HC Deb 23 July 1986 vol 102 cc335-6
10. Mr. Kirkwood

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what further steps he proposes to take to guarantee the safety from coastal pollution of bathers on beaches at holiday resorts in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Waldegrave

In the next five years it is expected that some 80 schemes to improve the quality of coastal waters, costing over £300 million, will be in progress and completed throughout the United Kingdom. This is roughly double the rate of expenditure of the last four years.

Mr. Kirkwood

That is a helpful answer. However, does the Minister agree that it is a matter of some concern that many of our resorts that have served the country well for years are being despoiled by raw sewage in our coastal waters? Will he comment on the reports produced by Greenpeace, whose independent analyses have shown that the level of pollution off Blackpool beach may meet Department of the Environment requirements but is five times higher than European limits? What does the Minister have to say about that?

Mr. Waldegrave

I announced last year that we were undertaking a survey of all bathing beaches. The survey will be completed next spring. The preliminary results are quite encouraging and show that up to half the beaches probably meet European directive standards. There has been a problem at Blackpool and a project has been launched, with expenditure of over £30 million to put things right.

Sir Peter Blaker

Would it not be rather more appropriate if the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) confined his remarks to the beaches in Berwickshire and did not make disparaging remarks about the finest beach in the country, which is at Blackpool? May I congratulate the Government on their plans for improving the beach at Blackpool? I ask my hon. Friend to elaborate on what he said about that, as his remarks were rather difficult to hear.

Mr. Waldegrave

I find it rather more natural to be talking about Blackpool in reply to my right hon. Friend. I hasten to say that there is nothing seriously wrong with the Blackpool beaches. There is no health hazard. As part of the improvement of Blackpool beaches, and a number of other beaches, we are bringing forward a scheme that will cost about £35 million to make further improvements. I can confirm that the already fine beaches will be even better.

Mr. Boyes

Is it not a fact that the Government have abused their powers under the Water Act 1973, with the result that in real terms capital investment has declined by 12 per cent. since 1978–79? Even worse, it was reported in the Brighton Evening Argus of 15 July that in the Southern water authority area gross pollution of many of the traditional holiday spots is the result of capital investment declining by 28 per cent. between 1980 and 1985. It is no wonder that Mrs. Hargreaves found herself swimming in neat sewage off Seaford. She said that it was absolutely disgusting—just like the Government's policy towards the water industry.

Mr. Waldegrave

Without the steady guidance of the leader of the Opposition's environment team, the hon. Member for Copeland, (Dr. Cunningham), things are getting rather out of control. Investment in the water industry is at the highest level that it has ever been. I have given figures to show that the investment in coastal water improvements is about to be doubled.

Mr. Harris

I recognise that progress is being made, but does my hon. Friend not find it incredible that raw sewage is still discharged into the sea and on to beaches, especially in parts of the south-west that are dependent on tourism? Surely this is an area that should be given top priority in any capital spending programme.

Mr. Waldegrave

It is for that very reason that considerable resources are now being committed. The programme will not be finished at the end of five years and the expending of £35 million. Further resources will be committed after that. A steady programme of improvement will ensure that by the end of the century virtually all the remaining problems will have been removed.