HC Deb 18 June 1979 vol 968 cc1051-75

10.33 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Marcus Fox)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of EEC Document R/2147/78 on the Sampling and Analysis of Surface Water for Drinking, the Department of the Environment Explanatory Memorandum of January 1979 and the Supplementary Memorandum of June 1979.

Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay).

Mr. Fox

I should like first to apologise to the House for the fact that my right hon. Friend cannot be here tonight to take part in the debate. He is already in Luxembourg for the meeting of the Council of Environment Ministers tomorrow morning which is to discuss among other things the draft directive.

I should like to make three points about the situation. First, arrangements have been made for a detailed account of the views of the House to be given to my right hon. Friend immediately the debate is over. Secondly, I fully recognise that to hold a debate of this kind in such circumstances is far from ideal but, given the general election and the subsequent recess for the European elections, the incoming Government were not able to arrange the debate earlier. We judged—and I hope that the House will feel that we judged correctly—that it was better to have a debate even at the eleventh hour than not to have one at all.

Thirdly, we have done our best, despite the absence of a Scrutiny Committee—and that of course is a matter for the House and not the Government—to keep the House informed of developments. Hon. Members will have the memorandum of 6 June that my right hon. Friend sent to the House as soon as we were able to take stock of the position.

I must first explain briefly to the House what the draft directive in front of us is about. It is not a free-standing proposal but arises from a directive adopted by the Council of Ministers in 1975 about the quality of surface water to be abstracted for drinking water—which I might perhaps call the parent directive.

That directive was of course accepted by the Labour Party when it was in power. It is not in fact a bad directive. It deals in water quality standards and not emission standards. Its subject matter is important and is of concern to those from the United Kingdom who travel in other EEC countries. Its application in the United Kingdom has caused no concern or difficulty, since the standards of water that we abstract for drinking are at least as good as and often better than those laid down. Against that background, I am somewhat surprised to see the amendment put down by Labour Members. Are they really suggesting that it is not necessary to have adequate means of implementing across Europe a directive that they themselves agreed to? I hope not. Do they imagine that it would be possible to carry the parent directive into effect without further measures—measures specifically foreseen not only in the directive that they agreed but also in the Community's environment action programme, which they also accepted in 1977?

The parent directive also envisaged a further instrument, described rather vaguely in article 5 as "a Community policy", but more specifically in the preamble as a directive, which would fix the frequency of measurement and the methods of analysis to be employed by member States. The second environment action programme adopted by the Community in 1977 also envisaged a directive for that purpose. The idea of course was to ensure that comparable standards of sampling and analysis should apply in all member States so that it could be seen that the parent directive was being properly applied.

In principle we could hardly object to that. It is, after all, in the United Kingdom's interest to see that other member States observe the standards in the parent directive which we are already reaching. In practice, however, the draft of the consequential directive gives rise to a number of difficulties which I shall deal with in the course of my speech. There is one point that I should like to emphasise now. I fear that some of the recent detailed criticism of the draft has been misdirected. It refers to texts that have been superseded during the latest negotiations. That is why I hope that the House will pay particular attention to my right hon. Friend's memorandum that sets out the latest position.

The draft text before the House tonight was sent to the Council by the Commission and published in August 1978. I believe that the Commission had taken advice from various experts during its preparation.

However that may be, the published text contained a number of unsatisfactory features mentioned in the explanatory memorandum of 24 January 1979. It seemed that not only the limit of detection and accuracy to be employed in analysing water samples but also the analytical methods themselves were to be mandatory. Reporting of all analytical results to the Commission was required. The frequency with which samples had to be taken seemed quite inappropriate for smaller supply areas and populations and could only be reduced by consent of the Commission. There was a good deal of dubious science, particularly in annex 1.

The Scrutiny Committee of this House reported on the text in February this year and in recommending it for debate made some strong criticisms on the points that I have mentioned. In the meantime, the opinion delivered by the European Parliament had already criticised the proposed use of mandatory methods of analysis.

Negotiations on the text began at official level in the Council in the latter part of 1978 and have continued until very recently. In these negotiations, the United Kingdom managed to secure a number of major changes which meet some of the points of criticism.

My right hon. Friend sent a supplementary memorandum, explaining the latest position, to the House on 6 June. The new memorandum explains that the list of analytical methods is no longer mandatory—they are now merely "reference methods", and other methods may be used by a member State provided that they give results of comparable accuracy and precision. If the Commission requires information about what a member State is doing under the directive, it now has to make a specific request for it on each occasion. A member State may now reduce the sampling frequencies under article 7 without having to seek the consent of the Commission. The minimum frequencies of sampling and analysis required are now compatible with present United Kingdom practice, and in the case of sources serving small populations are to be determined by each member State.

Thus the House will see that the text has been considerably improved. If it were to be implemented in this country now, the practical consequences would be very small indeed, mainly because all the objectionable compulsory or mandatory aspects of the text have been removed or made non-binding.

Water undertakers—which are, of course, responsible for sampling and analysis of this kind—would find little or no extra cost, certainly by comparison with the requirements that the original text would have imposed. The frequencies of sampling now laid down are no more stringent than is current practice in this country, and for small populations—where sampling does not need to be so frequent—we can select the appropriate frequency. Indeed, the only additional requirement might be that for four out of the 46 parameters listed in the draft a once-and-for-all analysis would have to be done to check that those substances were not present in some water sources.

No new legislation would be required, as was explained in paragraph 5 of the original memorandum of 24 January. Even if Brussels did make a request for information under the directive, it could be met by using existing data which the water authorities already send to the water data unit.

In short, in its present form, the directive would not hinder the continuation of present United Kingdom practices, and would not force additional burdens upon us.

None the less, as I am sure some hon. Members will tell me, the present text is open to criticism. It must be said that the scientific basis of parts of the text remains questionable. United Kingdom experts have made that point forcibly during negotiations in Brussels, though they have not always won general acceptance. The reference methods in annex 1 are particularly open to criticism.

The other criticism that could be made was raised in the explanatory memorandum of January 1979. It is that subject matter of this kind—complex and highly technical—is hardly appropriately clothed in the legal form of a directive. It does not seem very profitable to go in detail into that area of argument. It does not perhaps matter too much what title is given to a document which has so little effect on the United Kingdom. In saying that, I am not attempting to belittle the arguments of those who genuinely feel that this is a problem, but only to point out that in practical terms in this case it is perhaps not very significant.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The Minister has told us that there will be no difficulties for this country at the moment, though he agrees that there are well-based criticisms of the directive. Can he tell us whether the standards of any other member of the EEC will have to be tightened or changed solely as a result of the directive?

Mr. Fox

My information is that one or two of our partners in Europe would need to take action on this directive.

I know some would feel that these objections are in themselves sufficient to justify the United Kingdom in refusing to agree to the draft directive at the Council. But there are other arguments which the House should consider.

First, as I have already made clear, the present text, whatever its faults, will do no harm to United Kingdom interests because it is largely non-mandatory.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

Would it not be sensible for the Minister to tell us what good this directive will do, instead of going on about how little harm it will do?

Mr. Fox

If the hon. Member, who is a European, thinks carefully about this, he will see that it is not just a matter of what is good for this country but what is good for the Community as a whole. The other eight member States are anxious for this directive to be passed.

Whatever we may think are the failings of the draft, it is quite clear, as I mentioned, that all our partners in the EEC would like to see it adopted. We should need to think very carefully indeed before blocking a measure which other countries apparently both want and need, and which, as I have said, does not adversely affect British interests.

Despite its bad features and superfluous content, the draft still manages to achieve the aims envisaged for it in the parent directive and the environment action programme—and, as I have indicated, those aims are justifiable.

The Government have considered these conflicting arguments very carefully. We recognize that there are important issues here which deserve serious consideration. We acknowledge, as I hope I have conveyed, the force of some of the original criticisms of the text. Although the text is much improved now, I accept that some of those criticisms are still valid, at least in principle if not in detail.

The Government's view on balance is that it would be wrong to stand in the way of agreement on this text. It is not a perfect text, but it does achieve its aim and it does not harm, or indeed affect in any significant way at all, the United Kingdom's interests. Our eight colleagues in the Community are apparently in favour of it.

My right hon. Friend therefore believes—though as I have said he wishes to hear the views of the House—that he should accept the text at the Council tomorrow. In doing so, he will wish to register formally our general disquiet about the way the whole matter has been handled, and in particular about its questionable scientific basis. He will make it quite clear that the United Kingdom could not possibly accept this text as any kind of precedent for future proposals of a similar nature. He will stress our view that matters of this degree of detail are not best dealt with by the mechanism of a directive.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Before my hon. Friend sits down, will he deal with one matter that puzzles me? This directive deals with the machinery and procedure for ensuring that our water is pure. How can we find out the standard or definition of purity? Is it in any document to which we might be referred? There is not much point in having machinery for achieving something, when what we are supposed to achieve is utterly incomprehensible.

Mr. Fox

I am sure that my hon. Friend is as qualified as I am on the details of the directive. If he looks in the annexes he will see figures and descriptions that will astonish him. We are not satisfied with the scientific basis of this, but after full consideration we felt that the sampling procedures were necessary to achieve the purity of water that was acceptable to the Community as a whole.

Mr. Lawrence

My hon. Friend refers to the annexes, which talk not of standards of purity but just of the method of measuring frequency of sampling, the type of containers, and so on. Where is the level of purity to which this machinery is presumably directed?

Mr. Fox

I hope that my hon. Friend will be happy to wait until the end of the debate when I shall duly give him a reply. I was about to conclude by saying that the mechanism of a directive of this kind is not to our suiting. Having said that, I ask the House to approve the motion

10.50 p.m.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add 'but since agreement has already been reached concerning common standards for water abstracted for drinking purposes, considers further Regulations relating to details of sampling and methods of analysis are inappropriate'. The Minister said that he could not understand why we had tabled the amendment. Having listened to his speech, particularly his closing remarks, I cannot understand why he was surprised to see the amendment, for it is clear that he himself believes that a directive is inappropriate for dealing with this matter. He himself apparently supports the idea behind the amendment. The sponsors of the amendment are concerned that the Commission is now interfering.—I use the word advisedly—in matters which are clearly for individual member States and are not capable of being dealt with on a Community basis.

The very reasons that the Commission gives for wanting this directive are bogus. This creeping legislation from the EEC must give people cause for concern. It is to be noted from the documents that it is not necessary for the House to legislate in connection with the directive. It becomes automatically imperative upon the water authorities on an administrative basis to carry out whatever the directive says, so that once again the claim that many of us make, that the House of Commons is being bypassed by legislation from the Community, is substantiated by the directive. That is another good

reason why hon. Members on both sides of the House should be watchful of the directives coming from the Commission.

In this country, the water authorities usually work to standard methods that have been updated and published over the years by our own Department of the Environment and its predecessors. Now they are being revised again by the joint Department of the Environment-National Water Council standing committee on analysis, and the findings will be published in loose-leaf form shortly.

The methods are not mandatory, but they are well-respected throughout the country and through usage. In many cases, new developments are tied in with international work—and this is important—on standard methods. The National Water Council has grave doubts about enshrining standard methods in a Community directive. I am sure that the Minister has received advice from the Council and that he has had conversations with it. It is not thought necessary or appropriate by the water authorities that such a specialised subject—and the hon. Gentleman agrees with this view—should be dealt with in a directive.

A Community recommendation is really all that is necessary, and I would have thought that that was what the Minister must go for. There also seems little point in the Commission duplicating the international work already taking place. Again, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the NWC is a member of the European Association of Water Authorities, which has agreed to press the Commission and member Governments to exclude the specification of standard methods from the directive. The experts are on our side and not on the Minister's. They do not believe that it is necessary to deal with water sampling and analysis through the sledgehammer of an EEC directive. What are the reasons given by the Commission? It proposes to enact this legislation under Article 100 and 235 of the Treaty. Article 100 says Whereas any disparity between the provisions already applicable or in preparation in the various Member States concerning methods of measurement and the frequency of sampling and analysis for each parameter to determine the quality of surface waters may create unequal conditions of competition, One of the reasons the Commision gives for this directive is that differences in the method of water sampling may create unequal conditions of competition. How stupid can we get? How absurd can these regulations and directives become? We have a Government, whom I do not especially criticise, although I disagree with them, who have declared war on bureaucracy. In the Budget, they have declared war on local government and their own Civil service because they believe that too many officials are running around with bits of paper.

The Government are planning to reduce the number of staff in our Civil Service and our local government service. Yet they countenance this nonsensical directive, drawn up by little bureaucrats running around in Brussels, with apparent equanimity. It is true that Brussels civil servants get paid a lot more than ours and that savings would be beneficial, but the Government are prepared to countenance the bureaucracy that has drawn up this directive. That is why we believe that our amendment is appropriate and should be supported by the whole House of Commons.

I know that many hon. Members want to speak. It had been thought that water was not a particularly interesting subject, but, judging from the number of hon. Members present, it clearly is an interesting subject. I therefore conclude by commending the amendment and expressing my hope that it will be agreed—in the interests of this Parliament and the water industry.

10.58 p.m.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

My contribution will be short. I should break cover because I am chairman of the all-party Committee against Water Fluoridation. If hon. Members on both sides were unaware of the fact, it is because I am fresh out of the oven not many minutes past. But it causes me to rise in my place and utter a word of concern about where this directive takes us.

As the House may recall, if it was awake at the time of my interjection in my hon. Friend's opening speech, I am concerned that this procedure, to which we are invited to give our approval, refers nowhere to the standard or definition of water purity that it is presumably directed to achieve.

I am worried lest some directive or other, to be debated in some debate or other at some hour or other may, if we are not careful, introduce a standard of water purity which is not acceptable to many people in our society who are against the standardisation of water by fluoridation. The Commission appears to be in favour of water fluoridation. Few of the countries in the Common Market seem to support it. I am worried lest by passing a measure which talks of machinery and procedure without reference to a standard or definition of water purity which we may find embraces fluoridation we do something which is against what many peole believe.

To some people water fluoridation is an infringement of our liberty not to drink mass-medicated water. To them water fluoridation is probably illegal because it is not based on a statute which gives Parliament that power. It is almost certainly undemocratic since members of our water authorities are not democratically elected. It may even be unsafe to our health.

Therefore, I want an assurance that the measure takes us not a step nearer the mass-medication of our water supplies, which I fear may occur if, in the euphoria of supporting this Government, we forget that we owe a greater responsibility to those whom we represent than, at this late hour, is consonant with nodding something through when we are in doubt.

11.2 p.m.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

I support the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) in what I assume to be a speech in favour of the amendment—but for reasons which are different from mine. The original explanatory memorandum of 24 January stated that it was difficult to see a justification for a directive to impose Community policy in such a detailed field and that, in any event, one needed clarification of certain details.

The supplementary memorandum of 7 June made clear that the teeth of the original directive had been drawn, that the list of recommended methods was not to be mandatory, and that other methods giving comparable results were permissible. Between the publication of these two memoranda there was the usual process of civil servants going to Brussels, setting out our objections and succeeding in having them removed. The draft directive is the lowest common denominator. It is innocuous. We are invited to support or note the directive on the ground that it does not really matter and that we may as well acquiesce since the directive will not have much effect upon us. It does not affect our proceedures and will impose no financial burden.

The Minister says that it will not harm us in any way and that other countries need it. One would like to know which countries need it and why they cannot modify their own national policies. Why do they need a supervening pressure from Brussels to carry out what they can carry out under their own domestic policies, if they have the will? I find that a wholly spurious and unconvincing argument. It is not good enough for the Government to adopt this weak posture and to say that we should acquiesce in this draft because after all it will do us no harm. It is not good enough particularly because this directive is so little respected by our own experts.

I understand, for example, that the Water Research Centre has commented to the Environmental Sub-Committee of the other place in the most scathing terms—indeed, in the most unscientific terms—about the lack of scientific respectability of this particular directive. It is fundamentally and scientifically unsound, in the Sub-Committee's view. For example, the actual specification of methods detailed in the annex are so imprecise in their terminology as to be quite incapable of meeting the professed objective of standardisation throughout the member States, of the Community. This, in short, is a slapdash piece of work by those apparently not scientifically equipped for the task in hand.

Its justification is indeed doubtful as my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) has pointed out. It is said that the disparities in methods and frequency of sampling may create—this is an appendix to the draft directive—"unequal conditions of competition". By what Procrustean efforts have the bureaucrats in Brussels conceived that this method of sampling water can have any but the most peripheral effect on competition within the Community?

It is clearly a nonsense to use such a far fetched argument to justify a draft directive in this area. Does it matter that it is so scientifically unsound? Does it mattter that our own scientific community find it so objectionable? I believe that it does matter, for a number of reasons. It is a bad example for other EEC members whose methods may be less rigorous than our own, particularly in view of enlargement, to be setting off on the wrong road in this way. It is a bad precedent for a Community approach for the Council of Ministers to give its seal of approval so lightly in this way, when the directive commands so little respect in our own scientific community.

I hope that the Minister at the Council of Environment Ministers tomorrow will say in the most clear terms that we, and our experts, are most disturbed and that it is not good enough to be apparently—as the bureaucrats in Brussels want—doing something in the way of Europe building if it is so unsound. Why need we harmonise in this area in any event and why, if something must be done, could we not have a code of practice rather than a draft directive? This does mean something. It is not simply a question of nomenclature.

We need to learn the lessons and the precedent of this particular exercise clearly. It will be worse than useless if directives come to this House which are so unsound, command such little respect in the country, and are a bad precedent from the Community point of view.

11.8 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)

The Minister has my great sympathy in this matter. He has been put up to—I was going to say defend this document, but that would be putting it too high—to speak about this document on behalf of the Government and he has done his very best. I compliment him on it, but the fact is that there is nothing at all to be said for it.

The Minister said at the end of his speech that the Government did not really like this document but some of our colleagues in Europe wanted it. However, he said that we were making it clear that this was not to be a precedent. The reason why I intervene in the debate is that this precedent goes on and on and on. I think that I am the only Member present of the Select Committee which reported this instrument to the House. This is one of very many where we have either reported an instrument or decided, on balance, not to report something yet again, because it seems to be quite outside the scope of the Treaty of Rome.

What is the purpose of this document? As the hon. Members for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) and for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said, the excuse given by the Commission is that is is to avoid the distortion of competition. That is not just rubbish—it is not honest. No one can believe that it is. The fact is that this document, like many others which come before the Select Committee, is a bit of naked and cynical empire-building. It is partly bereaucratic empire-building and partly, to be fair, a desire on the part of the Commission and its staff to enlarge the competence of the Community.

We were told when the question arose whether we should enter the Community that some of our anxieties were exaggerated and irrelevant because it was an economic Community and all these anxieties about sovereignty were misplaced. We were told that it was an economic Common Market and all the other powers and competences were solely for the benefit of ensuring that there could be a single tariff around all without unfair competition distorting the general equality of conditions in the Community.

Those provisions in the Treaty are being abused every month to enable the Commission to do things which have nothing whatever to do with the purposes of that body as laid down in the Treaty of Rome and as explained to this House and the country at the time when the question was before us.

I see now that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) is here. He was chairman of the Select Committee and he will know how often we have had these documents before us and have asked "How do you bring this within the Treaty of Rome?" It is not easy to report things to the House, simply because they seem to make a rather unusual use of the powers in the Treaty of Rome, powers which were intended to ensure fairness of competition. That is the real attack on this instrument.

As the Minister said, the document does not matter very much in itself. It matters so little that it will not have any effect upon Britain. It will have no effect on most member States of the Community. There are one or two where it may, possibly, have some effect. So what? Is it though that they will have a competitive advantage in trade inside the Community, or with the world outside, because they sample their drinking water a little less often? The proposition is ludicrous. If a country allows the standard of its drinking water to fall marginally below that of other countries it is likely to suffer a detriment, not gain an advantage, I would have thought.

It is odd if a competitive advantage can be obtained by having less pure water than one's neighbours. If that is so, perhaps we ought not to pass this document but ought to have rather less pure water, to get our exports sold. The thing is absolute nonsense. It is just a case of the bureaucrats of Brussels looking for new areas, new jobs, new excuses, to extend surreptitiously, and—I use the word again—dishonestly, the competence of the European Community institutions. That is the point tonight and that is the point the House ought to have in mind when it makes its decisions.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

When the Minister, for whom the whole House, I believe, has sympathy and affection, was moving this pointless and stupid piece of legislation and said that the directive would do this country no great harm, I asked him whether it might conceivably do this country any good. He looked at me and said "I thought that the hon. Gentleman was a European. So I am—my whole party is and my colleagues are—but I believe that, because one is a European and one always has been in favour of the Common Market, it is right and proper that one should see that such directives as come from Brussels are those which have some credibility in this country and do some good to us as a nation.

I believe that the only criterion in this debate is quite simple: is there any reason to fear that in this country we are not already taking adequate measures in respect of pure water? If the Minister can persuade me that there is any cause for such fears, I shall not support the admirable amendment moved by the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) and so adequately supported by his hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), who said much of what I should have said. I do not wish to hold up the House. I merely say that if the Minister will give me some reason for fear, I shall support him.

11.16 p.m.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

It is a rare occasion when I join the hon. Member of Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) and agree with him totally on a matter concerning the European Community. As he said, my hon. Friend the Minister, when responding to the hon. Gentleman's intervention, suggested as a strong argument in favour of the document that it was European and he was a European. By that, I presume, my hon. Friend was referring to the political views of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely rather than the fact that he was born white and that water might have some effect upon it. We are all European in the sense of racial characteristics, but I presume that my hon. Friend was referring to the question of the credibility of the Common Market.

It seems to me that the Community is weakened by documents such as that before us tonight and can only be strengthened if nonsenses such as this are not brought before the House. I recall that during the recent European election campaign the Conservative Party on some occasions used a phrase about a "commonsense Community", and by that I understood it to mean that we were opposed to unnecessary bureaucratic harmonisation. I understood, and hoped, that the Conservative Party would take a firm stand against unnecessary legislation of this kind.

I have a great deal of sympathy for my hon. Friend the Minister. I feel sure that were this left entirely to him, and had the question of timing been left to him, he would not have brought the directive before the House tonight. He has inherited the situation. Nevertheless, despite all that, I feel that he and his right hon. Friends could have taken a rather more robust line in this instance in order to give an indication of where we are to go in the future.

Looking back to the earlier explanatory memorandum issued on 24 January, we see a rather more robust line being taken, but by the time we come to this—dare I saw it?—watered down version of the directive in the latter phase, we find a weakening of the Government's position. I think it worth making again the point made in that earlier memorandum: It is difficult to see what justification there is for using a directive to impose a Community policy on such highly complex, detailed and technical matters. It is arguable that individual member States should be free to decide on the monitoring methods and sampling frequencies appropriate to their situations. Surely, that is exactly the position. So would it not have been better if the Government had taken that as their cue and made clear to the meeting of Environment Ministers tomorrow that we in this country see this is a classic example of a waste of time and of unnecessary interference in the domestic legislation of each member State? My right hon. and hon. Friends would have gained respect in the Community and strength in the House had they said so. Far from weakening our position within the Community, it would have strengthened the case for membership.

It is worth emphasising again that all the necessary powers exist for sampling to be undertaken by water authorities. The British people will not get purer water, better water or any benefit as a result of the directive. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has virtually made that concession. All that we have is the faint possibility that there could be small financial implications for the water authorities. If ever there were an example of a waste of paper and a waste of time, it is this proposed legislation.

I urge my hon. Friend seriously to think again about the amendment. The amendment does not reject the motion but merely states: considers further Regulations are inappropriate. My hon. Friend said exactly the same. If he accepted the amendment, he would merely be following the spirit of his own remarks. If he were to accept it, a clear message would issue from the House to Brussels that the directive is the sort of legislation that is damaging to the Community and without which we would be much better off.

11.22 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

I naturally approach the directive with an open mind. The Minister made an extraordinary speech. He said, first, that the directive would not do any harm. When he was asked whether it would do any good, he was unable to give an answer. He said that, as various other countries want to have it and it might do some good to them, it has to be forced on the United Kingdom regardless of whether it wants it. We have that argument again and again. We are forced by the EEC to accept measures that will do us no good because various other countries with different circumstances wish to have them.

The Minister said that the scientific basis of the proposals was unsound. He said that twice. We are dealing with the purity of water. If the scientific basis of the proposed legislation is invalid, there is a deficiency in an important part of the argument.

The Minister told us three times that the directive is sloppily and unsatisfactorily drafted and that, even if we wanted to introduce that which it contains, it would not be the proper way in which to legislate. Finally, when asked for details of the standards of purity, the object of the operation, the hon. Gentleman said that there was reference to it in an annex. It was obvious that he did not understand what it meant.

Mr. Fox


Mr. Jay

It is possible that the hon. Gentleman understands now, but he would not understand it had he not been asked the question originally.

What a way to legislate! The objective is unnecessary, the scientific basis is unsound and the legal drafting is all wrong. It is a remarkable way for the new Government to start introducing legislation to the House. I hope that the House will support the amendment.

11.24 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

I do not know whether this is the first debate to which the Minister will reply. Speaking from experience, I guess that he has already replied to two or three Adjournment debates. He will find himself dealing with many more EEC matters.

The main argument that the hon. Gentleman advances for taking note of the directive is that other countries want it. We can understand that argument. The seven other countries have land frontiers, but we do not. The hon. Gentleman should demand much stronger evidence from the seven that they are keen to have the directive and that they have evidence of the need to have it. He should make that demand before it is accepted in Brussels tomorrow.

There has not been much evidence of enthusiasm so far. When the issue was debated by the European Parliament, the attendance was that of a normal Adjournment debate in this place—the occupant of the Chair and two hon. Members. The memorandum submitted to the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) in January gave a much better view of what this Government should feel than we have heard so far.

The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) asked about the standards of purity laid down for drinking water. This is the third directive on drinking water which has been submitted. The first laid down the standard of the purity of drinking water, which seemed a reasonable thing to do because nowadays we drink a great deal of each other's water. [Hon. Members: "Speak for yourself."] Well, Londoners do. In my area we get our water from the Lake District.

It is unusual not to see the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) present for these debates. He said in one debate that he never drank water in any of the EEC countries except this country. However, it is surely reasonable to set a standard for drinking water.

The second directive laid down the standards of purity that were to be adhered to by member States for surface water in rivers and lakes which form part of the water supply. In a European context that was also fairly reasonable because the rivers in one country provide the drinking water for those who live in other countries. It may have been a little less important in one sense, but at least there was a case to be made for it.

The document that is now before us. R/2147/78, reads: The aim of the proposal is to fix standard methods of measurement, together with the detection range, the accuracy and the precision of such methods, and the frequencies of sampling and analysis of the parameters indicated in the Council Directive of 16th June 1975 concerning the quality required of surface water intended for the abstraction of drinking water in the Member States. I fear that the matter could go on and on and that the next requirement will relate to the testing of the equipment.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Since my hon Friend has thwarted my speech, may I ask him whether he agrees that it would be far better if the Commission, instead of developing this bureaucratic nightmare, which he has so admirably outlined, tried to apply the Treaty of Rome? Could not the Commission stop the subsidies to the French wool-scouring industry, in any measures of effluent control or the lack of them, so that the wool-scouring industry in the West Riding of Yorkshire could be placed in a better position rather than suffer an erosion of jobs? Would not that be a far better issue to tackle than to waste time dealing with this bureaucratic nonsense?

Mr. Marks

I agree with my hon. Friend. Incidentally, I have not thwarted his speech, because we have until midnight to complete the debate. The undated memorandum submitted by the present Government and signed by the Minister of State does not add anything to the proposals made by my hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath. I have considerable doubts whether we should go beyond the two directives which have already been before us. Incidentally, I do not agree with the hon. Member for Burton about fluoridation. I thought that the first directive adequately covered that point.

I hope that the Minister of State who is already in Brussels will tell the other countries that very strong evidence indeed should be provided by the countries concerned if they feel a need for this directive. I certainly hope that he will make that request before he gives this directive any support whatever.

11.29 p.m.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

I wish briefly to endorse the remarks of my hon. Friends, and indeed one or two remarks of Conservative contributors to this debate. We owe a debt to the Scrutiny Committee for bringing this draft memorandum before us on the basis that it seems to go well outside the terms of the Treaty of Rome. That no doubt was why the Scrutiny Committee sought to bring this somewhat esoteric memorandum before the House.

In the course of business questions last Thursday, I asked about the time of the House of Commons being devoted to what seemed to be needlessly detailed and unnecessary areas of operation. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that we have much more pressing matters to debate, that tonight we must make it clear that we do not need to allocate our time to this kind of detail which is taken care of quite adequately in our national legislation, and that a proposal of this kind is simply empire building on the part of the Commission.

Earlier, I alluded to the fact that involved in the water industry there are matters of grave concern to us in the West Riding who are interested in wool scouring. The French water industry—the Agence du Bassin especially—gives a subsidy of £750,000 a year to the French textile scouring industry, which is affecting jobs in the West Riding scouring industry to the point where it has been suggested that the industry might feel like moving away from Bradford to the coast, thereby gaining exemption from the increased effluent charges of the Yorkshire water authority.

If the Commission is really serious about applying the Treaty and the provisions of fair competition, it should be looking at an example of that kind. The West Riding scouring industry argues that it is facing unfair competition in that the import of tops—the first stage in the processing of wool for spinning and weaving, where the wool is scoured—is increasing from other Common Market countries, which means fewer jobs in the West Riding. The Commission should be sorting out that kind of difficulty, rather than engaging in this absurdity of drinking water analysis. The matter clearly is connected with the water industry, and it is an area in which the Commission could undertake some useful activity.

I have strong reservations about whether the Commission undertakes any useful activity, but that may be too harsh a judgment. Here is a difficulty which it could usefully set about resolving.

When I was at the Department of Industry, approaches were made to see whether we could offer a balancing subsidy to our wool scouring industry. The idea was to provide equality. The Commission turned down the proposal. Yet it produces this document, which is occupying the time of this House needlessly and irrelevantly. I do not say that the thinking of the Scrutiny Committee in bringing it before the House is not important, because it is. But let us not simply say "Well, it is simply another Community document."

Let the Minister accept the amendment. Concern about the document has been expressed from both sides of the House. Hon. Members are worried about the burgeoning growth of bureaucracy. We do not want these absurd harmonisation proposals, ranging from the analysis of drinking water to the noise of lawn mowers. No one in his right mind can want to see it extended. We want to see it diminished.

If Government supporters are really concerned, let them accept the amendment. Let the Minister take a common sense view. Let him agree that the amendment does not negative the proposal. It simply adds some common sense observations about the memorandum. If it were accepted, it could be taken to the Commissioners as an expression of the opinion of this House.

Acceptance of the amendment will not even mean that its supporters necessarily share my own stance towards the Common Market. It is a broad enough amendment to take in a wide range of views—even of those who want the Community to succeed and to improve: It will not succeed and certainly it will not improve if we continue to have these absurd memoranda put before the House.

If hon. Members are concerned to see some diminution of bureaucracy, they should accept the amendment. If hon. Members are also concerned about the encroachment of the Commission on the powers of this Parliament, that also is a valid point of view, and they too should endorse the amendment.

I ask the Minister, on the ground of practicality, to give the Commission time and opportunity to do something about the wool scouring industry, in which I know he takes a passing interest when on home ground, and, at the same time, to accept the amendment as a recognition that the House is saying "Let us have some more common sense in these matters."

Mr. Fox

By leave of the House, I shall try to sum up some of the points made in the debate.

I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) that the standards for abstraction of water are in the parent directive, 75/440, as distinct from the directive now before us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Burton mentioned fluoridation. I am sure that it will be accepted by all of us that nothing in this directive has any bearing on that, in that this relates to water abstracted from rivers as such, and certainly not as it leaves treatment works where fluoride is added. My hon. Friend has my assurance on that point.

I can tell the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) that it is true that the National Water Council does not want standard methods in the directive, and it has not got them. These are optional, and the council now accepts this.

The hon. Member also mentioned something that was raised in Lord Diplock's report from the House of Lords Committee. In all these matters, the hon. Member talked about the Government declaring war on various people. I suggest to him that from his speech it seemed to me, and perhaps to many of my hon. Friends, that he was declaring war on Europe.

Mr. Stoddart

I was not declaring war on Europe at all. That is the last thing that I would want to do. I do not want to declare war on anyone. What I was doing was declaring war on European bureaucracy, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman and every other hon. Member would support me in that.

Mr. Fox

Neither are the Government anxious to declare war on anyone. I accept the hon. Gentleman's correction. I said in my speech that the Government would have preferred this matter to be dealt with by recommendation or a code of practice. I made that quite clear. Indeed, in Luxembourg tomorrow my right hon. Friend will make that exact point.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) must know that this directive is the first one to come before the House since the recent change of Government. He must accept that in this debate we have said clearly that the anxieties shown by hon. Members and the very strong feelings that have been evidenced will be conveyed to my right hon. Friend.

The views on Europe held by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) are well known. He wants the Government to take a more robust line. He compared what we are seeking to do and what the previous Adminstration did, but the battleground now is rather different. I thought that I had made it quite clear in my speech that most of the objectionable points of the text had been removed.

My hon. Friend asked me to think again about the amendment, which I shall deal with shortly.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) is right in what he said about having had three Adjournment debates already. It seems to be a prerogative of the Department of the Environment to specialise in Adjournment debates.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) rightly knows my interest in all matters relating to textiles. But this is hardly the debate for us to achieve the sort of success that we are seeking in matters that are grieviously affecting the scouring section of that industry. From his ministerial experience, he knows of the great difficulty that he had and the lack of success in this area.

Mr. Cryer

The Minister has said that we had a lack of success. That is right,

but it was not due to a lack of will on the part of the Department of Industry, as he will accept, to assist the scouring industry. It was due at least in part to the intransigence of the Commission. What I made clear was that by expressing a very strong opposition to this sort of thing, the Commission, too, could be brought into trying to help the wool scouring industry of the West Riding.

Mr. Fox

I assure the hon. Member for Keighley that that is still to be dealt with. What is at issue is whether we gain by opposing everything that appears before this House on Europe whether it be of minority interest or not. I am sure that the House is allowed to disagree.

Unfortunately I cannot say to the hon. Member for Gorton that the amendment is acceptable to us. It talks of being concerned with common standards and then quibbles at whether sampling and methods of analysis are necessary. From the deliberations that have taken place in Europe, however, it is clear that our partners want that.

I remind my right hon. and hon. Friends that in our election manifesto we declared our intention to work across the board honestly and genuinely with our Community partners to our mutual benefit. All eight of our partners want the directive. In spite of some misgivings on our part, it must be right to take note of the directive, and I ask the House to do so.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 33, Noes 152.

Brocks, Hon. Peter Hicks, Robert Peyton, Rt. Hon. John
Brotherton, Michael Hill, James Pollock, Alexander
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe) Hordern, Peter Raison, Timothy
Browne, John (Winchester) Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Rathbone, Tim
Bruce-Gardyne, John Jenkin, Rt. Hon. Patrick Renton, Tim
Bulmer, Esmond Jopling, Rt. Hon. Michael Rhodes James, Robert
Burden, F. A. Knight, Mrs. Jill Roberts, Michael (Cardiff N. W.)
Cadbury, Jocelyn Knox, David Rossi, Hugh
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Lang, Ian Sainsbury, Hon. Timothy
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Langford-Holt, Sir John St. John Stevas, Rt. Hon. Norman
Carlisle, Rt. Hon. Mark (Runcorn) Lee, John Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Le Marchant, Spencer Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Channon, Paul Lennox-Boyd, Hon. Mark Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)
Chapman, Sydney Lester, Jim (Beeston) Silvester, Fred
Clark, Hon. Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Sims, Roger
Clark, William (Croydon South) Macfarlane, Neil Speed, Keith
Clegg, Walter MacGregor, John Speller, Tony
Colvin, Michael Mackay, John (Argyll) Sproat, Ian
Cope, John McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury) Squire, Robin
Costain, A. P. McQuarrie, Albert Stevens, Martin
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Major, John Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Dorrell, Stephen Marland, Paul Stradling Thomas, J.
Dover, Denshore Marlow, Antony Tebbit, Norman
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Temple-Morris, Peter
Eden, Rt. Hon. Sir John Mawhinney, Dr. Brian Thompson, Donald
Eggar, Timothy Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Fairbairn, Nicholas Mayhew, Patrick Thornton, George
Fairgrieve, Russell Meyer, Sir Anthony Townend, John (Bridlington)
Faith, Mrs. Sheila Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Trippier, David
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Mills, Iain (Meriden) Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Fookes, Miss Janet Montgomery, Fergus Waddington, David
Forman, Nigel Morrison, Hon. Charles (Devizes) Wakeham, John
Fox, Marcus Morrison, Hon. Peter (City of Chester) Waldegrave, Hon. William
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Murphy, Christopher Waller, Gary
Fry, Peter Myles, David Ward, John
Garel-Jones, Tristan Neale, Gerrard Watson, John
Gorst, John Needham, Richard Wheeler, John
Gow, Ian Nelson, Anthony Wickenden, Keith
Greenway, Harry Neubert, Michael Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N.) Newton, Tony Winterton, Nicholas
Hampson, Dr. Keith Onslow, Cranley Wolfson, Mark
Hannam, John Page, Rt. Hon. R. Graham (Crosby) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Havers, Rt. Hon. Sir Michael Parris, Matthew
Hawksley, Warren Patten, John (Oxford) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Heddle, John Pattie, Geoffrey Mr. Carol Mather and
Henderson, Barry Pawsey, James Mr. Robert Boscawen.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of EEC Document R/2147/78 on the Sampling and Analysis of Surface Water for Drinking, the Department of the Environment Explanatory Memorandum of January 1979 and the Supplementary Memorandum of June 1979.

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