably the most significant development in the last two and a half years has been in public acceptance of what the complementary therapies have to offer. Surveys show an ever-increasing willingness to use them, now encompassing about one-third of the population, and an even greater wish to see the major ones at least available on the National Health Service. Whenever I talk to Members of your Lordships, House about health problems, I find that more often than not they have consulted an osteopath, an acupuncturist or a healer as well as—and this is the normal pattern—their GP and specialist. It is not just the patients who are involved. It is significant and profoundly encouraging that medical attitudes are changing fast and official attitudes with them. Probably about half of all doctors now wish to learn about complementary therapies, many with a view to practising them after suitable training. This is a big change.

There is a widening use of massage and aromatherapy among nurses. A major study by the Department of Public Health Medicine at the University of Sheffield, though still unpublished, is expected to show much improved communication between complementary and general practitioners. The Department of Health no longer holds totally aloof from complementary developments and the Medical Research Council continues to help with occasional joint funding of projects. All this is most welcome. The number of practitioners has for years been rising at more than 10 per cent. annually and new clinics and health centres are opening all the time to satisfy public demand.

The Government have always been properly concerned about the professional organisation and training of practitioners, since the public must be safeguarded. It is now accepted, I believe, that it is up to each therapy to make its own arrangements in the light of its own peculiar historical and therapeutic circumstances. Some, like the osteopaths, are moving towards statutory registration. A working party has been established for this purpose with medical representatives who include my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant, supported by the King's Fund. I am sure that the noble Baroness the Minister will be pleased to learn that osteopaths have heeded and acted on the advice of her predecessors.

The body which I chair has arisen from a joint initiative of the Council for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which continues to be active in promoting educational standards, and the Council for Acupuncture, which represents the major colleges. We are setting up an accreditation board consisting of representatives from acupuncture, the medical profession, education, the other therapies and the public interest, with the aim of establishing professional standards in training and accrediting those colleges which meet the standards. It is a model which is working successfully in the USA and which other therapies may perhaps decide to follow.

Another development of interest is that the healers—who are now far more widely accepted than they were a few years ago—through their umbrella Confederation of Healing Organisations have produced a very thorough code of conduct which has won the approval of the royal colleges. They have also forged links with many hospitals and family practitioner committees. They are in the process of mounting a series of clinical trials into the effectiveness of their work.

This brings me to research. It is a key area in terms of demonstrating what a therapy can or cannot achieve. It is also a difficult area because both money and research expertise are in short supply in the complementary medical world. Drug companies do not give funding to therapies that might put them out of business. The RCCM has been addressing these issues since its beginnings in 1983 and has found money for a number of valuable studies as well as, more fundamentally, for a research methodology fellowship at Glasgow which has just successfully run its course.

We have recently seen the publication of results from Queen's University, Belfast, which show the effectiveness of acupuncture in nausea from cancer chemotherapy and in morning sickness in early pregnancy. In 1988 the British Medical Journal published the results of a successful study in teaching GPs how to teach their patients relaxation techniques to reduce blood pressure. The chiropractic profession's research department at its college in Bournemouth has been running successful projects on back pain and other areas which involve close co-operation with hospitals in 11 health authorities.

A project run from the Centre for the Study of Complementary Medicine in Southampton is busy investigating the body's electro-magnetic fields, which may be able to give advance warning of impending disease. These are just a sample of the research projects which have been mounted over quite a wide area.

Academically the picture is encouraging. Both the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic and the British School of Osteopathy have recently gained degree status for their courses. Complementary medicine is now on the curriculum in Glasgow, the largest medical school in Europe. Exeter University, whose centre for complementary health studies is the only one of its kind in the Western world, will run B.Phil and M.Phil courses from this autumn, looking at complementary health care from a wide perspective. Finally, there is the real possibility of a chair of complementary medicine being established at one of our leading universities.

Co-operative ventures with mainstream medicine are increasing. Those of your Lordships who come to the parliamentary group meetings will have heard of the integration of therapists in the cardiac department of the Charing Cross Hospital and at the Marylebone Health Centre where significant savings are being shown in drugs, hospitalisation and referrals. There is now a fruitful link between the Bristol Cancer Help Centre and the Hammersmith Hospital. That is something that until recently would have been unthinkable, so deep was the philosophic divide. A national consultative council has just been formed to try to bring therapists together on the political front. Through all this the Institute for Complementary Medicine continues to provide an information service for the general public.

It is sad to report that there was no follow-up to the pioneering colloquia under His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales at the Royal Society of Medicine between 1984 and 1987. The doctors in charge at that time seemed to feel that co-operation had gone far enough for the present. However, a good account of proceedings was eventually published. It can be found in the Library under the title Talking Health.

Those in the field of complementary medicine in this country are grateful for the freedom to practise their art under common law. It is a freedom which brings responsibility with it, and I have tried to show how some of this responsibility is being faced. I trust that the Government will continue to defend this freedom and will not give way to sectional interests, whether from this country or abroad, however plausibly represented.

What complementary medicine offers is, I believe, of enormous worth. I am not thinking just of the financial savings which are there for the taking if the massive investment in high technology intervention after the event can be reduced. I am thinking of a different way of looking at things, of innovation, which is a vital ingredient in a profession. In a number of areas modern medicine has become stuck. Cancer is one such area. There are approaches here that merit a lot more investigation than they are getting. Dietary and psychological approaches are just two. It is the fashion to say that health is too important to embark on this kind of approach. I believe it is too important not to. As a patient I also believe that it is too important to be left to doctors. I think doctors would tend increasingly to agree with that.

These other therapies, however, cannot make their full contribution without more funding. We all know that homoeopathy is in theory available on the health service, but the financial disincentives to doctors to train are so dire that in practice there are few of them about. The recent change in the rules on licensing herbal medicines is a sad step in the wrong direction and threatens a whole range of well tried remedies. There are social reasons too. To give one example, once homoeopathy is fully accepted the efficacy of the infinitesimal dose will cast quite a different light on arguments for the safety of pollutants in the environment.

But it is not just a question of money. Despite the many advances I have outlined, there is still a gap of understanding in some scientific quarters. I have thought for some time that this revolves round a confusion between the aims of science and medicine, which are too often treated as though they were the same thing. Science sets out to explain the natural world; medicine sets out to make people well. They often overlap but they are essentially different.

A malign consequence of this confusion is that only one kind of evidence is generally accepted in medical circles. Anything outside this is called "unscientific". That is an unhelpful use of language, as what it usually means is only that the principles are not yet understood. Was the principle of, say, television unscientific in 1900 but scientific by 1940? There is also still a tendency to talk of fraud and charlatanism when what is really involved is, again, a failure to comprehend. Frauds there are of course, but I think they are few. They are far outnumbered by the enthusiasts who may have a valuable therapy but who have also a cavalier attitude to evidence of any kind. That is as unproductive in one direction as the rigid scientific view is in the other.

There is a striking scene in Brecht's Life of Galileo where the scientist is standing in front of his telescope while the academics argue whether or not to look through it. He urges them repeatedly to come and look, but in the end they decide there is no point because they know already that the heavens cannot be as Galileo says they are. Innovators who were likewise pilloried include Pasteur, Lister, Freud and many, many others.

The resisters of change are always there. They are the ones who only ever discuss acupuncture at the level of infected needles, or herbs in the context of an exceptionally rare adverse reaction. They generally take care never to get too close to the phenomena they ridicule. They forget that probably only about 20 per cent. of modern medical techniques have themselves been scientifically validated. That figure was put forward by the conventional physicians in the RSM colloquia I mentioned. They help create the kind of climate in which a majority of patients do not dare to tell their GPs they have sought help elsewhere. I often wonder how many so-called spontaneous remissions may in fact be due to undeclared visits to a healer or herbalist. Of course I do not claim that the seeds of distrust are sown only by the orthodox, because there is fear and incomprehension on the other side too.

Anything the Government can do to help complementary therapists legitimately to find their feet through training, research, registration or other means will, I think, be effort and money well spent. They suffer at present under quite a few handicaps. There is gratitude for what has been done so far and for a new openness to complementary approaches. There is gratitude also for the stance of benign neutrality which contrasts with that of many other governments. If this stance could become a bit more benign and a bit less neutral, I know the country would benefit. I beg to move for Papers.

5.37 p.m.

My Lords, it is my great pleasure on behalf of your Lordships to thank the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, for introducing this debate. As he said, it is the first debate that we have had on complementary medicine in this House for two-and-a-half years. I must first of all apologise to the noble Earl, my noble friend and to the House for the fact that, due to a previous engagement, I shall not be able to stay for very long. Some noble Lords will ask themselves what on earth I am doing speaking on alternative medicine. I too wonder why I am speaking today, but as the immediate past president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents I hold the safety of the public close to my heart. It was for that reason that I readily agreed to take over the sponsorship of a survey of osteopathic schools from our late dear friend Lady Lane-Fox. Now noble Lords know the reason why I am speaking in this cebate.

I should like to make some general remarks which, while principally concerning the training of osteopaths, do, I think, hold lessons for all the main complementary therapies. I was surprised and not a little disturbed to learn that training courses in osteopathy range from a four-year degree course to part-time and correspondence courses offering little more than a few weekends' training in manipulation. In an independent primary contact profession such as osteopathy it is clearly essential for the safety of patients that all practitioners are trained sufficiently in the skills of diagnosis. This is not to enable them to compete with doctors but to communicate and work more closely with the medical profession, which is clearly of benefit to patients.

Practitioners must be capable of identifying conditions where osteopathic treatment would be inappropriate or even hazardous and thus know when a patient requires immediate referral to his general practitioner. I feel sure that the public interest would be best served by legislation that registered as many practising osteopaths as possible. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister would agree that any system of statutory registration should require and be based upon the highest possible standards of training. I believe that the future of complementary medicine will depend upon its ability to provide credible standards of training and an educational provision based upon the accepted norms within other comparable orthodox health care professions.

I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Balwin, for referring to the King's Fund Working Party on Osteopathy, which resulted from discussions that took place after the last debate on complementary medicine initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Kindersley. It seems appropriate that the King's Fund, which is so often at the centre of important developments in the field of health care, should be involved in this initiative. I know that osteopaths would wish me to express their thanks to both the noble Lord, Lord Kindersley, and to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, who, as President of the King's Fund, encouraged this important development. Ministers should also be congratulated on their part in supporting the work of the working party by the appointment of two officials from the Department of Health to act as observers to the working party.

I believe that the other main therapy groups will be watching developments within the osteopathic profession with interest. Clearly osteopaths have engaged in the detailed work which will provide a route that others may more easily follow in the future.

5.41 p.m.

My Lords, I too should like to express my appreciation to the noble Earl for giving us the opportunity for this debate. He skilfully outlined the very wide spectrum of different therapies. I should like to confine my remarks to a particular field which the noble Earl mentioned several times, namely that of homoeopathy. I am in no way an expert but my credentials are that I have benefited for the whole of my life, as a patient, from homoeopathic treatment as well as from orthodox medicine.

As the noble Earl said, in the homoeopathic field there is a considerable and growing patient demand. At the same time there is an upsurge of interest among young doctors and medical students. But it is not yet remotely possible to satisfy that growing demand because of the insufficient supply of specialists, educators, research workers and clinical opportunities in hospitals.

However, there are hopeful aspects. In the last year, as the noble Earl indicated, there have been signs of a considerable change of heart among doctors. The medical school of Glasgow, which is the largest medical school in Europe, may be taken as an illustration. It is accepted there by orthodox practitioners that complementary medicine must be evaluated. There are currently 350 places on homoeopathic courses at Glasgow. For the past three-and-a-half years there has been a fellowship to examine this area, 50 per cent. financed by the Medical Research Council. That is very encouraging. The fellowship has been exploring integrated care for the benefit of patients, referring patients either to orthdox practitioners or to forms of complementary medicine as their particular circumstances require. Sometimes in the homoeopathic field and elsewhere in the complementary sector that approach has had enormous success.

Great strides have been made in education in Glasgow. Some 80 medical professionals are about to start on a three-year training course after graduation. The course offers alternatives according to the interest and ability of the trainees and the amount of time they can afford to devote to it. Each of the three years is self-contained. If the trainees attend for just one year they will at least gain an awareness of the potential. They can then direct patients to homoeopathic specialists even though they are not necessarily equipped to practice themselves as specialists. Those who take the full course emerge after their three years of pre-registration medical training and three years orthodox medical training, followed by an additional three or four years of specialist homoeopathic training, with considerable specialist ability.

What incentive is there to potential doctors to embark on such a long course of training when there is still no specialist qualification recognised by the Joint Committee on Higher Medical Training at the end of the tunnel? Three years ago in our last debate I ventured to draw the attention of your Lordships to that anomaly. How much progress has been made in the affairs of the joint committee since then? So far as I know, none whatever. That is profoundly disappointing and is not a credit to the royal colleges and those they designate to serve on the joint committee. I hope very much that the change of heart that we have heard is taking place will be reflected in this field. At the moment, while there is demand for treatment and interest among young doctors, there remains that very serious disincentive.

The needs of the five homoeopathic hospitals in the National Health Service remain acute. Glasgow needs a new hospital. The Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital desperately needs rejuvenation. Its premises have not been touched for over 30 years. I believe that a very difficult situation exists in Bristol.

Here we have a manifestation of the effect of a passive lack of interest on the part of the highest strata in the medical establishment. I know that that is not reflected in many parts of the higher strata, such as the noble Lord sitting beside me, but the fact remains that until there is a change of heart in those circles we shall not see the support for innovation, research and development that we require.

5.50 p.m.

My Lords, I too should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, on the comprehensive way in which he introduced our debate this afternoon. I must declare some interests: I am president of the Natural Medicine Society, I am a patron of the Blackie Foundation and, with the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, I am joint president of the Parliamentary All-Party Committee on Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Finally, I try to steer my patients towards complementary therapies whenever possible.

In his address to the British Medical Association in 1983, the Prince of Wales voiced his fear that our current preoccupation with the sophistication of modern medicine would divert our attention from:
"those ancient, unconscious forces, lying beneath the surface, which will help to shape the psychological attitudes of modern man".
Prince Charles went on to suggest that the concept of modern medicine might be slightly off balance. He said that he believed the art of healing should nevertheless take account of the long neglected complementary therapies which,
"in the right hands, can bring considerable relief, if not hope to an increasing number of people".
His Royal Highness used the word "complementary". I think that that is preferable to "alternative", which might seem to represent a position of opposition or even antagonism to orthodoxy. Incidentally, the French call it médecine douce. That composite medicine represents a form of comprehensive diagnosis and treatment, the therapies having not been subjected to the process of "scientification".

Medicine has always been an art. It was not until the advent of statistics and the double blind trial was introduced in the 1940s that technological medicine took over in the form that we know today. Despite the improvements being made in the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, the crisis in health care is still with us. Our debates on so-called health are not about health at all; they are about how much money goes into the orthodox system of health care, which, as noble Lords know only too well, will never be sufficiently funded, whichever administrations are in control.

The modern, research-based scientific advances in medicine over the past 50 years have been spectacular and have brought relief, healing and sometimes health to countless numbers of patients. The growth of knowledge has been such that the different specialties have developed, each competing for and making legitimate demands on the National Health Service budget, which always has fallen short and always will fall short of the personnel and materials needed to benefit all those patients who are perceived by conventional methods of diagnosis to be ill. It has been estimated that about one-third of all patients with chronic symptoms have no organic disease and that another third have symptoms which are unrelated to their organic condition. The skill to understand and relieve the suffering of those patients is just not available within the accepted framework of conventional medicine.

Scientific advances in medicine have also affected the patient-doctor relationship and caused difficulty in communication. Such misconceptions might be why help is sought from practitioners of complementary medicine where patients can at least be assured of a listening ear, despite the fact that the majority declare themselves satisfied with the National Health Service. The complementary therapist has in general more time to talk and inquire into environmental factors which some overburdened general practitioners may overlook or regard as unimportant. The therapy offered usually involves the active participation of the patient. That has obvious appeal in an age when authority, including that of the medical profession, is being challenged and health is considered to lie in self-help.

Noble Lords have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, about the work that the individual therapies are doing to put their houses in order. In her address to the Royal Society of Medicine in June 1986, my noble friend Lady Trumpington said:
"I am firmly of the view that alternative therapists must address the question of standards and qualifications … Many arguments have been put forward for limiting freedom to practise—perhaps through the use of registers".
In many therapies that is now the case. Following our last debate on the subject, discussions took place, for example, with Ministers and leading members of the medical profession which culminated in a consensus that osteopaths should work speedily towards a system of statutory registration. Last week, noble Lords from all sides of the House discussed an amendment to the National Health Service and Community Care Bill to enable budget-holding practices and other GPs to buy services from the complementary therapies for their patients. That amendment was rejected by the Government. Perhaps my noble friend could tell me whether an increase in the use of complementary healers by the NHS might be more likely to occur if the process of statutory registration were to be extended to include many more therapies. Can she give me any advice on the Government's views on self-regulation for the therapies and what they should do in the 1990s to obtain government recognition?

I hope that my noble friend the Minister will forgive me if, as president of the Natural Medicine Society, I repeat an argument which I raised during our last debate on the subject in November 1987. We are still concerned that the advisers to the department who are looking at the problems faced by the Department of Health in reviewing and running a licensed medicine system are predominantly experts in orthodox medicine. It must be logical that the assessment of natural and herbal medicines and the vast range of homoeopathic remedies should be carried out by experts who are familiar with their use and practical application.

Perhaps I may repeat my question and ask the Minister why, despite the fact that there is provision for a special advisory committee on alternative medicines under the Medicines Act 1971 and the fact that many other countries have such a committee, the department continues to refuse any contribution by such experts? I shall remind the Minister of the existence of the Medicines Advisory Research Committee within the Natural Medicine Society. It remains a medicines commission in exile, comprised of people who are able to advise the Government on the licensing of medicines when asked to do so. The refusal of the Secretary of State to accept the nominations of any members of that committee remains a strong disappointment to all of us who believe in the use of natural medicines and are concerned about the effects that that might have on the granting of product licences and on the draft EC directive on homoeopathic medicines.

Once again, I should like to pay tribute this evening to the contributions that my noble friend Lord Ferrier has made over a number of years in campaigning for the acceptance of chiropractic within the NHS. I know that my noble friend Lord Glenarthur will cover that subject in more detail and that my noble friend Lord Ferrier will read our debate. I hope that the Minister will have some encouraging words for him at the end of the debate.

Complementary medicine has a long and distinguished pedigree. It emphasises the holistic approach and the necessity to consider every aspect of the patient, all of which bear on a sense of well-being. It is health and well-being—indefinable terms scientifically—at which complementary medicine aims, with as little interventionist treatment as possible, with a view to enhancing the body's self-healing, self-repairing, self-defending and self-reproducing mechanisms.

In conclusion, I should add my support to that of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, and the Research Council for Complementary Medicine in their plea for more government support for research. Up to £500 million is spent each year on orthodox medical research. Just 1 per cent. of that would make a tremendous difference and, incidentally, match the amount given by the German Government to their complementary research programmes.

In debates in this House I am continually impressed by many noble Lords who are classical scholars and are able to use classical quotations. I should like to emulate them this evening and finish with a quotation from Plato. Despite having taken Latin O-level, I shall use the English translation, which reads:
"The cure of the part should not be attempted without treatment of the whole. No attempt should be made to cure the body without the soul, and if the head and body are to be healthy you must begin by curing the mind, for this is the greatest error of our day in the treatment of the human body that physicians first separate the soul from the body".

5.59 p.m.

My Lords, I too should like to thank my noble friend Lord Baldwin of Bewdley for giving us the opportunity to discuss the subject once again. Like many noble Lords, I am a user of complementary medicines, particularly homoeopathy and acupuncture. I am a satisfied user. I discovered just before the debate began that my noble friend knows my acupuncturist very well. Having talked to him on the telephone, I am happy to pay tribute to my noble friend for the work that he is doing as chairman of the accreditation board looking into the training of acupuncturists. Much useful work has already been achieved.

My noble friend made passing mention of the Marylebone health centre where Dr. Patrick Pietroni, who has recently retired as chairman of the Holistic Medical Association, has been running a model to try to address the problem of the economic issue of complementary medicine when combined with an NHS unit. In all three areas of prescribing, referral and admission, there have been substantial reductions due to the complementary therapies. That has resulted in overall savings for the NHS purse. Admittedly, complementary therapies are costly. However, I argue that they are cost effective and have the added advantage of increasing human caring contact with the patient. I stress the word "caring". Therefore, complementary therapies are not only clinically effective; they can also be economically viable within the system.

Under new government plans, GPs are to be given their own budgets. If they were to use therapy as an alternative to drugs, it might be possible to pay the therapists out of the savings gained. However, that depends on the administering authorities which decide how any savings are to be spent. At the moment savings can only remain in a general practice within certain parameters. I suggest that those parameters should be extended to include complementary therapies.

Massage and counselling, in which I include the increasingly important stress management, have been found to be the most useful therapies and are sought after by both patients and GPs. My wife's experience confirms that. She works in both those fields and her work now extends to the terminally ill, with whom there have been some very encouraging results. Both osteopathy and acupuncture also have been found most useful for immediate pain relief.

I conclude by expressing my belief that complementary medicine or therapy is here to stay. Customers want it; there is no doubt about that. It echoes the spirit of the times; it is "green" if I may so describe it; and it coincides with a need to look after our own planet. That is a matter that increasingly concerns us all.

I hope that the noble Baroness who is to reply and her department keep their fingers on what I am sure will be an increasingly strengthening pulse.

6.2 p.m.

My Lords, as my noble friend foresaw, I should like to deal with one type of complementary medicine that was referred to by the noble Earl when he introduced the debate; namely, chiropractic. My interest almost inevitably stems in part from personal experience. I have undergone that technique to relieve back pain—successfully, I might add—on more than one occasion. But my interest also comes from the fact that for two years I was a Minister in the Department of Health and Social Security. During that time, alternative medicine, as I think it was then called, was part of my policy area. There is a third connection in that my brother is a practitioner of chiropractic. Naturally, much of his enthusiasm has rubbed off on me, let alone his excellent treatment. However, I am not here to give a commercial for him.

I believe that it is important to try to focus a little on the statistics. Recently I read that each year about 2 million people go to their general practitioners with back pain. About 70 per cent. are better in a month and 90 per cent. within three months. But 30 per cent. of them have a recurrence within 12 months. Each year about 400 000 people are referred to hospital with back pain. According to some estimates, the result is that 33 million working days are lost annually. That represents 10 per cent. of all absences from work owing to ill health. According to the Office of Health Economics the cost of back pain amounts to over £1,000 million a year in terms of lost production. Those figures are stark indeed.

If the existing techniques under orthodox medicine cannot be used in full to meet the problem, other techniques will have to be considered and looked at positively. Where does chiropractic fit in? So far as I know there are only two schools of the technique. One is the Institute of Pure Chiropractic, which is often called the McTimoney School, and of which my brother is a practitioner. The other is the British Chiropractic Association which is based at Bournemouth. I have been treated with both techniques and I know of many others who have had one or both of them.

To help reduce the costs and numbers to which I have referred, it was my hope as a health Minister that perhaps one of the techniques most usually recognised as being efficacious in treating back pain might be more formally linked and available to the National Health Service than had been the case. Both osteopathy and chiropractic seemed to fit the bill. But, as I regularly explained to those who encouraged me to make either of those therapies available on the National Health Service, Ministers do not decide which medical treatment should be allowed. That is, or was, a matter for the Committee on Professions Supplementary to Medicine. In other words, it was for doctors to decide. I have to say that doctors were not universally sympathetic.

As I understand it, neither of those two techniques has yet been judged suitable. That is disappointing. The reason lies partly in the fact that the two schools of chiropractic to which I referred do not have a common syllabus, nor do they use precisely the same technique. Although it attempts to do much the same, osteopathy is different again. I urged all of them to reconcile their differences. Indeed, one of the overall problems is, or at least was, that the various proponents of alternative therapies were unable to speak with one coherent voice. That made advances in recognition much more difficult to achieve. The setting up, I think, in January this year, of the national consultative council to which the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, referred—the National Consultative Council for Alternative and Complementary Medicine—is a welcome step in the right direction. It is an organisation for all therapists and is controlled by the therapists themselves. It aims to allow natural therapies access to a platform from which one voice would come.

I believe that its principal challenge is to incorporate into one organisation disparate therapies at different levels of training and competence. To that extent no doubt it will consider the system of minimum requirements, deal with training, safety, a basic code of ethics, insurance cover, and membership of a properly constituted professional body with complaints and disciplinary procedures.

I believe that the development of the council is encouraging. It deserves support, acknowledgement and the chance to prove itself. I am concerned that restrictive legislation, based on the claims of one specific therapy, or group within a therapy, should not be contemplated before all those concerned get their act together. In replying to the debate, I hope that my noble friend will be able to indicate that she recognises the force of that argument.

I should like to refer briefly to one other related matter: the effects of the EC and 1992 upon this important topic. It is particularly important that all patients should be free to choose a therapy that is appropriate to their needs. That was very much the theme of the noble Earl when he initiated the debate. Therefore I trust that Her Majesty's Government will resist the kind of directive from Europe which many fear and which might limit all therapeutic medicine to fully qualified medical practitioners. There are many people in this country who would testify not only to the expertise of chiropractors, which I have dwelt on today, but also to the success rates of acupuncture, homoeopathy (as we heard), osteopathy and many others. If we do not take care, we may find that many of the very successful practitioners of a number of those therapies were unable to practise. That might be widely regretted. It would be unjust and retrograde.

I hope that my noble friend will bear that point in mind and perhaps assure the House, as the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, would have her do, that Her Majesty's Government will not be dictated to in a way which disadvantages practitioners who find themselves inadvertently in the forefront of a fundamental fight to preserve the structure of benefits and freedoms in what hitherto has been enshrined in our common law approach to social legislation.

6.11 p.m.

My Lords, two years ago, on 21st May 1988, Sir Richard Bayliss of the Royal College of Physicians wrote in his college's journal a note of warning about the current increased interest in complementary medicine. He observed that most patients use unconventional treatments to complement, rather than as an exclusive alternative to, orthodox medicine. He has the protection of the word "most" before "patients", but statistics show that many patients enter complementary medical treatment with no prior orthodox treatment or current care—for example, 22 per cent., 27 per cent. and 25 per cent. of those presenting for complementary treatment for neck, back and low back problems respectively. He concluded, however, with the important words:

"Leaving out blatant charlatanism, the main choices are acupuncture, hypnosis, homoeopathy, osteopathy, chiropraxy, herbalism and megavitamins … the same standards of assessment should be used to determine the efficacy of complementary as of orthodox medicine and drugs".
It was for that reason that eight years ago the Research Council for Complementary Medicine (the RCCM) was established. During that period of eight years 109 projects have been presented to the council for a call upon its very limited funds. But in March this year the Department of Health grant of £70,000 towards administrative costs of the council came to an end. Although much appreciated, it pales into insignificance beside the sum of £500 million of government funding and charitable donations for orthodox medical research, about which we have heard already from other noble Lords.

The RCCM has struggled to support some 20 of the proposals put to it on the basis that these would be of primary value in discerning the proper use or mechanism of some of the complementary therapies; and to answer Sir Richard Bayliss's stricture that the same standards of assessment should be used to determine the efficacy of complementary as of orthodox medicine and drugs. But it is difficult to compete with £500 million on a budget of £70,000 plus annual donations.

To me, an exciting example of an easily understood forthcoming project is one to be conducted soon at Huddersfield Polytechnic for a budget of around £5,000, into manipulation for acute back pain. That accounts for a burden estimated by the Office of Health Economics in 1982 at £156 million to the National Health Service. It was alone equivalent to 20 per cent. of the then National Health Service annual capital budget. Remarkably and significantly, in spite of having to pay for the treatment themselves, some three-quarters of a million patients are seen each year by the 330 registered members of the British Chiropractic Association.

With reference to the project, it is believed that back pain patients have abnormal patterns of spinal movement which distinguish different kinds of back trouble and that these patterns can identify patients who will respond well to manipulative treatment. The project seeks to justify those beliefs scientifically. Using an electromagnetic movement analyser developed initially for the aerospace industry, the spinal movement patterns of back pain patients, will be monitored for some months to determine the characteristics of those who respond well to treatment. It is anticipated that the project will not only increase understanding of the types of back trouble but will also enable descriptions to be made of those for whom early manipulative treatment will reduce suffering and incapacity and thus loss of work time. That is all for the sum of £5,000 in contrast to £500 million for conventional medicine.

Demand for complementary medicine and complementary therapies is growing consistently and rapidly in terms of numbers of practitioners, statistically recorded consultations, and surveys in opinion polls. Six months ago a MORI poll recorded that an average of one in three would consider using acupuncture, homoeopathy and osteopathy, and that the vast majority who used complementary therapists—up to 93 per cent. of chiropractic patients—were very satisfied or fairly satisfied. One in three on a national representative basis is about 15 million people.

A slightly earlier attitude study by the City Health Centre in 1988 concluded that the majority—across age, sex, income and occupation—wanted complementary medicine to be available on the NHS and on private health insurance schemes. That was coupled with the key finding that complementary medicine is now a significant health care resource viewed with respect and confidence by a large section of the population.

The European view is still more emphatically towards complementary medicine both in practitioner numbers and in funding. With the approach of 1992 and our ever-increasing links with Europe there is a real need for a co-ordinated research programme into the various complementary therapies that are proving ever more popular through Europe and beyond. France has 10,000 doctors who also practice homoeopathy. We have 500. Validity of homoeopathy and acupuncture is accepted by the French Academy of Science and the prescriptions and consultations to which they give rise are reimbursed by social security payments. In Germany, naturopathy and nature cure are the dominant therapies. Its government are spending 800,000 deutschmarks on complementary medical research, rising to 3 million deutschmarks after three years. In the Eastern bloc, herbalism is very popular. In Switzerland, acupuncture and homoeopathy are widely practised. In Britain, oesteopathy and homoeopathy are perhaps the most consulted therapies.

In conclusion, I believe that additional government funding for the RCCM in Britain would guarantee that adequate research is done, protecting patients from exploitation and encouraging authentic therapeutic practitioners, leading also to greater co-operation between orthodox and complementary practitioners and, importantly, to considerable economies for the NHS, in particular for the drug bill.

The doubters and the unsympathetic would do well to remember that in a Gallup poll four years ago, 50 per cent. agreed with the statement that,
"Human nature is such that we are frequently prevented from seeing that that which is taken for today's unorthodoxy is probably going to be tomorrow's convention".

6.18 p.m.

My Lords, many of your Lordships will know of my long-standing interest in osteopathy. I am extremely grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, for initiating the debate today and for drawing attention to the exciting development of the King's Fund Working Party on the regulation of that profession.

There are a number of other issues affecting the osteopathic profession which I should like to draw to your Lordships' attention. The vast majority of health insurance companies now pay benefit for treatment given by osteopaths registered with the General Council and Register of Osteopaths provided that the patient has been referred by his doctor. BUPA, however, will pay benefit only if the registered osteopath providing the treatment is also a registered medical practitioner. That is anti-competitive because not only does it discriminate against different members of the same register, it also distorts competition between osteopaths and physiotherapists whose treatment costs are reimbursed under BUPA policies. If, as I suspect, in winding up my noble friend says that it is a matter for BUPA and not for the Government, I should ask them to exert their influence on BUPA to come into line with the other health insurance companies.

There is another issue which relates to health insurance. The Government have recently introduced a system of tax relief on private medical insurance policies for the over-60s. Provision for alternative medicine, which in this instance includes the practice of osteopathy is, however, excluded from policies which are eligible for tax relief. The Inland Revenue argues that it wishes to target tax relief on to areas that will result in the relieving of pressure on NHS resources. The Inland Revenue appears to have failed to appreciate that the 3 million treatments given by registered osteopaths each year do indeed relieve the pressure on the NHS.

That regulation does not allow registered osteopaths or other complementary therapists to compete on an equal basis with other paramedical professions such as physiotherapy within the private sector. Surely it is for the insurance companies to determine which treatments should be made available to their clients and for doctors—not the Inland Revenue—to determine which forms of treatment might benefit their patients.

There is also a very serious problem which could have profound implications for the general public. In March 1989 the Monopolies and Mergers Commission reported on the services of professionally regulated osteopaths. Since then the General Council and Register of Osteopaths, which represents 75 per cent. of all regulated osteopaths, has been engaged in negotiations with the Office of Fair Trading regarding the relaxation of its rules on advertising. The general council has now agreed with the Office of Fair Trading the complete text of its new advertising rules with the exception of the use of unsolicited direct mailshots. The general council believes that to allow direct mailshots by practitioners would be against the public interest, as patients who consult an osteopath are already anxious about some aspect of their health and are thus vulnerable to exploitation.

The Monopolies and Mergers Commission has recognised the argument, which is supported by the Department of Health, in relation to the advertising by medical specialists. However, the same argument applies equally to the services provided by osteopaths because patients do not register with a particular osteopathic practice as they do with a general practitioner. They consult an osteopath only when they are in pain or distress.

It appears to be wholly inappropriate for a health care profession such as osteopathy, which is not yet regulated by statute, to be forced to allow the use of unsolicited direct mail to members of the public. In the absence of statutory regulation the osteopathic profession simply does not have the ability to control, or to impose effective sanctions for, abuses of this form of advertising. If responsible osteopaths were forced to allow the use of unsolicited mailshots other groups in alternative medicine would undoubtedly follow. The General Council and Register of Osteopaths firmly believes that it would be failing in its duty to protect the public if it were to accede to the demands of the Office of Fair Trading.

I understand that the Office of Fair Trading has now reported to the Department of Trade and Industry and that representatives of the General Council and Register of Osteopaths will be meeting the Minister responsible later this month. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the very real problems which will be created for both the osteopaths and the general public if the profession is forced by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to allow the use of unsolicited mailshots. I should be grateful if the Minister would look into that matter and explain to her colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry that osteopaths are working hard towards a system of statutory registration and that now is not the appropriate time to force the issue of direct mail.

Finally, we have heard today about the many different therapy groups and organisations which purport to represent them. In the previous debate on complementary medicine my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, speaking on behalf of the Government, mentioned the apparent confusion that existed between those therapy groups which favoured an umbrella approach and those which favoured a group-by-group approach to both regulation and liaison with government. I am sure that all those involved with the natural therapies will welcome clarification of the Government's view of the matter.

6.26 p.m.

My Lords, I declare an interest in the matter. I am a trustee of the Research Fund for Complementary Medicine, which is a body that raises money for the Research Council for Complementary Medicine. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Baldwin on initiating the debate and on the speech which launched it.

It is appropriate that we should be discussing complementary medicine because clearly it has a great fund of good will in this House as evidenced by a debate on the subject two-and-a-half years ago. Indeed, the well-attended meetings of the Parliamentary Group for Alternative and Complementary Medicine show that there is also a great deal of interest in the subject in another place. Nor—and we are grateful—is there any lack of sympathy in government circles. It is right that that should he so. Complementary medicine provides a means by which some of the intolerable and in financial terms infinite burdens on the National Health Service can be reduced.

In short, it is a situation in which comparatively modest expenditure on properly controlled research and practice—which is what the RCCM exists to carry out—can result in considerable savings to the national health bill. Complementary medicine can effect savings not only because of its emphasis on preventive medicine and treatment, dealing with some symptoms before they reach the stage where they might require expensive orthodox treatment, but also in reducing the size of the drugs bill. For example, the use of expert osteopathy on a difficult back instead of repeated doses of painkillers is in the long run cheaper and almost certainly more effective. That would be a desirable solution, would it not, in most cases? But its efficacy is inevitably reduced by the fact that such treatment is almost always available only for paying patients and is rarely to be found within the National Health Service.

The position of orthodox and complementary disciplines has been bedevilled in the past because of misunderstanding. As the noble Earl said, the terminology used to describe those practising natural therapies proves the point. From being described as "fringe" medicine in the 1960s, it moved to "alternative" in the 1970s, before reaching today its eminently more sensible description of "complementary" medicine. The use of "fringe" to describe an extensive corpus of natural medical disciplines, some with proven pedigrees going back for many hundreds of years, is patently ill informed and in some ways mischievous, implying as it does some element of quackery, which, although present to a small degree, does great disservice to the overwhelming number of skilled and honourable practitioners. More recently there has been extensive use of the word "alternative", which in its own way is just as damaging, implying as it does an either/or choice—a confrontational stance which cuts to the very heart of what complementary medicine stands for. I very much hope that all that is now behind us.

For example, it is good to detect a certain softening in the stance of some bodies representing orthodox medicine. The truth is that general practitioners have often been ahead of their own representatives in seeing benefits to some of their patients by referral to complementary practitioners. One must admit with some sadness that in former years the attitude of, for example, the British Medical Association has been unhelpful. It is rather as if on the field of Waterloo Wellington turned away Blüicher's troops because they were not wearing the right boots. Happily, it seems that they are now listening to their own troops anxious to win the battle against the common enemy—ill-health.

I referred earlier to the aura surrounding natural medicine encapsulated in its description as "fringe". Of course in the past practitioners have acted in what I regret to say was an unprofessional manner. It seems likely that the individual disciplines which come within the complementary medicine fold are well able to set their own standards and, indeed, are doing so at present.

In addition, I am in favour of the creation of an umbrella organisation representing all sides of complementary medicine with which government can deal. I must add, however, that in what is inevitably a fragmented and fiercely independent sector, that will require a substantial act of faith, much patience and no little tact.

Today we have an ironic and paradoxical situation. I have already referred to the fact that the last time the subject was debated in this House there were professions of good will towards complementary medicine from all sides. I am confident that that will be so today and, indeed. there have been already. Some noble Lords have experience of homoeopathy, others of acupuncture and osteopathy. All know something about the subject and most have good words to say about it.

However, at the end of the day the brutal truth remains. Complementary medicine is not just underfunded; it is barely funded at all. However, at this point I must mention that all in the field of complementary medicine were very grateful to the Government for two sums of £40,000 and £20,000 given in the past two years towards the administrative costs of the RCCM.

As I disclosed an earlier interest as a fund-raiser for that body, noble Lords may be forgiven for repeating the well known phrase, "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?" Be that as it may, nevertheless, I must emphasise, with the honourable exception to which I have just referred, that every penny which the RCCM receives comes from private and corporate donations. The task is certainly daunting. The RCCM is now firmly established thanks to the far sightedness and dedication of Dr. Richard Thompkins and others and is playing in its own field a role similar to that of the Medical Research Council.

However, the latter receives, as noble Lords have already said—but good tunes stand replaying so I make no apology for repeating the figures—approximately £500 million per year from the Government, the pharmaceutical industry and other sources. Noble Lords have said too that just 1 per cent. of that total would transform the whole position of complementary medicine. If it is thought that that figure is pie in the sky, repeating the figures again, I must point out that the German Government are spending 800,000 deutschmarks on natural therapies, rising in three years to 3 million deutschmarks. Even allowing for what some may feel, perhaps ungenerously, is a more prosperous economy than ours and a different system of priorities, such a commitment is in stark contrast to our reluctance to give support to what is an increasingly popular complementary medical service.

As the popularity of complementary medicine increases, as it surely will—your Lordships need only look at the dramatic leap forward in the past 20 years—so the pressure will increase from the public for adequate control and research. Patients have a right to expect that everything that can be done will be done. If complementary medicine is given appropriate and imaginative support, I am confident that the means exist to ensure that that need will be met in full.

The way forward is to see the two bodies—orthodox and complementary medicine—working together, each with respect for the other's skills in a fruitful partnership which can only ultimate be of benefit to those who matter most, the patients. I look forward to the day when they are as one and have ceased to be separate entities.

6.35 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, for giving us the opportunity of this debate. I have been interested to hear remarks by noble Lords from all sides of the House with which I am in total agreement. Much of what I intended to say has already been said. I should like however to speak about medical herbalists. I am not one myself; but I have been connected with medical herbalism in its various forms for the past 20 years. Its practitioners are the legatees of very ancient arts. Most of the information of the ancient healers of Galen and Pliny was lost in the Middle Ages but recovered by the great herbalists of the 16th and 17th centuries whose names will be known to your Lordships. Great strides have been made in research in the past 40 years.

As with other disciplines in the field of the public need, more protection is required. That protection should perhaps be in the form of the registration of practitioners. There are doubts among various practitioners of herbal medicine about registration because they are reluctant to lose the benefits of common law which have supported them for so long. However, registration could be made by schools of practice which in turn would need an academic basis. Many schools have been mentioned today. For instance, the Glasgow school which already has agreed recognition. However, in terms of medical herbalism, if a school in Kent started and developed by medical herbalists from funds supplied by patients—another illustration of how badly funded is the sphere of complementary medicine—could be given academic status, it would be in a position to supply degrees instead of diplomas. Those qualifications might then receive a status equivalent to a certificate in the medical profession.

As noble Lords have said, many schools are in existence. However, further funding is required. Of course, the schools would provide scientific research into therapeutic efficiency, so regularly called for in the face of rising public perception of and demand for complementary medicine. The Centre for Complementary Health Studies at Exeter, which has already been mentioned, is a vital source of research and covers all therapies mentioned by your Lordships. The herbalists have produced the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia which has some 90 items attached to it, and the Centre for Complementary Health Studies is producing a compendium which will give support for that pharmacopoeia.

That is all being paid for out of patients' fees. There is no support from the Government. While we may not ask for a National Health Service payment for complementary health therapies and fees, welcome though that would be, there could arise the situation—which we hope will occur in the future—where general practitioners will refer their patients to a registered recognised complementary practitioner. In that event some arrangement will be needed, especially if the GP is in a fundholding practice, a matter discussed in an earlier debate.

I shall not have the temerity to nominate the complementary treatments that apply to various disorders, but I am a great devotee of the osteopath. I suffer a displaced disc now and again and when that happens I may crawl crabwise on to the osteopath's table. However, after 20 minutes of grinding noises and cracking necks, I walk out upright, if somewhat pained. I believe the alternative would be to spend 10 days in a national health hospital bed under traction consuming vast numbers of unnecessary pills. I also suffer periodically from a certain amount of cramp. For that I receive quinine, from both my GP and the herbal practitioner.

Perhaps I could pay a tribute to the local general practice in my village at Tisbury, which performs a magificent service. I have no wish to detract from that service which helps with the principle of healthy lifestyle, promoted as part of the natural process. The herbalist perhaps creates the idea of the natural healthy lifestyle more than any other. He provides a modus vivendi which helps the immune system to be kept regularly in tune. When in tune it is more able to resist casually contracted ailments, and of course involves the patient in becoming more of a client in an on going situation rather than the occasional patient. The regular checks and balances offered by medical practitioners in the medical herbalist field help the healthy client to live to an active old age and be less dependent upon society.

The National Health Service has to deal with illness, accident, surgery and other emergencies which are not the remit of any part of the complementary services. However, as many noble Lords have pointed out, there are millions of patients today who want, need and receive therapies which modern medicine does not recognise. I hope that the medical authorities will help to recognise the importance of these therapies. If they do, they will recognise the call of the people for ready access to their chosen therapy which conserves National Health Service money, reduces waiting lists and actually cures people with medicines which do not carry a health warning on the label.

There is a great deal to be done; a great deal of funding is needed, as always. I ask your Lordships to support this excellent cause.

6.44 p.m.

My Lords, previous speakers introduced many instructive and worthy details relating to the many types and qualities of alternative or complementary medicine, for which details we are all most grateful. I may repeat certain points. Being of "an olde family", I often recourse to the often used, well-tested alternative means of curing such basic ills as the common cold; I indulge in a good brew of hot toddy, or two, or three!

A Scotsman in his sixties (and I hope not to cause offence to the noble Members of this House whose families hail from that wonderful part of the United Kingdom) was being lectured by an enthusiastic general practitioner about the benefits of new medicines and drugs. After the doctor had finished his oration the listener was asked for his opinion. His answer was simple. "My father", said he, "believed in a stiff measure of whisky per day. He was rarely sick. He died when 96 years old and three days after his death he looked a good deal fresher than you do now!"

Few of us deny that to boost one's moral, help relieve a sore throat, we have indulged in alcohol, but we are only attempting to cure a cold, a disease. Disorders can be and are often cured by hand, by manipulators—by osteopaths or chiropractors, the two areas I wish to discuss.

Certain of your Lordships had the opportunity of listening to and questioning the Secretary of State for Health at a private meeting in the corridors of this fine Palace and heard his reaction to osteopaths and to chiropractors. He spoke of them as one body. That is not a fact as, although both may manipulate the bones, the chiropractors are aware of and so also treat the nerves, tissues and muscles relating to those bones. The most important structural bone conglomeration is our spine, a gathering of 24 vertebrae and 23 discs. That does not include the lower sacrum and the coccyx. Both osteopaths and chiropractors have to attend a college of education and receive the same bachelor of science degree as our other 12 royal colleges of medicine.

I should like to bring to the attention of the noble Baroness a matter which is of concern to the private training institutions within complementary medicine which offer approved degree courses. Those schools with formally validated degree courses may apply for recognition for mandatory student grants. However, the Secretary of State at the Department of Education and Science said that I whereas for universities and polytechnics the fee element in a mandatory award will rise in 1990 from £607 per annum to £1,675 per annum, for students at private institutions it will remain at £607 per annum Students at schools such as the British School of Osteopathy and the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic will therefore have to meet virtually the full cost of their course, receiving only £607 towards the real fees of over £4,000 per annum.

As well as the obvious injustice of that situation, it seems odd that a Government who are trying to get institutions of higher education to be more market orientated should discriminate against institutions which have demonstrated their independence and willingness to help themselves. I should be most grateful if the Minister would bring that anomaly to the attention of her colleagues in the appropriate department.

There is generally a certain scepticism shown by the general practitioner towards such alternative medicines as, for instance, osteopathy and chiropractic, but there are signs that that mistrust is breaking down. Many more general practitioners are referring patients with back pains to either osteopaths or chiropractics. In Avon, of the general practioners questioned during a survey about alternative-complementary medicine, 93 per cent. believed that complementary practitioners needed statutory regulation.

Should the osteopath or chiropractor feel that there would be a medical contra-indication resulting from their treatment, they will recommend that the patient see his general practitioner. I am sure that going through the minds of many noble Lords are stories of those who purport to hold qualifications to practise the art of chiropractic or osteopathy. As already mentioned, before one can honestly practise these alternative medicines one must have passed the four-year degree course and earned the B.Sc. qualification. Correspondence courses in such complementary medicines exist. This "quickie" qualification takes six months for the person interested in chiropractic. These six-month people are therapists but they are not doctors or chiroprac-tors.

The properly qualified osteopaths and chiropractors are keen to establish a system of statutory regulation for the safety and protection of their patients, which is another obvious and essential ingredient in their case for registration. It must be remembered that registration, not membership of the National Health Service, is what is sought at present by osteopaths and chiropractors.

It may be that certain statistics give extra power to the argument for the registration of these alternative or complementry medicines. In remembering that general practitioners generally deal with diseases and that osteopaths and chiropractors deal with disorders, one must also bear in mind that over 46 million days are lost each year through back pains. That is a slightly updated figure from that given by the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur. It combines the two. Three million treatments are given annually by osteopaths.

Back pains in patients cost the National Health Service about £160 million each year. One should consider the lost production when the labour force is so affected and the amount of money lost in benefit payments to those unable to work. That is 46 million working days at £10-50—the standard statutory sickness benefit per day—which equals £483 million. We have heard from all speakers about the benefit that the nation can gain from complementary and alternative medicine when practised by qualified practitioners. The cost savings to the National Health Service and the DHSS have been outlined.

But what about the patient? The cost of treatment is not cheap. There already exist in this country health insurance schemes which will cover treatment from an osteopath or chiropractor. Have the Government thought of introducing something similar (though much broader) to the scheme which exists in the United States of America? In that country, those with an income below a certain level receive Medicaid to cover their insurance. Those who are old age pensioners or who are disabled receive Medicare.

Her Majesty's Government set a precedent in 1988 by allowing employers and individuals partially to opt out from the national insurance charge payable for pension benefits by adopting a private pension arrangement. Many insurance companies are involved in that scheme. If the Government required all the parties—not stopping at those who earn £360 per week but including the many who earn more than that—to pay a common fixed percentage of their gross weekly income into a health insurance fund the whole population would have the benefit of health care coverage.

As with the existing major health insurance companies such as BUPA and PPP, the profits made by the scheme would be ploughed back into it. That would include the National Health Service in the case of the government-run health insurance scheme. We should remember the number of health authorities and hospitals that have been sued for wrongful medical practice. That would be covered by the insurance scheme and the costs would not be drawn out of the national health compensation fund. The registration of osteopaths and chiropractors makes both financial and health care sense.

6.53 p.m.

My Lords, once again my noble friend Lord Baldwin has not disappointed us. He gave a brilliant introduction. I do not know whether I agree entirely with everything he said. However, he was at his best this evening.

Why do I rise to speak tonight? It is mainly to congratulate those who have agreed with the Royal College of General Practitioners, the King's Fund and others to conduct controlled studies in complementary medicine in relation to the efficacy of treatments. We have heard a great deal tonight almost entirely concerned with the treatment of people where presumably the diagnosis is certain. We have heard little about diagnosis except that two speakers mentioned sending patients back to their general practitioners. I should like to hear my noble friend say a little more on this point because it seems that to a large degree the system might depend on collaboration between the general practitioners and the therapists. In other countries, of course, many who are medically qualified take up different forms of therapy.

As a professor of materia medica who had given it up at one time in my life, I thought I would say a few words about that and some of the difficulties. I entered medical school in the 1930s. By that time wise physicians had discarded the materia medica of the 18th and 19th centuries and were discriminating. They recognised that there were perhaps five or six drugs which were efficacious. One was quinine, which was a drug that cured malaria. Another was morphia, or laudanum, which was a painkiller and so useful as a symptomatic treatment for distressing symptons. Those are two important categories of drug.

A little later on in my professional career sulphonamide drugs were discovered by the fine chemical industry in Germany. They were active against bacteria in infections. Many studies were enthusiastically started into the sulphonamide drugs to find out their effects on different diseases. They were, in effect, uncontrolled clinical trials. Some years later, a good friend of mine, Professor McKeown of Birmingham, pointed out the claims being made for sulphonamide drugs and their use. In fact, the mortality rate for certain diseases had fallen many years before the introduction of sulphonamide drugs. Those figures correlated accurately with the improved water supply and better nutrition. It was those factors which had reduced the mortality rate in the first instance.

All this had happened before the drugs were discovered. That is just a reminder of the need for careful controls. I can remember very vividly the first clinical trials that I did with a new drug. There was an unexplained improvement in the control group which had been given a placebo. Was that due to the psychological effect on the patients or the effect of the doctors' charm on their confidence? There is another factor which must be included even with complementary therapies. There is a need for controls. In my professional life, penicillin, antihistamine drugs and a whole range of new analgesics have been introduced into this country. Large numbers of antibiotics have been produced by the pharmaceutical industry.

How did one find out whether the drugs produced toxic effects in human beings; whether they were therapeutically active and what was to be done in a situation where the drug was toxic but effective therapeutically? Into this area came the Committee on the Safety of Medicines, ably guided by Sir Austin Bradford Hill, a statistician, and his pupil, Richard Doll. They had produced dramatic results demonstrating the effect of smoking in causing lung cancer. Tony Bradford Hill is still alive. He is well over 90 years of age. He has demanded that I send him a copy of this debate.

The Committee on the Safety of Medicines was succeeded by the Medicines Commission, which monitors the situation today. So traditional treatments, as they have been called here, have been scrutinised and examined by this system, as has the pharmaceutical industry. Modern biotechnology is now facing up to the complicated challenge of what happens in the nervous system and inside the cell. Perhaps in 20 years' time one will know about the inheritance of diseases—the family trait—which may explain a great deal in new therapies. Perhaps that will be better understood. Also it may be that the cause of cancer can be identified at cellular level.

One of the inevitable results of controlled clinical and therapeutic trials is their inadequacy. The results show the inadequacy of modern medicine. Under these circumstances no sincere or conscientious doctor would deny his patient, if the evidence is there, one form of treatment or another. There is no difference between us in relation to treatment if the evidence is available to support the use of that treatment. What is most important for complementary medicine and its future is for it to subject itself to the same therapeutic trials and examinations as occur in what we call orthodox medicine. I am told that one stumbling block is the idea of tailoring the whole treatment to the patient's individual needs. But I do not think that is a problem. It is still possible to have "double blind" controlled trials under these circumstances.

My only hope is that by this and other means we can extend the range of treatments available to sick people. My continuing lingering fear is that, without detailed examination, grave disease masquerading as back pain or something like that may occasionally be missed.

7 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, on introducing the debate and on doing so with such an excellent and comprehensive survey of the present position. I should not like any doctors to be present, I am not quite sure how many are—I can count two—on a kind of doctor bashing occasion. My life has been saved by the medical profession on one occasion for certain. It has probably been saved on others too as one never knows what might have happened if one had not gone to the doctor. Nevertheless, there are reasons why a large number of us consult complementary practitioners when orthodox medicine seems to have failed us.

There is an unresolved conflict which has been touched on by several noble Lords. We tend to feel—perhaps justly, perhaps not—that orthodox medicine believes that if it cannot find out what is wrong, then nothing is wrong; and that if one cannot prove scientifically that such and such a therapy works, then it does not work. Those two propositions are questionable. Complementary medicine is readier to accept that there may well be disease which is not easily definable. It can bring an easing or elimination of disease without clear evidence as to how it is done. A patient consulting a practitioner in a complementary therapy knows that he will be given time to tell his troubles and have them listened to. This point has already been made by one noble Lord.

Most complementary therapies have the holistic approach. It makes sense that the therapist should approach a human being, not just a symptom. Another benefit is hope—the hope of a remedy and not just a symptom suppressor or a painkiller. When people are old they do not want to be told by their GPs, as I am sorry to say a number of old people are, that their ailments are only to be expected at their age, that there is nothing that can be done about them, and that they must learn to live with them. That is not a consoling result of going to the surgery.

A number of complementary therapists are keen to convey to their patients the idea that they must play an active part in their own therapy. That is an excellent principle. Even if it helps only the mental attitude, it is a crucial factor in any healing process. The idea of self-help leads me to speak briefly on a subject I have mentioned before in your Lordships' House. I refer to the Alexander technique. It is not strictly speaking a therapy. It is a re-education. Those who practise the technique are particular not to class themselves with other complementary therapists. Nevertheless, I do not think they would mind their being talked about briefly.

Noble Lords will probably know about the little Australian actor who was born in 1869. He was just beginning his career in Melbourne when he was suddenly stopped short by a failure in vocal control. He would start a recitation with his voice in perfectly good trim but by the end of the evening he would become so hoarse that he was practically speechless. He could not discover why this happened. He consulted doctors, who gave him medicines, gargles and throat sprays, but there was no difference. He decided—and this shows that he was an exceptional man—that he must find out for himself.

He set up an elaborate arrangement of mirrors and, believe it or not, sat in front of them, whenever he had a spare moment, for nine years. He was looking to see precisely what happened when he recited. He watched his minutest movement. In the end he stumbled on the discovery that has given rise to the enormous spread of what is known as the Alexander technique. He discovered that as he recited he thrust his head slightly backwards and down. This constricted the free passage of his vocal powers.

He discovered later than not only did he do this when he was speaking but also with every action—when he sat down, when he got up and when he did anything else. There was an infinitesimal and almost imperceptible backward thrust of the head. He came to the conclusion that it had bad effects on the body as a whole. It compressed the spine and the whole upper part of the body so that he could not breathe properly. The internal organs were compressed as well.

His final discovery was that he was not unique. He discovered that all his friends were doing the same thing. He became so interested that he gave up all idea of being an actor. He decided to learn how to help himself and others to overcome this difficulty by using the body more effectively. His methods were extremely subtle and involved the utmost sensitivity of the hands, which guided his pupils—those who learn the technique are pupils and not patients—into the correct use of the body. Incidentally, it is not, as many people think, a relaxing process; it is a process of releasing energy, which is much more interesting. He devoted the rest of his life to it.

The technique has been found to be beneficial in numerous ways. It facilitates correct breathing, an essential to health, and eases back problems. The noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, and the noble Lords, Lord Glenarthur and Lord Clifford, referred to the economic as well as the human cost of back pain. I venture to say that had many people been lucky enough to be pupils of the Alexander technique they would never have gone so far as to see an osteopath. It is also thought to have been helpful in blood pressure problems, insomnia and circulation defects. It leads to an upright and most graceful carriage, which is why it is of interest to actors and why most drama schools have the use of an Alexander technique teacher.

I have run short of time but I should like to express a strong hope. The Research Council for Complementary Medicine has at the moment an application for funds for a research project into the technique. It is hoped that that will be successful. It is a move in the right direction. One hopes that ultimately the technique will become recognised, like the other therapies about which your Lordships have been speaking this afternoon, and that it will be available to all under the National Health Service.

7.10 p.m.

My Lords, it is my pleasure to conclude the debate from this side of the House. I should first declare an interest. As the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, said, both he and I are joint presidents of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Complementary Medicine. Moreover, although he did not say so, we are also both patrons of the Research Council for Complementary Medicine, which was referred to by other noble Lords.

I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, not only on choosing the subject but also on the eloquence of his presentation. In my view, it was partly that eloquence which led to such well-informed contributions from all sides of the House. Indeed, we have heard some excellent speeches, with noble Lords often speaking from their own experience.

The noble Earl also showed excellent timing in managing to arrange for the debate to be tabled today. As some noble Lords will know, it comes after the debate on an amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, myself and other noble Lords to the National Health Service and Community Care Bill and before the Report stage of that legislation. I think, and I think that he thinks, and I also hope that your Lordships will think, that it is important to have some reference to complementary therapies on the face of the Bill. We must devise a means to do so which will convince the Government of the wisdom of such action.

Not only is there a continuing increase in public interest and support for natural therapies. There are also two other conclusions which I should like to mention at the beginning of my contribution. The first is the recognition that as a nation we are inclined to take far too many pharmaceutical prescriptions. The Government are perhaps mainly worried about the cost of such prescriptions, as indeed am I. However, I am also worried by the thought that people increasingly think that for every problem what is needed is a pill. In fact, the alternative complementary therapists are often able to produce a solution which no pharmaceutical product could achieve. Some of those products—I am thinking now of tranquillisers—can be addictive and others can literally cause damage, especially if taken in doses in excess of those laid down by the doctor. Therefore, there is a general wish to cut down on the amount and the cost of medication.

My second observation concerns a fear which I have that an increase in the private sector of the health service, perhaps in the wake of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, will lead to unnecessary surgery, of which the United States is a warning to us all. It is clear that the more people go to private hospitals, whether it be in Britain or elsewhere, the more they are likely to have expensive surgery, which many people believe could be avoided, quite apart from the fact that the need could be met by alternative treatment.

In winding up the debate for the Opposition I should like to emphasise the need for all of us—the therapists, the Government and the public—to prepare carefully for the possible consequences of the single European market in 1992. The most direct reference to this was made by the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur. We must, as must the therapists, face up to the challenges, the dangers and the benefits of the market after 1992. Bearing in mind the differing legal status of practitioners in the United Kingdom with this unlimited freedom compared with the Continental nations, we must ask whether 1992 will be the beginning of the end for the traditional UK freedom to practice what medicine we like and to receive what treatment we like or whether it will be the start of a bright new era of health care in which the natural therapies and those who practise them will be elevated to their just status in a fresh and newly enlightened society. If it is to be the latter—that glorious future—a great deal of work will have to be carried out between now and then.

The question is: how do we ensure that natural and holistic therapies continue to be available while satisfying the needs of the European Community policy? It is a question both for the Government and for the practitioners. They must both be prepared, without delay, to accept that increasingly policy affecting Britain comes from Brussels and not from London.

Clearly the most satisfactory way forward is to ensure that all non-registered practitioners belong to organisations which have strict codes of conduct and high standards of membership. Training and accreditation will and must be the name of the game. If the various therapies can measure up to the standards and compare, for instance, with those of the Society of Homoeopathy, which has been referred to by many noble Lords, they may be able to protect themselves and their members from accusations of malpractice. The year 1992 may act as a stimulus to the therapies to do what some have been slow to do in the past—to get themselves organised and get their act together. What may seem to some of them to be threats may to others be the stimulus to seize the opportunities which are now opening up.

There are developments among the therapists. Apart from the Research Council for Complementary Medicine to which the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, and others referred and which has now, as we have been reminded, received its first research grant from the Department of Health, there is the Institute for Complementary Medicine and the newly established National Consultative Council for Alternative and Complementary Medicines, which was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur.

It is interesting to note the change in public attitudes. Together with that there is the increase in the use of complementary therapies. I am informed that the use of complementary treatments is increasing at the rate of about 15 per cent. per year. There are probably already 7 million to 8 million treatments given annually in the United Kingdom. It is therefore likely that the growth of complementary treatment will continue until it has reached the point of saturation, which could come in the next quarter of a century. Those assumptions are well supported by available data.

I must say that I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Hunter of Newington, was able to take part in the debate. If I remember correctly, no doctor took part in the debate in this House two-and-a-half years ago. His wise and cautionary words, both of which qualities we usually get from the noble Lord, were most helpful to us this afternoon.

Doctors will be able to concentrate on surgical operations and acute medical conditions, where their training makes them supreme. The specialist complementary practitioners would concentrate upon the wide range of chronic conditions such as aches and pains and back pains about which we have been talking. I have a special interest in back pains, not just because I have ankylosing spondylitis and will suffer from back pain for ever but also because when I was Secretary of State for Social Services I set up the working party on back pain. It did not stop back pain out as least we know a little more about the subject than we did.

As I said, the specialist complementary practitioners would concentrate on a wide range of chronic conditions, not only aches and pains but body misalignments and degenerative and emotional problems. For example, it is not reasonable that a doctor trained over a six to nine-year period in allopathic medicine should be expected to undergo additional training to treat a condition which a specialist osteopath can correct. Equally, chronic complaints should not occupy allopathically trained people who have little training in counselling, nutrition, hypnosis or the Alexander technique, to which a most interesting reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee.

I mentioned the Institute for Complementary Medicine. It has set up the first British register, with a comprehensive list of qualified practitioners in most complementary medicine disciplines. Sections of the register include osteopathy, chiropractic, traditional Chinese medicine, homoeopathy, hypnotherapy, psychotherapy, nutrition, reflexology, medical massage, radionics and others. Others are being added to the list.

There is also, as has been said, the newly established National Consultative Council for Alternative and Complementary Medicines, which has some 39 affiliated organisations. It is interested in inter-organisational co-operation, training and education in the natural therapies, leading to accreditation and registration, codes of practice, research and development and the setting up of independent councils for every therapy. It is important that such bodies should, as I said, get their act together. In the end, the getting of their act together has to be in association with the medical profession. I am satisfied that when we talk about complementary medicines we are talking about the necessity for a basis of collaboration with medicine. They also have to satisfy government. By "government' I mean whatever government: this Government or the next government, a Conservative Government or a Labour Government.

We should be talking about including those therapies as part of the NHS if they are therapies and proved as such—the noble Lord, Lord Hunter, referred to the need for proof—which is sometimes difficult because I might find it difficult to prove the efficacy of some medical treatments. Nevertheless, they must be proven. If it is ever to become an expense upon the NHS, government of whatever colour must be satisfied.

I welcome the extent to which the organisations of different complementary therapies are trying to get their act together. I referred to two bodies which have similar objectives. I am not certain that there is a place for two competing organisations. Heads have to be knocked together. I shall not offer to do it. I do not suppose that the Minister will offer to do it when she replies. The parliamentary group may have to try to do it. A house divided against itself cannot survive. The movement must realise that not only has it to face up to the European scene; it has to come to terms with government of whatever party. That is the lesson it has to learn. The year 1992 is close. As I said earlier, on the one hand it is a threat but on the other it is an opportunity. In the same way as for business and the world of commerce 1992 is a threat and an opportunity, so must it been seen to be for the complementary therapies.

If ever there was a need for a debate in order to encourage people who believe in complementary medicine and those who practise it to get their act together and think of the future, now is the time. So we are especially grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, for having introduced this debate on such a timely occasion.

7.25 p.m.

My Lords, perhaps I may join all those who have expressed their gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, for introducing the debate. We have had a wide-ranging and stimulating discussion on a matter which attracts considerable public interest. Almost everyone who has participated has done so with the benefit of personal experience.

At the outset the noble Earl referred to confusion over the various terms which are used to describe alternative and complementary therapies. Perhaps I may follow the example of my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale on a previous occasion and plump for the term "natural therapies" as one which appears to embrace all the various concepts.

There are many calls for the greater availability of natural techniques and medicines within the NHS and that is reflected in the speeches today of a number of noble Lords. It seems right for me, therefore, to restate at the outset the Government's stance on natural therapies and medicines both in relation to the NHS and also to private practice. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health has a statutory duty laid upon him to provide a comprehensive health service; but that duty, onerous in itself, also carries with it the wider one of safeguarding the health of the nation. Those two factors must always govern any discussion about provision.

It cannot be stated too often that by law all medical treatment under the NHS must be given by a registered medical practitioner. That is the "who": the "what" is more complex. Registered medical practitioners can provide any treatment they wish, including the use of natural techniques, if they feel competent to do so and provided that in their professional opinion it will help the patient. A small but growing number of registered medical practitioners are practising natural techniques and the use of these techniques within the NHS is increasing. The noble Earl referred to that fact. The rate of growth must, however, depend upon those doctors who use natural techniques persuading more of their fellow practitioners of their benefits and effectiveness. However, I must sound a note of caution. Many doctors remain unconvinced that there is scientifically sound evidence to show that the vast majority of the natural therapies and medicines are effective.

As your Lordships are aware, practitioners of natural therapies who are not registered medical practitioners are still permitted to practise under United Kingdom common law. There are restrictions on certain forms of treatment; for example, those for cancer, venereal disease, TB, diabetes and epilepsy, and in some areas covered by the Medicines Act concerned with the giving of injections. There are restrictions too on who may practise certain professions. Those who are unqualified are not permitted to practise, for example, as dentists, midwives, pharmacists or veterinary surgeons. Other than those however, the Government have no wish to place any restriction on natural therapy practitioners or to curtail in any way the freedom of the individual to seek the benefits of natural therapy. We do, however, believe that members of the public using those therapists have a right to be safeguarded in the same way as those using the NHS professions. That is the challenge to the natural therapy professions and one which in the Government's view needs to be addressed by each profession acting independently rather than, as some, including my noble friend Lord Glenarthur and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, advocate, action by associations seeking to represent all or most of the natural therapy professions.

I am aware of the National Consultative Council, which was set up some 12 months ago, and of the fact that the council sees itself as a response to past ministerial pleas for a single source of advice on the natural therapies. I am also aware of the Institute for Complementary Medicine to which the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, referred.

However, the Government's stance on umbrella bodies has changed in recent years. There is little homogeneity among the various natural therapy professions, and the major groups now see their way forward not through umbrella organisations but by a group by group approach following consensus within their ranks. After all, if we look at orthodox medicine for a model, we see, for example, that the medical and dental practitioners, clinical psychologists and opthalmologists have far more in common with one another than the vast majority of natural therapists. Yet they all have independent and individual governing and registering bodies and associations which represent their interests.

At one time, we were of the view that there might be advantages if all the natural therapies came together in mutual understanding. But, given the diversity, practice and aspirations of those professions—coupled perhaps with their increasing proliferation—we now believe very firmly that it must be for each therapy group to determine its own future development.

That leads me on quite naturally to statutory regulation. When the subject was last debated, my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale went into the matter in some detail. He welcomed the possibility of self-regulation on the part of the natural therapy professions, but only if it achieved common recognised standards for all to see and to which all practitioners subscribed. He accepted that this would, at some stage, probably require the force of law. He also mentioned meeting representatives of osteopaths when they had aired their plans for statutory regulation.

As a number of your Lordships have said, the osteopaths have made considerable progress in the intervening two and half years. They have secured a large measure of agreement within the profession on common standards of education and training; they have secured the support of the medical profession; and, as we have heard, a joint working group to look at the mechanics of statutory regulation has been established. The osteopaths have kept Ministers fully informed of developments and we shall await with interest the report of the working group and hope that it will point the way to statutory regulation.

We have eyed developments within the osteopathy profession with considerable interest, not only from the osteopaths' point of view but also as a possible model for other professions, particularly those which have reached an appropriate level of maturity with an established form of voluntary regulation and infrastructure and which wish to pursue the path to regulation. I know that several other groups are interested in statutory regulation; one group of chiropractors in particular has made plain in recent months its desire for regulation. The osteopaths have clearly shown the way forward and it is for others to follow.

Perhaps I may now speak of Europe, of 1992 and all that. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has drawn attention to this aspect, along with others in the course of the debate. I know that there is a very real concern among the natural therapies and those who use their services about the fate of natural therapies and medicines after harmonisation in 1992. Some of our fellow member states are considered to be antagonistic towards British-style unlicensed practitioners of natural therapy and the fear is that they could take the opportunity afforded by harmonisation to remove the right to practise for all but those who are medically qualified. That fear emanates, it seems, from two directives adopted by the European Commission—a directive on higher education diplomas and another on homoeopathic medicines.

So far as the Government are aware there is no European Community legislation in prospect which would restrict the practice of natural therapy in this country or choice by the public in using such services. I can reassure my noble friend Lord Glenarthur that we shall certainly continue in our European Community negotiations to press for something compatible with UK interests and traditions. I can assure your Lordships also that the Commission has repeatedly made it clear that at present it has no intention of introducing centralised legislation on the ground that the fundamental divergence between member states' legislation in this area would make it difficult to envisage harmonisation at Community level.

Perhaps I may take this opportunity to say a little about alternative medicines. I refer to the medicinal substances used as opposed to the practice of the alternative therapies themselves, because there are special points to consider here. When the government attitude towards alternative therapies is debated, there is a tendency sometimes to think in general terms, as if what applies to, say, acupuncture should also apply to homoeopathy; or that what is good for osteopathy should apply to herbalism. In many ways, of course, some of these philosophies are similar, but in one important aspect the alternative therapies fall into two clear categories—those which use actual medicinal substances and those which do not.

We all know that in spite of what the advocates have said today, many people harbour a deep scepticism and indeed open hostility towards alternative treatments and will use any argument, no matter how specious, to denigrate them. It is not for the Government to take sides here, but it is a simple fact that one argument that cannot be used against chiropractic or osteopathy for example is that it may poison patients. But homoeopathy and herbalism are open to this charge, either because of what is in the medicinal product used or because of the way it is prepared, simply because the treatment usually involved the patient swallowing or being injected with something. The Government have an obvious responsibility here to protect the public health; yet the controls which have to be exercised through the Medicines Act 1968 are often resented by the people who use or produce the medicines concerned. They argue that because these products are natural and traditional, their safety can be assumed. This, we believe, is a fallacious notion, since any active substance has the potential to be harmful as well as beneficial.

Health Ministers have a duty, under the Medicines Act 1968, to look at the safety, quality and efficacy of all medicines in any decision they have to make about entry to, or removal from, the market. That is inescapable and, as I have said, a proper duty of government, but we undertake that duty, I hope, with sensitivity. With regard to herbals, for example—currently the only alternative products subject to a European Community requirement to review—in 1985 my noble friend Lady Trumpington approved guidelines agreed with the herbal industry which took account of the traditional nature of these products in relation to their efficacy. On safety and quality we cannot compromise, and it seems to me that it is to the benefit of the industry as well as the general public that a reviewed product licence means that the product has been examined critically by a government agency and "passed the test" as it were. I confirm to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, that there has been no change in these guidelines. They still apply.

My noble friend Lord Colwyn raised the question of membership of the advisory committees to the licensing authority and questioned the fact that the nominees of the National Medicines Society and its own advisory committee were not represented. I believe that it is a mistake to think in terms of nominating bodies being represented on the committees, as your Lordships will remember. These committees have to be expert, not representative. Committee members advise impartially in the sphere of their expertise and we are satisfied that the existing membership contains the best available expertise to advise the licensing authority on the safety, quality and efficacy of all medicinal products.

The fact that the nominees of a particular body were not appointed should not be taken as implying that they were not considered. All nominations are considered. The criteria of safety and quality are, as I have indicated, the same for all medicinal products, natural or synthetic. We cannot budge on that. As far as concerns efficacy, since 1985 we have recognised the special considerations for herbals.

With regard to homoeopathic products, the position is less settled. Unlike herbals, these products have not been subject to review but the European Commission has had a commitment since 1986 to produce proposals to harmonise the conditions for the manufacturing and marketing of these and other products exempted from existing directives. As I mentioned, the Commission has produced a draft which was laid before the Council of Ministers in March and which will of course be scrutinised by Parliament in the usual way.

I now turn to some of the specific points that were raised in the course of our debate. My noble friend Lord Cullen referred to tax relief on private medical cover. The Government's objective in introducing tax relief is to enable people who have purchased private medical cover during their working lives to continue to do so in retirement and thus help reduce pressure on the National Health Service. In considering what forms of treatment should be permissible, we decided that only treatments which are normally provided free under the National Health Service should qualify. To allow for alternative treatments would not only create all kinds of difficulties between what might and might not be permissible but, fundamentally, it would not meet our prime objective of reducing demands upon the National Health Service. I know that some of the natural therapy professions feel that this might create difficulties for them under their health insurance contracts, but I am sure your Lordships will appreciate the reasons for taking the line that we have.

My noble friend also raised the question of the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. That report was accepted by Ministers, and the Director General of Fair Trading was instructed to negotiate the removal of the restrictions. The director general has just reported on the outcome of his negotiations and that report is currently under consideration by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Health. As your Lordships will appreciate, I am unable to comment on the report or on the likely reaction of the two departments at this moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, referred to the provision of natural therapy by fund-holding GPs. That was referred to again later in the course of the debate. We investigated this matter when my noble friend Lord Colwyn moved his amendment to the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. The gist of the Government's argument is that alternative and complementary therapies are not among the range of treatments for which a GP can directly refer patients. These natural therapies are not available under the National Health Service and if fund-holding GPs were able to purchase such services—this could not be done by non-fund holding practices—it would, in effect, create a two-tier service. However, should my right honourable friend the Secretary of State wish at any time to extend the range of services available under the National Health Service, there are powers under Section 3 of the National Health Service Act 1977 which would enable him to do so. I hope that that also answers the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals.

The noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, mentioned problems with homoeopathy training. I would point out that the role of government in medical training in general is restricted to providing the facilities and resources. The substance of training is for the professions and their educational bodies. There are arrangements for the postgraduate training of doctors who wish to obtain qualifications in homoeopathy and indeed in osteopathy. That point was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux.

The noble Lord, Lord Clifford, referred to fees for private institutions. The purpose of the changes which are to take place in the forthcoming academic year is to shift the balance of public funding of higher education to a fees basis. Representations have been made to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science that, for students at private institutions such as those which provide tuition for members of the natural therapy professions, the fee element will be considerably lower than at state supported institutions. They believe that the effect of this will mean the loss of many highly motivated students of good quality. I understand that the matter is still being discussed and that my right honourable friend is giving careful consideration to all the representations he has received. However, at present there seems little prospect of finding additional funds, given the many other calls on resources.

The public demands the right to choose which type of medicine it prefers to use. However, we also have the right to expect that when we do so we are safeguarded by professions which are well regulated, whether on a statutory or on a voluntary basis. Consideration of that factor is the basis of the Government's attitude. I believe that this debate has highlighted the difficulties as well as the benefits of natural therapies. It has also most certainly called attention to recent developments and, as a result, I believe it has been most worth while.

My Lords, I am most grateful for the wide-ranging participation and support of so many of your Lordships this evening. At the risk of seeming invidious, I wish to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and say how particularly glad I was that my noble friend Lord Hunter took the time to participate in the debate. He has been very busy with the National Health Service Bill but we appreciate the fact that he took time to contribute to the debate from his rather more mainstream stance. I should like to go into the question of diagnosis, which the noble Lord invited me to discuss. However, I do not think we have the time to do so this evening. It would not be an easy answer because, again, the therapies have their different ways of looking at things. An acupuncturist would have a completely different scheme of diagnosis from many other people. The healers, for example, specifically set their face against diagnosis. They say that that is a job for the doctors.

I cannot resist making the observation that in the different estimates that I have read of the accuracy of orthodox medical diagnosis, the method has never achieved even as high a rate as 50 per cent. There is obviously room for some give and take as regards the different schemes of diagnosis. But perhaps that is for another time.

I am also grateful to have been supported by a distinguished former Secretary of State for Health in the shape of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals. I was grateful for his wise words. We were all naturally most interested in the remarks of the Minister. I know we shall study them with care in the written record. I found what the noble Baroness said on Europe particularly encouraging. However, I still think she is quite wrong as regards the Medicines Commission.

There has been a large degree of unanimity this evening but we should not delude ourselves into thinking that beyond the ranks of the converted, who, significantly, consist mainly of people with first-hand experience, things are quite so straightforward. Statistics certainly show increasing interest and participation, but there is some way to go before complementary therapies are widely available on an affordable basis. It is towards that that we should particularly work, as the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, indicated. The question is whether orthodoxy will now work with the tide. I believe that it will and that we shall not always have to talk about two sides in matters of health care. I am most grateful for the opportunity of holding this debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Peat Resources

7.48 p.m.

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they propose to halt the depletion of the national peat resource and what role they intend to play in the development of a peatlands conservation strategy.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am very grateful to those of your Lordships who have decided to take part in this debate at this relatively late hour. I imagine that until very recently few of us thought there was any need to worry about peat. Many people are dimly aware that there is a lot of peat in Britain. They are right. Over 10 per cent. of the land area in Scotland and 5.8 per cent. of that of Britain as a whole has peat soils. We have been using peat for centuries. Why then the current fuss? To begin with, many of our peatlands have been drained or planted over. The resource is dwindling fast and less and less untouched bog remains. There are particular areas where irreplaceable habitats are being destroyed. That is especially true of lowland peat.

It was, as is so often the case, the Nature Conservancy Council which sounded the alarm bell about what it describes as this largely ignored Cinderella habitat. The council conducted a survey in 1978 which showed that there has been a 96 per cent. loss of lowland peat mire since 1850 and that only 4 per cent. is now left. The NCC estimates that less than 10,000 hectares of living lowland bog now remain.

So, though there is still a great deal of peat soil, some valuable peatlands are fast disappearing and urgent action needs to be taken if we are not to lose an important part of our now scarce wetlands and of our national heritage.

As your Lordships may know, bog peat is mainly formed from sphagnum moss in waterlogged, acidic bogs where there is no oxygen and few bacteria can live. Consequently there is no normal decomposition and dead moss accumulates as peat at the rate of some two millimetres a year. We have three different types of peat. Blanket peat, or wet heather moor, is formed in areas with high rainfall, mostly the Highlands of Scotland, upland Wales and the Pennines. It is of this that the flow country in Caithness and Sutherland is formed. I do not propose to say much about blanket bog tonight except that two years ago the International Mire Conservation Group, the main expert body, passed a resolution declaring that the flow country "merits protection in its entirety" and that it was,

"with some astonishment that the IMCG has learned of the British Government's recent approval for a further 1,000 hectares of state afforestation in the Flow Country".

The second type is lowland fen peat, the peat remaining where raised bogs and swamps have disappeared, as in East Anglia and part of the Somerset Levels. Lastly, there are lowland raised bogs. These are isolated domes of acidic rain-fed peat in a non-peat landscape, like drops of water on a flat surface, which may rise up to 10 metres above the surrounding land. The best remaining intact examples are in Wales—at Cors Goch on the Teifi, inland from Borth, and Cors Fochno near Aberystwyth—and in Scotland at Flanders Moss. All of our raised bogs are of conservation and wildlife importance. They contain perfectly preserved records of post-glacial history—from early man to pollen—and are valuable habitats for plants, birds and insects. They are of international significance.

For thousands of years we have been using up our peat reserves. Essentially, because of the enormous time-scale, they are a finite, non-renewable resource. In East Anglia we long ago drained the Fens and the same process has now dried out the Somerset Levels. According to the NCC,

"forestry remains one of the largest threats to all bog habitats".

Forestry Commission figures show that in Scotland half to three-quarters and in England and Wales a quarter, of all afforestation up to 1978 was carried out on peat soils. Since time immemorial peat has been cut by hand for fuel, as it still is, for example, in the Hebrides.

Since the 1960s there has been a new threat to the valuable lowland raised bogs. They produce the peat suitable for horticulture. Instead of being cut out slowly by hand this peat can now be extracted far more efficiently and thoroughly by huge machines by processes known as sausage extrusion and surface milling. This is accompanied by the digging of deep drainage ditches—15 miles of them in Yorkshire and Humberside last year—which dries out the bog, reduces the surface to a bare desert and makes the prospect of regeneration remote.

What this means was described in an article by Jeremy Purseglove in Landscape Design last year. He wrote:

"the unforgettable spectacle which Hatfield Chase presents … a sight which makes visitors' jaws sag …… is not so much its natural splendour as the ruin which man is inflicting upon it. Behind a discreet screen of wind-scorched Leyland's cypress are the shabby huts, tramlines, and stacked bales of the peat works: and beyond them extends 2,000 acres of totally stripped-out, black, gleaming peat; an area equivalent to that of a sizeable town. The remaining 1,000 acres of vegetation … is also scheduled for destruction … machines, looming out on the moor like space-age dinosaurs, pick over the raised mire, systematically dismembering it until there is nothing left. Hatfield Chase took 3,000 years to evolve … Now, in perhaps ten years or less, it will be gone, taken away bag by bag … for brief summer crops of tomatoes in our greenhouses, and to be scattered on people's rockeries".

This industrial extraction of peat has gone hand in hand with a horticultural revolution—the replacement of the sale of bare-rooted plants to be put in in the late autumn or winter by that of container plants grown in peat which can be planted at any time of the year, and the development of garden centres selling these container plants, growing bags, peat pots, and so on. Peat is highly convenient for such a trade, being light, clean, consistent and, with nutrients added, an excellent growing medium. So, all over Britain, pieces torn out of a unique, shrinking habitat, bundled up in plastic, are being sold to the public Peat is also much used for propagating vegetables, growing mushrooms and tree planting. Horticulture probably now accounts for three-quarters of the peat we use.

The result has been catastrophic for the lowland bogs. Of the 10 best raised bogs, only four have not been partially or completely cut over. The firms which supply the garden trade often operate, in England, on old planning consents with no conditions imposed which were granted in the 1940s before conservation was much understood and before high-tech extraction was thought of. In Scotland, it is mainly newly-granted consents which are causing loss. Peat is defined as a mineral and the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 overrides wildlife legislation and SSSI designation so that there is little protection.

The largest lowland raised mire system in Britain, Thorne Waste and Hatfield Moors near Doncaster, is being cut extensively, mainly by Fisons, the market leaders, whose horticultural division, however, provided only about 4 per cent. of the company's profits in 1988. I believe that 90 per cent. of Fisons peat holdings are in SSSIs. The Sunday Times reported last year that Fisons was so sensitive about its operations in Yorkshire that a photographer from the paper investigating its activities had to be rescued by police after he had been held against his will by the company's employees, who blocked his car for 45 minutes and demanded unsuccessfully, that he hand over his film. That does not sound as though Fisons was particularly proud of what it was doing there. Fisons is also cutting another important SSSI on the Solway Firth.

Another company, curiously named the Land Improvement Group, which owns a subsidiary called Croxdens, is cutting the mires on the Shropshire-Clwyd border where it has acquired three-quarters of an outstanding SSSI and intends, I believe, to quadruple production from 15,000 to 60,000 tonnes a year.

Little thought seems to have been given by the firms concerned to what can be done when the horticultural grade peat runs out, as it will, if nothing is done, in 20 to 30 years. It seems, moreover, very doubtful whether a raised bog, once destroyed, can ever be recreated. Dutch attempts to reconstitute peatlands have cost the almost unbelievable amount of £2 million per square metre.

Not only are we using up our own peat but we import large quantities, much of it from the Irish Republic, where vast quantities have been used to burn in power stations and vast quantities exported. Their unprotected raised bogs are likely all to be gone in about seven years' time.

At the eleventh hour serious public concern has become apparent. Ten conservation groups have joined forces to organise a peatlands campaign. They have commissioned research into alternatives from Sheffield University. The Royal Society for Nature Conservation in particular is doing a great deal to make the facts widely known. The Prince of Wales, patron of that society, recently put out a statement saying:

"I am most concerned to learn that 96% of the lowland peat bog in this country has already disappeared. The campaign by a number of respected conservation bodies, with over two million supporters, to attempt to secure the continued existence of the remaining 4% has my full support.

The use of peat in gardening and landscaping schemes seems to me to be causing quite unnecessary destruction of a richly varied and scarce wildlife habitat. Most of us who love our gardens care deeply about the natural environment … we would do well to set an example by not treating our peatland habitat as 'useless bog' to be drained, dug up and scattered about in our gardens. I have therefore decided to stop using peat on my garden at Highgrove and contracts for landscaping schemes for the Duchy of Cornwall will now specify that peat is not to be used".

Both Kew and the Royal Horticultural Society's gardens at Wisley are using less and less peat and experimenting with alternatives. Others—for example, the Severn-Trent region of the National Rivers Authority—have banned the use of peat in their gardening and landscaping activities. I hope that their lead will be widely followed.

What else can be done? The public can, and I hope will, build up consumer resistance to the unnecessary use of peat. If enough people stop buying peat products and demand alternatives, that will influence the market. There are alternatives. No single product replaces peat but a whole range covers different uses—bark, wood chips, leaf mould, spent mushroom compost, processed refuse and waste, coconut coir, rock wool, vermiculite, perlite and, last but not least, home-made garden compost.

I recognise that gardeners may not initially be enthusiastic if encouraged to use sewage sludge mixed with straw in place of peat, but with a real effort by the industry, the horticultural trade and the public, the use of satisfactory alternatives can become general. After all, Australia has a thriving horticultural and landscape industry which does not rely on peat. The media can also help to publicise the problem and the solutions. I am thinking of programmes such as the fascinating "Gardeners' Question Time". The use of peat in landscaping should stop now.

What can the Government do? It would be too much to expect them to react with the speed and decisiveness of the Prince of Wales, but I am moderately encouraged by the answer that the Minister for the environment gave to a question by Ms. Walley in another place on 30th April. I believe that our Government can and should devise a national peat conservation policy, as Finland and Canada have done or are doing. That means protecting those peatlands of conservation importance and conducting and encouraging more effective research into substitutes. We must also ensure—this is perhaps the key—that the planning machinery is used to conserve our peat heritage by refusing new planning permissions for extraction; reviewing and if necessary revoking existing planning permissions and providing funds for compensation; preventing the afforestation of peatlands of conservation importance; fully implementing relevant international conventions such as the Berne and Ramsar conventions and Community directives; ensuring that government departments stop using peat themselves or in contracts that they let; banning the import and export of peat; stopping the research into the use of peat as an energy source at present conducted by the Department of Energy; and providing the NCC with more resources for peatland survey, for too little is still known about the resource and we must know what exactly we still have.

Incidentally, the NCC has at present just two peat experts—one, Mr. Richard Lindsay, on bogs and another on fens. What, I wonder, will happen if the Government go ahead with their plans to dismember the NCC? There are quite different problems with peat in England, Scotland and Wales. How do you divide two into three; or is each country to have its own peat experts? Perhaps we shall hear about that when we discuss the Environmental Protection Bill.

Meanwhile, I hope that the Minister can tell us tonight whether the Government regard the rapid disappearance of our peatlands, and particularly of lowland peat, as serious, and if so what they propose to do about it.

8.2 p.m.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for having tabled this Question. I congratulate him on the elegant and comprehensive way in which he described the grave problem that we are discussing this evening. I should start by declaring a double interest. First, I am a member of the Nature Conservancy Council and, secondly, I have recently become president of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. I should add that I was not in any way involved in the situation when the photographer has his troubles on Thome and Hatfield Mosses.

I have long marvelled at the properties of peat, one of the reasons being that above my fireplace at home I have a giant elk's head with a span of nine feet six inches which is purported to be between 7,000 and 14,000 years old. That says much for the preservation powers of peat, but perhaps rather less for the sentiments of the people of Ireland towards my forebear, Sir Robert Peel, to whom it was presented when he was Secretary of State for that country. That was despite his granting of Catholic emancipation.

Living as I do in the Yorkshire Dales, I am surrounded by peat, but it is different from the raised peat bogs to which the noble Lord, Lord Moran, referred. He gave a comprehensive review of the difference between the two types of peat. In fact, he mentioned three types of peat.

I do not wish to concentrate my remarks on the uplands. Although I have strong feelings about them and could go on for many hours about them, I shall not bore noble Lords with those comments tonight. However, I do not wish to underestimate the problems. The noble Lord referred to the flow country. There is a serious problem there which I sincerely hope will be redressed as quickly and efficiently as possible. The two types of bog are very different. They have different characteristics and different ecosystems. The other main difference between them is that one is still relatively intact while the other is disappearing, as the noble Lord said, at a fast and worrying rate.

There is nothing wrong in the exploitation of a natural resource if it is sustainable or if it is of no importance. However, lowland bogs are an important wildlife resource and a most important indicator as regards environmental change. We should all be deeply concerned. Unfortunately, the modern methods of peat extraction make that resource unsustainable. There is no doubt that we need positive steps to secure the remaining bogs and a management strategy to ensure an acceptable conservation policy over the areas which have been and will be exploited. Sir William Wilkinson, the chairman of the NCC, recently said that peat extraction is the major cause of long-term damage to SSSIs in Great Britain.

The first thing that we do not want to do is overcriticise and thus lose the good will of those companies involved in peat extraction. However, there are strong feelings in Yorkshire, not just among the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust members but among others, about the illegal activities that took place at Thorne Moss—the exploitation of peat where no planning permission was held. I hope that, in view of that, particulary generous efforts will be made by that company in working towards a rewarding conservation strategy for the future.

We must remember that planning permission was granted on many of those bogs before SSSIs were designated. There is nothing untoward in the commercial extraction of peat on those sites. With hindsight, many more SSSIs should have been granted and many more areas protected, but we must work with the present and not hark back to what has been if we are to salvage the best conservation package for the future.

Furthermore, it would be counter-productive to buy out most of those areas—never mind the cost—as any degree of restoration would be virtually impossible to achieve without the co-operation of the peat industry. It has the machines and the know-how. It knows how to work the peat and, perhaps above all, it is the expert in hydrology. That is vital in trying to retain the peat bogs for the future.

Any strategy for our lowland peat bogs should be achieved by a strong partnership between the Government, the NCC and the companies concerned. However, one thing is absolutely sacrosanct; namely, that we must prevent any further exploitation of the pristine bogs—those that have not as yet been touched. If compensation is required from the Government where planning permission exists, those firms must be compensated. It is the last resort. For heaven's sake, let us not use them. David Bellamy said that, if we do not protect those bogs, we are in no position to comment on tropical rain forests.

I should also like to see the Government and the NCC negotiate to buy out the extraction rights on selected areas of SSSIs where damage has to date been limited in nature conservation terms. Thorne and Hatfield are examples. I speak of limited areas; I do not for one moment suggest that we can buy out all the areas that we should like to have. We have carefully to select areas and try to conserve them.

I believe that we should also negotiate for the maintenance of what are known as refugia—those areas which should be left as resource areas so that the bogs in question have some chance of recovery. There should be small areas left unexploited and to provide a base for rebuilding. Also, I am informed that the combined traditional last cut methods which are so important to the rehabilitation of peat bogs are expensive and probably would require some degree of compensation. I believe that that should be done again in selected areas.

There should also be the re-introduction of sphagnum moss, which is so vital to the survival of the peat. I realise that Fisons, among other companies, is already doing that. I welcome it and congratulate the company. There should be management strategy to secure, as I mentioned before, the hydrological integrity of these sites, which is so crucial to their survival.

I am advocating the building and continuation of a working partnership between the NCC and the companies concerned. That must comprise a commitment from the Government, financial if necessary, with the expertise of the Nature Conservancy Council, and a commitment from the companies to accept their nature conservation responsibilities. They have taken a lot out; they have to put back in a certain amount of it. Then we can work toward an acceptable future for the sites when they have been finally exploited. The question of what will happen to those sites at the end of the day has not been addressed. I hope that the NCC and the operators will discuss fully the future management of the sites in the very near future.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, has already referred to the importance of peat to the horticultural business. I realise that that is a difficulty. In this country we are rapidly reaching the end of this finite resource. Therefore I believe that it is the responsibility of the companies concerned to find an alternative to it. The noble Lord was quite right to draw attention to what is undoubtedly a complex situation which needs a strategy to ensure that we can at least hold on to a little of this highly prized and valuable resource in the shape of both pristine bog and the best of the exploited areas.

8.14 p.m.

My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for raising this important environmental issue to which I think not nearly enough attention has been paid. I hope that this debate will raise awareness. I might just repeat one or two of the points made by the noble Lord and the noble Earl. I apologise if I do but I believe that they are important and could well be re-emphasised.

I imagine that most people—certainly those noble Lords who are present tonight—know something about the special qualities of peat. It is a fossil fuel which is readily available to those living in a peat area. It is easily and cheaply extracted and processed. Because of its texture, water-holding properties and relative sterility, it is a very useful medium in horticulture, especially for encouraging seedlings. Peat bogs provide a specialised habitat for some of the rarest species of bird, insect and plant. Peat absorbs and imprisons carbon dioxide, thus helping to control one of the most potent causes of the greenhouse effect—that is until the peat bogs are drained.

When peat dries out it oxidises to carbon dioxide, water and a tiny amount of mineral salts. Each 40 kg bag of peat that is sold represents up to 58 kg of carbon dioxide, which is eventually released into the atmosphere. The shrinkage of soils in the Fens is produced by the same effect. Here the ground level has sunk by more than 15 ft. since 1850 and has released more carbon dioxide (I am told about 734 million tonnes) than the United Kingdom's entire annual output of carbon dioxide from coal, gas and oil. That information was given by Chris Rose at the Disappearing Peat Conference last December.

Peat can act as both a reservoir and purifier of water supplies. Because it excludes air it has a fantastic preservation power and so can act as an historical index. In 1850 the perfectly preserved and fully clothed body of a Romano-British person was found in a bog on the Grewelthorpe Moors in Yorkshire. So Victorian man was able to see with his own eyes exactly how his counterpart of perhaps 1,500 years earlier would dress—in a green cloak, an undergarment of scarlet cloth, yellow stockings and leather shoes. We hear a great deal about "Pete Marsh", the Lindow man. But only half of him was found and apparently he is now in the British Museum. However, there was a whole man on Grewelthorpe. Even more usefully one can discover by the techniques of pollen analysis exactly which plants have grown in a bog over millenia and so deduce the whole climate and weather pattern of the area.

What has now sharpened our appreciation of those qualities is the sudden discovery that this unique resource is being exhausted at a horrifyingly rapid rate. One statistic out of many will suffice, which is probably one that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, has given. Of the 10 best raised peat bogs in the United Kingdom only four have not been partially or completely cut over for peat. There are two main causes for that devastation.

First, the means of extracting peat has become enormously more efficient. What was once patient cutting by human hand tools is now a mechanical and often completely automated operation on a vast scale. Secondly, the operators, with a much bigger product to sell, have succeeded in persuading many more customers that they cannot do without it. The use of peat in gardening has become a fad and a fetish. The fact that the boom cannot last is cynically disregarded. Whereas the old-fashioned peat cutting gave the bog some chance of regeneration, the new, mechanical extraction cleans out all the peat and removes any chance of eventual recovery. But those who see a way to maximise a short-term profit are careless of posterity: after them, the deluge.

Something must be done to restore peat to the state of being a renewable resource. The obstacles in the way of that are serious. Peat is defined as a mineral. Its extraction is governed by planning law—the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. Thus, especially in the lowlands, protection is usually dependent on the decisions of the planning authority. Even though the site may be of international importance for nature conservation, the Nature Conservancy Council under the 1981 wildlife legislation can only advise the planning authority. The system therefore depends on the wildlife and commercial arguments being weighed objectively by the local authority and whether the case goes to inquiry by the Secretary of State. In Scotland, the Royal Society for Nature Conservation's review of the peat issue discovered that the general attitude of local authorities to peat was that it was an exploitable mineral. New applications are thus tending to be approved even on SSSIs.

In England the position is different because the majority of surviving sites are either nature reserves or have planning permission going back many years. The Peat Report published last year shows 5,711 hectares in England with planning permission. Those old consents have no associated planning conditions and not even an expiry date. Modification or revocation of such consents is possible only through the local authorities under the provision of the 1981 minerals legislation. That Act asks local authorities to review consents in order to assess whether they are appropriate. However, no timescale is given for the review; nor is it mandatory. The ceiling or compensation (£100,000) is totally inadequate for most peat operations.

I should like to quote another Answer on 30th April in another place. Ms. Walley asked how many orders modifying the planning permission for mineral and peat extraction or requiring the use of land to be discontinued or continued subject to conditions had been granted since 1981. Mr. Moynihan replied:
"According to our records, since 1981 no orders have been made which relate to peat extraction. Six orders have been made relating to other minerals".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/4/90: col. 380.]
The peat producers can sit on their assets and resist any offers of conservation management agreements from the NCC or inadequate, as they think, compensation from local authorities. Local authorities, squeezed for cash, are not in a good position to offer compensation. The Peat Producers' Association has produced a code of practice. However, it does not tackle any of the basic problems but instead relies on the concept of restoring bogs after working. Bogs take 7,000 years to develop. As the noble Lord, Lord Moran, has said, the Dutch have experimented with one of their last, severely damaged, bogs. The cost was £2-5 million per square metre. That is not therefore a practical proposition. The code does not address the point that peat bogs are a living archive.

Only new legislation revoking licences issued before a certain date and laying down much stricter conditions for new ones can stop the rot that looks likely to finish our peat by the middle of the decade. Are the Government alive to that and actively proposing to do anything about it, as Germany has done? In Germany in 1972 a federal law withdrew all existing licences for mineral extraction, including peat. Companies were obliged to apply for new ones when conditions were imposed over working methods and restoration. No compensation was payable for any losses that companies might suffer as a result of introducing the new provisions. We should go for as tough a measure as that. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, suggested that compensation should be offered. I believe that we could be a little tougher than that.

A second course of action is highly desirable in the shape of education. Peat is not essential for gardeners. I quote from an article which appeared in the Daily Telegraph today:
"Mr. Ian Richardson, spokesman for the Peat Producers' Association said: 'There is no economic alternative to peat at the moment, and the industry has an unparalelled record on nature conservation.'
But Mr. David Border, of Hensby Biotech, a company jointly owned by Anglian Water and Hensby Holdings, a leading producer of mushroom compost, said substitutes existed for 70 per cent. of gardening and horticultural applications".
I believe that many alternatives of equally effective products are now, or are shortly to be, available. Some of them make use of materials such as straw or household waste or sewage sludge for which a harmless means of disposal is urgently sought. Who will put that message across? We must emphasise that there are alternatives to the 2-5 million cubic metres of peat that we use every year that will not cause the destruction of some of the most important sites of special scientific interest in the country.

I read in a local paper last week that a primary school in Bluntisham, in my county, has gone into business selling bags of peat substitute donated by a local firm, Hensby Compost, to raise money for school funds and gardeners were hurrying to buy them; so there is a good example. But what we wish to hear from the Minister tonight is what the Government's intentions are. Will they encourage more research into peat substitutes? Are they seized of the seriousness of the situation? The arrival of the Environmental Protection Bill in the House may provide an opportunity for legislation.

8.26 p.m.

My Lords, after four such excellent speeches, I find that half of what I was going to say is superfluous. I should merely be repeating what has already been said. I could not do so with the degree of clarity that has so far been expressed. The main aspect that strikes me is one that runs through the entire environmental debate. We go through stages of awareness of what we are doing to our environment. We start by regarding anything that is part of the natural world as something to be used. We then go through a period of regarding it as something purely to be looked at in aesthetic terms. We then start to appreciate its constituent parts, its entity value.

The rain forests are an excellent example. The rain forests were considered as jungles that one had to conquer and exploit for their timber and so on. There followed a period of saying, "Don't they look nice." We know that they have economic value. We now realise that they will not last for ever and we shall be doing ourselves a favour by helping people to maintain them.

The same is true of the peat bogs in our environment. For instance, the marsh or fen country had a very bad press in our history and folklore. Anyone who comes from East Anglia, as I do, will be able to dig around for a few of the local stories about the fen country. They inevitably refer to an evil smelling place with many unpleasant things coming out of deep holes in the ground and invariably going down to hell. One then has the idea that one should drain the place, remove it, and use it for something useful. In other words, one regards it as totally wasteful. That is patent rubbish. We then have the stage of saying, "It doesn't look very nice," or, "It does look nice, so we'll leave it alone." Either way one can argue around that by saying that it should be put to some use. Thus in East Anglia all the fen country was put to the plough. As the noble Baroness, Lady David, has pointed out, that has resulted in the shrinkage of the land and a great release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

When we talk about the environment, it is virtually impossible to talk about a single part of it. Each question interrelates with dozens of others.

As the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said, morality is involved. The only piece of primaeval landscape left to us is the peat bogs. They are left over from the last Ice Age. We cannot replace them. Yet we are destroying them at a rate of knots. We then tell very much poorer, less developed countries with less resources available to them to stop felling trees because it will harm the atmosphere. They can tell us that either thousands of years ago or very recently we felled all our trees, and that we too are attacking our own wild environment. They could say, "You have no right to speak to us like that. Why should we worry if your sea levels rise?" A moral question is involved.

We are beginning now to discover the value of peat lands for their own scientific worth. As the noble Baroness, Lady David, said, they provide an excellent record of life in earlier times, of temperature and climatic changes—again coming back to the greenhouse effect—and archaeological finds.

I am interested in the archaeological finds because only half of "Pete Marsh", or Lindow man, was found. One wonders what happened to the other half. Does someone have a potted plant with the other half of him sitting in it? People should not be too squeamish about using a mulch made from sewage sludge and straw if they have such a decaying piece of animal—be it elk or man—sitting in their garden pots.

We must try to convince the general public that peat should not be regarded as the amazingly convenient plant potting material which it now serves as. Other substances can do the job just as well in the vast majority of cases. When I began to research the subject I was overawed by the number of other substances that can be used instead of peat; for example, wood shavings, straw, sewage, sludge and bark. Almost anything that is biodegradable can be formed into some form of compost. The leaves currently collected from out public parks and inner cities to be thrown away could make a vast amount of compost. There is no reason why in the vast majority of cases we should use peat. Its removal destroys our natural environment. No matter how ill one thinks of peat bogs and marshes they look a great deal better than a series of fields which have been ploughed and churned up to look like a filmset for the battle of the Somme.

We must try to look at the problem in the same way as we are looking at all other environmental problems; as part of our culture and history. The areas provide vitally important habitat for many different kinds of wildlife. It has been pointed out to me on many occasions that if one wants to preserve a species one must first ensure that its habitat is kept. There is no better way of destroying a wild animal than to destroy its habitat. That is far more efficient than shooting it with guns.

We must look at the problem on many different levels. Peat is not essential to us. It is an inefficient fuel. It is running out rapidly; it is forecast to run out in 10 years' time. Therefore, I suggest that all the companies now making money out of it will soon be out of business unless they rapidly involve themselves in finding alternatives. I humbly suggest that the marketplace should be encouraged to deal as heavy a blow as possible to them. The depletion of the peat resources also damages our heritage.

Taking all that into consideration, surely the Government should be looking at helping the public to provide a series of sticks and carrots. Undoubtedly this debate and others like it will make people think twice about peat before using it for potted plants. The Government should at least bring forward planning controls so that people cannot attack the areas of virgin wilderness left in this country. That is the least that they should be doing. That may mean offending certain of the interests which are digging up areas of our national heritage but they should be stopped forthwith. If the Government decide to give them some form of compensation so be it, though I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady David, that they do not deserve compensation because they have already had their pound of flesh. If they have not looked far enough into the future, as I have outlined, they deserve what is coming to them.

Finally, we must look at the overall question when considering the environment; we cannot look at only one issue. We must consider our moral standpoint, the scientific value and the right of the public to preserve the country in the state that it wants and deserves. That is not as one huge agricultural or industrial wasteland.

8.34 p.m.

My Lords, I too compliment the noble Lord, Lord Moran, on tabling this timely Unstarred Question about the future of United Kingdom peatlands. I also compliment all those who have spoken on the subject with such clarity, interest and challenge. There is an urgent need to question the continuing destruction and accelerated depletion of our peatlands. The Government must surely have a positive answer to the request for a realistic conservation strategy, especially in the light of their Environmental Protection Bill currently being enacted by Parliament.

During my early boyhood in Ireland the mention of boglands inevitably gave rise to solemn faces. It usually meant a journey into the dreary wasteland bogs where one strenuously laboured in wet, cold and windy conditions, cutting and stacking sodden peat. Weeks later one returned to transport the dried turf for use as domestic fuel. The Irish emigrants' lament, "The Auld Bog Road", with its 20 verses, did little to romanticise or make popular the wild and wonderful habitat of the boglands, no matter how well it was sung. At the same time I have pleasant memories of the delightful hours I spent at the Gerry Boag in Country Antrim. I watched the skylarks and listened to their glorious song as they rose higher and higher into the heavens.

Until recently I had given little serious thought to the peatlands of Northern Ireland. However, while motoring through some of the more remote areas of County Antrim and County Tyrone I was saddened by the sight of large tracts of peatland. They are stripped of their surface vegetation and had large open drains made ready for the machinery of the commercial peat extractors. I am sorry to say that a lack of awareness of the environmental importance of peatlands remains widespread throughout Northern Ireland. It is evident that any programme designed to conserve our peatlands and such parts of our natural heritage will require a range of concerted measures including legislation, land management, scientific research and programmes of relevant public information and education as part of a government-sponsored strategy.

I am glad that the debate is taking place so soon after the recent launch of the peatlands conservation campaign. The Royal Society for Nature Conservation and a number of other well known conservation groups joined that concerted campaign to end the commercial extraction of peat and to work for the development of an effective national peatlands conservation strategy. It is worth noting that a number of other countries have adopted national peatlands conservation policies. They include Canada, Finland, Switzerland, West Germany, Sweden and the United States of America. Indeed, many international bodies interested in the development of a worldwide peatlands conservation strategy are looking to the United Kingdom for leadership in achieving those objectives. That has been stressed at many international conferences.

I am pleased to add that the Dublin-based Irish Peatlands Conservation Council is associated with the campaign. I am also pleased that at an international conference on peatlands held last year in Dundee, the countryside and wildlife branch of the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland presented a positive and encouraging discussion paper on conservation strategy for peatlands in Northern Ireland.

There is already an international responsibility to protect peatlands. The United Kingdom is a signatory to the Berne and Ramsar conventions, both of which emphasise the importance of the need for concerted governmental conservation measures, as does the EC directive. The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 for Great Britain and the Planning Order 1972 for Northern Ireland have in practice only limited control over peat extraction. Notification of a bog to the Nature Conservancy Council as a site of special scientific interest in Britain (SSSI) or an area of special scientific interest in Northern Ireland (ASSI) does not provide protection. Planning consents override conservation needs and designations. There is no compulsion to take the advice of a statutory conservation agency for Great Britain or of the newly established semi-autonomous body in Northern Ireland—the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside. As already mentioned by my noble friend Lady David, the law and planning rules override nature conservation.

My Lords, as I understand it, it is quite clear that under the 1981 Act the Secretary of State for the Environment has the power to intervene and stop if he so wishes. This may require some degree of compulsory powers but I believe that the Secretary of State has those powers and could use them if he so wished.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl. That is reinforced to some degree by another point which I wish to make. As regards environmental powers of control over peat extraction and the establishment of effective conservation measures, perhaps the more recent EC directive No. 85/337 will prove to be more objective and encouraging. I await the Minister's response to those two aspects of the matter. The directive relates to environmental assessment regulations introduced in 1988. Among other relevant matters, the regulations require activities concerning peat extraction to be subject to assessment of the effect of the particular project on the environment.

I should be grateful if the Minister will reply to those points. Perhaps he can also indicate how the Government propose to encourage representatives of voluntary and community groups to make suitable applications for assessment of a particular project. It is from such groups that there comes the dynamism at community level. What research have the Government undertaken into the existence of procedures under the directive and the legislation which the noble Earl, Lord Peel, has mentioned? How effective has the directive been in its implementation?

There are two principal organisations in Northern Ireland with a direct remit concerning peatlands in the Province. The first is the countryside and wildlife branch of the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment; the other is the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside. The latter was appointed by the Northern Ireland Office to advise, assist and critically examine the work of government departments in the discharge of their statutory functions and the promotion of conservation services.

In general conservation and wildlife matters, I am glad that we in Northern Ireland have a considerable number of lively and active, voluntary bodies. The Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside is highly committed and professional in the exercise of its role and functions and is widely representative of nature conservation voluntary bodies in the Province.

Both the council and the departmental branch are in dire need of adequate financial resources to carry out their functions effectively. I understand that of 10 selected bogs in Northern Ireland, five have been declared areas of special scientific interest and three more may soon be similarly designated. It is obvious that more requires to be done. Some of the more important peatlands in conservation terms are the subject of planning consent and covered by planning requests for commercial and horticultural exploitation.

The real threat is the small peat extrusion machine which can irreparably damage large areas in a short time. Where peat is extracted for personal use, no planning permission is required under the system of turbary rights. Those are well known rights which have existed for perhaps two centuries. But there appears to be a large grey area where the law is not enforced and where difficulties often arise in tracing rightful ownership.

To heighten public awareness of the cultural and ecological values of the peatlands—and I add their economic benefits from the point of view of tourism—the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment and the Council for the NCC have co-operated in the development and construction of a peatland park. That is a major feature and unique, I understand, in the United Kingdom. Specially developed attractions include pools and a bog garden for demonstrating bogland plants which can be viewed from a boarded walkway. The visitors centre will house exhibits concerned with both the cultural and natural history of peatlands. It is designed with the special interests of school and further educational establishments in mind. The centre is to be formally opened on 9th June. All in Northern Ireland who are directly concerned with the peatlands should be proud of that first step on the way towards promoting information and new approaches to conservation.

There can be no doubt that the future of the peatlands and any real impact on the scale of depletion will depend on at least three factors. First, there needs to be the growth of a lively and sympathetic public attitude towards the cultural and ecological values of the peatlands. Secondly, the proposed new statutory nature conservancy councils for England and Scotland and the Countryside Council for Wales, together with the council in Northern Ireland, should be given genuine government support and the necessary resources effectively to carry out their full role and functions. Those matters will arise when we debate the Environmental Protection Bill in this House. Thirdly, and most importantly, the Government should produce a strategy to save our precious peatlands in consultation with the statutory bodies and representative voluntary groups together with commercial and horticultural interests.

Peatlands are not dull and barren places but are valuable and delicate resources. Urgent attention and careful thought must be given to their use so that the resource is not lost and wasted forever. I await with interest the Minister's reply to the debate.

8.47 p.m.

My Lords, like other noble Lords I wish to express my debt to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for drawing our attention to this important problem. He will not be surprised to discover that I cannot follow him in some of the propositions he made in the course of his submissions this evening.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, returned to one of his favourite themes. In a recent forestry debate he wished to impose on Scotland the same prohibition on planting which now exists throughout England and Wales. That is what is wrong with the argument of the environmentalists. They make blanket assumptions on all sorts of cases, irrespective of the impact which they have on other land use activities or on individuals who earn their living in the countryside.

I want to introduce a note of caution into this debate on the conservation of the peatlands. I subscribe to the general proposition and idea that sensitive areas which are important to the wildlife habitat of our country should be protected. However, I am sorry to say that sometimes the good and worthy cause is not promoted by individuals who are sensitive to other interests in the countryside. I quote the interesting case of David Bellamy, who descended on the island of Islay and a public meeting was called to invite the people to stop cutting peat.

Anyone who has calculated the cost of bringing other fuels into that island will readily appreciate why for centuries people have heated their homes by cutting peat. In addition, Islay has nine distilleries. It contributes more to the national Exchequer than any other comparable area in the United Kingdom. For generations the distillers have used peat, their native resource, in keeping the distilleries going. I am not sure whether that influences the taste of the product.

However, David Bellamy addressed the people of Islay, who rapidly escorted him to the pier and sent him home.

Shame, my Lords? If the noble Lord lived in Islay he would not call "Shame".

I know that, but people in Ireland also have an interest in peat.

The point is that David Bellamy had a case concerning the conversion of other fuel resources for use in the distilleries. But the case should have been negotiated and discussed and a balanced programme developed so that his impact might have been more rational and acceptable. Similarly, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and others trot out the case of the flow country. The flow country has a nice sound, but very few people in this House have seen it. It is a great marshy swamp in Sutherland. Some people find it possible to make a living there by planting trees, caring for them, and marketing and delivering them to the pulp mills where they are used. The noble Lord and others would say, "Let us just blanket the entire flow country and have no economic activity whatever because we must protect some aspect of wildlife habitat". It is that unreasonable approach which has prejudiced the case for the environmentalist.

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. Most of us object to the planting of trees or the churning up of the environment because we now realise that there is a value in the natural habitat as it exists. We are not totally against economic activity in these places. But if it destroys the country, which ultimately it will by such a huge change in its form, some other form of economic activity must be found elsewhere because we cannot replace the countryside.

My Lords, the noble Lord has already stated his case and has made that point. With all due respect, I presume he knows the flow country. The Secretary of State for Scotland quite rightly said that there is sufficient land in the flow country to protect the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and other environmentalists and at the same time provide a degree of economic activity in which people will be able to earn their living.

One of the most attractive aspects is a living countryside in which people find it possible to earn their living, send their children to school and develop a rural economy. They will not be able to do that if we blanket great areas of Scotland and say that they are to be protected exclusively for wildlife habitat and people must keep out, or alternatively it must be kept for the tourists. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, said that the Nature Conservancy Council must not be split. Most of the protests with regard to the splitting of the NCC have come from south of the Border.

There are important judgments to be made regarding land use in which it is vital that people who are close to the local situation should be involved and should understand. Decentralisation of the Nature Conservancy Council certainly provides that and will have wholehearted support.

We are not doing too badly in Scotland, working alongside the Nature Conservancy Council, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Forestry Commission and local authorities. We are developing what is called an indicative strategy as the result of negotiation, discussion and balancing the various interests. We are developing that indicative strategy and having it accepted by all involved in community activity. We are designating preferred sites for development and sensitive areas so that there will be guidance in an intelligent land use policy. It is by that careful balance and negotiation, weighing up the interests of all the various people involved in the countryside, that we will arrive at sensible conclusions.

This is an important debate and I fully subscribe to the alarm bells which the noble Lord, Lord Moran, started ringing about the depletion of our peatlands. But at the same time let us consider all the elements in the countryside.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he read Hansard tomorrow and see that every noble Lord tonight spoke in terms of consultation and prosperity with regard to the land? There is no question of land simply being allowed to lie idle in a blanket situation.

My Lords, with due respect, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said that he wants the whole of the flow country designated as a non-development area for any commercial purpose. That is a fairly common theme. I am sure that if we read Hansard it will be realised that what I am calling for is a balanced approach to land use.

8.58 p.m.

My Lords, I hope that I may be excused if I intervene to refer to a Welsh interest which has caused considerable local concern. I do not tonight propose to make the speech I hope to make Friday week.

I have just received a faxed message from the director of planning for Clwyd County Council regarding the large area of peat at Fenn's Moss in what was once part of my constituency. It lies on the edge of the Shropshire border where a similar but smaller area may also be affected. In all, in 1953 the Nature Conservancy Council designated around 1,700 acres—a considerable area—as a site of special scientific interest. That was reconfirmed, as was required, in 1983.

As was explained so clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and other noble Lords, that designation has not nullified the planning permission to work the peat granted by Shropshire in 1949 and by what was then the Overton Rural District Council in 1950. The recent alarm which has been touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, has arisen because a new company employing modern methods is now in a position vastly to increase the output of that very significant peat area.

At a meeting yesterday of the appropriate committee of Clwyd County Council it was reported that active discussions are proceeding with the NCC either as to purchase by it of the site or as to the enactment of a satisfactory management agreement. I am not so much against some element of compensation or recompense for a company which has taken a property on the understanding that it can be worked and then finds that for good reason it cannot be to anything like the extent it reasonably expected. Nevertheless, it is extremely important that the discussions should be proceeded with as rapidly as possible.

I understand that officials from the Department of the Environment have been involved in discussions with the local authorities concerned. Several Members of the other place have taken the matter up, as have a number of environmental pressure groups in Wales and across the Border. One can only hope that those pressures will succeed, and quickly, otherwise an important SSSI is likely to be irretrievably damaged. My apprehension is that the Nature Conservancy Council in Wales may be so preoccupied with its own domestic reorganisation that precious time may elapse before positive action is taken. I can only hope that I may be proved wrong.

9 p.m.

My Lords, as other speakers have said, we owe a great debt to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for introducing this very topical and important subject. I believe that this matter has been brought more sharply to the notice of the average person because of a recent publicity campaign and exposure in various sections of the media. Probably the most important exposure of all was on television. I have seen television programmes depicting what is going on.

It would be remiss of me to try to introduce any new facet into the debate, because almost everything that can be said has been said. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, regarding a particular area which has a specific interest. I concur with his approach; namely, that there should be the closest consultation so that an agreed programme can be carried out in that unique area.

However, that is not what is frightening us. We are frightened by the rapid ripping out of peat which has taken thousands of years to form and without there being any possibility of it being replaced. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who mentioned the astronomical cost to the Dutch who became involved in the programme of replacement.

We have to be very understanding about what man has done in the past. He does not emerge very well when one considers his past actions. I have in mind some of the species which have disappeared from the earth and some of the areas of the earth which have been ripped apart for no other purpose that to make money. Certain groups of people have populated the earth and then disappeared. Man exploited such people and he should take a great deal of the blame. However, man was allowed to get on with the problem.

Even today there are people who want to start hunting the whale despite all the campaigns that have taken place to try to preserve that magnificent creature. The people involved in peat extraction on a commerical scale should not be too surprised if the public, including the noble Lords who have spoken tonight, view them with great suspicion. I do.

I would not offer compensation. Why should the peat extractors be offered compensation? They did not put the peat there: that was done by time and history. I see no particular reason to compensate people for something which was not theirs in the first place. As regards co-operation with some of the people involved in large-scale peat extraction, during this debate one noble Lord referred to the fact that there had been a rather unfortunate experience somewhere in Yorkshire. A representative of the media went there to take some pictures and he was roughly, and in some respects illegally, handled by employees of the large private company involved in extracting peat from that area.

Noble Lords who have already spoken have given some idea of some of the measures that can be brought in to deal with the situation. More than one noble Lord has referred to the fact that a good deal of the peat is being extracted under legislation which has become out of date and which should be modernised. I believe I heard one speaker correctly when he said that the NCC was making recommendations in connection with particular areas but was being overruled because of local planning permission which had been given in the past. That seems rather odd.

During an intervention the noble Earl, Lord Peel, expressed the opinion that the Secretary of State for the Environment already had within his control sufficient powers to issue directives to deal with the problem. If that is so, then that is a condemnation of successive Secretaries of State, because they have never invoked those powers. They have never used them.

Your Lordships' House is asking the Government to look now at this problem in a comprehensive way and as a matter of urgency. A difficult situation has emerged. If a great deal of time is taken in evolving an acceptable policy the damage which could be done in the interim by machines of juggernaut size would be of enormous dimensions and difficult to calculate. In the intervening period work undertaken on a large scale in a particular area would result in irreparable damage.

Noble Lords have already spoken about a variety of substitutes that can be used to reduce the reliance on peat. I believe the figures have been given by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and by my noble friends Lady David and Lord Blease concerning Northern Ireland. There has been a tremendous growth in the use of peat because of its greatly increased use in horticulture. I understand, however, that a large number of substitutes could be used for the purpose. Will the Government commission a programme of research with a view to producing speedy progress on different substitutes?

Is the Minister aware of the research programme being undertaken at Wye College with the support of the Shell company? I understand that it is primarily aimed at encouraging farmers to use for compost materials for which at present there is no suitable use. Does the research have government support? If they are not supporting it, I ask them to do so as a matter of urgency. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned substitutes such as sewage and the animal by-products of farming which are lying about in abundance in some areas but are not being used. They are not being used because people are able to get their hands on a ready-made commodity without recourse to anything else.

I hope that the debate, which was superbly opened by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who presented his case and the facts for his argument in great detail, will indicate the need for an urgent preservation programme. If the Minister cannot give noble Lords answers to specific questions today, I trust that the debate will have served the purpose of making the Government understand that, in this important problem as in many others, time is not on our side. We do not want action tomorrow. We want it today or as quickly as is humanly possible in the national interest. I hope that the noble Lord will convey those sentiments as quickly as possible to his colleague the Secretary of State.

9.10 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to join other noble Lords in expressing my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for introducing this most illuminating debate and for giving me the opportunity to give an account of the Government's thinking on and approach to the important issue of the measures needed to safeguard one of this country's most important natural habitats. The noble Lord made a powerful case. I shall endeavour to meet his request that I should tell the House what the Govenment are proposing to do and I shall return throughout my speech to points which he raised.

Although in the field of nature conservation as a whole we believe that we have policies and a record of which we can be justly proud, we are not complacent. Our recognition of the dynamism of the subject area with which we are dealing precludes it. New difficulties continually emerge as a result of economic growth and technological advance. We therefore value highly the dialogue with various voluntary conservation bodies. We greatly appreciate, for example, the work put into the Peat Report by the Royal Society for Nature Conservation and all he other voluntary bodies. The Peat Report expresses persuasively legitimate concerns about the exploitation and loss of our peatlands.

The extraction of peat for sale is a mineral working operation which in Great Britain requires planning permission under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 for England and Wales, and the equivalent 1972 Act in Scotland. The noble Lord suggested that the commercial peatlands should be brought within the planning law. That is already the case.

One of the Government's policy objectives for minerals planning control, as stated in our series of minerals planning guidance notes, is,
"to ensure that land taken for mineral operations is reclaimed at the earliest opportunity and is capable of an acceptable use after working has come to an end".
The after use for an individual mineral site may be its former use or a new, different and acceptable use. To achieve this objective we would now expect permissions for mineral workings of all types to include conditions on restoration and aftercare which are appropriate to the site in question.

However, the Government recognise that in many cases the permissions governing the existing peat workings, particularly in England and Wales, were given a considerable time ago, mainly by predecessors of the present mineral planning authorities in the early years after the first Town and Country Planning Act in 1947. They contain few, if any, controls on the method of working and lack even basic requirements for restoration and aftercare. Many of the permissions were given before the nature conservation importance of the peat areas had been fully appreciated. Moreover, technological advance, as several noble Lords pointed out, has transformed the techniques for peat extraction. New techniques mean that the peat is drained—and no speaker explained this more graphically than the noble Lord, Lord Moran—and worked more rapidly to a greater depth. The effect of this is that in many cases regeneration of the peat is not possible or would take a very considerable time.

Several noble Lords referred to the 1981 minerals Act. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, suggested that a major review of planning consents should take place, that consents should be withdrawn pending the review and that compensation should be available from public funds.

The Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Act 1981 introduced new powers and duties for mineral planning authorities. They have a duty to review, though not within any specific time limit, the workings and permissions in their areas. The purpose of the review is to monitor all recently active sites or sites authorised but not yet started to ensure, where practicable, that conditions are consistent with current minerals planning practice. Following this review, the authority will then wish to establish priorities for action. The legislation requires authorities to make formal orders to achieve their objectives where they consider this appropriate. These orders enable planning authorities to revoke or modify permissions and thus raise environmental standards.

Under legislation stretching back to the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, if a planning consent is revoked or amended, compensation is payable by the local planning authority. We recognise that the terms of many of the peat extraction permissions which have been highlighted in today's debate are such that if a mineral planning authority were to seek to revoke or substantially modify them, substantial compensation is likely to be payable by the authority to the mineral company. However, the solution to the planning problems may not always be a formal order. Other measures, such as voluntary agreements between the parties about, for example, working methods may be appropriate.

In cases where the NCC judges that nature conservation is particularly important, the council may enter into a management agreement with a mineral company and pay compensation for the profit it forgoes by modifying its working practices for the benefit of nature conservation. As a very last resort, direct purchase may be agreed. Either course of action can be extremely expensive and the NCC must consider such options against other expenditure priorities for the benefit of nature conservation.

As I said, the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Act 1981 places a duty on MPAs to review sites in thier areas and I understand that some review work is in hand. The Government believe that this approach will enable the issues to be considered fully by the parties. They are also always ready to consider proposals for management agreements or purchase that may be put forward by the NCC.

But the Government are not content to leave matters as they are. Discussions have been held with the mineral planning authorities, which have responsibilities for the major areas of workings, and the NCC, and we intend to hold discussions with the industry. We are therefore convinced of the need for the kind of co-operation with industry, the NCC and the MPAs for which my noble friend Lord Peel is hoping. We believe that this will enable us to obtain a clearer idea of the scale of the problem from all viewpoints and will help to keep the Government fully informed on the issues. Further, the Nature Conservancy Council is preparing a peatland resource date inventory which for the first time will bring together in a coherent form the best available information on the extent of our peatlands, their characteristics and their significance for wildlife. We shall also wish to consider whether there is a need to commission research, in conjunction with other interested parties, into working and restoration techniques. We shall then be in a position to consider what further planning guidance may be required about nature conservation and land-use matters affecting peatlands.

In addition, the Department of the Environment is already committed to assessing the practical operation and implementation of the powers contained in the 1981 Act during the next year to 18 months. In this assessment we will wish to consider the special problems with regard to peat extraction. It is already clear, however, that many of the remaining lowland areas in England are important for nature conservation and are under severe threat from mineral extraction. The noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Moran, and other noble Lords, made that point. We have therefore asked officials to report to us on the key areas under immediate threat and on the available options to balance nature conservation against legitimate mineral extraction interests. Your Lordships will of course be kept informed of the decisions we take on these matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, raised the question of alternatives to peat. Whenever possible alternatives to peat are already used by government departments and we shall consider carefully extending their use. The noble Baroness asked whether we were encouraging research into alternatives for peat. Work is being carried out by the Ministery of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the use of alternatives. ADAS is at present closely involved in the re-evaluation of alternatives and is working with commercial firms in those areas, We are greatly encouraged by the potential of some of those materials of providing an acceptable alternative to peat for the horicultural industry, although their main application thus far has been in landscaping projects. In deciding our research priorities, we shall be taking into account the need to replace peat with acceptable alternatives while meeting the specialist needs of the horticultural industry.

The noble Lord, Lord Blease, asked about environmental impact assessment. The EC directive applies only to applications made after the directive came into force in July 1988. Permissions granted before that date are not affected.

My noble friend Lord Peel also contributed to the discussion about whether the Secretary of State has power to intervene once planning permission has been granted. The Town and Country Planning Act 1971 contains reserve powers for the Secretary of State to direct the revocation or modification of planning permission. However, I am not aware of those powers being used. It would probably be undesirable in the present context. Such action would still mean that compensation would be payable by the local authority. It would destroy the co-operation between the parties to which my noble friend referred.

The noble Baroness, Lady White, mentioned Fenn's Moss. We are aware of the anxiety being expressed about the future of that site. I understand that a number of proposals have been considered, including one that some peat extraction on previously worked areas could take place without destroying the scientific interest of the site. Other proposals involve the possible purchase or lease of areas of the moss. I cannot comment further at this stage, but I can assure the noble Baroness that we shall take into account the many views being expressed should firm proposals be put to the department by the NCC and/or the county councils involved.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, asked whether I was aware of research into alternatives to peat being conducted by Wye College. I was not aware of that research, and am pleased to know of it. I am aware of the other work being done by ADAS and the Department of Transport.

The noble Lords, Lord Moran and Lord Taylor of Gryfe, raised in different senses the question of forestry in Caithness and Sutherland. The Highlands Regional Council has produced an indicative forestry strategy which has been agreed by the NCC and the Forestry Commission which indicates areas where forestry can proceed without significant damage to the overall nature conservation interests of the flow country. The Secretary of State for Scotland has endorsed the strategy and any permissions for afforestation will be granted in accordance with it. The HRC report in our view points a sensible way forward that we hope will result in the reconciliation of opposing interests.

To conclude, the Peat Report has usefully highlighted important questions about the conservation of our peatlands and the urgency for action to preserve an important part of our natural heritage. The Government are well seized of those issues and, as I hope I have explained, they have a number of actions in hand which will inform the consideration of the problems and illuminate the development of their policies. It will be a little while before that work is concluded and therefore my remarks this evening have necessarily been in the nature of a progress report. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for giving me this opportunity to demonstrate that the Government are seriously concerned about those matters. I look forward to keeping your Lordships' House informed as further progress is made.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past nine o'clock.