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Wednesday, 30 September, 1998, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Green agenda gets tough on pollution
Meacher: Labour is the "greenest government" ever
Environment minister Michael Meacher has set out Labour's green agenda by promising higher fines for polluters and opening up more countryside to the public.

Mr Meacher listed environmental achievements made by the "greenest government ever in this country" but told delegates that momentum must be continued in this parliament and beyond.

Tough on polluters

The government would introduce tougher penalties on polluters, he said.

Labour had clamped down on polluters including dumping sewage, oil rigs and radioactive waste at sea.

Brent Spar
"No more Brent Spars"
There would be "no more Brent Spars" said Mr Meacher.

But the fines for those who continued polluting were "pathetic".

Mr Meacher gave the example of how North West Water were fined 3,000 for polluting the river Ribble with raw sewage.

He said the average fine was a "miniscule fraction of company profits".

Mr Meacher said: "I am determined to make the penalties for seriously damaging the environment not a minor inconvenience but a real and effective deterrent."

That policy would also apply to health and safety fines against employers who put lives at risk.

The average fine of 2,500 was an insult to people and their families, he told delegate.

Right to roam

The environment was seen as a luxury bolted on to other policies but the environment was something which affected everybody from asthma to, traffic congestion and pollution to swimming in the sea.

Meacher: We will give people more access to the countryside
Speaking on green issues behind a red background, Mr Meacher also set out the government's plans to open up to four million acres of countryside to the general public.

Mr Meacher said: "The government will achieve its manifesto commitments to give people greater freedom to explore the countryside."

He said that while the legitimate rights of landowners had to be respected, there was no reason why the public should be kept off land without good reason.

Nothing showed the Conservative Party in its true colours than its opposition to access for all, he said.

The Tories are the party of "the few determined to shut out the many".

At the heart of the government's rural policies was job creation, said Mr Meacher.

Labour would end the decline of rural communities, he told delegates.

To aid that, the government would renew cities to take pressure off the countryside and Labour were already committed to recycling brownfield sites for development.

Also among Mr Meacher's plans was the creation of a toxic releases inventory of all noxious discharges to land, air or water in the neighbourhood.

He said: "For the first time people will then be able to exercise a comprehensive right to know about their local environment."

Climate change was still the biggest challenge facing Labour, Mr Meacher said.

The government would concentrate on a major shift in car use to cut transport emissions, a big increase in renewable sources of energy and a drive to improve energy efficiency, he told delegates.

Pleas for rural aid

Following Mr Meacher's speech, farmer's wife Kathy Dixon, from Wealden, Sussex, called for incentives to go to all people who farmed.

She and her husband, tenant farmers whose incomes were plummeting, were not entitled to the minimum wage because they were self-employed.

Margaret Billing, from Skipton and Ripon, said residents of rural areas were becoming the "have nots".

They live in enviable surroundings but battle to put food in their bellies, she said.

Ms Billing said rural residents were "in danger of becoming the servants of the affluent".

Jenny Adey, Putney, said the Countryside Campaign should not become hijacked by the hunting lobby.

She protested that Worcester Labour MP Mike Foster's backbench Bill to outlaw hunting with hounds should not have been allowed to run out of time when it had such strong support.

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