Environment, Local Government and Education
Mr Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I agree with my hon. Friend, and if I were not trying to make a short speech I would expand my remarks to cover the inadequacies of the Public Order Act 1986. Many serious defects exist in the present law and I had hoped that at the beginning of the debate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would say whether a review was in progress and, if so, when it might be brought to its conclusion. I hope at least that in correspondence he will give me some encouragement, because increasingly many people are arguing for the substitution of unitary authorities for county councils in dealing with these issues. We need more openness in dealing with the matter, with greater equity all round.
The second point on the environment to which I wish to refer requires me to declare my interest as a passionate angler, but as there are 3 million anglers in Britain, and most of them vote, hon. Members will agree that I need not apologise for raising the matter. Anglers are concerned about the environment pre-eminently because, if they are to pursue their sport, they need water of quality and quantity in which to fish. There is depressing daily evidence that that desirable situation is getting harder to satisfy. To a large extent, it is nobody's fault but the Almighty's. The Government cannot be blamed for the drought. As the Government have resisted the temptation to appoint a Minister who might be blamed, we cannot apportion the blame much further.
Even leaving the drought aside, I would not go so far as the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), who seemed to blame the Government for failing to appoint an environment agency. I do not know what powers such an agency might have. Most of those who are familiar with the situation agree that much could be done, without rearranging the brass plates on the doors in Whitehall and elsewhere, to ensure that we have effective action to deal with a problem that is easily identified.
We do not need an environment agency to deal with the problem of rivers running dry because of excessive abstraction. The National Rivers Authority has powers, if it cares to use them, to limit and, if necessary, revoke abstraction licences and to move away from the policy that it seems to have adopted lately of treating abstraction licences on a first-come, first-served basis.
There is an urgent need for my right hon. Friend to talk to the chairman of the National Rivers Authority, Lord Crickhowell, and get from him a full report on the action that is to be taken to end the scandal of empty rivers. In Berkshire and Yorkshire—for example, in the Pang and Driffield Beck—nobody can fish because there is insufficient water. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) would echo that point if he were in a position to speak today.
In that context, will the Minister urgently consult the National Rivers Authority about the NRA's approach to the question of transferring water from one part of the United Kingdom to another? The NRA appears to have plans to use rivers as pipelines, regardless of the effect that that might have in transferring acidic water from one part of the country to alkaline rivers in another.
We must review the whole issue of the use of water, recognising that it is a scarce and precious resource. We must appreciate that rivers running with pure water are absolutely essential to the beauty of the countryside as well as to anglers who wish to fish in them.
There are subsidiary issues such as surfactants, foam-causing agents, and the menace, as many anglers see it, of the burning of orimulsion in power stations. Those are subjects on which I hope that the responsible Minister will produce full reports as soon as possible.
I am not anxious to speak at great length because I know that many others wish to contribute to the debate. I wish only to say that in the Gracious Speech we are rightly told that the value of the environment at home and abroad is something that the Government are pledged to defend. That statement is most welcome and I have no doubt that it will he honoured.
I welcome especially the initiative that has been taken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in relation to the Rio summit. In his speech in the address in reply to the Gracious Speech, my right hon. Friend stressed that we were seeking to give assistance to other parts of Europe, including that which we called eastern Europe, which is now emancipated. Many of us would judge it to be an environmental disaster area. A high priority—I believe that we are the best nation in Europe to discharge it—should be attached to making industrial emissions cleaner and to fighting against environmental pollution so as to bring a civilised environment to areas that have been devastated by years of communist industrial inefficiency. That is one area—my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) listed others—in which I believe that we are uniquely equipped and qualified to set the pace at both European and world level.
We have before us an excellent Gracious Speech. I welcome its contents and I believe that it bodes well for the future of the entire United Kingdom.