HC Deb 14 February 1973 vol 850 cc1272-3
20. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what action his Department is taking to reduce pollution levels in British rivers in 1973.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)

Reductions of pollution this year will result mainly from substantial increases in expenditure by local authorities and other dischargers on the treatment of dirty water to river authority requirements. Later, the reorganisation proposed in the Water Bill will facilitate the better use of the resources available.

Mr. Janner

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when volunteers recently dredged the canal or river which passes through my constituency—it was in a disgraceful condition—they dragged out everything from beds and prams to a sawn-off shotgun? Will he take steps to give immediate and generous help to voluntary effort of that nature?

Mr. Griffiths

I am glad to know that in the hon. and learned Gentleman's constituency, as in many others, people are voluntarily joining together to improve their environment. That is something to be encouraged. However, the Question deals with the larger issue of pollution from discharges into the rivers.

Mr. John Hall

Can my hon. Friend estimate the total cost of reducing river pollution to an acceptable level?

Mr. Griffiths

Without notice I cannot give an exact figure. I can say that capital investment in cleaning rivers has risen by about 37 per cent. over the greatest figure ever achieved under the last Government, and during this Parliament will achieve a 50 per cent. increase.

Mr. Oakes

Can the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that where such schemes have been submitted by the local authorities they will not be monitored out in the counter-inflation legislation?

Mr. Griffiths

No, Sir. Schemes for cleaning up the rivers will be put forward in the first instance by the river authorities and local authorities, and later by the new regional water authorities—if the House accepts the Water Bill.

Sir D. Renton

Was not the scheme for cleaning up rivers, announced by the previous Secretary of State for the Environment, the most important and most determined in our history? Can my hon. Friend give the House an assurance that that scheme is going forward with full effect?

Mr. Griffiths

Yes, Sir. More than one mile in every 10 of the non-tidal rivers which were grossly polluted in 1970 has now been massively improved. That very welcome improvement is accelerating.

Mr. Harper

My question relates to the pollution of the rivers by detergents which are allowed to pour back into the rivers by manufacturing processes in the West Riding of Yorkshire. This pollution affects my constituency in particular. How do United Kingdom safety standards compare with those of our partners in the Common Market?

Mr. Griffiths

In terms of biodegradable detergents our standards have generally been higher. There have been recent negotiations seeking to achieve EEC standards which would have been lower than those in this country. Thanks to my right hon. and learned Friend's endeavours we have been able to persuade the whole of the Community to come up to the very high standards which we impose.