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European Community (Groundwater Pollution)

Volume 958: debated on Tuesday 14 November 1978

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I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay).

9.2 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of Commission Document No. R/236/78, the Department of the Environment's Explanatory memorandum of 7th March 1978 and the Department of the Environment's Supplementary memorandum of 12th April 1978 on groundwater pollution.
Let me say at once that I accept the amendment. Indeed, I could hardly have phrased it better myself. If we were being asked to consider a ban on all types of direct discharge, the Government would be as concerned as the hon. Members who have tabled the amendment, but I hope that I shall be able to explain to the House that the effect of the proposals as they stand is, in many respects, in line with United Kingdom practices and requirements, and that there is certainly no question of any absolute ban.

Before dealing with the substance of this Commission proposal for a directive and the view taken of it by the Government, I want to say a few words about the status of this document and of other documents relevant to our discussion. I am particularly keen to do so because in the debate which took place on 6th April, when I spoke on the freshwater fish and shellfish proposals, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) drew my attention to the difficulties which he and other hon. Members had had in obtaining the papers necessary to prepare themselves for that debate.

During the debate, the right hon. Member raised the point that explanatory memoranda on Community documents should be noted on the Order Paper of the day. I subsequently wrote to him explaining that there is already a procedure for drawing Members' attention to relevant explanatory memoranda, particularly those produced shortly before a debate—namely, to refer to the explanatory memoranda in the motion itself. The Lord President announced this procedure in a Written Answer on 30th March 1977 when he said that motions for debate should draw attention as appropriate not only to the original documents but to the relevant explanatory memoranda on them. Where the Community documents are recent and no updating of the original explanatory memorandum is necessary before a debate, this procedure need not be used.

The object of our considerations is Commission document No. R/236/78, which was submitted to the Council of the EEC on 27th January of this year. My Department supplied an explanatory memorandum to the Select Committee of this House and of another place on 7th March. A supplementary note on 12th April was also supplied to the two Committees.

The 35th report of the Select Committee of this House takes account of both notes. Since being submitted to the Council, the groundwater proposal has been discussed by officials in the environment working group on nine separate occasions. It is to be discussed again at a meeting later this week and seems certain to be considered at the Environment Council of Ministers on 19th December. Various amendments to the text are either agreed or in prospect as a result of this intensive discussion, and I hope to explain these developments to the House tonight. I would stress, however, that these amendments are piecemeal rather than fundamental. The broad framework of the proposal is not much changed from document No. R/236/78.

I now turn to this specific proposal. The intention is to provide for the protection of underground water resources in the Community. This is indeed an important question, though we have had some reservations about the way in which the Community has been tackling it.

Document No. R/236/78 does not, however, represent the first incursion of Community legislation into groundwater management policy. As the report of the Select Committee of this House points out, there is an existing requirement upon member States of the EEC to prohibit all discharges of so-called List I substances to groundwater and to reduce groundwater pollution caused by the discharge of List II substances. This comes under article 4 of the dangerous substances directive, document No. 76/464/ EEC, which came into force upon notification in May 1976.

These sweeping requirements are modified only by the provision of exceptions for domestic effluents and for discharges made to deep, saline and unusable strata. However, article 4 of the dangerous substances directive concludes with the statement:
"The provisions of this Directive relating to groundwater shall no longer apply upon the implementation of a separate Directive on groundwater".
Those words contain, I think, an implicit recognition of the fact that the complexity of the issue of groundwater protection made it worthy of consideration in its own right. That is why we now have before us a proposal which attempts to legislate for groundwater protection in 15 articles in place of the previous one. But so long as no groundwater directive as such is agreed by the Community the provisions of article 4 of the dangerous substances directive apply.

I think that it would be correct to say that the main source of unhappiness for the Government in this proposal has been the requirement in article 3.1 that the direct discharge of List I substances to groundwater should be banned altogether. Water management policy in this country has evolved around a system of consents, whereby a person intending to discharge to a controlled water has first to apply to the water authority. The water authority considers the case on its merits and stipulates whatever conditions it thinks are necessary to safeguard the receiving environment. It can, indeed, withhold its consent if it thinks that the discharge should not take place at all. This system corresponds to the process of prior authorisation which article 4 of document No. R/236/78 foresees for other discharges of List I and List II substances to groundwater.

On the one hand, then, there is our basic dislike of outright banning, which is clearly shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. On the other hand, there is an awareness of the practical difficulties which an outright ban would cause, by prohibiting certain activities which are known not to prejudice groundwater resources and which may indeed be beneficial to them. I am thinking chiefly of the practice of aquifer recharge, whereby a water authority channels either part of a river's flow or purified effluent from a treatment works under the ground to top up depleted underground resources. Very low levels of at least some List I substances will inevitably be present in recharge waters, if for no other reason than that they occur naturally. The strict application of the proposed ban could mean that this important practice would have to he abandoned. I can inform the House, however, that a new exception to the ban has been agreed specifically to allow aquifer recharge to continue.

There has also been general agreement on another important new exemption. I have said that it is inevitable that certain substances appearing in the lists will occur in waters discharged to underground at levels so low as to be harmless; in technical language, these are called trace concentrations. It has also been accepted in Brussels that discharges containing no more than trace concentrations of List I substances should not come under the ban, and we can expect the text to be modified accordingly.

On the subject of trace elements, will my hon. Friend say how he defines a trace?

Quite honestly, I could not define a trace at the moment. I shall seek advice about that. My view at the moment is that the level is so low as to be harmless and that it will vary with different elements. Whether figures can be put on it, I do not know.

We live in perilous times and, bearing in mind the economy of scale, these are important matters as more and more sophisticated chemicals come on to the market. I am in no sense attempting to trip up my hon. Friend on this technical subject, but it is important that we know what we are talking about here.

I quite agree with my hon Friend, and I know about his specific concerns. However, I do not think that they are affected by this directive.

Other exemptions are provided for as in the Commission document of January, and I do not think it necessary tonight to refer to each individually. I would, however, mention the exemption appearing under article 3.2(a) for discharges to isolated and unusable aquifers. It is true that the wording of this provision is far from ideal, and officials are still attempting to improve upon it, and particularly to clarify the vague concept of the "biosphere". What is important, however, is the general acceptance that the full rigours of the proposal should not apply to groundwater which can clearly not be exploited for any purpose other than disposal of effluent.

For the moment, that is all I wish to say about the provisions about direct discharges in this proposal.

Will my hon. Friend say whether he has a definition of what is an unusable aquifer or unusable stratum in the terms which are being proposed?

My general view is that it is one which is not used for water supply purposes or which is not likely to lead to consumption by humans or animals. However, I shall seek further advice about that and let my hon. Friend have any other information that I obtain.

Perhaps I may press this a little further. One of the features which concern me very much about these definitions of what is an unusable aquifer is the time for which it is expected to be unusable. Are we legislating for ourselves, for the next 100 years, for the next 1,000 years, or for what period, and how do we contemplate that it will or will not be usable in the future?

I can only take the scientific advice available to me in my discussions with departmental officials, which have been going on for some time. I shall take note of what my hon. Friend said for when the matter reaches the Environment 'Ministers' meeting in Brussels, perhaps in December.

I was about to mention a new element which has arisen in discussion in Brussels. Some member States see the need for more stringent controls than the draft directive originally provided. There has been strong pressure to extend the proposed ban not only to indirect discharges of List I substances but also to direct List II discharges. This last element the United Kingdom simply could not accept in any circumstances, and I do not propose to waste time in discussing it tonight.

But indirect List I discharges are rather different. There are clear indications that some element may need to be included in the text if a directive is going to be agreed. Since, as I shall explain at the end of my remarks, failure to agree may work to the United Kingdom's disadvantage, we need to consider the question seriously. Unfortunately, it is complex. Whereas direct discharges to groundwater are relatively easy to identify, and are known to be comparatively rare in this country, the state of knowledge about indirect discharges is less complete.

Understandably, the CBI in particular has expressed great concern about the possible effects upon industry of such an extension of the ban, even with the exemptions I have already mentioned. Of course, if an indirect discharge is likely to seep through and affect usable groundwater, we accept that there is a need for control. We have indeed already provided for a control system under Part II of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which is scheduled to be implemented in full by the end of 1979.

This kind of case-by-case approach which we have adopted is a very different matter from an extended ban plus exemptions. It is more flexible, and potential damage to industry can be avoided without weakening environmental protection. One particularly important illustration will show what I mean. It seems that at the moment the groundwater proposal is intended to cover also the effect of leachate from solid waste tips—which must be regarded as one of the more likely potential sources of indirect discharges.

An extended ban would lead to an unacceptable conflict with the established system for the licensing and operation of waste disposal already in force under Part I of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and, incidentally, to difficulties with the Community's own existing directive on toxic and dangerous waste. A major element of our own system is consideration of any potential danger to groundwater from leachate.

In order to clarify this point and to avoid the possibility of conflict, we have proposed a new exemption from the entire scope of the groundwater proposal for properly authorised waste disposal sites. The Government see no prospect of agreement to any ban on indirect List I discharges unless the principle of this exemption is generally accepted.

I do not think, despite the difficulties, that it would be right at this stage to reject the prospect of the extended ban altogether, but we should need to be well satisfied about its practical application and effect before even considering accepting it. Consultations, especially with the CBI, will continue.

I shall not tax the patience of the House by dwelling too long on other details of this document which did not command the Government's immediate support. I would not pretend that the definitions which appear in the proposal are ideal but, quite frankly, I fear that the search for the perfect definition is in some cases likely to be unrewarding. That said, I would stress that we are particularly concerned about the lack of precision in the definitions of Lists I and II in the annex, and some support has been apparent for the attempt by our officials to introduce the notion of selective criteria.

I have talked so far about those aspects of document R/236/78 which the Government have considered in need of improvement—points which are also raised in the Select Committee's report. I turn now to doubts raised specifically by the Select Committee. The report mentions concern that adoption of the groundwater proposal might increase the administrative burden bearing upon the water authorities—with the implication, I presume, that any such increase would not be justified by real environmental benefit. This is an entirely legitimate concern; but I think it only right to point out that full implementation of Part II of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which will provide the basis for implementing any groundwater directive, will extend the powers of control of the water authorities and necessarily, over a period, increase their work of surveillance and administration, whether we have this directive or not.

By the same token, the Government are anxious to see that any new Community legislation does not either force the pace of these domestic arrangements or indeed extend them needlessly. For this reason we have argued that the authorisation procedures as specified in article 6 must strike the right balance between mandatory and optional specifications. We have met the suggestion which has been raised at official level that groundwater quality should be extensively monitored with the argument that no more monitoring should be required than can reasonably be carried out and that there should be national discretion in this matter.

I understand that a similar concern has been expressed about article 10 of the proposal, which regulates the supply of information to the Commission. The Government, who will provide the central link in any chain of communication between the Commission and the implementing authorities within this country, see at least two reasons for doubting that article 10 will prove burdensome. First, it is an almost literal repetition of article 13 of the dangerous substances directive. That has been in force for more than two and a half years now. It has not generated a single request for information to be provided by the water authorities. Secondly, the environmental service of the Commission envisages only a selective use of these information provisions. It is as conscious as anyone of the inhibiting influence of finite staff resources.

I shall sum up the Government's attitude. I hope that the House can see now why we have concluded on balance that we should pursue negotiations on this text. Despite its imperfections—and these are considerably less than they were, thanks to United Kingdom efforts at the negotiating table—it is none the less preferable to the existing article 4 of the dangerous substances directive.

Of course, the Government are not suggesting that a new text should be accepted merely because it is less unsatisfactory than the old. We shall also need to be satisfied on the key points that I have mentioned tonight if an acceptable directive is to emerge at the Council. But there are real dangers in being driven to apply the article 4 provisions in this country. I hope that all concerned agree that it is worth a considerable effort to avoid that prospect. I look forward to hearing the views of hon. Members. They will be most valuable to the Government in future negotiations.

9.22 p.m.

I beg to move, at end the end of the Question, to add:

'but cannot accept proposals that require a ban on all types of direct discharge, particularly those found unacceptable in the United Kingdom'.
No one who listened to the Minister will be in any doubt about the complexity of this matter. He finished his speech by saying that it is better to go into this extraordinary detail than to accept the existing powers of article 4. Even with a successful outcome, the increased paperwork, the increased public expenditure and the time of civil servants and others in order to sort out what is on any count a complicated matter must be enormous.

The chalk aquifer stretches between Kent and France, but our aquifers are physically separate from those of the mainland of the Continent. That shows the degree to which we could manage without all this.

I shall deal with one or two procedural matters which are important. The Minister mentioned the Scrutiny Committee reports. House of Lords document 253(1) is also relevant. I hope that the Scrutiny Committee and the Government will consider putting documents in italics on the Order Papers when a parliamentary Committee has issued a report or referred to these documents in an officially printed report—which is more than the documents are themselves—so that hon. Members know exactly what has been said.

The second matter is rather more serious, although that is not unimportant. It concerns the modifications to these documents. My hon. Friend mentioned quite a few. He will no doubt confirm this, but I fancy that this amendment was certainly relevant to the documents but has been made less relevant by subsequent developments of which we were unaware. This has some procedural implications for the House, because we might have disagreed with the developments of which we knew nothing and might have put down a different amendment. That is important and could cause complications for a future document on any subject.

The second point about modifications, which is equally important, relates to consultation. The Minister said that he would certainly consult the CBI. But the CBI has some vested interest in this, and it is not a public body. I hope that he will confirm that he will certainly consult the National Water Council, which is a public body, which has responsibility as well as the expertise and which represents the interests of all the regional water authorities.

Have the modifications that my hon. Friend mentioned, both ancient and modern—I understand that some are more recent than others—been communicated to the National Water Council, and has he received its observations? My information is that some of the modifications, perhaps as long ago as those of February and March, have not been communicated to the Council, or that, if they have, its comments have not been taken aboard I hope that that is not so, but perhaps my hon. Friend will deal with the point.

The third procedural matter is the locus, or the authority, of this draft regulation in terms of the Treaty. The regulation refers to articles 100 and 235. This brings us back to some of the exchanges in the previous debate about the EEC's authority for these matters. I hope that the Minister will explain exactly how the proper working of the Common Market is related to this document.

I presume that it is in relation to the purification or anti-pollution measures which are required from certain installations or factories and which are a charge on them and are to be harmonised throughout the Community. I assume that that is the justification, but article 100 is not beloved of this House. Still less is article 235 beloved of this House. Article 100 says bluntly that, if the powers for the proposals are not in the Treaty and if the Treaty has not provided the necessary powers, the Council shall, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission, and after consulting the Assembly, take the appropriate measures.

That of course is the "King Henry clause"—or, I would say, the "Emperor Charlemagne clause"—in the Treaty of Rome and it has been the subject of criticism in the 22nd report of their Lordships' House. In a debate in the other place on article 100, on which this is based, on 4th July, Lord Diplock, whom I must not quote, drew attention to the surrender of sovereignty of the House by use of this article and the potential for federal legislation, turning the EEC into a federal State without changing the Treaty.

I will not suggest that the legislation for groundwater is doing exactly that, but it is well on the way, particularly since this is largely, for us at least, a domestic matter. Thus, has my hon. Friend any information about why this detailed matter is being pressed so far? We hear a great deal about harmonisation for harmonisation's sake, and this seems a strong candidate for that phrase.

However, there is good reason for, if not harmonisation, at least looking at the pollution of groundwater. If my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that he will probably address himself to this, because it is a feature of chalk areas, of which his area in Lincolnshire is certainly one—that is, the pollution of groundwater supplies by nitrates.

Since this regulation does not include what is called "normal" agriculture, this threat is not covered at all, although it will give rise to increasing problems. It is, of course, related to heavy dressings of nitrate which provide particularly good crops of cereals, which are very much to the fore in the Community. Indeed, there needs at some stage to be some concern about the maximum amounts of dressing applied, and that might well be on a Community-wide basis other than the United Kingdom. Therefore, in the very matter where there is possibly a case for some harmonisation, the Community appears not to have covered it in the draft directive.

I turn to the word "unusable". Unusable for what? The Minister said that it meant unusable for drinking—potable water. But the water taken for drinking is first purified, and a good deal of water taken is not immediately available for drinking but after appropriate processing is available for drinking. Indeed, even if that water is not suitable for drinking it might be suitable for industrial purposes or irrigation, which is becoming even more important in agriculture.

This again raises problems because, although the water may not be suitable for drinking, it may be suitable for irrigation. But irrigation in agricultural areas, particularly where residues of chemical processes are in the water, may raise its own problems. I hope that this factor will be borne in mind when there is consideration of the great problem of definitions.

I turn now to some of the comments made by the National Water Council in its evidence to their Lordships' House on the matter. It puts the bureaucracy, or the amount of paperwork involved, in concise terms. It says that there should be changes in the regulation as far as List I substances are concerned, and goes on:
"If such an arrangement is not made in the directive under consideration, an intolerable burden of sampling and analytical work could be imposed on Member states."
It may be that that is one of the modifications which have been made—I may have forgotten—among the long list recited by the Under-Secretary of State. Can he confirm whether that is so? If there has not been such a change, we know one of the reasons why water rates are going up—because there will be a great increase in the amount of work that the water authorities will have to do.

Can by hon. Friend tell us to what extent he would he prepared to see an intolerable burden placed on the water authorities if the net result was to save lives and the health of the public?

My hon. Friendis raising an entirely different matter. Precautions have to be taken, but they are much better achieved by United Kingdom legislation, which would be entirely appropriate in such matters. As far as I am aware, United Kingdom legislation does just that without the added burdens of the returns which the National Water Council has drawn to our attention.

Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to deal with this in the course of his own speech.

I turn now to the amendment and the reasons behind it. The memorandum by the Department of the Environment, dated 7th March, over the signature of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, states:
"It is not clear that a complete ban on certain types of direct discharge is necessary in order to achieve this"—
that is, the object of the draft directive. The memorandum goes on:
"Furthermore, it is not clear that the wording of the Directive would enable certain acceptable practices in the United Kingdom to continue…"
That is particularly true in relation to article 5 of the directive.

There is a useful diagram on page 10 of the explanatory memorandum provided by the Commission. One really has to look at that in order to understand this complicated document. Article 5 makes clear the arrangements in articles 3 and 4. It says:
"The authorisation referred to in Articles 3(2) and 4 may be granted only after consideration of the hydrogeological conditions of the area concerned and on condition that any significant risk of pollution is eliminated. The authorisations may be amended or withdrawn."
I read that as meaning amended or withdrawn by the Commission.

In other words, the exceptions which are written into the directive can be withdrawn or modified by the Commission. It may be—and I think that this is one of the points that my hon. Friend the Minister mentioned—that the possibility of an absolute ban by the Commission in certain circumstances has now been withdrawn. That was the purport of some of my hon. Friend's remarks. So perhaps he will confirm that. He said that subsequent developments have made our amendment unnecessary because the point has already been taken. I hope that my hon. Friend will confirm that article 5 has been changed, because unless it has I maintain that our amendment is still relevant. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for saying that he will accept the amendment as a safeguard.

The water supplies in this country are taken very much for granted unless problems arise such as we had a year ago. Groundwater supplies are less important in the United Kingdom than they are in other EEC countries, but they are nevertheless very important. My hon. Friend has referred to the recharging of the aquifers particularly in the area of the Thames water authority, and the re-use of effluent. That is part of the well-known water cycle and it is far cheaper to use underground aquifers in their natural state than to build surface reservoirs. The agricultural interests in this country understand that very well.

This directive, therefore, is very much more important potentially than it may at first appear, and I am glad that my hon. Friend is paying great attention to it. I deplore its production, however, and I deplore the apparent need for the enormous amount of time and bureaucracy that will be needed to avoid the provisions of article 4, which I believe is beyond the scope of the EEC. I would like to see none of this before the House in any case.

9.37 p.m.

If we owe the Common Market nothing else, I suppose that we should be grateful to it because the document enables us to discuss some of the problems that arise with our water supply.

I have been a member of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. The terms of reference for one of our recent studies were to examine the new and larger water and sewage authorities that have recently been set up. I for one certainly learnt a great deal. I came to the conclusion that perhaps in this area of sewage disposal—and I do not believe in the economy of scale—although there were good local authorities, there were many more that were bad or indifferent. Modem society needs all the technical expertise it can muster to deal with the great problems and dangers that can arise with the water supply.

In spite of some problems that have arisen during drought, generally this country has a fairly good record for uncontaminated water. Of course, memories are short. There have perhaps been cholera outbreaks in the London area within living memory. Overall, however, the water authorities have not done too badly in providing a safe and profitable water supply. We now live in the age of economy of scale. It is significant that the measure before us does not seek to tackle agricultural uses—for example, what farmers may spray on their land.

I do not know whether EEC documents appear before us in a certain sequence. However, bearing in mind our fairly good record in dealing with these matters, why do we not listen to our own experts, study their findings and legislate for Britain instead of becoming involved in standardisation? If there are benefits to be gained from sharing the experiences of other countries, I do not wish to eschew co-operation with those countries. Where the same problems apply, there could be the free flow of knowledge.

It may be that other countries have expertise from which we could learn. Instead of embracing an exercise that is aimed at standardisation, we should pay more attention to the needs of our own country. So often we find that EEC measures miss the bull point in Britain.

As a member of the Select Committee, I came to learn of the problems posed by nitrates. Increasingly more chemicals are put on the land. I claim no expertise in these matters. I make it clear that I am not a chemist. I read a document that included the information that one of the Anglian water authority's experts said that contingency plans should be made for water as the nitrate level was rising. It may not have reached a dangerous level, but it must be remembered that babies are the most susceptible. As a result, the authority began to make contingency plans for setting up a bottling plant. Instead of debating these erudite matters in an EEC context, we should be considering our own problems.

Problems are posed by heavy metals. Production at our chemical companies continues on a more massive scale year by year. They produce effluents and wastages in ever greater quantities. The chemicals that are produced in the effluent are ever more sophisticated.

A burning issue is what is to be done with sewage sludge. At one time it was a matter of spreading it on the land. In my day it was always said that one of the brightest prospects that a farmer or gardener could behold was a large muck pile, because out of that came fertility. However, many of the trace metals, the heavy metals, have reached the point where they are contaminating. In industrial areas there are large economy-of-scale chemical plants. We do not know whether to burn the sewage sludge or dump it in the sea.

In the older industrial areas there is a problem of underground dereliction. The Select Committee came across a sewer in the North-West that is handling 10 to 20 times its original planned capacity. The engineer told us that at the treatment plant only half the volume of sewage that was put down the main sewer arrived at the sewage works. The sewage works were in an old mining area. Presumably the sewage pipes were fractured. Half the sewage was seeping through. It might have been seeping through into the aquifers. Goodness knows where it was going; the engineer did not know. In some of the older works, very often the location of the sewers, or the state of them, is not known.

Some of these problems are not discussed in the context of this document at all, although it is obvious that thousands of manhours have been spent in discussing what should be done. Throughout the ages there have been rubbish tips, rain has fallen on them and drained away, and the results have not been too unpleasant. But now, with increasingly sophisticated chemicals being used, should not we be looking at classifications of waste and where it can be dumped, whether in areas where there are aquifers or in areas where there are no aquifers?

Naturally the Minister is concerned because we are involved in the Common Market and it is said that we cannot discharge anything into certain areas. It seems to be a very simplistic idea. Our practice in this country is well known. Indeed, it is estimated that in the Greater London area the drinking water, from the time it starts at its source until the time that some people drink it, will have been consumed about five times. On its way it will have gone into the sewage works five times and been processed and drunk again by someone else. This is well known, and there is no great problem involved there. It is in another area that the problems arise.

I have demonstrated where the problems lie, and I emphasise again that some of these matters have been dealt with in an over-simplistic way. I should like to mention another problem to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). We now live in the age of intensive husbandry. I accept that with a larger and larger world population there are greater demands for food production. I cannot say that I am a very great believer in factory farming—I have some moral reservations about that—but it is important to look at the technical aspects. Gone are the days when it was possible to walk up to pigs in their sties and stroke their backs. Pig production is now a very complicated matter.

I had an occasion to visit a piggery recently. One of the managers could not come because within the course of a certain number of days he had visited another piggery and could not take the risk of exposing pigs to contamination. Pigs are now kept on a very intensive scale, with various specialised products used in the feeding. The number of viruses from which pigs can suffer today is getting greater and greater, with the intensification of the methods of production. As the methods get more complex, so do the diseases which strike the pigs. I sometimes wonder what must be getting into our sewers and into our land courses.

If the debate has served any purpose at all, it has certainly enabled me to vouchsafe some of my fears and to pay tribute to the water authorities, which, without sufficient encouragement from the powers-that-be, are battling with all these problems. I should have been happier if we had not been involved so much with the bureaucracy of the Common Market but had been discussing how we can improve the position in our own country and how we can deal with the problems. That would have been better than getting into a bureaucratic tangle such as there is on this subject within the Common Market. There is certainly a case for the scientists and the people who know about these matters, whether in this country, in the other member States of the Common Market or in any other advanced countries, to come together to discuss them. That would have been more productive than considering the kinds of bureaucratic decisions which apparently need to be taken at this time.

9.50 p.m.

I apologise to the Minister for the fact that I was not present to hear his opening remarks. However, I understand that he did not touch in any depth on agriculture.

Therefore, I should like to put two or three simple questions to the Minister. I wholeheartedly agree with what I gather he said about British standards being much higher than these required standards. Therefore, the whole matter is possibly a waste of time.

In agriculture, particularly in my part of the country, which is a fruit-growing area, various exotic sprays are used. I assure the Minister that the chemical companies supplying our fruit growers undertake extensive tests of those sprays. In my constituency there is the ICI plant protection works and in the adjacent constituency there is the Shell agricultural chemical works. The research stations set up by the agricultural chemical industry undertake extensive and thorough tests. Members of the public often say that tests should not be carried out on animals. However, it is essential that certain safeguards be undertaken before chemicals are loosed upon plants and upon the soil and in due course are ingested by humans.

I should like to try to reassure the House from the point of view of the agricultural chemical industry. I speak as a fruit grower in a small way. My fellow fruit growers, in a much bigger way of business than I, use massive quantities of chemicals, but they are so thoroughly proven and tested that there is no cause for concern.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) touched on the subject of agriculture but not on the horticultural aspect of fruit growing. I do not want to follow him into the piggy digression that he made, because that is rather far from the subject of the proposed directive.

I ask the Minister to echo my words of assurance that British standards in these matters are already very high. I question whether the proposed directive is in any way needed. It will merely cost money and do very little good.

9.53 p.m.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) that this is one of the few opportunities that we have had to discuss what is becoming an important topic. This has been borne out by news in the newspapers recently. In The Guardian today there was a long article about the dumping of toxic waste by a firm in Essex. There has been a report in the newspapers this month of hydrocarbons leaking into aquifers. In the West Midlands there has been a lengthy appeal, which is currently awaiting decision of the Minister, against the dumping of toxic waste in an old coalmine. These matters, as my hon. Friend said, should properly be discussed in the House.

I am disappointed with what the Minister said this evening. I do not believe that the proposed directive goes far enough. Indeed, I do not believe that our own controls are sufficient. I say that not because I am taking a classical pro-Market stand as this is an EEC directive but because, as the House knows, I am a geologist by profession and much of my professional life has been concerned with matters of the sub-surface. It is to the sub-surface to which I should like to address most of my initial remarks before considering the importance of a unified European approach to these problems.

A number of hon. Members have said how important it is for us to listen to our experts, that we have a lot of expertise, that within this country we do not, perhaps, take enough notice of the experts and that if we did everything would come right. As a member of the profession which would be giving that advice, I am bound to tell the House that I do not feel competent or confident enough to give the kind of advice which the House appears to be seeking in such matters as the dumping of toxic waste in the sub-surface and certainly, when we come to it, the dumping of nuclear waste in the sub-surface. This is not because I do not think that I am a very competent geologist by today's standards but because I lack perhaps the confidence to be able to predict the future.

If one looks at what has happened in the past as a model for the future, one is presented with a very worrying picture. The fact is that had the Romans been busily dumping toxic wastes in the subsurface we would not have the faintest idea where they had been dumped and it is very probable that sooner or later we would have come across them, even had they been relatively sealed in the sub- surface, to the great damage of the population or of life in general.

It is probable that there is no society which really knows much about its past beyond perhaps 100 years. It is one of the incredible arrogances of today that we seem to be prepared to believe that we know that what we do today will be recorded for ever. We believe that it will always be known that where we have dumped this stuff is "Right there" and that this will be known 10 years, 100 years, 1,000 years and 10,000 years hence.

We are talking about materials that will still be toxic in those time scales. This is not just rank arrogance; it is rank stupidity. History demonstrates without doubt that there is no way by which we shall know these things. In my constituency, during the great drought of 1976, umpteen old mine shafts that were dug last century opened up. One lady opened her back door one morning, stepped out and looked 500 feet straight down, because the dry weather had caused the packing that had been put into the hole to dry out and it had collapsed. In the middle of the Dudley to Wolverhampton road a large shaft opened, some 600 feet deep, straight down. Nobody knew it was there.

These are matters of the last century, not matters of 500 years or 1,000 years ago. How are we to say that we shall have such a stable society that our records will always exist? I am told that in Cambodia the people of Phnom Penh no longer know where their sewers and electricity cables are. In that case we are talking in the context of political upheavals of only two or three years ago.

These are events that can happen in every country, and historically always have happened. The onus is upon us to demonstrate that we shall know these things in 50, 100 or 1,000 years. There is no historical precedent which can demonstrate that these things have been known. Therefore, any assumption on our part that what we are doing is safe for the future has no foundation in historical fact. In no way can we demonstrate that our successors will know what has happened.

In these directives we talk about dumping material into unusable strata and saline bodies. "Saline bodies", in this instance, I presume, means salt domes. Salt domes have been widely proposed as places to dump not merely toxic waste but, for the future, nuclear waste. Again, had our friends the Romans, our predecessors, dumped things into some of the salt domes in Germany and Britain, which we now mine for salt—in fact, not only do we mine them, but we inject water into them so that it may come back up as brine and we can then get the salt out of it—where would we have been? The same is as true for our successors as it is for us now looking back at the past, when things happened about which we know nothing at all.

My concern is that the directives, particularly directive 4, could go even further and insist that there is a complete ban on all kinds of sub-surface dumping. There is no way that any geologist, no matter how eminent, can put his hand on his heart and tell either a water board or this House that what he says is safe today will be safe even tomorrow.

Let me consider what seems to me the most important aspect of the intervention of the EEC. My hon. Friends have said that they see no connection between our problems and the problems of the EEC countries in general. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) referred to it as a domestic matter. There are two vital aspects in which this is not a domestic matter. One has already been touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe—the increasing use of nitrates and the pollution which this is causing in the groundwater.

One of the great difficulties of treating this as a domestic matter is that if we pass legislation to the effect that we will use not high nitrate concentrates but low nitrate concentrates, and in consequence have lower yields than the EEC countries which are using high nitrate concentrates, that immediately puts the British farmer at a disadvantage compared with his Continental colleague. Uniform legislation over the whole of the EEC is required to insist that low nitrate concentrates are used. If we do not have that, we shall have increasing nitrate concentrates because we have competing farmers.

How much more true and dangerous is it of the industrial scene? In the Black Country, in the West Midlands, where my constituency is, we produce enormous quantities of toxic waste. Over many millions of years geologically we have produced ores of various kinds in the sub-surface. In a very few years we have mined these ores, and when we have mined them we concentrate them. When we take iron or tin ore out of the ground, we concentrate what is a relatively low percentage of the metal to make a pure form of the metal. But as a by-product of that process we concentrate the dangerous toxic materials into concentrations much greater than those which occur naturally.

What do we do with those materials? We dump them in very high concentrations, much higher concentrations than we would normally find naturally anywhere. The argument for doing that is that if we treat them and dispose of them in some totally inert and harmless manner, it is so expensive that it will make the industry of the West Midlands uncompetitive compared with the industry of the Ruhr or Dusseldorf or Milan. What does the industrialist of Milan or Dusseldorf say about it? Exactly the same thing. He says "Unless I am allowed to dump this cheaply, it will put up my prices and make me uncompetitive compared with the industry of the West Midlands".

Of all the reasons for having a uniform EEC approach to any problem, this is one of the soundest. Only by having a Market-wide directive which applies equally to the industries of all these different industrial areas are we likely to have our toxic wastes properly treated and have the expense properly shared throughout the EEC. Without that, we shall continue, as we are at the moment, getting increasingly larger amounts of very dangerous materials which we shall place in large dumps, many of them in the sub-surface, which future generations—

What my hon. Friend says would be true if this was what we are about. But all the directives we are discussing do not take this kind of question on board. I am willing to use any expertise, whether in the Common Market, America or Timbuktu, to get to the root of these problems. Once sensible people realise the problem involved, they will deal with it whether they are in the Common Market or not.

My hon. Friend is reiterating a point which I have already made. I do not believe that the directive goes far enough. I am not saying that we should not seek expertise wherever we can, but legislation has to be on a European scale in order to be effective. If it is not on that scale, we shall never get our Government insisting on expensive treatment of industrial waste when our competitors in other parts of the Community do not have to face the same expense.

My hon. Friend will agree that I singled out the nitrate problem on an EEC level. When I referred to the domestic matter, I was referring to the form and detail of legislation. I accept what my hon. Friend has said about the international aspects of competition, but does he not agree that his argument is even more powerful on a world scale because industrialists are going to less-developed parts of the world, such as Brazil and Malaya, which want industry? Does he not agree that there should be worldwide standards but domestic enforcement by national legislation?

The tendency of my whole argument has been towards international control eventually. The slightly narrower point that I am making in the realm of what I hope is possible is that it might be done on a European scale. At present it is not done even on a United Kingdom scale. Our controls are wholly inadequate. I believe that sub-surface dumping should not be allowed, because I cannot see how in future we shall know what we have done. We are a long way from European legislation and from the sort of British legislation that I should like to see.

In this area, legislation on an EEC scale is of the greatest importance to us all. It is only through the EEC directives being used by national Governments that we shall take away the competitive element which prohibits and precludes the proper treatment of industrial waste.

10.8 p.m.

I intervene briefly to support my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps). I was disturbed earlier when the Minister seemed to be adopting, if not a smug attitude, at least the atti tude that our position was beyond challenge. It certainly is not.

There is a danger in using antagonism to what may be regarded as the over-fixed form of the EEC proposals as a means of allowing undesirable freedom in this country. We must be careful to ensure that we do not do that.

I am concerned that we are not proceeding as rapidly as I wish with our own legislation. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West said, because I believe that our legislation will not be enough and that we need to expand it to a European level and, eventually, to wider circles. I am glad that reference has been made to the situation pinpointed in The Guardian today. But that is only one of many cases that has been brought to notice that makes clear that our own provisions are far from adequate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) quoted the attitude of the CBI and industry generally as justifying our rejection of EEC proposals. I ask him to have some caution about accepting the embrace of the CBI and the industrial lobby on this basis.

I firmly believe that this is an area in which we need to act with more vigour. I support my hon. Friend in saying that we want to press our friends in Europe to move further and in no way to give the impression that we are trying to hold back on provisions that I am sure are needed. There are many areas, of which I believe this is one, where we can, if we wish, gain a great deal by imposing more severe restrictions that require new technology that we can then provide not only for ourselves but for industry much more widely in Europe and elsewhere.

We have the opportunity to do that if we maintain the leadership in our campaign against pollution. I fear that in the present circumstances of restriction on expenditure, and so on, it is all too easy to use those circumstances as an excuse for not moving as fast as we should. I appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister not to accept that easy way out.

10.11 p.m.

I take on board what the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) said about what the United Kingdom is trying to do about pollution, with particular regard to underground water. He advocated further measures that should be taken by the Government, although he did not identify them, but he recognised the leadership that the United Kingdom has given with regard to protection against pollution of the environment. I think that there is general recognition of the positive steps that the United Kingdom has taken in this regard.

The proposals of the European Economic Community on the question of the pollution of groundwater are outlined in the draft directive, document no. R/236/78, published last January. Publication followed extensive consideration of the subject, with recognition of its long-term importance and significance, including the vital necessity of purity of water supplies and considerations that arise from the time scale of changes in strata conditions and the percolation of substances into the aquifers, substances both toxic and non-toxic in character.

I make the following point particularly in the context of what the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) said. If pollution occurs, it could well be irreversible in many instances. The hon. Gentleman took us far back to the Romans and said that we might well be suffering today from measures and steps that they took. I entirely agree that pollution may be indeterminate in origin and unpredictable in the course of its infiltration and in its effect.

Within the context of the EEC proposals and this debate, we are looking for ways and means of protecting the environment. That is the central point to which we are all directing ourselves.

The increasing pace of change in the character of material involved in disposal adds importance to a subject whose origins were recognised in the United Kingdom in legislation as long ago as 1847, in the Cemeteries Clauses Act of that year, section 20 of which states that
"If the company"
—that is presumably a reference to the cemetery companies—
"at any time cause or suffer to be brought or to flow into any stream, canal, reservoir, aqueduct, pond, or watering place, any offensive matter from the cemetery, whereby the water therein shall be fouled, they shall forfeit for every such offence the sum of fifty pounds."
In other words, those who have gone before us have been cognisant of the problems and perhaps the dangers.

The matter is of varying import to hon. Members, and that is illustrated by the fact that the percentage of drinking water taken from underground sources throughout the Community averages about 70 per cent. in Italy it is as high as 93 per cent., in Germany and Belgium it is 71 per cent. In Italy it is as high as 93 per cent., in France it is 50 per cent., and here in Great Britain it is about 31 per cent.

The filtering properties of the soil protect ground water reservoirs to a significant extent against certain forms of pollution, and water from these sources has as a general rule a greater purity than that taken from surface sources.

The proceedings of the Lords Select Committee on the European Communities comprise minutes of evidence taken on 25th April last and the 41st report, printed on 25th July. These set cut the factors in some detail, evidence having been taken from representatives of the Department of the Environment, the National Water Council and the director of scientific researches of the Thames water authority.

The proposals of the Commission are couched in general terms both in their scope and when referring to a possible recommendation. The term "groundwater", for example, includes all water below ground level, which cannot be the purpose of the directive. To be more definitive, it is suggested that the phrase "saturated zone" would enable water-holding strata to be identified on ground containing water. Alternatively, a definition which might be found more satisfactory reads:
"Water filling all void spaces to the level of saturation below the water table."
The subject is about water that is usable or potentially usable. This could exclude pockets of water or water which in some way was not extractable from the ground. Long-term environmental considerations are of the utmost importance. The human race must not, through its carelessness or irresponsibility, affect adversely or destroy the human habitat, and each nation will wish to play its part in ensuring the minimum adverse effects arising from present and future use of materials and their disposal.

I see as a less justifiable basis of the Commission's proposal the ground that the differing provisions for controlling discharges to groundwater in the member States are likely to produce a distortion of the conditions of competition, although I accept what the hon. Member for Dudley, West said in this regard when he was considering the differing costs to industry in terms of the interests which he represents and those in the United Kingdom generally, and the reference which he made to industry in the Ruhr. I accept that, but I think that essentially at this stage in the matter we are considering the wish to set aside this aspect and consider the recommendations on their merits in environmental terms representative of the quality of life. The industrial considerations must flow later on.

An important question is whether uniform minimum legal standards should be introduced or whether control should be by way of quality objectives. In the latter respect, the principal objection to the draft proposals by the Confederation of British Industry, concerns the zero discharge approach. It is maintained that control should always rely on quality objectives established for the receiving environment having regard to local circumstances, a likelihood of creating environmental hazards or of endangering public health and, as the hon. Member for Dudley, West said, to the costs involved in installing additional or alternative treatment facilities.

The CBI accepts the proposition that all discharges to groundwater should be controlled and that this should be effected by consent control and not on the basis of zero emission standards. It will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say in that regard.

There has been considerable research in this country, and any proposals must have regard to the almost infinite variety of place and circumstance in which access to aquifers may arise. No doubt most of our European colleagues are aware that our controls are already more demanding than is proposed in the documents before us.

Let me take as an example the Thames water authority, which, with its predecessors, has for over a decade exerted a strict control of groundwater pollution. There is no doubt that the major effort in this direction must relate to the control of land tip filling. This is the general position throughout England and Wales.

In the area of the Thames water authority there are no fewer than 468 landfill sites, of which 34 receive toxic or other noxious wastes in addition to domestic solid waste. I am informed that no serious groundwater pollution problems arise from these sites, with the proviso only that in two cases some contamination arises, but not of toxic material. That is a remarkably fine record on the part of the authority, and I am obliged to it for providing me with a great deal of information.

Has the hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to the serious problem that arises on a site very near the Thames? Apparently, the permitted levels are being grossly exceeded, as admitted by the company concerned, far beyond what has been authorised by the local authority, and I believe that it is not an exceptional example.

Abuses may take place, but I am repeating the facts that have been submitted to me, which are available for general information. If they are to be challenged, the challenge must be substantiated. I have not seen the article in The Guardian to which reference has been made on a number of occasions.

Surely we are confusing two issues which it is important to distinguish. The directive concerns discharges, which I take as planned discharges, known discharges and licensed discharges. The point raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) and South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) relates to the dumping of toxic wastes from which there is a risk of infiltration into groundwater. I hope that the hon. Gentlemen's remarks about the Thames water authority are correct, but I suggest that the issues, although connected, are distinct and separate, as this directive is concerned with discharge.

Before I answer the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), I give way to the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis).

It has been said that the water companies have a good record in treating their own domestic sewage so that such water is eventually again made potable. The hon. Gentleman mentioned zero emission. These matters are incredibly expensive, but chemical changes can change innocuous substances into potent materials. There is surely something to be said for the situation to be changed so that the material is rendered innocuous.

I shall be dealing with these points in the remainder of my contribution. There will always be some leachate from landfill sites reaching groundwater, if only in minute traces, despite the diluting effect of the landfill itself. Groundwater modelling undertaken by the Water Research Centre has investigated the movement of mine drainage discharged through the chalk in Kent. A number of aquifer dispersivity measurements have been undertaken in the chalk aquifers, a rapid method of analysis, has been developed, and the interaction between fissure water and pore water in chalk has been investigated in laboratory and field studies.

With the assistance of the Thames water authority, the centre has shown that at one site bacteria and viruses from a domestic effluent penetrate 15 metres of unsaturated chalk but are absent from groundwater 100 metres down the flow gradient. These are the technical points that can be established only by careful scientific research. I take the points made by the hon. Members for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis). There is a need for the greatest possible care to be taken. I hope that that will be taken.

There is another aspect of landfill sites that we must consider. It is the question not only of materials escaping from the landfill sites which might contaminate groundwater but the character of the landfill site itself and what might happen to it in the future.

The fact that a landfill site is impermeable to the outside means that it retains its concentration of toxic materials. I do not possess chapter and verse, but early in October there was a news item about a landfill site in the Niagara Falls area of the United States. The area was characteristic of such sites. It involved a site on which toxic wastes had been deposited. Either the knowledge of such use had long gone or the information was never revealed, but the site was turned into a housing estate which is now totally poisonous.

When the area was evacuated, an official said that the land was dead for ever. That is the type of thing that could happen in the future to landfill sites, no matter how impermeable they are to groundwater.

I accept what the hon. Member says. I hope to deal later with the way in which those sites, even when they are protected, remain a danger.

In proposing a ban on direct discharges to groundwater of substances in List I of the annex, and the introduction of a system for authorising in advance indirect discharges of such substances and of both direct and indirect discharges of substances in List II the proposals exclude domestic effluents from isolated buildings and those arising from normal agricultural activities.

Authoritative opinion says that more adequate definitions in these and other respect are a prerequisite to further consideration of these proposals. The Minister referred to them, and this indicates the course which the Government are likely to take.

The hon. Member for Newham, South mentioned the recharging of aquifers with treated sewage effluent. This is practised in certain areas. In the Southern water authority area it is effective now. There is an indication that the practice should continue provided that the effluent is treated to the necessary high standard. The Minister said that it has been permitted and that we should ensure that such permission is forthcoming in the future.

The discharge of treated water is also used as a means of replenishing aquifers in chalk by discharging into boreholes and wells. This decision clearly need to be reserved, and we are considering definitions. Scientifically and technically, it is impossible completely to ban the presence of List I and List II chemicals in discharges. Usually there are minute traces of some of such substances in the percolation of residues from tips which contain only domestic refuse. These residues are harmless, but they are caught by the EEC intentions.

The hon. Member for Dudley, West questioned whether such substances were harmless. I agree that it is a question for scientific determination. We are dealing not with absolutes but with assessed risks and with the question whether minute traces will be harmful in the long term.

The most widespread quality change in recent years has been the progressive increase in nitrate concentrations. Coupled with mounting concern about the public health implications of nitrates in potable water supplies, these changes represent a serious problem. Evidence suggests that most of the nitrate is derived from agricultural land and, in particular, arable land. As normal agricultural activities are excluded from the proposal, this leaves a wide area unprovided for, and I know that the Government recognise that position.

It is suggested that considerable research is required, which would cover the use of nitrates, their effectiveness in the pursuit of agricultural objectives, and the important financial implications involved in terms of food production.

The Department of the Environment, in press notice No. 590, issued on 9th November, referred to the new legislative controls for existing unconsented discharges and the need to prevent "an unmanageable deluge"—there must be a wag in the Department—of consent applitions. A flood of words and administrative requirements can appropriately be visualised in that phrase.

The Anglian water authority refers to the fact that the most dramatic instances of groundwater pollution in its region in recent years have involved spillages of oil and related substances gaining access to the aquifers. Incidents have occurred where thousands or even tens of thousands of gallons have been lost from bulk storage installations, and subsequent attempts to recover these materials from the aquifer by sinking boreholes and trying to pump out the pollutant have met with only limited success.

This is a special problem, and consideration will need to be given to storage sites with a view to considering the extent to which they should be made impervious in order to protect the underlying aquifers. Arrangements already exist for the base sealing of landfill sites. One-metre thick clay linings have been used, and I understand that resin-based materials have been used for this purpose in the United States. What this does, of course, is to contain the material. Clearly, this is necessary in terms of oil storage facilities. But of course it may not be appropriate in all circumstances to contain the toxic or non-toxic material, which perhaps could be diffused into the earth surface.

In this country new proposals for the protection of groundwater sources were introduced in the Control of Pollution Act 1974, and when part II of the Act comes into force it will greatly strengthen the hand of the water authorities in controlling the discharge of polluting substances to underground strata. However, a full understanding of the source of pollution, the extent to which a pollutant may decay or be diluted as it moves from the underground strata, and the best means of pollution control present an extensive field for inquiry and research

Clearly, there is need for a more detailed understanding of the causes and effects of groundwater pollution and the development of methods of control and rehabilitation if these vital resources are to be protected. In these documents there appear to be a number of terminological inaccuracies, which may lead to ambiguities of interpretation, and I note that the European Parliament is debating this subject in Strasbourg today. An interesting draft report dated 10th October is being considered, and clearly further discussion and inquiry are required before definitive proposals cart be made. This has been emphasised by the Minister and is the opinion, I consider, of both sides of the House.

10.34 p.m.

I am grateful to hon. Members who have taken part for the quality of the debate. I have listened to debates which have gone on for much longer with far less being said. The debate may have ranged beyond the draft directive, but it has been very much worth while. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) has given the House a great deal of food for thought, with his expertise and his rather long-term considerations of the future and the past. He gave his view on the European consideration of environmental matters.

Earlier the constitutional question was raised whether the EEC should deal with this subject and whether we should participate with the rest of the EEC in that direction. My view, as an Environment Minister, is that an environment programme was endorsed as an important part of Community policy as long ago as 1972. An environmental action programme was adopted by the Council in November 1973, by which time we were a member. That was renewed by resolution of the full Council in May last year.

That resolution said that improvements in the quality of life and the protection of the natural environment were among the fundamental tasks of the Community. Under that programme, we have considered in Brussels the subjects of lead in petrol, oil pollution of beaches, the protection of birds, surface water, and freshwater fish.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred to one point in the previous debate. I must point out to him that we are not completely isolated. We are concerned at what happens in other countries. Millions of our people visit the other Common Market countries, as their citizens visit ours. They do so for both pleasure and work.

The point made by the report from the other place about articles 100 and 235 was raised in the last paragraph of the report of the House of Commons. The question of the vires provided by the Treaty of Rome is of considerable importance and, as I, as a non-lawyer, have realised, of very great complexity. It was explored in considerable depth in the debate in another place on 4th July. On that occasion the Lord Chancellor underlined the Government's intention to take full account of the serious doubts that have been expressed about the development of Community legislation.

He also suggested, and I agree, that it would be more productive to resist indivi- dual proposals on substantive grounds—for example, on their lack of merit in terms of policy—rather than by making vires the main ground of objection. In considering the groundwater proposal I think that that is the best approach.

As a member of the Committee which reported on this matter in the House of Commons, I can tell the Minister that we were worried about the question of jurisdiction. Does the Minister not think that the Lord Chancellor proposed a very dangerous doctrine, that one should ignore the jurisdictional point and always concentrate on the substance? Does the Minister not feel that by allowing the matter to grow from precedent to precedent we appear by acquiescence to confer upon the organs of the Community a jurisdiction that the Treaty certainly did not?

That is a very complex matter. As one who is involved in environmental rather than legal matters, I should have thought that this subject could be included in tomorrow's debate, when the House will be considering the work of the European Community over the past six months, rather than in a debate of this kind. However, I take the hon. and learned Gentleman's point that the whole thing can grow.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) was worried about the pollution caused by agricultural fertilisers. That has been omitted completely from this directive for good reasons from both a European and a United Kingdom point of view. The Royal Commission on environmental pollution is making this subject its main examination this year and we hope during 1979 to receive its report. The Royal Commission's reports have been extremely valuable and very lengthy, and I do not think that we would be wise to go ahead with further legislation or directives without considering what the reports have to say.

The European Commission, too, is carrying out an investigation with a view to introducing a directive concerning pollution by the chemical industry.

As for nitrates, the Secretary of State has quite strong powers to halt the use of certain fertilisers. There is careful monitoring. Water authorities, local authorities, health authorities and my Department examine these matters carefully. My right hon. Friend has powers to control the use of fertilisers should he need to do so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe spoke of the need for new sewage plants and sewerage systems. I wholeheartedly agree. When water rates are examined by consumers, they should bear in mind that there is a great deal of work to be done, and that the money has to be found to pay for it.

My hon. Friend referred to the need to consult experts. That consultation takes place. I have mentioned the Royal Commission on environmental pollution. My Department's central unit on pollution comments and reports on the various issues brought out by the commission.

The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) referred to horticulture. That, too, is not part of the directive. As the hon. Gentleman said, extensive tests take place. Action is taken under the pesticides safety precautions scheme before marketing takes place.

I read the article in The Guardian this morning about waste disposal at Pitsea. I am in some difficulty, as six enforcement notices have been served on the operators by the local authority. All six notices are the subject of appeals to the Secretary of State by the company. That means that my lips are sealed. I am not sure whether I should have read The Guardian or listened to the debate on Pitsea.

I, too, read the article in The Guardian. I was aware that enforcement orders had been served. Is not that an example of the abuse of the appeals procedure, whereby such matters can be extended to a stage when a site is completely exhausted for dumping purposes a long time before the appeal is even considered?

I can only say that I hope that we shall deal with the appeal as rapidly as possible. The enforcement notices cannot apply until the appeal has been heard. I assure my hon. Friend that the EEC has addressed itself to the problem of the disposal of toxic and dangerous waste. A directive was agreed earlier this year.

The controls already available to the waste disposal authorities under part I of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 go a long way towards meeting the requirements of the directive. Incidentally, we shall be consulting interested parties on additional controls. We hope to introduce them under section 17 of the 1974 Act.

On the whole, I think that our commitments under the directive will be fully discharged under the 1974 Act and other Acts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) mentioned 'consultation with the National Water Council. There is close consultation, and the council knows of all the changes at once. The council gives information to the Select Committees in both Houses. I do not think that we could carry on with all the negotiations in Brussels unless the council was actively aware of what was going on.

Definitions have been a particularly tricky part of the whole negotiation. Sometimes our officials wonder whether they should have started it, because they get into such difficulty when amendments are made.

I do not think that I said that we were concerned with water for drinking only. If I did, I apologise. I thought that I mentioned water supply, by which I meant water supply not only for drinking but for agricultural uses and, indeed, for industrial uses.

I think I dealt fairly fully with the matter of increased paper work. I do not think that the Community will give us much trouble about making demands on our information services. Indeed, it is probable that our own legislation on the control of pollution, as we implement it during this year and next year, will mean additional work for local authorities, for water authorities and for Government Departments. I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome that legislation. Indeed, many of the campaigns in which he takes part so actively and so effectively would themselves mean less pollution and less waste of natural resources but perhaps more paper work and more checking.

The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) mentioned the importance of the long-term consideration. We all know, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West pointed out, that there are considerable difficulties. We have to look as far ahead as we can, and I know that even that is not far enough ahead for my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South. We have to make allowances.

I think that my original speech dealt with many of the points that have been raised. I assure the House that full consideration will be given to the opinions expressed tonight when the officials meet in Brussels and when the Ministers have their December meeting.

Amendment agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of Commission Document No. R/236/78, the Department of the Environment's Explanatory memorandum of 7th March 1978 and the Department of the Environment's Supplementary memorandum of 12th April 1978 on groundwater pollution but cannot accept proposals that require a ban on all types of direct discharge, particularly those found acceptable in the United Kingdom.