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Bathing Waters

Volume 180: debated on Wednesday 14 November 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will provide the most recent figures which are available on the compliance of bathing beaches with the European Community bathing water standards.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what percentage of designated United Kingdom bathing waters currently complies with the European Community bathing waters directive; and what was the comparable position in 1979.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will provide the latest figures which are available on the compliance of bathing beaches with the European Community bathing water standards.

The 1990 results show that 77 per cent. of the 446 identified bathing waters in the United Kingdom met the directive's coliform bacteria standards this year. This compares with 76 per cent. of 440 waters in 1989 and 66 per cent. of 27 waters in 1979.

In view of the long time scale involved, what guarantees can the Minister give that measures to bring beaches up to current EC standards will be sufficient to cope with the improvement in those standards, as they will not be static? What consultations has the Minister had with local authorities and what additional resources is he giving to improve beaches? Furthermore, what steps is he taking to lower the discharge levels of nitrates and phosphates into the marine environment?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I announced previously the United Kingdom's national target would be 100 per cent. compliance by the year 2000. I am pleased to say that that target has now changed and I am able to announce from the Dispatch Box that we believe that we shall achieve 100 per cent. compliance by 1997. I know that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that. It will involve a capital spend to ensure that the treatment of the waters is brought up to standard. Our record in the United Kingdom is extremely good. I would find it extremely difficult to believe that any other member state would have 100 per cent. compliance by 1997.

I was pleased to hear of the improvements announced by my hon. Friend the Minister. Can he say whether the improvements extend also to the beaches of north Wales because it does not look like it or smell like it? Is he aware that we in north Wales do not think much of the idea of long sea outfalls as a long-term way of curing the problem of pollution of our beaches?

The target date that I gave earlier applies to all bathing waters designated in the United Kingdom. Therefore, it applies to Wales. I have further good news for my hon. Friend and the House. Later this afternoon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be announcing details of an accelerated programme which will ensure that we meet our target by 1997. That will apply to Wales as well.

The Minister has announced a 1997 deadline for bacterial standards on beaches. On what time scale will the Department consider discharges to rivers? Will there be serious consideration of the impact of the growth of algae in the North sea on the marine environment and fish life?

It is the same target. The point raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) has an effect on coastal waters. We are talking about two directives—the bathing water directive and the municipal waste water directive, which is not yet in its final form but which we hope to agree in December. The target date for the municipal waste water directive I would guess—I think that it will be confirmed next month—will be the year 2000. As I have said, the date for 100 per cent. compliance with the bathing water directive is 1997.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a crucial element in meeting both the standards is investment in sewage treatment? Does he agree that one of the effects of the privatisation of water and sewerage has been the liberalisation of such investment from the Treasury? Does he agree that that preserves us from the danger of a sudden swingeing cut in investment such as occurred under the previous Labour Government?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I would go further and say that it is only as a result of privatisation that we have a massive £28 billion investment programme which will be invested over the next 10 years by the newly privatised water companies. I have to assure my hon. Friend that neither I nor any Minister in any Government could find that sort of money from Her Majesty's Treasury. It is interesting to hear the carping from Labour Members with regard to the privatisation of water, as when they were last in office they cut the amount of assistance given to the water authorities.

Does the Minister recall that Britain's wholehearted adoption of the bathing water quality directive came about only after the European Commission threatened the Government with legal action in the European Court of Justice? That is on record. Further, does not the new accelerated programme to meet standards by 1997 result from the action that is currently pending in the European Court? As the Government have the legal responsibility for water standards, what contingency plans do they have to effect an even quicker implementation of the standards and at what cost to the water consumer?

I am sorry to say that I have never heard so much rubbish in all my life. If we are talking about facts, let us look at the facts. When talking about compliance with the bathing water directive, the House should be reminded that when the previous Labour Government were in office between 1974 and 1979 they did nothing—absolutely nothing. They never designated one single bathing water. Not one beach was covered by them. It is a bit rich for the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) to try to lecture me or anyone on this side of the House about what this Government are doing. The accelerated programme is the finest in Europe. The trouble with Opposition Members is that they delight in pulling the nation down and selling it short. That was the view expressed by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) in the letter that he sent to European Community Ministers. It is an absolute disgrace.