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Volume 685: debated on Monday 9 October 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What consultations the fisheries division of the Northern Ireland Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure engages in before sewage dumping takes place; who else is involved in consultation; and what measures they propose to protect the environment from leaching as a result of the dumping of sewage sludge.[HL7249]

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure does not have responsibility for the disposal of sewage. The Environment and Heritage Service is the licensing body. EHS consults those whom it deems necessary on a case-by-case basis depending on the nature of the waste and activity proposed. Before a licence is granted for the spreading of sewage sludge, applicants must demonstrate that such work will result in benefit to agriculture and/or ecological improvement and will not cause excess concentration of certain listed substances in the soil.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the licensing of the dumping of sewage sludge was introduced in Northern Ireland; where the licensed sites are located; whether the licensing includes injection into the ground; and what agreement exists between those licensed to dump sewage sludge and the Forest Service regarding the use of Forest Service land.[HL7250]

The Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) has been responsible for waste management licensing, through which the application of sewage sludge is controlled, since the introduction in December 2003 of the Waste Management Licensing Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003.

Ten sites in Northern Ireland have been registered as exempt for the purposes of land-spreading sewage sludges: Altarichard Plantation, Magherahoney, Ballymoney; two sites on the Culmore Road, Londonderry; three separate locations within the Baronscourt Woodlands, Duke of Abercorn's estate, County Tyrone; Curleyhill Road, Strabane; Corthill Farm, Backhill Road, Eglinton; Cortree Road, Drumahoe; and Spallan Road, Limavady.

All sewage sludge is injected into the ground. All current exemptions for the spreading of sewage sludge are on private property. Sewage sludge is not dumped on any Forest Service land.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, since 2000, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has obtained or received a legal opinion concerning the discharge of raw sewage into the River Thames and compliance with the European Union Urban Waste Water Directive; and whether they will place a copy of any such opinion in the Library of the House.[HL7359]

Disclosure of information about whether legal advice has been obtained and, if so, what that advice is, would adversely affect the confidentiality of proceedings of government and the course of justice. This is because the request relates to the obtaining and (if obtained) substance of confidential legal advice, and the matter at issue—discharge of sewage to the River Thames and compliance with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive—is subject to open infraction proceedings.

We consider that in the circumstances, the public interest in allowing the department to consult lawyers in confidence is great, and outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information requested.