World Trade and the Environment

– in the House of Commons at 10:53 am on 11th December 1996.

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[Relevant documents: The Fourth Report from the Environment Committee of Session 1995–96, on World Trade and the Environment (HC 149-1), and the Government's response thereto (Cm 3445).]

11 am

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

I am pleased to have the chance to debate briefly the report of the Environment Select Committee on world trade and the environment. It is appropriate that we should debate this subject this week because the conference on world trade is taking place in Singapore. I thank my colleagues on the Committee for all their work on the inquiry. I thank our specialist advisers, James Cameron and Steve Woolcock, the Clerks, who always worked extremely hard, and our specialist assistant, Caroline Hand, who gave us a great deal of help in marshalling the material for the report.

I shall briefly set the scene. Put perhaps rather crudely, there are two views about world trade. One is that the more trade there is and the fewer tariff restrictions exist, on the whole the world gets richer and, as it does so, gains the will and the resources to tackle environmental problems and issues. The alternative view is that the world has such acute environmental problems that if trade goes on expanding, it will make the situation worse and worse, and that environmentally the world is heading for disaster. Those are two crude exaggerations of the position and the truth lies somewhere in between. It was part of our inquiry to find out exactly where the truth lies in the balance between environmental and trade issues.

All good Select Committee reports are dependent to a large extent on the quality of the evidence submitted. I was delighted with the quality of the evidence that we received. To most of us who were aware of their campaigning roles, it was no surprise that the evidence from Oxfam, the World Wide Fund for Nature and Friends of the Earth put the environmental concerns very strongly. I was particularly grateful to the Brazilian ambassador and politicians in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand for expressing their concerns. In this short debate, I do not want to set out the way in which they set out their concerns because they did it politely and courteously. I shall summarise crudely what they said and the point that is continually put by people in the less-developed world. I am not quoting them. I am giving the general view that comes from those countries.

Britain, Europe, Japan, the United States and the other developed countries have raided the world's carbon stores. They have burnt masses of coal, oil and natural gas. They are still wasting energy and releasing a great deal of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which is contributing to global warming. They have polluted vast areas of coniferous forests with acid rain. They have felled most of the world's temperate hardwoods. They have expelled large amounts of chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere and dumped a great deal of horrendous waste into lakes, rivers and seas. They have hunted many animals such as wolves and wild boar into extinction in some countries. Partly as a result of all that, the developed countries now enjoy a high standard of living. Now those countries are trying, under the guise of environmental protection, to stop emerging nations catching up.

I oversimplify, but it is important in understanding issues about trade and the environment that we understand how strongly people in the developing world feel that we have wasted much of the world's inheritance. We may have achieved higher standards of living as a result of it, but we are now trying to stop them doing the very same things.

The World Trade Organisation conference in Singapore is firmly committed to cutting down the barriers to trade. A strong group of people is campaigning there to make sure that the conference is not diverted into any other areas. The developing countries in particular but others too are keen that it should concentrate on removing trade barriers and not on anything else. Other people rightly say that free trade is perfectly all right, but we must consider employment issues, including the employment of child labour, and issues of cruelty, particularly the trapping of animals for furs, and we must consider the economic balance of power between the developed and the underdeveloped countries. As we say in our report and as Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and other people are saying, world trade must take into account environmental issues.

Our report goes on to examine, rather uncomfortably, the fact that the WTO, through the general agreement on tariffs and trade, has developed into a pretty powerful organisation, but the environmental organisations that have been established within the world are much weaker and cannot have the same input into discussions. I shall not go into that in great detail, but we should like to see a more effective input of environmental issues into world trade mechanisms for taking policy forward and for resolving disputes.

The next issue considered in the report is sustainable development. We set out, mainly by illustrations, some of the difficult issues around how far it was a good idea for a country such as Bangladesh to produce large numbers of frogs' legs for the European and American market; how far prawns, shrimps and exotic vegetables could be grown in the third world and flown to Europe and the United States; and how far that trade made those countries richer or undermined their traditional farming methods.

The next issue that I wish to highlight is the relationship between the multilateral environmental agreements and trade. Such agreements include the Montreal protocol on phasing out entirely from the world the use of CFCs that damage the ozone layer. Of all the agreements worldwide, the Montreal protocol is probably working better than most, although many people suggest that there is still an illegal trade in CFCs and probably some manufacture in eastern Europe. I ask the Minister to comment on that.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna appears to have some good aims, but we have some reservations about how easily it is enforced. We were lucky enough to go out to Heathrow and see the convention being effectively enforced on behalf of the British Government. One or two holidaymakers were caught who had gone to exotic places in the world and brought back souvenirs, not understanding how much damage they were doing. I hope that we can do more to warn tourists before they go abroad. The way in which containers are shuttled around the world means that if we are to make CITES work, there will have to be more inspection and sampling of containers. The Basle convention on hazardous waste is a good convention. The developed countries should not dump their hazardous waste on less-developed countries, but there needs to be some refinement of the process. In particular, there are concerns about whether scrap metal should come within the convention and whether developing countries can buy scrap metal from developed countries.

If those three agreements are working reasonably well, we have to look at how to develop new ones. An issue that always causes me concern is domestically prohibited goods. If something cannot be sold in Britain, it is totally wrong that it can be exported. A long time ago, when I visited one of the drug companies, I was horrified to see that two lines of drugs were being produced—one for sale in Britain and the other for sale in other parts of the world where quality control was not quite so stringent. We have to have an agreement on goods that cannot be sold in this country being sold to other countries and the sooner that is covered by a proper convention, the better.

I turn now to the question of a forestry convention. All environmental groups are, rightly, concerned about the way in which the rain forests and especially the best woods within them are disappearing. As I pointed out earlier, our record on forest destruction is not good. Everyone has to do their part if we are to persuade others to look after their forests—to manage them instead of simply felling them. I want a new agreement on sustainable forestry and, again, the sooner the better.

We must make sure that the commitments relating to biodiversity that emerged from the Rio conference are made to work. There is a trade-off between biodiversity and intellectual property rights and it is important that we get that right. The issue must be developed further.

On the question of eco-labelling, some of the people the Committee met outside the United Kingdom and one or two of those who gave evidence in the United Kingdom argued vigorously that eco-labelling is really a tariff barrier in disguise and that the developed world is using eco-labelling of various sorts to keep third-world goods out. I am an enthusiastic supporter of eco-labelling—when they are purchasing a product, the general public should know whether it is environmentally appropriate.

I do understand, however, the feelings expressed by paper producers about the fact that the requirement for tissues—especially toilet tissues—under the present eco-labelling scheme involves the use of a considerable amount of recycled paper. In western Europe, it is relatively easy to obtain large amounts of newspaper and other material to recycle; however, paper producers in Canada, Brazil or other countries that specialise in paper manufacturing might not have access to such a large supply of paper for recycling. It is not environmentally beneficial for producers in those countries to have to buy up waste paper from Europe and elsewhere and transport it to their production plants, simply so as to meet eco-labelling requirements for a certain proportion of recycled material.

I am also concerned that some third-world countries might find that the cost of getting their products through the eco-labelling certification process will make it difficult for them to enter overseas markets. That is why it is important that the European eco-labelling system works so as to ensure that there is only one accreditation system covering the whole European market, instead of having different labels in every country.

In addition, the eco-labelling system should increasingly become a worldwide one. In Thailand, we learnt of discussions in progress on developing their own eco-labelling system. Although I hope that that would be along the best environmental lines, some of those discussions revealed that the Thais knew that eco-labelling might have trade implications and offer them an opportunity to protect their own trade.

I do not wish to take too long, because I know that other hon. Members on the Select Committee want to speak. I am also pleased to see hon. Members who are not on the Select Committee here today. I ask the Government to give us an update on the conference in Singapore. I fear that environmental issues have sunk low on the agenda, but I hope that the Minister can reassure me that that position will improve.

I press Ministers on the question of accreditation in respect of forestry. In our report, we said that we thought that the Forest Stewardship Council was a good way forward. If we are to persuade other countries—especially underdeveloped countries and countries with tropical hardwoods—to sign up to the council, we have no excuse for not trying to comply ourselves. The reluctance of the Government and the Forestry Commission to get involved in the scheme disappointed me and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that the Government's attitude to involvement is now more positive. I realise that it is a non-governmental scheme and I recognise all the arguments that a governmental scheme would be better, but there is no such governmental scheme. It is clear that many of Britain's do-it-yourself shops will sign up to it, so it would be a pity if the Forestry Commission and British timber products were put at a disadvantage.

In addition, will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing about domestically prohibited goods; give us an update on the Montreal and Basle conventions and on CITES; and tell us what progress is being made on eco-labelling and on making sure that it is based on sound environmental principles and does not become an alternative to tariff barriers? Finally, will he give us an update on the Government's real commitment to ensure that we do not pump more CO2 into the atmosphere? I know that the Government say that we are doing well, but it is important that the other developed countries make a considerable contribution as well.

I hope that we can have a constructive debate on this issue. I greatly enjoyed the inquiry and I shall listen to the debate this morning with considerable interest.

Photo of Mr Roy Thomason Mr Roy Thomason , Bromsgrove 11:16 am, 11th December 1996

Like some of my colleagues—or, dare I suggest, all of them—I approached the inquiry by the Select Committee on the Environment with some preconceptions. First, I believed that trade is necessarily advantageous to all nations. History teaches us that a country goes through a period of prosperity when it is active in trade. The like applies to regions and, presumably, to the world as a whole. It follows that, if greater prosperity is to be generated, trade should be encouraged; and that nothing should be done to interfere with that, because that prosperity will trickle down from countries that generate wealth to poorer nations, just as, in individual countries, wealth trickles down from those who generate it to the poorest people.

Some Opposition Members have argued that wealth generation should be restricted because it benefits those who create it to a proportionately greater extent. That is now a rejected tenet, but antagonism to wealth creation still lurks within the Labour party. The fact is that the poor cannot be helped unless there are those who are able to give assistance. Of course, I do not deny that the state has a role in helping to protect the weakest members of society, but it is undeniable that the generation of wealth leads to improved prosperity for all.

It follows that, by the development of trade, the same can occur internationally: trade brings prosperity and wealth. Inevitably, that will not fall evenly, but the generation of international wealth will lead to a more prosperous world and help poorer countries. Much prosperity for some nations leads to benefit for all through demand for raw materials, the use of tourist facilities and, above all, industrial development. Those processes can be helped by encouraging the distribution of overseas aid, but it cannot be expected that such aid will be given at a level that would weaken the strong—that would be self-defeating. The development of world trade is, therefore, desirable in providing improving world living standards. It is also clear that living standards in less-developed countries improve dramatically with industrialisation, which is invariably trade related.

It is always comfortable to have one's prejudices confirmed and I believe that the Select Committee's inquiry confirmed the views that I have just expressed. Environmental considerations must remain important—indeed, of the essence of responsible development—even to the extent of sometimes shaping the form of world trade, but never preventing it, for to do so would be a breach of our responsibility to less-developed countries and to deny them opportunities to better the lives of their people.

My second concern—a nagging doubt—was that, in a complex commercial world where the negotiating position of less-developed countries, and companies based within them, was inevitably weaker than those of the developed world, opportunities for exploitation existed and were sometimes taken.

Photo of Mrs Helen Jackson Mrs Helen Jackson , Sheffield, Hillsborough

I am sorry that I cannot stay for the whole debate as I have a meeting with Ministers. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the issues that makes a difference in recognising whether environmental impact is sufficiently taken on board in trading regulations is the openness and availability of better researched information on environmental impact? A strand that ran throughout the investigation was the need for better environmental information on the range of projects, developments and movements taking place worldwide.

Photo of Mr Roy Thomason Mr Roy Thomason , Bromsgrove

The hon. Lady is right. There is clearly a lack of information in some less-developed countries, but that is an inevitable product of development advancement. Obviously, less-developed countries do not have the calibration equipment to measure properly air and water quality. It follows that testing mechanisms are not therefore available properly to compare the quality of their environment with that of the developed world. That, however, must be seen in perspective as part of the development process.

As I was saying, I was concerned about exploitation, by which I do not mean trying deliberately to trap a poorer country in that status indefinitely, for few in our present world would sustain such a position for long, but simply utilising weaker regulatory powers that must exist in such less-developed countries. That follows the points made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) about equipment for testing and proper research. Improvements in standards might be discouraged to improve profit margins.

I am glad to say that our inquiry has led me to conclude that my fears were almost entirely, but not quite completely, groundless. Fast development in a country that may have little regulatory provision is often haphazard, uncontrolled and damaging. Sometimes it is the product of deliberate exploitation but more often, I suspect, it simply arises from the need to provide opportunities for those who previously had little. It is as much a product of a nation's internal pressures as of pressures from outside. What seems to happen is that factories are constructed with little regard to the protection of water or air quality; transport infrastructure is disregarded, with all the environmental consequences that flow from that; and the prospect of factory sites becoming contaminated is not even weighed in the balance.

Development opportunities will give a community the chance to fill empty stomachs—the environment can wait when people are starving. It was apparent to us, however, that that stage does not last long. A less-developed nation's people will soon appreciate that the quality of their life is suffering. As they move towards relatively better prosperity and, above all, education, an interest in the environment develops. It is a slow process, but it happens. The pressures often are as much external as internal, which is why the production of the Select Committee's report and the work of many international organisations and of our own and many other Governments is essential if environmental responsibility is to be encouraged to grow.

I also thought that companies might seek to take advantage of less-developed nations. There is some evidence that that takes place, but British companies can be proud of their position. We found that they generally take an extremely responsible attitude to development of plant overseas. Naturally, they must comply with local law, subject to its capacity to be enforced, but when that local law is of a lower standard than ours, they usually do much more than that. We heard and saw evidence that British companies create plant of as high a standard as they would expect to be built in this country, and operate it at standards that compare with those in the United Kingdom and other parts of the developed world. New plant in the less-developed world is often built to the latest standards, which may even be in advance of plant being operated in the developed world.

We hear too often criticism of British companies as alleged exploiters. Although there may be occasional exceptions, all our evidence showed that this is simply not the case. We should be proud of the work that British-based companies are undertaking throughout the world.

It is clear that the Government must give a higher priority to international environmental issues. That is not a criticism of what has been undertaken to date but a statement of what must be the objective for the future. If our Government, who generally have an extremely good environmental record, do not seek to lead the world, others cannot follow. The negotiations in Singapore, as well as past and future international discussions on trade, are the responsibility of the Department of Trade and Industry. That Department must, however, reflect the policies of the Department of the Environment in pursuing environmental objectives. This is a case where the seamless robe of government must be seen to be operating without flaw.

We must remind our alleged partners in the European Union, the United States, developed countries within the Commonwealth and others that the development of good environmental practices is not a hindrance to trade but a benefit. Ultimately, the degeneration of the environment leads to decay, as sure as cancer spreads through a body. To create long-terns prosperity and improve quality of life globally, we need good environmental conditions. Just as a healthy human body can develop better if it lives in clean conditions, so the world community will be able to flourish if it is in environmentally good form.

I do not seek to argue that we should over-regulate—perish the thought, for that could kill business. However, seeking to achieve reasonable environmental objectives throughout the world should be a fundamental aim of Government policy. I am glad that the Government broadly accept that position. I am concerned, however, that issues of employment law may divert attention from environmental aspects. Of course, certain aspects of employment law may be appropriate to be considered at international level, but the environment takes greater priority in the natural order of advancement of the less-developed countries and we should respect their agendas.

Nor should we forget that a deteriorating quality of life in one corner of our planet has a direct impact on ourselves. No country or continent can lock itself away from the rest of the world. What happens thousands of miles away affects the air that we breathe, the food that we eat and the oceans that lap our shores. The international environmental agenda must be ours; it is not just for someone else.

It has been a privilege to serve on the Environment Select Committee during this Parliament and, in particular, to be involved with the preparation of the report, which should be a significant contribution to developing the Government's position and continuing our nation's call for improved environmental standards without attacking the creation of wealth and the generation of new industry.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment) 11:28 am, 11th December 1996

In recent years, the interaction between trade and environment protection has generated much debate but little consensus. Yet, in theory at least, the international community is committed to both trade liberalisation and environmentally sustainable development. In principle, the pursuit of both objectives might be entirely compatible. Trade allows countries to specialise in the production of goods and services in which they are most efficient, and to maximise the return from the given use of resources, which is a movement in the direction of environmental sustainability. Furthermore, trade liberalisation can encourage the spread of environmentally friendly technology.

However, trade can also—and arguably often does—harm the environment. The benefits of lower costs through lower environmental standards go to the producer. The disbenefits of the environmental pollution that results fall on the entire community, and increasingly that means the global community. In other words, competitive trade can encourage producers to ignore the wider environmental costs of what they do, to maximise their own price competitiveness at the cost of everyone else.

A country that has accepted more stringent environmental controls may well find that it is undermined by competition from other countries with laxer standards and hence lower production costs. In practice, most of the evidence submitted to the Select Committee suggests that that has not happened. Higher environmental standards have been offset by the gains from greater efficiency. However, there is no doubt that Governments and industries have often resisted higher environmental standards for fear of losing competitiveness, or for fear of businesses relocating abroad to places demanding lower standards.

International market prices do not reflect the environmental costs of cutting down forests, polluting waterways, eroding soils and overfishing. We have international rules against selling products at less than they cost to produce, but environmental dumping may be rewarded in the global market economy.

To some people, such concerns still seem remote, but the environmental threats are real and, for many communities, so are the economic threats. My constituency is no exception. In the St. Austell area, for example, we have the largest site of opencast mining in Europe—not for coal, but for china clay. Thousands of clay jobs have been lost, partly through new technology and partly through increasing competition in recent years. In the clay area, there is understandably constant pressure for higher environmental standards to protect residents from dust, to protect traditional village communities from tipping coming too close and to protect what remains of the traditional landscape, flora and fauna.

Much has already been achieved in the area, to the credit of the county council and the clay companies, chiefly English China Clays, but the industry continues to warn that tougher standards could threaten its future and its competitiveness. The remaining 4,000 jobs in the industry in my community are under review again and more may be lost as new china clay deposits come on stream in Brazil. There, companies do not have to operate around existing villages—those can be swept away, if they exist at all—nor do they have to restore and revegetate the landscape after tipping waste on to it.

The fear in St. Austell is that the choice may be between protecting our environment but losing our jobs as the local industry becomes uncompetitive, and maintaining competitiveness, with the loss of our environment. I hope that it will not come to that, but in one of the poorest communities in Britain, the fear is real.

The conflict between the desire to protect the environment and the urge to increase trade will not go away. On the contrary, the combination of the growth in trade and the accumulating evidence of global environmental degradation seems likely to lead to more, and more serious, conflicts.

The World Trade Organisation committee on trade and the environment is an important first step to relieving those pressures, by incorporating environmental considerations into international trade policy, but the fear is that it is unbalanced in favour of trade. This week's WTO summit is the first opportunity to resolve those tensions. The purpose of our report was to influence the British and European position.

In response to our report, the Government said that they would accept many of the Committee's conclusions and recommendations, although they rejected some. There are times when I am not sure that the Select Committee went far enough. I urge the Government to reconsider their position on those issues.

My most serious concern relates to trade measures based on process and production methods. Recent general agreement on tariffs and trade panel decisions have differentiated between the environmental impact of products and the environmental impact of how they are produced—process and production methods. Countries are permitted to take trade measures—import bans, for example—against products that are harmful to the importing country's environment, so long as the same product is treated equally, whether it is produced by domestic or overseas producers. GATT panels, however, have ruled that such action is not permitted on the basis of process and production methods.

The logic of that decision is that process and production methods are highly country-specific. The same process may cause different environmental damage in different countries, depending on such factors as population density. Yet where the effects of pollution are international, such a differentiation is hard to justify. Carbon dioxide released in Asia, for example, causes just as much global warming as carbon dioxide emitted in Europe.

It is probably true that most of the serious pollution problems that we are facing arise from production processes, not the resulting products. An example is the use of energy in industry and agriculture. To combat such problems, important and effective multilateral agreements have been introduced on topics such as chlorofluorocarbons. When applied to world trade, however, such agreements are under constant threat of being undermined by current WTO rules.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that under the present WTO arrangements, a ban on fur from leg-hold traps, which Britain rightly imposed in 1954, would be considered an infringement of trade? Clearly, the product—fur—does no harm, but the way in which it was obtained was immensely painful to the animals.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment)

The same answer applies to global environmental issues as to animal rights and related issues. I shall briefly touch on that later, although the Select Committee came to the view that it was not immediate to our inquiries.

The hon. Gentleman's question demonstrates why it is vital that every opportunity is taken at Singapore to amend current WTO rules, so that we can discriminate against imported products on the basis of the way in which they are produced, through multilateral environmental agreements. Indeed, I would go further: where a threat is immediate and clear, such as the loss of an important species, we might need to allow unilateral action, under tightly specified circumstances. Nevertheless, global environmental problems are clearly best tackled through the negotiation of multilateral environmental agreements. International action is preferable to unilateral action, not least because it is more effective.

The issue becomes still more important in the context of the current negotiations on the framework convention on climate change, which are supposed to agree a control protocol by the end of next year. It is highly likely that such a protocol will contain trade measures, as they worked so well in the case of the Montreal protocol on ozone-depleting substances.

In that case, parties to the climate change protocol could be required to refuse to trade with non-signatories to the agreement, or at least to refuse to trade in products containing or made by processes that released such gases. As that could potentially include any product made with fossil fuels, it would provide a powerful incentive for countries to sign the climate change protocol.

If a climate change protocol contains measures allowing trade sanctions against non-signatories, it is essential that they do not become subject to challenge in the WTO, or the protocol is unlikely to be effective. It was fear of sanctions, not just growing environmental good will, that led so many to sign up to the Montreal protocol.

The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) was correct to point out that animal welfare was a related issue. It is my view and that of the Committee that it should be given separate consideration by the WTO. I urge the Government to reconsider the decision not to accept that recommendation.

Many animal welfare issues entail processes—how an animal is caught, rather than what is caught. A presumption of compatibility must be firmly established between the WTO and multilateral agreements on animal welfare standards. At the same time, the topics of animal protection and welfare should be introduced into the remit of the WTO committee on trade and the environment, providing an international forum in which to discuss them further.

The WTO committee on trade and the environment is reporting to the ministerial conference this week. As I am sure the Minister is aware, the report contains almost no conclusions whatever—simply the statement that more work needs to be done. Discussions in the committee have been notably unconstructive, and it is questionable whether anything will be achieved in such a forum.

I believe that the underlying problem is that the committee is composed primarily of trade negotiators, rather than negotiators from environmental departments. The UK and the EC are among the few exceptions. As long as discussions on trade and the environment are carried out solely within a trade forum, it is unlikely that any conclusions favourable to the environment will be reached.

I hope that the Minister now accepts that a new trade round is needed, and that the environment should be one of the subjects of those negotiations. That would allow environmental protection measures to be discussed alongside trade liberalisation. That is likely to be the only way in which we can make progress, although Government support for the concept of an international panel of experts on trade and the environment, as proposed by the World Wide Fund for Nature, would be a positive step. I am disappointed that the Government have so far refused to take part, although other Governments have supported the proposal.

Even in the United Kingdom, environmental considerations are not always given the merit that they deserve. Let me reiterate the Select Committee's view that environmental policy objectives are not being taken fully into account in international negotiations. Trade negotiations this week are being led by the Department of Trade and Industry. The paper produced jointly by the DTI and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, dealing with free trade and foreign policy, makes only one mention of the environment, and the Government have clearly still not placed it among their priorities for Singapore. I hope that the Minister will assure us today that environmental considerations will be a priority for British Ministers this week, as neither what the Secretary of State for the Environment said when he appeared before the Committee nor the Government's response to its report was adequate in that regard.

Perhaps the greatest block to progress, however, is the understandable fear in the developing world that environmental pressure from the developed world is simply a back-door block to competition. That fear must be recognised, and Britain has a special part to play in the overcoming of it, in two ways. First, we must understand that we have built much of our present wealth by committing enormous environmental destruction in the past. If we are to expect the developing world to behave differently, we must use some of that wealth to provide the aid that will help it to develop, and use more environmentally sustainable alternative technology. We must also remember that the 20 per cent. of the world's population in the developed world currently use 80 per cent. of the world's resources. We must accept an equally disproportionate part in reversing that excessive destruction.

In a world that is increasingly threatened by environmental degradation, we desperately need new rules and institutions to govern international trade. The Government have a chance this week to take the lead; I believe that, with our European partners, we have a real opportunity to do so, but I fear that that opportunity may yet be missed. I urge the Government not to allow that to happen. I hope that, at the end of this week, we may be able to say that Europe, and Britain in particular, has genuinely played a part in the taking of the next step.

Photo of Mr Irvine Patnick Mr Irvine Patnick , Sheffield, Hallam 11:41 am, 11th December 1996

To cover the report on world trade and the environment, together with the Government's response, and to distil it and make it understandable, would demand the services of a contemporary author: John Grisham springs immediately to mind. I approach the subject not only under the Whip's stricture, but suffering from the main handicap—shortage of time. There is also the need to allow others to speak, and to make the subject interesting, compressing my speech into a reasonable time while also expressing my own views.

I pay tribute to the many witnesses who appeared before the Select Committee, and to the people in foreign countries who not only answered searching questions but gave their unsolicited opinions in such a pithy manner. I thank all those involved in the Committee's deliberations, including the Chairman, whose views are well documented. He carried out his duty with his normal detached objectivity, and his rod of iron was replaced at times—not frequently enough—with a fleeting look of disapproval which was as effective, if not more so.

I also pay tribute, and express my gratitude, to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason), who spent so much time on the detail of the Committee. I have admired his knowledge and the way in which he operates for a long time. He mentally kicks me under the table, as it were, to tell me, "This is the way in which we should be going, not the way in which you want to go."

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

The hon. Gentleman needs kicking.

Photo of Mr Irvine Patnick Mr Irvine Patnick , Sheffield, Hallam

The hon. Gentleman is a great artisan of kicking.

I have endeavoured to break my speech into various sections. How, for instance, can Governments create a competitive advantage? During the Committee's visit to Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, we were informed that some of the actions taken by developed countries were unhelpful to their area. The comment that sticks in my memory concerned hardwoods. The people there asked, in no uncertain manner—the way in which they asked the question, and the expression on their faces, gave it even more weight—why, now that the United Kingdom and parts of Europe had used their hardwoods, we should stop them from changing their economy by cutting down their trees because, by our standards, it was unacceptable. That is a pertinent question.

The removal of subsidies and other protectionist measures detailed in the general agreement on tariffs and trade has an escape clause in article XX(b), which allows countries to opt out of its obligation—or, in a nutshell, provides an exception necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health. When GATT was created, environmental protection was not high on the "things to do" list; nor, indeed, were many countries giving it the consideration that it deserved. Thankfully, countries now do, and the United Kingdom's first-ever audit of the environment—"This Common Inheritance"—and its yearly updates have focused on that important subject. But GATT is not the catch-all that many would have us believe; rather, it is one lever of a wider machinery, including CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species—which regulates the wildlife trade—the Montreal protocol, which deals with substances that deplete the ozone layer, the Basle convention, which deals with the management of hazardous waste, and proposals from the European Community. All that information is now freely and readily available, so I need not spell it out in great detail.

Encouraging the spread of clean and efficient technology was one of the key issues during our visit to Singapore, where multinational companies operate to the highest European or United States standards—they do so wherever in the world the companies are situated. I was delighted to discover that. Know-how technology has also been exported, and, indeed, some British companies are developing models of co-operation that are attractive to developing companies overseas. Many of those countries constitute possible substantial markets both now and in the future.

What those countries need is a good education system which produces a good reservoir of talent—which, in turn, produces good backgrounds in science, mathematics and technology. Many developing countries are not advanced enough in their education and training to take on and develop full industries of their own, acting instead as assembly plants for foreign countries. I pay tribute to British Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, Ford and, indeed, the university of Sheffield, which are prepared to develop and support companies and help them to plan for education and research, providing the expertise that is required. Such work is a valuable export for the United Kingdom, and we are all the beneficiaries.

Economic growth can lead to increased pollution, which is a major concern. We heard from several witnesses about that. One of the things that we noticed on our overseas travels was the fact that some trades created environmental problems. Again, some British-based companies were out there dealing with the problems created by pollution, including British water companies.

In their response, the Government picked up the points that we had made about the removal of trade restrictions and its environmental impact. In 1999, the Government will attempt to address those points in the next round of the World Trade Organisation negotiations, and I welcome that.

Many factors impact on environmental protection, one of which is competitiveness. Many companies in Britain adopt voluntary measures to improve environmental protection. Eco-labelling and purchasing policies both help the environment. If I have discovered anything, it is that it is hard to find eco-labelling when one is out shopping. People are more concerned with price, availability, quality, service and usability than with eco-labelling, and that problem should be addressed. It can place foreign manufacturers at an economic crossroads, and put the environment at a disadvantage.

Countries that do not help to protect the environment can certainly produce cheaper goods, but at the expense of the environment, and they may help to create more eco-dumping and pollution havens. I know that that concerns the WTO and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, but I nevertheless agree with the Government and with principle 12 of the Rio declaration. I therefore urge the Government to continue to encourage industry to adopt good environmental management, and to participate in the EC eco-management and auditing scheme. I commend the Government for their clear commitment to that, as outlined in the third competition White Paper. I welcome the agreements on the vital role of the International Standard organisation.

Throughout the world, security and stability enable markets to function smoothly. As we discovered during our visits, supporting business is the largest single activity of our diplomatic posts abroad. I must pay tribute to the dedication, professionalism and commitment of the employees of British firms who were available to discuss their products at trade delegations. I was privileged to meet some of them at an exhibition in Malaysia. They are a credit not only to their companies but to this country, and we should be aware of their efforts on behalf of Britain's exports.

Many people draw attention to traffic congestion in the United Kingdom. They should see the traffic in Bangkok—if they want to see a gridlock, that is the place to go. We had a police escort, but it did not help at all. Bangkok insists that it is capable of solving its traffic problems through road pricing and taxation, but I think that this is a case of, "Watch this space."

In an interview, I was once asked what was the most evocative smell that I remembered. I replied that it was that of a joiner's shop. It is possible to-or at least I was able to—differentiate between the smell of oak, pine and other timbers. Like the smell of newly cut grass, such smells stay with one.

In March this year, we visited a major DIY store—B and Q—in Wandsworth. I was impressed by the way in which the store had taken to sourcing its materials, especially timber. It outlined the aims of the Forest Stewardship Council, which sets standards for sustainability. The work done to encourage villagers in some countries to manage and log timber themselves was a most interesting aspect highlighted during our visit.

As ever, when I see timber toilet seats, I recollect being told that the shape of the toilet seat was determined by the shape of the bowler hat of the foreman in charge of the joiner's shop. That was before my time, but the story lingers that the hat determined the inner dimensions of the seat.

To continue my flashback, when I was a building contractor, we used to take out the old high-flush toilets, washbowls and cast-iron baths. On the occasions when we did not take out the bath—it was heavy—we used to panel it in and replace the brass taps with chrome ones. Sometimes we simply replaced the toilet seat with a plastic one and put hardboard flush on beautifully panelled doors. The construction industry has now gone full circle—wooden toilet seats are back, the old-style baths are now worth a fortune and brass taps are being fitted again. The final turn of the wheel means that it is possible to buy a plastic door panelling kit to attach to flush doors and make them look like panelled doors. As they say in the trade, we have seen it all before.

Many factors affect trade and the environment. Some people may disagree with me, but I believe that awareness of the environment is now a fact of life. That is to be welcomed and worked on, and I contend that the Environment Committee's report entitled "World Trade and the Environment", together with the Government's response to it, have moved the debate on. They are documents that future generations will turn to in years to come.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West 11:52 am, 11th December 1996

I found the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir I. Patnick) most moving, especially his eloquent tribute to Thomas Crapper. I pay tribute to all that the hon. Gentleman did in his early days to cover up any reminder of what that honourable gentleman did.

If the hon. Gentleman thought that Bangkok's traffic was bad, we must have been in Bangkok last night when some idiot jammed his lorry in the Blackwall tunnel, causing hundreds of thousands of Londoners to be inconvenienced to such an extent that some spent three hours or more blocked in the tunnel. I should not like to think that we are going to bring that aspect of Bangkok over here.

The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) is wrong—there is no antagonism to wealth creation on Labour Benches, certainly not under new Labour. However, we are opposed to wealth creation based on the gross exploitation of either human or animal resources. It would be crazy if we, as politicians, did not want individuals and communities to prosper, but we think that individuals, communities and countries will prosper that much better if they operate in a framework of concern for the environment. That, after all, is what the excellent report of the Select Committee on the Environment is all about. The hon. Gentleman's accusations do not bear critical examination.

I want to talk briefly about paragraph 170 of the Select Committee's report, the one part that deals with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Before the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) left the Chamber to go to a meeting, he requested that I move into my restrained mode if I was going to talk about animals. He and I work closely on animal welfare issues, but he knows—I think that the whole House knows—that I find it very difficult to be restrained when talking about the exploitation of animal resources.

The gross exploitation of animal resources is appalling. Everywhere we look, we can find evidence of the gross inhumanity that human beings exhibit towards other creatures on the planet. I accept that much of it is done illegally, but much is still done in the pursuit of legal trade.

We have seen the Chinese keeping bears in appalling conditions and tapping bile from them because they think that it has medicinal properties. People stockpile rhino horn because they think that it is an aphrodisiac. In Yemen, rhino horn is used to create dagger handles, but it is also imported into this country. Customs and Excise recently seized a large number of rhino horns and I pay tribute to that work in trying to enforce CITES regulations. I know that many Conservatives feel as strongly as I do that the Government should give extra resources to Customs and Excise, to enable it better to enforce those regulations and stamp out the appalling trade in endangered species.

When the Minister replies, will he say a little more about the Government's response to the Select Committee's report in relation to illegal trade? Paragraph 20 of the Government's response states: The Department of the Environment is holding a seminar in October 1996 to identify practical ways to improve enforcement efforts in the UK. Regrettably, I did not hear much about that seminar, and it would be helpful if the Minister told us a little more about it.

A report appeared in The Guardian yesterday following the publication by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre of its red list. The list comprises animals that are now endangered. The research, based on an assessment of the 5,205 species and undertaken by a network of more than 500 scientists worldwide, revealed that 25 per cent. of mammals, 25 per cent. of reptiles, 25 per cent. of amphibians and 34 per cent. of fish are threatened with extinction. That should concern us all.

It is all very well talking about the rights of fishermen and arguing with partners inside and outside the European Union about fishing regulations, but if fishermen are allowed to fish stocks to extinction, they are not only doing themselves out of a job, but destroying the ecology of the sea.

The hon. Member for Hallam mentioned the problem with hardwood in Thailand. The rain forests are of course under great pressure. Some less-developed countries are asking why they should not supply markets in northern Europe and north America with the hardwood that we need and why we should be restricting their ability to develop their economies.

We have to accept that argument, but we must acknowledge that rain forests belong to the planet as a whole. If the rain forests go, we go—it is as simple as that. It will be a long way down the road. It will not be us sitting in the Chamber. But eventually we shall drive ourselves to extinction by driving other species to extinction, because we are all interrelated.

Therefore, we should tell those countries that we shall put money and resources where our liberal consciences are. We should give them the resources to enable them to avoid over-exploiting resources that belong not just to them but to the planet. If they belong to the planet, all the countries on the planet must take responsibility for preserving those resources. We cannot expect single countries to do that on their own, particularly if they are in the less-developed part of the world economy.

Another problem which concerns a number of us and on which another report was issued last week is the booming trade threatening the world shark population. Sharks may not be the most attractive creatures in the minds of many of us, although to me they are a damned sight more attractive than the average Member of Parliament, but that is the way it goes.

Shark species are being exploited to such an extent that certain shark populations are reaching the edge of extinction. That is extraordinarily worrying and it should worry all of us. The trouble is that, in many cases, sharks are not listed as an endangered species and so are not protected. The trade is not regulated. It is appalling. For example, there is a big demand for shark fin soup. Hong Kong is one of the main areas where the demand flourishes, and it extends into China and throughout south-east Asia. One knows from evidence of shark fishing in Japan that the shark is taken out of the water, its fins are cut off and then it is thrown back into the sea. A shark has to keep swimming in order to live and without its fins it cannot and it dies a horrible, lingering death.

Such exploitation makes me extraordinarily angry, because it shows no concern for other life forms. It is at that point that I lose all sympathy with and sentiment for human beings. I may go a little further than most people, but I just hope that I am around when that asteroid crashes into the earth and wipes out all life forms, as happened 65 million years ago. I would like to raise my glass of champagne to the asteroid as it comes in. Nature will then be able to start again and come up with a species that is somewhat better than human beings at living in harmony with the other creatures on this planet. Unless we do that, we shall take many species to the point of extinction and beyond. That would be a calamity not just for those species but for all of us who are left. Every time one species is extinguished, we are all diminished by that act.

Unregulated trade, trade which has no concern for animal resources, is not the sort of trade that I, and I suspect other hon. Members, or Britain want. We want trade and prosperity, but it must be in sympathy with other life forms, particularly the animal life forms with which we are privileged to share the planet.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock , Lewisham, Deptford 12:02 pm, 11th December 1996

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), with his enormous enthusiasm for the threatened species of the planet.

The debate is welcomed by the Opposition. It is an issue that Labour has taken seriously for a considerable time.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock , Lewisham, Deptford

New Labour, old Labour, every Labour—we have always taken the issue seriously. Labour's trade and environment protection team published a joint paper two years ago, "Trade and the Environment", and Labour's policies were further developed in our environment document "In Trust for Tomorrow" and the more recent foreign policy document "A Fresh Start for Britain".

We have no doubt that trade and the environment are inextricably interlinked and that many developing nations have suffered severe environmental degradation as a result of inappropriate development and trade.

The Select Committee's report, on which I congratulate particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and all his colleagues, is complex and tackles the difficult issues with some clarity and depth. Labour agrees with much of the report. It has 24 recommendations and conclusions which I cannot possibly address in the short time available to me. However, it is particularly timely, as other hon. Members have said, because of the Singapore conference.

I refer first to the role of the United Kingdom Government. The Select Committee expressed concern that UK delegations are failing fully to reflect the Government's declared environmental policy objectives, and recommended that the Department of the Environment increase its input into international trading negotiations.

The failure fully to reflect and implement the UK's environmental policy is a problem not just encountered in international gatherings. It is a problem to which I have referred at the Dispatch Box on numerous occasions, and one to which I referred in our debate on sustainable development last week. The Government do not take the environment sufficiently seriously and have certainly not integrated it into all aspects of their policies.

I am glad to say that the Government's response to the Select Committee's report acknowledges that there is scope for improvement. But on the environment, as in areas of domestic policy, the Government find themselves facing both ways. The Department of Trade and Industry is wholly committed to free trade and we may assume that that has been its stance in Singapore but, specifically on page 27 of the document "Free Trade and Foreign Policy: a Global Vision", the Government say: A liberalised trade policy and a high level of protection of the environment should be mutually supporting in contributing to sustainable development. May I ask the Minister to say what precisely that means, particularly in the context of the World Trade Organisation conference? What input has the Department of the Environment had into the Singapore meeting? What environmental issues has the UK put on the agenda, and what progress is deemed to be being made in respect of sustainable development at that conference?

The Labour party supports the Select Committee's view that the relationship between multilateral environmental agreements and the rules of the general agreement on tariffs and trade must be clarified. What are the UK Government doing in Singapore to resolve that vital issue?

The Select Committee highlighted the European Commission's proposals to amend article XX of GATT to make it clear that trade measures within MEAs are allowable under GATT. In particular, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, with its concern for biodiversity, believes that that change is essential. The Government's response to the Select Committee's report shows that they are prepared to support that, but we ask the Minister today specifically to undertake that the UK Government will actively pursue that proposed change within the EU.

We were somewhat surprised by the Government's reluctance to support the international panel of experts that the World Wide Fund for Nature is trying to establish. That project is already supported by five Governments and the European Commission. Will the Minister tell the House today whether the Government, as the Select Committee recommends, are willing to discuss the matter further with the World Wide Fund for Nature? Labour endorses that and believes the proposal to be worth while.

I further endorse the request that has already been made to the Minister on the Forest Stewardship Council. Labour again supports the Select Committee's position and urges the Government to think again and to accept that that is the only scheme in existence at present which has support, so there is no excuse for the UK not to join in something that could have valuable international implications.

All hon. Members would agree that Britain is a trading nation. Our export performance is crucial to our overall economic success. We export a higher proportion of GDP than Japan, Germany or the United States. Britain's most important market is the EU, although one might not think so judging by the behaviour of half the Government. The single market is the world's largest economy, accounting for more than one third of global trade. As such, we have a major responsibility to ensure that we do not seek all the benefits of trade while foisting all the costs of environmental damage on developing nations.

We believe that trade can benefit the environment, both through economic growth and through encouraging the use of clean technology. It is vital that developing nations have access to modern clean technology so that the environmental destruction that is associated with past industrialisation in the north can be avoided. The interest of companies in patents to protect their investments in new technologies must be balanced by reasonable arrangements for developing countries to have access to technology transfer.

Labour is committed to a system of international trade that is open, fair and sustainable and thus raises the standards of developed and developing countries alike, but countries will open their economies to trade only if they can be assured of reciprocal action by others. That is why international trade must be based on agreement and be policed by a system of international regulation.

Labour welcomed the conclusion of the Uruguay round of the general agreement on tariffs and trade and the creation of the World Trade Organisation, but we believe that more reform is still necessary, in particular to ensure that the benefits of free trade are generated in a fair and sustainable way. Thus a Labour Government will seek to amend GATT to make it clear that signatories have a right to protect natural resources and that that should refer not only to resources within the jurisdiction of the acting state, but to the "global commons".

Labour will also extend free trade agreements to include services and intellectual property rights. We will ensure that international environmental agreements are made exempt from challenge under the World Trade Organisation, including the Montreal protocol, the Basle convention, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the biodiversity and climate conventions. We endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish said on forestry conventions.

It is crucial that Britain plays a leading part in international efforts to create a stable international macro-economy that supports trade, employment and international stability. We hope that progress might be made on those issues in Singapore, but, like other Members today, we feel that there is not much evidence of that happening.

The WTO is not the only international body that must deal with the vital issues of trade and the environment. The United Nations too must have an enhanced role in co-ordinating international economic, social and environment policy. Labour will press for a greater role for the UN Environment Programme and for the Commission on Sustainable Development in the promotion of sustainable economic policies among UN member states.

The issues of trade and the environment are inextricably linked with those of aid and development. The protection of the global environment cannot be postponed until developing countries grow rich. Nor can it be achieved by keeping developing countries poor. Clearly, aid has a critical role in bringing about sustainable development. Labour in government will urge other institutions, including the World bank, to lend increasingly to agriculture, particularly to small-scale farming, and to integrate environmental sustainability into all aspects of the bank's work. We will report regularly to Parliament on the work of the World bank and of the International Monetary Fund and on the UK's role.

Under Labour, aid programmes will be audited for environmental impact and underpinned by a commitment to environmental sustainability. In Europe, Labour will work for greater consistency between European Union aid, trade, agriculture and economic reform policies and improvements to EU aid development programmes in relation to the environment.

There is no doubt that internationally agreed standards should be a floor for environmental protection and not a ceiling, although states must remain free to adopt higher standards if their populations demand it or if their environments are particularly vulnerable.

This has been an excellent debate, for which we would all have wished for more time. There has been much agreement both with the report and with the sentiments that many of us have expressed from personal experience, but what really matters is action. The Minister has asked that I allow him a little more time because he wants to make some statements. I hope that he will respond to our concern on the Singapore conference and give a specific response to our questions.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment) 12:14 pm, 11th December 1996

This has been a good debate with some interesting speeches. I welcome the contribution from the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), who set the scene well. He knows that the Government welcome the work of his Select Committee in highlighting the often difficult and complex issue of trade and the environment. He gave an expert view on the various multilateral environmental agreements and the issues that concern his Committee. In the time available, I will endeavour to answer the specific points that he and others have raised.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish raised generally the subject of the three important multilateral environmental agreements: the Basle convention, the Montreal protocol and CITES. It is important to improve the operation of each of those agreements, which each cover issues of great global importance.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) asked in particular about the operation of CITES. He mentioned the seminar in October, which was organised by my Department, on combating environmental crime. The agencies that took part in the conference included the Environment Agency, the police and Customs and Excise, which are involved with the enforcement of wildlife law. The conference's aim was to bring those agencies together and to improve the practical enforcement of environmental law, and for the agencies to share their different and important experiences. It was a worthwhile conference and we hope to build on its work.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West generously referred to some of the recent successes in enforcing wildlife law, particularly in seizing illegal goods such as rhino horns. Such goods cause great offence to many right-thinking members of the public, who hate the idea of those goods being traded to the disadvantage and possible extinction of species elsewhere in the world. I join him in what he said about that.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish also raised the subject of eco-labelling. He knows that we fully support the European Union eco-labelling scheme and the EU's efforts to argue for an effective World Trade Organisation regime that promotes full transparency in the development and operation of voluntary eco-labelling schemes, based on a life cycle approach.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir I. Patnick) mentioned that it is difficult sometimes to find goods with eco-labels on them. Certain types of washing machine have an eco-label. We want more such goods in the shops so that consumers can contribute to the environment by making environmental decisions.

On the Forest Stewardship Council accreditation scheme, we are interested in sustainable forestry. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish will know that we have set out our plans for sustainable forestry and in particular the forestry standard. The Forestry Commission is carrying out consultation on a draft national standard. It is discussing differences between the United Kingdom forestry standard and the council's scheme. The hon. Gentleman will know from the evidence given to his Committee that some aspects of the scheme's criteria need investigation. No doubt the Forestry Commission will discuss those aspects with the council and it is right that those discussions should take place.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

Does the Minister agree that it is important to establish a worldwide standard and that matters cannot be left to individual countries?

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

There is certainly a logic behind worldwide efforts to maintain sustainable forestry. Britain has played its part in those efforts by entering into a number of European and global agreements. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) will be aware of the important part that we played in promoting forestry at the Rio summit.

The hon. Member for Penton and Reddish also referred to domestically prohibited goods. He will know that several separate agreements are in place or under negotiation requiring the identification of specific categories of goods. The World Trade Organisation committee on trade and the environment is producing a database that will cover existing agreements, but it will be necessary to return to the subject in future.

Before turning to Singapore, which has been the subject of a great deal of interest during the debate, I should like to address other specific matters that have been raised during the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) made an excellent and well-informed speech that reflected his role in the Select Committee. He was absolutely right to draw attention to the benefits of trade for developing countries and the way in which trade can spread high environmental standards. He drew attention to the high standards in United Kingdom companies which were borne out by the evidence given to the Select Committee and rightly concluded that we should be proud of their efforts on the international scene. The United Kingdom has a good environmental record both in Government and industry. My hon. Friend drew attention to the need to set a continuing high standard in future. We cannot be complacent. We have achieved a great deal and we must look forward to further challenges and further achievements by industry and Government.

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) made an interesting speech in which he used the situation affecting china clay in his constituency as an example of the difference between process-based environmental rules and product-based trade rules. It is an interesting subject. In our response to the Select Committee report and our earlier evidence to it, we recognised that there is sometimes tension between those two sets of rules which have developed against different backgrounds.

Let me reiterate what we told the Select Committee. We consider that it would be helpful to explore the potential difficulties caused by different approaches and to examine the scope for solutions that, while avoiding undermining the multilateral trading system, could minimise the risk of conflict between the two systems.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment)

I hope that the Minister will be able to let us know whether any progress has been made at Singapore. All members of the Select Committee would like to know what is happening out there.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

Before I mention Singapore, let me turn to an important subject that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) in his intervention about animal welfare. I know that my hon. Friend had to keep another appointment. He does not need me to say what a keen advocate he is of animal welfare, as indeed is the hon. Member for Newham, North-West.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham raised the important subject of the leg-hold trap. He would be the first to understand that it would not be entirely desirable for me to speculate on the legal position of the World Trade Organisation rules in that respect. However, I certainly join him in recognising that leg-hold traps are cruel. The Government have long recognised that they are a cruel way of trapping animals and we have been working hard with our fellow European Union countries to uphold the original EU regulation that set out to ban leg-hold traps. We have been trying to keep the European Union steady to that aim. The House will be aware of recent developments, but our overriding aim is to uphold that regulation and minimise the cruelty to animals caused by leg-hold traps.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West proposed bringing animal welfare into World Trade Organisation rules. He spoke with a strength of feeling on the subject that is widely shared among the public. He will realise that we have to work with other countries and we need more of an international consensus about animal welfare and trade rules. I entirely agreed with the hon. Gentleman when he said that we are all diminished when we lose other species. That is the thinking behind our contribution towards the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, our biodiversity plans and what we are doing to help other countries protect their biodiversity. I am sure that we all agree that it is an important subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hallam made an interesting speech drawing upon personal experience. He rightly highlighted the high standards set by British companies and observed that British-based companies are often involved in cleaning up pollution abroad. He drew attention to the role of water companies since privatisation in assisting other countries to deal with their pollution problems. I agree whole-heartedly with what he said about British business men who work overseas helping other countries and promoting our export efforts. He rightly paid tribute to their magnificent professionalism and their important role globally.

I have been asked about Singapore, which is of great interest to the entire House. The Singapore meeting is a useful opportunity to consolidate the work of the World Trade Organisation committee on trade and the environment. The committee has proposed a report on its work so far. I hope that we shall agree that the committee should continue its work.

I agree with hon. Members that it is disappointing that the committee was unable to agree on the need to clarify World Trade Organisation rules on trade measures taken under multilateral environmental agreements, but we look forward to continuing that work after Singapore.

I shall address the speech by the hon. Member for Deptford in a moment, but she should bear in mind the fact that we need to work internationally to reach agreements with developing countries and other developed nations. I am not sure whether some of her comments took account of that need.

I was asked what we consider to be important for the future. There are some important topics for the World Trade Organisation to explore as part of its further work. We have identified six topics as the focus of major international efforts in the near future.

First, we consider multilateral environmental agreements to be the most effective response to trans-boundary and global environment problems. We support the efforts of the European Union to clarify the relationship between trade measures in multilateral environmental agreements and GATT. If the hon. Lady is trying to suggest that there is some doubt about that, she is wrong.

Secondly, environmental policies based on processes represent an important task for the future. Thirdly, we support further examination of environmental effects. We should like to see more analysis by the World Trade Organisation of the potential environmental effects of trade proposals as they are developed. Fourthly, in respect of spreading environmental principles, there needs to be a better understanding among those concerned with trade policy of the principles and concepts underlying environmental laws and policy. Fifthly, market access for the least developed countries was of particular interest to the Select Committee.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

I shall not give way to the hon. Lady at this stage. I read with interest what the Select Committee said about the need to give assistance to developing countries to be represented and to make their own contributions.

Sixthly, we held a seminar on combating illegal trade in endangered species, chlorofluorocarbons and hazardous waste.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

Before the hon. Lady gets too carried away, I would draw her attention—

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock , Lewisham, Deptford

I should like some answers.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

I have given the hon. Lady and the House many answers in a short time.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

On Singapore, I have identified what we believe are the important subjects for the future.

The hon. Lady would do well to listen to what we have done so far. We have contributed $40 million to the multilateral fund of the Montreal protocol that was set up to meet agreed incremental costs to developing countries. That is achievement, not just talk. We recently agreed a further $29 million funding for the next three years of multilateral fund operations. Having committed £130 million so far, the United Kingdom is the fifth largest donor to the global environment facility—a project that helps developing countries and other countries in transition to meet their obligations under the biodiversity convention and the climate change convention.

The hon. Member for Deptford mentioned Singapore and made a number of false points in her speech. At the beginning, she seemed to be attacking free trade; she went through a little doubt in the middle; and, by the end, she was saying how important free trade is. The Government are in no doubt. We realise that at the Singapore meeting it is important to talk about trade and the taking down and keeping down of unnecessary trade barriers, from which historically this country has benefited so much. Free trade also has the capacity to benefit developing countries in future. There is no equivocation on the Government Benches; we support free trade.

The Government set a high premium on environmental protection, as the hon. Member for Deptford knows. We have achieved a great deal, which is there for all to see in our policies and our commitment to sustainable development. If she is interested in that, she would do well, as I told her last week, to look at her party's manifesto, which does not mention sustainable development, let alone free trade and the environment. Her contributions last week and today—

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. We must move to the next debate.