Environmental Protection

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th June 1992.

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Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton 12:00 am, 4th June 1992

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what environmental monitoring duties are currently the responsibility of his Department.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list his Department's principal responsibilities for environmental protection.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

My Department's policy and monitoring responsibilities are for environmental aspects of farming and for the marine environment.

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

Is not the Minister's desire to take over some of the primary inspection functions of the National Rivers Authority derived from his determination to protect the interests of the multinational farming fertilisers and pesticides manufacturers? Is he not ashamed that in so doing he protects them from the full rigours of a proper environmental protection regime?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I have no such desire and no such intention. My only desire is to ensure that I continue to be known in Europe as—in the best possible sense—the greenest Minister of Agriculture.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister of Agriculture will be aware that he will be undertaking one of his immediate principal environmental responsibilities for the marine environment at the Glasgow meeting of the International Whaling Commission later this month. What does he propose to do to sustain the position that the Government rightly adopted at the last meeting to ensure that there remains an international and effective ban on whaling in future, as there has been in the recent past?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government's present policy was presented at the last meeting in Bournemouth, at which I represented the Government, together with Sir Peter Scott. Together we presented that change of policy, which we have pursued ever since. I intend to uphold that position clearly in Glasgow. I also want the ban to be spread to the smaller cetaceans, which are under considerable threat and are wrongly classed in some countries as though they were not whales.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale , North Thanet

That answer will be most welcome to many people who have taken a continuing interest in the future of whales and dolphins. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He has established a clear reputation as a green Minister. Will he reaffirm his Ministry's position with regard to the European presidency? Will he say clearly that he intends to put animal welfare at the top of his priorities during our presidency of the European Community?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I have made it clear that the unity of Europe depends on the best things in each country being adopted by others. One of the best things that we can do for Europe is to raise the standards of animal welfare. I hope that we shall learn a little from some other countries about standards of looking after children.

Photo of Mr Robert Banks Mr Robert Banks , Harrogate

Will my right hon. Friend find time to read a report from the North Atlantic Assembly which highlights the dangers that threaten marine life from chemical weapons which were dumped in the North sea and other seas after the second world war? Does he recognise that such chemicals could pose a considerable threat? Will he be kind enough to look into the matter?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

It is obviously important that we examine any threat to the marine environment. I shall be happy to look into the matter.

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

If the Minister is as green as he claims, why does he allow 35 per cent. of our sites of special scientific interest to be destroyed by farmers? What does he intend to do about that?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

Yet again the hon. Gentleman shows his ignorance of farming and of the environment. The electorate showed him what they thought of him at the last election. That is why the environment is safer in my hands than it would ever have been in his.

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway , Ryedale

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way of protecting the countryside is to ensure that British agriculture remains profitable and has a viable future? I congratulate him on his tremendous achievements in the common agricultural policy reform discussions, and especially on imposing the requirement that if land is set aside an environmental protective element must be included in the arrangements.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right that the common agricultural policy should have environmental protection at its centre and not as a peripheral matter. That we have sought to do. We have moved environmental protection a long way already. In our presidency we intend to extend it further.