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Relevant Authorities to Define Requirements of Environmental Protection

Part of New clause 1 – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 27th June 1995.

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Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock , Lewisham, Deptford 4:45 pm, 27th June 1995

May I add my congratulations to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker? No discourtesy was intended by my not doing so initially. Also, I have not yet congratulated the Minister on his elevation, although I know that my colleagues did so at the most recent Environment questions.

It is my pleasure to speak in support of the new clause and those grouped with it. We would be delighted if the Minister were minded to accept any new clause that gave force to the requirement that environmental considerations be integrated, where appropriate, into every aspect of public policy. As with so many other issues that we have discussed during the passage of the Bill, however, the Government claim to be wholeheartedly in favour of a commonsense and environmentally friendly proposal, but never find themselves in a position to vote for it.

The notion of sustainable development—development that meets the needs of present generations without jeopardising the ability of future generations to meet theirs—must lie at the heart of any debate on the environment. As the Government would be the first to acknowledge, no Environment Agency and no Department of State can begin to achieve sustainable development alone; it requires a systematic approach—the limiting of the use of finite resources, the reduction of pollutants from every source, the conservation of energy and the minimising of waste, for example.

In short, such considerations ought to be at the heart of all policy making. The Secretary of State for the Environment claimed as much when he said that the Government have put in place perhaps the most comprehensive machinery of government to manage the environment to be found anywhere in the world."—[0fficial Report, 18 April 1995; Vol. 258, c. 35.] He does boast, does he not? We wish that that claim was justified, but it is our view and that of all the major conservation groups, especially the Council for the Protection of Rural England, that existing mechanisms for achieving environmental integration are weak and inadequate for the task.

New clause 1 is not a programme in itself. It offers a statutory framework to stiffen the Government's commitment and to require those in public office to examine their policies and actions in the light of environmental considerations.

5.15 pm

In Committee, the Government resisted such notions being brought into statute, yet the Minister was at pains to tell us of their achievements in appointing green Ministers and in their report, "Green Housekeeping". I only wish that there were more hon. Members in the Chamber tonight because I suspect that, for most of them, the existence of the "Green Housekeeping" document will come as a great surprise. The Government did not trumpet it in the way that they do so many of their other publications. Sadly, as we heard in Committee, the green Ministers rarely meet and little is known of them.

Since 1993, all Government Departments have produced and published cost compliance assessments, evaluating the cost of any of their proposals on the business sector. The Government demonstrate great enthusiasm for such tests. I trust that today we shall see some enthusiasm for an environmental compliance assessment, which we would very much support. Examining the environmental implications of any policy or draft legislation would undoubtedly ensure a higher priority for the environment.

Labour Front-Bench Members intend to be brief when moving our new clauses because we understand hon. Members' interest in this debate. In conclusion, therefore, integration of environmental considerations into public policy ought to be a prerequisite in an Environment Bill that establishes environment agencies for the first time and looks forward to the 21st century. Sustainable development cannot be achieved unless the integration of environmental considerations is at the heart of all public policy.