EC Presidency

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th July 1992.

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Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York 12:00 am, 15th July 1992

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what are his priorities for the EC presidency.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

As president of the Environment Council, I intend to pursue three main themes—prompt and energetic follow-up to the Rio Earth summit, the integration of environmental considerations into all areas of Community policy, and proper implementation and enforcement of European environmental legislation throughout the Community. I shall pursue the application of the principle of subsidiarity to Community action. I shall continue to press for the early establishment of the European environment agency, but part of our strategy in Europe is to give a strong lead through domestic action.

I can today announce that the Government have decided to establish a new independent environment agency in England and Wales to bring together in an integrated body all the functions of the National Rivers Authority and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, and the waste regulation functions of local authorities. We shall introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York

As a first step, will the new and long overdue integrated environmental agency give a cast-iron guarantee, as other EC member states have, that our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will be cut to the 1990 level by the year 2000, even if the American Government do not agree to do so?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

The hon. Gentleman is a little behind the times. He needs to take into account the recent communique agreed at Munich by the Group of Seven countries, inviting other countries to join them in ratifying the climate change convention by the end of 1993. That convention was agreed at Rio, very significantly as a result of the efforts of the United Kingdom, so we can fairly claim to be in the lead on this matter.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington , Aylesbury

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take the opportunity of his presidency to ensure that European directives on the environment are equally implemented and enforced throughout the Community to prevent what sometimes happens at the moment, whereby one or two of our partners make grand promises about what they will do but fail to live up to them in practice?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

I shall indeed. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The one definition of subsidiarity to which I do not subscribe is the one which suggests that individual member states should be entitled to pick and choose whether to implement and enforce legislation which has been agreed at Community level. Where legislation has been agreed, it should be applied consistently across the Community.

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

The Secretary of State said that two of his priorities are to follow up the Rio summit and to secure the implementation and enforcement of European Community environmental legislation, with the inspectorate and the new agency, which we welcome. Does he accept that, as Rio made abundantly clear, environmentalism and nationalism do not go well together? The logic of what he said, with which the House will agree, is that during its presidency the United Kingdom should ensure not only that other countries comply with environmental legislation but that we do so ourselves and do not, as we did on the first day of this month, put off a court case before the European Court to save embarrassment about our failure to comply with the laws with which we say that we agree?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that the application to postpone the hearing was a joint application by the United Kingdom and the Commission. As he is so interested in enforcement—I welcome his interest—I would have expected him to give the Government some credit for being the only Government in the Community—with the exception of Portugal, to which most of the legislation does not apply—against which the court has not passed an adverse environmental judgment.

Photo of Mr Rupert Allason Mr Rupert Allason , Torbay

I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's domestic initiative, but will he turn his attention to another domestic issue—the correspondence between his Department and the Bletchley Park Trust? Would not that site, which is of enormous historic importance and is under threat, be a worthwhile monument to the British presidency of the European Community, and will he at least give an undertaking that he will ensure that there will be no demolition of an area which is of considerable significance to everyone who served this country and those who gave their lives in the second world war?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

I am sure that all relevant aspects of that site will be taken into account and given full and proper weight in the relevant decision-making process.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths , Bridgend

I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement about the creation of an environmental protection agency, which has been long awaited and long supported by my party but which the Government explicitly rejected when we raised it during the passage of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. We are very pleased and hope to get the legislation through in the current Session, but will the Minister state categorically that, irrespective of an American commitment to meet the Rio declaration, we will stabilise our carbon dioxide emissions at the 1990 level by the year 2000?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for my announcement about the agency. I expect the announcement to be widely welcomed. As for the climate change convention which was agreed at Rio, the United States has declared that it intends to take early action to discharge its obligation under that convention and that it will call a meeting later this year to discuss the matter. Of course we attach great importance to the early ratification of the convention and we shall seek to encourage others to join us in ratifying it at an early date. We shall discharge our obligations under the treaty to the full.