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Water Quality

Volume 124: debated on Monday 7 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he expects the two European Economic Community directives on water quality to be complied with in full in Wales, including the ending of all derogations currently granted by the Commission.

In respect of directive 80/778/EEC on water for human consumption, the Welsh water authority has in hand a programme of remedial works. As a result, the need for the 17 derogations and 22 delays, advised to the Commission under articles 9 and 20 respectively, should be removed by 1992 at the latest. In respect of directive 76/160/EEC on quality of bathing waters, the Welsh water authority programme of remedial works is scheduled for completion in the next 15 years, as I indicated in my answer to the hon. Gentleman on 26 October.

Will the Minister comment on the article that appeared in The Observer yesterday saying that there was to be a crash programme on the quality of drinking water, and will he say how that will affect the current programme of the Welsh water authority? Secondly, will he comment on the answer given to an oral question that I asked in the European Parliament last month, a copy of which I gave him today, which said that the Commission was concerned about the poor quality of bathing water in the United Kingdom, that it was pursuing a number of cases in the European Court of Justice against the British Government, and that it would not be satisfied with a 15-year delay? That being so, it is likely that the investment programme will have to be speeded up considerably.

I note what the hon. Gentleman said about the answer that he was given in Europe, which he very kindly gave me at the start of Question Time. I cannot comment on it, except to say that the Welsh water authority is aware of the position. The programme on drinking water is, as I said, very well advanced.

Is the Minister aware that we are all concerned about the quality of water? Did he listen to Radio One today to hear about the pollution of the Llynfi and Ogmore rivers in my constituency, where many salmon, sewin and trout have been washed up on to the banks of the river and children are picking up the fish and taking them home? What will the Minister do to ensure that everyone in my constituency and in other areas such as Bridgend and Porthcawl are informed that there is pollution in the Rivers Llynfi and Ogmore, going down to the sea at Porthcawl? What action will he take to ensure that this does not happen again?

This is an extremely serious matter, and I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman has raised it. My officials are in contact with the Welsh water authority, which is responsible for doing exactly what the hon. Gentleman requires. The message about the pollution was flashed up on television stations last night immediately the position was known.

When my hon. Friend looks at the matter, will he consider the fact that, whereas the European Commission appeared rightly to have given a good deal of emphasis to the effects of sewage deposits in the sea, possibly not enough emphasis was put on the massive pollution caused by great rivers such as the Rhine, which deposits much refuse in the North sea?

My hon. Friend may be right, but that does not come within the remit of the Welsh Office.

Does the Minister accept that if the Government take tourism seriously they must do more to clean up beaches in Wales? The present position is absolutely disgraceful. How does the hon. Gentleman see privatisation having any beneficial effect?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that it is proposed to spend £200 million within 15 years, and some £70 million will be spent on the 47 original waters listed; so a great deal of money will be expended on the cause he espouses.

Has my hon. Friend the Minister made any estimate, or told the water-consuming public, of the potential cost of these measures? Is he satisfied that the measures are realistic and reasonable? Has he satisfied himself, following the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower), about how far other members of the Community will take equal or more rapid steps towards meeting the same standards?

I am not in a position to answer that rather wide-ranging supplementary question. We endeavour to make people aware of the costs of works done on their behalf, not least through Question Time.