Pollution

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd December 1972.

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12.3 p.m.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher , Oldham West

The second Royal Commission report on Environmental Pollution said that our problem is how to strike a balance between the benefits of a rising standard of living and its costs in terms of deterioration of the physical environment and the quality of life. This is a problem which no country has yet solved, but what is much more disturbing in our case is that there is a striking lack of evidence that the Government have seriously tried to solve this problem in a systematic manner. It is this lack, as I believe it to be, of a clear, coherent and comprehensive strategy on which I want to concentrate today.

Certainly there has been no lack of odd bursts of action. The discovery of children playing with cyanide drums on rubbish dumps panicked the Government into passing the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act earlier this year; close planning and controls were imposed on the discharge from the potash refinery at Cleveland Potash Ltd.; a tightening was made in regulations governing the emission of grit and dust from furnaces; planning permission for the extension of the main runway at Leeds-Bradford Airport at Leadon was refused, partly because of noise considerations; the grant to the Council for Environmental Studies was increased to £200,000 a year although it is still utterly unequal to the task of generating a demonstrably effective and comprehensive anti-pollution technology; a gradual reduction in the permitted lead content of petrol by 1975 was announced; new restrictions on vehicle noise has been announced, though industrial noise is allowed; four working parties were set up in preparation for the Stockholm conference and their reports were published; and, most recently, the previous Secretary of State announced that he was planning bigger fines for firms which illegally dump industrial waste in rivers.

That, however, is as far as we have got. However desirable each of those elements may be in this unco-ordinated medley of measures, nobody, not even the Government's own supporters, could claim seriously that they all add up to a real policy.

A policy, I would submit, would require an appropriate administrative structure, a set of definite objectives and detailed targets, and, perhaps most important, the means of enforcement within specified deadlines. None of this exists except fragmentarily in particular areas of pollution such as I have mentioned.

Perhaps the most important requirement is a central executive agency with an appropriate overall range of responsibilities and the necessary working methods. At present we have only the Alkali Inspectorate, with public health and various other pollution inspectorates. Surely the recommendation of the Robens Report should be implemented so that they are amalgamated into some overall pollution control service.

However, the administrative structure is perhaps less important than the techniques of enforcement to be used by such an agency. It is a highly unsatisfactory position that the Alkali Inspectorate can at present insist that a firm must use "the best practicable means" of preventing the emission of smoke, dust and grit, yet the courts have ruled that "the best practicable means" must be interpreted to mean what is feasible bearing in mind the economic well-being of the firm concerned. The result is that a firm can far too easily argue that it just cannot afford a particular improvement which may be required. What is worse is that the Alkali Inspectorate has become infected by the courts' decision. The chief inspector notoriously champions co-operation with industry. That tends to mean in practice having at confidential meetings with industrial polluters and refusing to divulge information to the public which intimately experiences pollution from the factories.

The effect of this is revealed by the complacency instanced, for example, in the 104th annual report that dust emitted by cement works holds no obvious danger to health. It says: The only effect noticed is psychological, due to irritation caused by the deposit of dust on roofs, cars, furniture, washing and vegetation. It is for this reason partly that we still have some of the foulest air in Europe.

The gross ineffectiveness of the inspectorate's methods is shown by the fact that last year, according to the 108th annual report, the Alkali Inspectorate made 237 fewer visits and carried out only three prosecutions. The chief inspector's argument in favour of his timidity is that a tough police approach would merely clutter up the courts with prosecutions. Certainly this tacitly acknowledges the present degree of failure in enforcement. As an argument it is surely invalidated by comparison with the approach to crimes against property, such as theft. Nobody would seriously argue that we should be more co-operative with thieves in order to reduce pressure on the courts. Yet surely the environment as a collective public property is infinitely more valuable and more irreplaceable than the private goods and possessions of any individual.

The chief inspector also argues that a co-operative approach with industry is anyway more effective. The fallacy of this is indicated by the remarkably poor record of the Alkali Inspectorate in ensuring that companies keep to deadlines with regard to new agreed standards. So bad has been this record that I am glad to say it actually earned a rebuke from the former Secretary of State whose view, reported in the Sunday Times of 18th June was: Present control is considered to rely too much on the co-operation of industry. I agree with that but, unfortunately, the former Secretary of State did very little about it.

What the present Secretary of State should do is to follow the American example of requiring the placing of performance bonds by defaulters from which penalties can be levied if a factory fails to meet the pollution control schedule that has been set, over-runs it or fails to meet the requisite standards. Companies should no longer be permitted to plead poverty as a cause for inaction, as far too many still do, but rather the authority of the pollution control service should be vested in its power to impose pollution levies, which might be of two main kinds.

The first might be the power to raise the standards of the effluents and to impose levies on defaulters which could then be used to finance further research on pollution reduction. There is every justification for such a levy to make the polluter pay, since the work of Professor Barry Commoner in the United States has shown with devastating clarity how, across the whole industrial board, the newer industrial technologies have an intensive degrading impact on the environment and have forced out the older technologies which have a light effect on the environment. Detergents have replaced soaps, plastic has replaced paper production, trucks are driving out trains, nylon shirts are taking the place of pure cotton shirts, and so on. One could give many examples. In every case this is because the new technology is more profitable. It is more profitable because the users are not paying the full bills. The user is appropriating the air or landscape at nil cost, and this amounts in effect to a substantial public subsidy. There is every reason for recovering this in the form of a pollution levy.

A second power to levy firms should apply in cases where processes are used of such a kind that technology as yet offers no means to reduce that pollution—for example where firms are creating dereliction, where technology offers no opportunity for reclamation. The justification again is that such externalities of cost should clearly in the public interest be externalised. Such a tax would provide industry with a much more direct incentive itself to solve the problem.

The power of levy as such is clearly not enough, partly because the aim must obviously be prevention and not merely compensation after the event. An essential requirement for the more effective working of the pollution inspectorate, whatever ultimate structure is adopted, should be the freeing of relevant information from the unreasonable restrictions at present placed on it.

The Alkali Acts prevent the publicising of the processing and control plans that are submitted by firms to the inspectorate, but they say nothing about giving information on emissions. However, the Alkali Inspectorate has for its own reasons chosen to take advantage of the Official Secrets Act for this purpose. That is not merely anti-social but even illicit. Section 2 of the 1911 Act states: If any person having in his possession or control any … document, or information … which has been … obtained … or which has been entrusted in confidence to him … or which he has obtained owing to his position as a person who holds or has held office under His Majesty … communicates the … document or information to any person"— This is the crucial part— other than a person to whom he is authorised to communicate it, or a person to whom it is in the interest of the State his duty to communicate it … shall be guilty of a misdemeanour. In other words, only the unauthorised release of information by a Government employee is prohibited. Why should not the Alkali Inspectorate, or whatever substitute is put in its place, be directed to let the Public know about the emissions of the factory which are polluting the air where it is specifically requested by those persons in sufficient numbers? This is specifically called for by the second report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, although the Government have not vet Pronounced on it. No doubt the Under-Secretary of State will comment on this.

A second area where a change in the ground rules is urgently required concerns the burden of proof. At present it is incumbent on the protector of the amenity to show evidence that a particular chemical or similar product will produce damage to the environment. The implication is that, normally, environmental damage must first take place before it is possible to control the source of pollution. That is surely highly undesirable. It should be replaced by another recommendation of the second report of the Royal Commission that an early warning system should be introduced for the possible impact on the environment of new chemicals or similar products both in their production and in their use, as has already happened with regard to drugs and pesticides.

There is plenty of evidence of officers dealing with river pollution complaining that new and more complicated chemicals are appearing every year in effluents. There is no fail-safe sufficiently satisfactory system for ensuring environmental safety.

Furthermore, one of the Government's working parties in its report "The Human Environment: The British View" took the attitude that a central problem was the identification of substances which might be dangerous if emitted into the environment or concentrated in animals. That is clearly crucial. The popular weed-killer 2,4,5-T is now known, after being used in Vietnam, in certain circumstances to have foetal deforming properties. The distribution of long-lived pollutants like the chlorinated hydrocarbons such as DDT and dialdrin is simply not known at present.

Although there have been protestations by the Government that they are in favour of setting up an early warning system to identify all these potentially dangerous substances coming into the environment, it has still not yet been done and it should be done immediately.

The third area in which action is long overdue concerns the level of penalties for pollution offences. These are often at such a derisory low level as to bring the law into disrepute. The maximum fine which may be imposed on a firm that ignores the consent standards under the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1970 is only £100. Without being an extremist, I think one could recommend that the level of penalties should be at least 10 times and in some cases as much as 100 times more if they are to be seriously effective.

This would have the advantage that not only would a works manager find it a much easier job to sell the need for pollution-control equipment to his head office, but it would also give much greater and more salutary publicity to firms that transgressed. Only really swingeing fines are likely to deter companies like the Lancashire Fuel Company depot in my constituency whose increased coal dust emissions have wretchedly polluted the neighbourhood but where the company has consistently dragged its feet about taking measures that would effectively put a stop to the nuisance. The Government, however, have only talked about imposing higher fines, and so far have not done this.

If these changes in procedure were implemented more decisive action could be taken by the anti-pollution authority in several directions. A target date should be imposed for removing most of the carbon monoxide from vehicle exhausts and achieving and enforcing lead-free petrol, which is particularly important when a number of recent studies have linked the greater degree of mental disturbance among children with vehicle pollution. I am aware that the Government have agreed on progressive reductions in the lead content of petrol to the level of 0·45 grammes per litre by 1975, but that is still higher than West Germany's present level of 0·4.

Other targets for action should include recapturing the tempo of the smoke-control programme. Some of the steam has gone out of it recently—if that is not the wrong phrase to use in this context. The Government should declare a definite deadline for a smokeless Britain by the late 1970s.

Another objective should be stricter control of the dumping of toxic wastes at sea, together with the ending of the discharge of untreated sewage offshore and in rivers. The third report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution urged that all industrial and sewage effluent discharges to tidal waters and estuaries should be brought under statutory control by mid-1974 at the latest, as well as discharges of sewage from vessels. But we have had no pronouncement or declaration of intent from the Government.

Yet another important area for the attention of the pollution control authority is the encouragement of municipal enterprise in recycling. This should be combined with considerable State aid for the development and protection of the recycling industry. For a start, there could be a cost-benefit study on the increased use of non-returnable bottles and excess packaging, which might lead to a policy of physical restrictions or a levy to recoup the costs of public disposal.

A further subject where the pollution control service should adopt an all-embracing purview is noise. The Government have laid down that the maximum permitted noise for cars shall he reduced to 80 decibels by next April and for heavy lorries to 89 decibels by April 1974. Those are tighter limits by four decibles and three decibels respectively. The reduction is not big. It is welcome, but the level which is permitted is still far too high. The ceilings are still well above those recommended by the Wilson Committee on noise.

More important is the anomalous omission of industrial noise from the scope of effective controls. This is perhaps the most damaging and sustained exposure to noise that people have to bear. Machine manufacturers should be required to manufacture equipment that conforms to standards.

Such omissions show that although some highly useful initiatives are undoubtedly being taken from time to time, they are gravely marred by the lack of a comprehensive strategy.

There are two other areas where an overall pollution control service with clear strategic responsibilities could make an important contribution in the long term. One is in securing a better preservation of scarce commodities by regular advice on a suitably scaled tax system that enhances the durability of goods. For example, a motor tax that was high in the first year of a car's life but reduced thereafter would encourage the motor industry to build longer-lasting cars. On the same principle the Government should be prepared at least to consider seriously a multi-tiered VAT on consumer durables related to the intended life span of the commodities.

We can make the same point on the international level by arguing for a mineral tax determined by the availability of any given mineral reserve. On that basis it could be imposed at a higher rate on copper, which is likely to be exhausted earlier rather than later. That is typical of the area where more could be done to seek international harmonisation through the Stockholm arrangements.

A further responsibility for the pollution control service should be long-term research. I do not think that the Centre for Environmental Studies is adequate. The authority should establish a unit to carry out long-term research and development, with international collaboration on the supply, processing and recycling of the fuel and mineral resources which will remain needed beyond the next one or two generations, when there is every expectation that the relative costs of the processes may be drastically changed.

I have raised many issues, but there has been one central theme. It is the need for a strategy, and what is clearly seen to be a strategy, rather than the present relatively unco-ordinated ad hoc series of initiatives, which are not necessarily geared to any single, coherent, central philosophy and which contain too many gaps. The proper administrative structure does not exist. The objectives are not laid down clearly enough, and too many of the targets are decidedly vague. Above all, the capacity for enforcement is riddled with holes and anachronisms.

Therefore, I hope very much that the Government will at last replace the present system of piecemeal efforts by a much more systematic approach in the spirit of the Labour Government's White Paper on the protection of the environment, and that we shall move from a more tactical response to emergencies towards the strategic planning so desperately needed.

12.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

As the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said, he has ranged widely and has touched on many subjects. I shall try to do justice to his various points.

I must say at the outset that the hon. Gentleman's description of this country's environmental policy as being characterised by odd outbursts of action rather than a total approach is utterly at variance with the facts. I appreciate his sincerity and earnestness, but his speech reveals a maximum of concern and a minimum of homework. I regret very much that in rightly seeking to raise these matters of concern to his constituents and the whole country he apparently has not bothered to find out the facts before making his speech. I shall try to enlighten him.

The hon. Gentleman began by speaking of the need for a total administrative machinery for tackling the multifarious aspects of pollution. What does he suppose was in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he set up the Department of the Environment, bringing together for the first time in any country all the necessary machinery to have a total approach? Is not he aware that the whole purpose of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution is to give advice to the Government and the country about the pulling together of our total approach to environmental pollution?

The hon. Gentleman suggested that Britain has some of the foulest air in Europe. I should be the last person to be complacent about the fact that in some of our older industrial areas and isolated works some very bad air problems exist, but I know from the many international gatherings I have attended that this country's clean air policy is the envy of most of the industrialised world. Far from our air being the foulest in Europe, as the hon. Gentleman put it, it is on the evidence the cleanest of all the industrialised countries in Western Europe—and they know it.

In the same way the hon. Gentleman suggested that there is a fragmentary approach to clean water. However, he appears not to be aware of the important and considered statement of the Secretary of State of our total clean water strategy, whereby we expect to achieve by the early 1980s a massive cleaning up of our river systems which will be similar to that already achieved in the cleaning of the air.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that there is a casual and sporadic approach to the problems of waste disposal. But is he not aware that the House has recently agreed, in the reorganisation of local government, that waste disposal should be made the responsibility of the new and much more powerful county authorities? There will be placed upon them a statutory obligation to manage the disposal of waste in a more effective way than ever in the past. That was the purpose of putting the clause in the Bill.

I am Chairman, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, of the Noise Advisory Council, and I am the last person to be satisfied about noise levels. They are unsatisfactory, and we want to improve them. However, I ask the hon. Gentleman, before he comes to the House, to study the work and the reports of the Noise Advisory Council and the actions which the Government have taken as a result.

I now deal with some of the details of the hon. Gentleman's case. Is our air the foulest in Europe? Over four-fifths of the smoke in the air comes from domestic dwellings and not from industry. The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that there are now more than 5·25 million premises which are covered by smoke control orders, and in the so-called black areas—namely, the large towns and conurbations with the worst air pollution problems—more than 60 per cent. of the premises are covered by such orders.

The hon. Gentleman suggests that there should be a national programme to achieve clean air and smokeless zones. I am pleased and proud, as Chairman of the Clean Air Council, to be able to tell him that, whereas we inherited a shortage of solid smokeless fuel when we came into office, we have resolved that problem and in July last year we advised every local authority to bring forward its smoke orders. There has been an excellent response, and 1972 is a record year for smoke control. By the end of November this year 66 per cent. more smoke control orders were received than in any previous 10 month period. I set up the northern panel of the Clean Air Council so that we might concentrate the effort in the worst areas—namely, the Northern Region. There is now a dramatic prospect of improvement in that black area.

The facts are the opposite of what the hon. Gentleman suggested. There is a national policy. Now that the smokeless fuel problem has been resolved, we expect, with the co-operation of local authorities, which is forthcoming, that no conurbation or urban area will continue to have large amounts of smoke from domestic fireplaces at the end of the decade. Clean air may well be achieved earlier in some places.

I recognise, as I come from an area close to Oldham, the hon. Gentleman's concern about industrial pollution. He is right to raise the matter on behalf of his constituents. But he will know that Oldham is one of the six towns which were chosen by the Secretary of State to have the special attention of one of the Ministers within the Department for the Environment, so that we can approach the environmental problem on a total basis, and pollution in particular.

I am aware of the particular problems of coal dust. However, I am bound to say that the hon. Gentleman was not only unfair and disparaging to the Alkali Inspectorate and its admirable chief-inspector, but he revealed a total lack of grasp of how the inspectorate works. There are now over 3,000 industrial premises which are registerable under the Alkali Acts. One of the first steps that we took in office was to bring under control a series of new works—namely, primary aluminium smelters, acrylates, di-isocyanates and mineral works and further operations of petroleum works. They were all brought under the inspectorate's control. To cope with the additional work my right hon. Friend strengthened the inspectorate by 25 to 30 per cent. He provided in addition mobile teams which may be moved as necessary to check up on particular dust emissions.

Let me illustrate some of the achievements of the inspectorate. Solid emissions from electrical works in 1958 were more than 1 million tons a year. That figure has been reduced to substantially less than 200,000 tons a year in spite of an increase of coal usage during the same period of 50 per cent. Cement works emissions in 1958 were about 200,000 tons. That has been reduced to approximately 30,000 tons a year, despite a great increase in cement manufacture. The sintering of iron ores has increased from approximately 8½ million tons in 1959 to 20 million tons in 1969. Production increased during that period almost threefold. But the emission of solid matter into the air fell from approximately 150,000 tons a year to below 40,000 tons. All these achievements have been won by the work of the Alkali Inspectorate by voluntarily collaborating with British industry. At the behest of the inspectorate British industry has spent approximately £400 million on air pollution controls over the last decade. Industry has co-operated as it does not wish to pollute the air unnecessarily.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider the fact that many countries impose absolute standards and often industries, for various reasons, either lack of will or lack of ability, do not meet those standards. Consequently, both sides hire lawyers, and there is endless litigation. However, we started earlier on industrial pollution control. We have developed a practice of collaboration between Government and industry which pays off. By applying the philosophy of "best practicable means" we have a dynamic policy. Technical innovation will continue, and "best practicable means" in 1975 will be much tougher than those of 1965. In other words, the concept of "best practicable means" is a dynamised one which gets tighter year by year as technical innovation is available. Frequently administrative standards applied by law are overtaken by technical innovation. "Best practicable means" can be a much tougher standard than anything that is imposed by statute.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher , Oldham West

The Minister has missed the point. Although he has indicated substantial improvements in the limitation of emissions into the air of polluting substances, the figures are still large. The issue is whether they would have been smaller if different methods had been used. International comparisons indicate that absolute standards could be upgraded as technology advances. That has happened in other countries.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

The hon. Gentleman is misinformed. If he had been at the Stockholm Conference, and if he had attended many of the European meetings where the various industrialised nations compared their records and the methods of control that they impose, he would be under no illusion. The record is not so good in other countries as it is here. Moreover, the hon. Gentleman will know that the difficulty of constantly revising absolute standards is one of parliamentary time. He must recognise that there are many other matters with which this House has to deal besides the constant updating of absolute standards requiring a great deal of technical and scientific investigation, which by definition takes a very long time.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about motor vehicle exhausts. I want to tell him that since 1st January of this year new petrol engines have had to be equipped with a device for recycling the crank case gases, which has reduced hydrocarbon emissions from newly manufactured motor vehicles by 25 per cent.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the future limitations on the lead content of petrol. He suggested that the German standard was a higher one. It is. But what matters is compliance. While we expect to achieve a substantial reduction in the lead levels in petrol by the end of this Parliament, there are other methods that we are examining as well. Only the other day I had the opportunity to look at a device in which the silencer of a vehicle may be stuffed with what resembles a large Brillo pad which is capable of attracting to itself the grosser lead particles. It may be that there are other methods than simply reducing the amount of lead in petrol that will reduce the amount of lead emitted to the atmosphere, which is the important point.

I deal briefly, and inevitably inadequately, with some of the many other matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred. First, let me deal with his point about confidentiality. I am in entire agreement with him, and so is my right hon. and learned Friend, that there is a need for much more openness about what is emitted to the atmosphere or discharged to rivers. We can no longer accept that of industrial espionage can take place as a result of an industrial spy examining the effluents being discharged into a river or emitted to the air. That is why we have been in discussion with the CBI. We have reached agreement with the CBI in all but one or two details so that confidentiality will be ended in the future. But if there is to be a full disclosure of the details of emissions it will be necessary to give some consequential protection against frivolous common law injunctions which could bring an industry to a standstill because of a misapprehension by local zealots about what might be called the algebra—the highly complex technical data—which might be made public. But we are at one on this general proposition of confidentiality.

I might say in passing that confidentiality is not a matter of the Official Secrets Act. It happens to be written into the relevant portions of the Clean Air Acts, and it is our intention to amend those as appropriate when parliamentary time is available.

As for penalties, once again I am at one with the hon. Gentleman. We have been concious for some time that penalties for pollution offences no longer reflect either the potential gravity of the offences in question or the present value of money. Therefore, we have been reviewing a very large number of offences under different Acts for one purpose; namely, substantially to increase the penalties and to bring them into line with each other. This review is nearing completion, and my right hon. and learned Friend expects to announce his proposals before too long. They cover some 20 Acts, including Scottish ones, and they will take into account not only fines but, if necessary, the possibility of imprisonment. I expect these provisions will be included in legislation brought before the House during this Parliament.

Incidentally, if the hon. Gentleman believes that higher fines would affect materially the coal dust problem in his constituency, I shall be very pleased to discuss that item with him in more detail.

I deal now with water. I welcome and share the hon. Gentleman's concern about discharges to estuaries and to the sea. The recent report of the Royal Commission underlined the need to take action under present legislation and by voluntary effort to improve our more seriously polluted estuaries without waiting for new legislation. We agree wholeheartedly. We have taken two important steps in this direction. I have visited the river authorities of almost all the major polluted estuaries. As a result, cooperative action programmes for improvement are being, or have been, drawn up, in many cases setting up committees which bring together all the major dischargers to those estuaries—the industrialists, the local authorities controlling sewage works and the river authorities themselves.

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have indicated our wish that the Mersey should be made clean, though perhaps it cannot be made as clean as other rivers since it is a particularly difficult case. We have made clear our expectations that the Mersey can be cleaned up substantially by the early 1980s.

As I reported to the House on 5th.December, my right hon. and learned Friend accepts fully the majority of the recommendations and conclusions in the Royal Commission report. I ask the hon. Gentleman to study the very lengthy reply running to four or five columns of HANSARD, where we commented in detail on the Royal Commission's recommendations and were able not only to accept them but to put in motion a great deal of administrative action to implement them.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about dumping at sea. Here again I ask him to recognise that it was very largely as a result of this Government's initiative that the Oslo Convention to control the dumping of wastes in the North-East Atlantic was negotiated, agreed and signed by all the riparian nations of North-Western Europe. That is now part of the international law.

Following our efforts at Stockholm, this Government have been hosts at a conference at Lancaster House of all the major maritime countries. That was held only a couple of months ago, with more than 100 nations attending, to draw up a global convention extending this control on dumping to all the oceans of the world. Again this is not theory. It has been done. The convention is open for signature in London from 29th December. While it deals explicitly with dumping, it also recognises the need for international action to combat all other forms of marine pollution, including that from rivers—we in this country are cleaning our rivers and we want other countries to do the same—and from riparian communities; for example, sewerage outfalls from seaside towns, industrial emissions and similar discharges from old colleries of colliery waters and shale which may go into the sea as well. This Government take very seriously the undertakings which provide that all forms of marine pollution shall be brought under control.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned noise. This again is an intractable problem, and I have a great deal of sympathy with some of the hon. Gentleman's points. I should like to see us going faster than we have been in the recent past. However, I must ask the hon. Gentleman to recognise that new regulations have been made and put into effect in respect of motor cycles. What is more, we are taking action on a policy to develop a quiet heavy lorry which will be no noisier than the present sedan car, prototypes of which we hope to have running on our roads in two or three years.

Through the Noise Advisory Council we have brought forward proposals for a general duty to suppress noise at source in neighbourhoods where people live. We have additionally developed a policy for separating people from noise by better planning systems and by mitigating the noise nuisance of public works wherever they occur. This is the whole purpose of those parts of the Land Compensation Bill now being discussed in Standing Committee which will bring about a material improvement in the impact of noise on people. However, I am not complacent. I want to go much faster in this sphere.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher , Oldham West

Does the Government's policy include any action concerning industrial noise, which involves people in the worst hardship?

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

Yes, indeed. This is a matter, in the first instance, for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. However, one of the advantages of the Department of the Environment's co-ordinating responsibilities on pollution of all kinds across the whole area of Government is that it has the advantage of assessors from the Department of Employment, who attend all meetings of the Noise Advisory Council and have given some very useful advice about industrial noise. A number of actions in that sphere are being developed. As soon as we can make a comprehensive announcement about them, I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman is made aware of them. I hope he will not press me too far on that matter at the moment.

Our broad thoughts are to improve the use of ear defenders, to isolate noisier parts of machinery in insulated zones of factories, and to have particular regard to the effects on drivers of the cab noise of vehicles. Far too often we are worried about the impact of vehicle noise on the public, and quite rightly, but we tend to forget the impact of noise on the driver within the cab. The short answer is that we are making a good deal of progress in that sphere and hope to make announcements in the near future.

I must conclude with a few words about the international aspects to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I trust that he will have noticed that at the summit conference in Europe a target date was set for the development of a common environmental policy for the European Economic Community to be made by 31st July 1973. We hope to have agreed an action programme at Community level by that time. We have put in our own memorandum on the matter, suggesting areas for priority action. I shall see that the hon. Gentleman is sent a copy of the Government's memorandum to the European Economic Community. At Stockholm and, indeed, in our work with numerous countries our achievements in the environment are not looked upon, as he suggested, as a patchwork quilt of occasional outbursts. They are looked upon with envy by many nations. This does not mean that we are satisfied. It means that we are working very hard to try to achieve improvements wherever possible.

I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman has raised these matters today. I will, if I may, deluge him with a lot of technical information so that the next time he raises the question of pollution, as I hope he will, we may have, from the Opposition side of the Chamber, a somewhat more informed debate.