Inside Parliament: Extinction pondered as elections approach: Gummer attacked for failing to insist on energy efficiency registers - - Wandsworth is focus of fresh sparring over levels of council tax

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IT WOULD have been asking a lot to expect Labour MPs to pass up the opportunity for political taunts during environment questions on saving threatened flora and fauna from extinction. George Foulkes, MP for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, obliged, claiming that Tory councillors and Euro- MPs were about to become endangered species.

In yet another swipe over the Tory-controlled London Boroughs of Westminster and Wandsworth, Mr Foulkes claimed that 'no amount of grant gerrymandering by the Government will save them from near extinction on May 5 and June 9.'

Robert Atkins, the environment and countryside minister replied: 'I wish that there was protection for the loud-voiced bamboozler, which is obviously represented by you.'

John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment, appeared to be holding up in the face of his - according to some reports - threatened extinction, scoring a point for political correctness as he reminded Teresa Gorman, Tory MP for Billericay, in an exchange over restricting chlorine that men, as well as housewives, should take their turn at bleaching the shirts and sheets.

But he came under heavy fire from the Liberal Democrats' Nick Harvey, MP for Devon North, and Chris Smith, Labour's environment spokesman, for seeking to wreck the private-member Energy Conservation Bill which returns to the Commons tomorrow. The Government tabled five amendments at the committee stage, all too late to be voted on. Mr Gummer has since tabled three new clauses and 200 further amendments.

The Bill, promoted by Alan Beith, the Liberal Democrat economics spokesman and supported by about 400 MPs of all parties, would impose a duty on local councils to draw up a register of the energy efficiency of all buildings in their area. A key Government amendment would only allow councils to draw up a register, something they can already do, but don't.

The tactics were in direct contradiction of Government environmental policy, Mr Harvey said.

Replies from Tony Baldry, a junior environment minister, indicated the Government's plain intention to frustrate further progress on the Bill. He retorted: 'Only a Liberal member of Parliament could dream up such a fantasy.' The measure involved additional and unnecessary extra regulatary burdens on local authorities and unnecessary costs for the taxpayer, he said.

Mr Smith suggested that the tabling of the amendments was a deliberate attempt to sink the Bill through lack of time. 'If the Government do engineer the collapse of this measure, won't they be left without any shred of credibility at all on energy conservation?'

Mr Baldry replied that it was 'absolutely ludicrous' to suggest that the Bill was some sort of touchstone. Unnecessary regulation on local authorities would not necessarily bring any further benefit towards energy conservation at all.

What Angela Browning, Tory MP for Tiverton, Devon, called the 'exhorbitant' charges made by South West Water for installing meters and high water prices was no so easily dealt with. Mrs Browning warned that people on fixed incomes and pensioners with modest savings would find difficulty in meeting this year's bill, let alone the increase planned by the company.