Tories promise pollution tax

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A Tory government would introduce a tax on water pollution, John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment, announced yesterday. The money raised would be used to cut other taxes and fund local wildlife conservation projects.

He launched the Conservatives' special green manifesto at the party headquarters yesterday. But most journalists present wanted to know why the Tory leadership was not demanding the resignation of MP Ian Hamilton.

The tax would be based on the quantity and toxicity of pollution and could raise several hundred million pounds a year. It would apply to the privatised water companies which discharge treated effluent from their sewage works.

Yet even though this would raise their costs, the Conservatives promise that water charges will fall after the next price review by industry regulator Ofwat.

Companies currently need a licence to discharge pollutants into rivers and the sea. The cost of this varies according to the quantity and type of pollution, but the charge is only intended to cover costs. The new tax would go beyond this.

Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, said: ``We're desperately disappointed by ... this manifesto. It's a bit of green but mostly grey.''